REPORT: LIFE UNDER THE JAPANESE
JUNE 11, 1942 - SEPTEMBER 27, 1945
by: Sister Eustella
After Sisters Confirma, Turibia, and Fides left with the prisoner exchange group inJune 1942, the remaining members of our group - Sisters Hiltrudis, Blanda, Donatilla, Callista, Verna, Eustella (me), and our returned Chinese Sisters, Adolph, George, Marie and Anne spent a quiet summer. Little did we know that our Navy and Marines were fighting in the Pacific. Already before Christmas a Japanese officer walked into our school, down the corridor, and into the community room, without one word on his part, or on the part of any one of us Sisters in the room, he disconnected our radio and walked off with it. The radio was a gift from our own Alvernia High, Chicago. We realized that we would be cut off from news. However we did get some information.
A friend of ours, Mrs. Hazel Zimmerman, a Texan-born American, who had married a businessman and came to China to live, was very kind to us. She received some news through white Russian friends in Tsingtao and relayed it to us in the following manner. Since we were semi-confined to our homes by the Japanese, all allied nationals were given a wide, white armband on which was a number. (Mine was “41”.) This we wore when we were out during the hours 12:00 noon - 3:00 pm. We were permitted to leave our homes during that time. Mrs. Zimmerman would put on her armband and come over to the Mission. She and I went to the cathedral and sat behind a huge pillar where we talked over the news. It was Mrs. Zimmerman who first told us that there would be a prisoner exchange ship. It seemed like a phantom to us, but it was the one on which our three Sisters had gone.
Even though it was quiet, we kept ourselves busy by studying Chinese until our eyes pained us, by praying, and by performing our ordinary duties. But later in June we began a new project which began in a very small way, but grew to greater proportions. This was sewing for the missionary priests who were getting low on clothing, for Germany had been at war for nearly three years and they could get few supplies from there.
Friends had given me about $1000 when I was home in 1941 and Mother Stanislaus had told me to use it for charity. Before I left for the States in February, 1941, we had organized a Chinese women’s club for work in the slum districts. We did a considerable amount of charity through the making and distributing of quilts and clothing. I was very happy to have the $1000 to continue that work, but by the time I returned it was too late to make contacts with these poor people. The Japanese had forbidden us to have anything to do with the Chinese.
One day in June, a missionary priest came to our school. He had just finished purchasing some supplies and clothing and was about to return to his interior Mission. The Germans were allowed to continue their work with some restrictions but in general, they were quite free since the Japanese and Germans were Axis powers. I asked this Father whether or not he had all he needed. He replied, “My allowance could not cover the cost of a new pair of shoes in addition to the other things.”
Of course, I tapped our charity fund and the story began. Every priest coming from the missions in the Interior stated his needs and we helped. We also purchased many yards of bleached muslin and made men’s shirts for them, Sister Callista did the cutting and we helped with the sewing. Sister Blanda was assigned the task of facing the small opening above the cuffs. One day Sister was tired and spoke up. “Those priests must be centipedes for I have done so many of these parts.” Of course it was 160 for we made eighty shirts.
We went to our own supply room where we still had bolts of black serge bought by our good Sister Fidelis in 1931. “What will happen to all this,” I thought, “if the soldiers raid this place?” So we called in a tailor and asked him to take the measurements of all the Fathers who came in and were in need of a suit. How well I remember the first suit that was made - it was for Bishop Weber, later to be an exile and prisoner for years under the Communists - he was a great man.
Soon we had another idea. There were some extra new and used Scapulars in the storeroom. Each Sister checked her own clothing and estimated what she would need for three years. That was the time the war would last and it did — from 1942 on to the end. Every Sister turned in any extra scapulars or even parts. We ripped these open at the shoulders and told the tailor that two would be sufficient for a man’s pants. So it went.
It was October 26. We were busy straight through the summer. The last priest tk be supplied came and took his bundle of clothing and left on a small coastal vessel for his Mission further south. “Now for our Chinese study,” thought I, for our eyes were somewhat rested. Some had been studying part time all summer long. It does pain your eyes, for looking at those Chinese characters is similar to television waves when there is atmospheric disturbance.
October 27 dawned and each went to her work or hour of adoration. I wanted to settle my accounts. The $1000 were then used up for clothing, shoes, and what-nots. We were all happy about it all. I had one business letter to write plus a little book work, and I also could study. But in the midst of my typing that letter a knock came at the door of our study room. “All American Sisters are wanted at once by Japanese officers in the study room,” said Mr. Kwoh, the Chinese principal. We all gathered at once. There were only five of us Americans. We entered the reception room where we found two Japanese officials. One addressed us in English saying, “You will be taken to a concentration camp at 1:30 pm today.” There was nothing to be said. He checked off our names and identified each. Then he told us that we should prepare non-perishable food for three days and take our bedding along. Before the officers left, a German Sister came from Holy Ghost Convent across the street and demanded that they tell us where they were taking us. This Sister Irmengard was the “valiant woman.” She had baptized no less than thirty to forty thousand dying babies in her mission life as she made her trips to the slums.
Finally the officials told her that we would not be taken far out of the city. I think the Japanese had also been at their convent where there were about ten allied nationals, but perhaps Sister was not in at the time.
This was 10:30 am - with just three hours left. First I called for a priest to place the exposed Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. We had Benediction first. There followed one rush. Each Sister was off to find her clothing and pack. I recall Father Dahlenkamp, the Pro-Vicar, running to the dormitories and bedrooms and grabbing bed clothing, began to put it in rolls. Peter, our little Chinese cook boy, ran out to buy us food. Clearly do I still see that huge basket of bread, butter, ham, coffee and other things. We were all ready to go before the truck arrived for us. When it did come, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary from the nearby convent were already in it. I can still hear the Sister Superior say that we should not smile but be very serious, otherwise the Japanese might become provoked.
On our way to the place of concentration we picked up a few more people. We had about eighteen or twenty in the back of that truck. We arrived at a hotel in the resort part of the city known as Iltis Hook facing the ocean. Orders were given that we remain in the truck until they would call us. The call came and all scrambled down. Other truckloads of internees were already there. The next orders told us to go to a heap of mattresses on the ground (it was the dry season of the year) and pick up a mattress. All married couples were told to occupy the rooms of the main building; all detached men as the Japanese called them, (bout twenty in all) were sent to the lounge of the hotel; all detached women of course including the sixteen Sisters, were put in a separate building used as a dance hall. That was rather romantic for us, but we knew life there would be no romance.
I observed a woman sitting isolated in the lower part of the garden playing with her huge white cat, a real miniature strapless tiger. Since places were being allocated, I called her. She lovingly took up her cat, went at full speed into the dance hall and cut diagonally through it, until she came to a private room nestled behind the bar section. “Lady, you know this place,” thought I to myself. And she did. For five months during which we were in that camp Mrs. _________ and her cat Mimi occupied that room. The rest of us were tumbled together.
[NOTE: Tsingtao Iltis Hydro Hotel. Allied nationals in Tsingtao were interned on 27 October1942 at the Iltis Hydro Hotel, a dilapidated building about two miles from the city center. Designed to hold 45 guests, 147 people were interned there, including Filipinos, Iranians, and South Americans. The larger rooms held families, while the ballroom served as a dormitory. On 20 March 1943 the Tsingtao internees were the first contingent to arrive at Weihsien Camp, the main internment center for North China. Captives of the Empire: The Japanese Internment of Allied Civilians in China and Hong Kong 1941 - 1945 by Greg Leck]
But when sister Hiltrudis entered the dance hall she spied a large glazed glass screen standing most probably in the orchestra corner. Sister called to me, “Sister Eustella, here, lets take this and make a little privacy for ourselves.” With one swoop Sister dragged that screen into line so as to make one wall for our section. We parked near the entrance which was closed, really nailed shut, for it was the actual outside entrance. There was a very small hallway there and a washroom to one side. In the hallway there stood a heating stove. The other ladies very graciously told us we may have that hallway and washroom for our own use.
The other eleven Sisters found a larger room off to one side, but it was not large enough for eleven single beds, no matter how close they were placed. So for the first nights some of them slept on the floor. I felt very sorry for them. One was quite old; another had had recent surgery and was still wearing bandages. But one of them had worked in a Japanese leprosarium and could speak Japanese fluently. She was very much respected by the Japanese. After some days these Sisters were allowed to move to the second floor of a building in the rear. This floor was not to have been used. The Japanese had pasted paper over each window pane, for from this floor there was a wonderful view out on the Pacific. They probably feared that some of us would signal to possible American submarines out on the ocean. A German lady had told me that in World War I, while the Germans were still occupying the city which they had built at the turn of the century, a British had begged to remain in the city during the war. The Germans had permitted him to do so, but later it was proved that he had given signals to Japanese and British warships which took the city in October 1914. Whether these Japanese officers were aware of that fact I do not know, but they were taking no risks. Even the Sisters had to leave the paper on the window panes.
Now to return to Trocadero, our dormitory. There were twenty women. One, I recall, whose son I tried to teach as a private pupil, but I do not think I did much for him since he was always dreaming of sailing the seas. His mother, Mrs. Harris, did tell me he was a successful seaman at that time.
Among the rest was a white Russian woman whose husband, a Britisher, had died. But she was then a British citizen, therefore interned. Since Russia and Japan were not at war until six days before the first atom bomb fell in 1945, no white Russians nor Soviets were interned. There were three Lutheran missionaries, a nurse from Milwaukee and two Bible teachers also in our dormitory.
I do not know what happened in the other parts of the camp that night but I do know that our old Trocadero was not a quiet place. The dogs were restless. One pounded his tail on the floor continuously which reminded one of a drum beat, only not so musical. The other big dog growled in low, warning tones while through it all Mimi barked in a treble from her corner. Every hour during the entire night in came the soldiers. They must have been detailed to make complete rounds of the camp. Stamping in their hob-nailed shoes among the beds, turning on lights and grunting together with the dogs’ serenade, made the night a real nightmare. I do not know when I ever lived through a night like this. However, I was not afraid.
Morning came and we were al ordered out for roll call and from that we turned to our food parcels which we had brought. As I now think back of it twenty years later, it seems to me most of us had suffered a kind of shock. It took me three days to recover, and then I decided that I could not sit and look at the ocean forever. Since the weather was mild we were out on the grounds much of the time.
Since no priest in the city belonged to the allied nationals, we had a daily Mass, but arrangements were made that the Japanese would permit a German Father to come to the camp for Sunday Mass. The Protestants who had several ministers among them had Lutheran and Anglican services.
Since our cook was not permitted to come to the gate, we sent word to Sister Callista and our Chinese Sisters that they pack up textbooks and send them to us, for we were anxious to begin classes with the twenty-one children who were of school age. There were twenty-eight children in the entire group of approximately 160 people.
Within a few days we were teaching practically every grade from one to twelve. The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary offered to help us, for there were a number of teachers in their group. We taught according to the American and British systems as we could secure books, for that meant maps and we might learn how many islands the Japanese had taken. The fact was that we had lost much by that time.
English, French, German, mathematics, science, and history were included in the high school subjects. All went quite well. Most of us taught outside until cold weather set in later in December. Then we each found a corner for our group in the common dining room.
The question of food was settled in this manner. We had our choice between eating what the Japanese had prepared by Chinese cooks or having friends bring us food. Sister Callista had the cook boy bring ours in. Some we heated on the little stove in the entrance and we managed well. So also did the other Sisters.
One day Mrs. _______, the owner of Mimi the at, and I had a private little talk. After she persuaded me to loan her some money (only a few dollars for her cat) we spoke about more serious matters. We composed a letter to Mr Egger, the Swiss man who was serving as Red Cross representative. In this letter we asked Mr. Egger to approach the Japanese and request them to loan each person the equivalent of $6.00 US money per month which was $50 of their puppet money then used in China. Mrs. ________ and I knew that many people were distressed, for they did need some things and we were sure they would appreciate this. How Mrs. _______ secretly sent out the letter I do not know, but Mr. Egger received it, acted, and our payments began. We Sisters who supplied our own food were given a monthly allowance by the Japanese for the purchase of food.
This set-up which was to last for five months was not too difficult for some of us, but it was hard on families with children. The parents were frustrated; the children became naughty and we saw something had to be done. One boy heated an iron rod and poked it through lamp shades. Some were running wild after class hours. Sister Blanda solved the problem. She formed a club and all the children were to join. They were trained in courtesy and much time was given to games. Soon all was in order.
As Christmas approached we formed a committee of several men and women in order to put some cheer into camp life. I was on this committee and my suggestion was to put on a Christmas play. I knew Sister Callista could send us costumes and we did have a copy of a play entitled “No Room in the Inn.” Our problem was to find a place large enough to seat 150 people. Trocadero, our women’s dormitory, was the answer if the ladies were willing to collapse and stack their beds. Well, they did and the men improvised a stage. It was lovely and everyone was so happy. I know it did make a few think a little more about that first Christmas nearly two thousand years before. A lovely part of it was that several Jewish children were in the play. The children all received candy and a little gift. On Christmas Day, Bishop Tien, who became a Cardinal three years later, came to offer Holy Mass for us, for all during the five months in this camp we were not allowed to go to Confession. The Japanese would not permit anyone to speak alone with the priest. The Protestants had two services as they usually had on Sundays. The day was a comparatively happy one, considering we were prisoners.
But the following Winter months were difficult, for the spirit of many sluped. No news, a routine day with little diversion. Those men in the smoker lounge must have told hundreds of stories, for they had practically nothing to do. Very little snow falls in that part of China so there was not even any shoveling of snow.
Spring came early. It was a lovely day in March. Sister Blanda’s group was happy, having an afternoon of sports, when into the camp came a group of Japanese officials and civilians. They called for our own internee officers whom we had chosen to represent us. After a long discussion in one of the buildings they all emerged and our representatives told us that we were to be moved. We would have ten days to prepare, and one representative from each family or group would be allowed to go to his or her home and collect what was needed. We were to secure a bed and mattress for we would not be allowed to take the beds and mattresses from this little camp. Clothing - what and how much was our own guess, for who could figure out how long the war would last exactly. Then, too, some had very little and not the wherewith to purchase.
I shall never forget the day we representatives went home for the return was a sad one for many. Their houses although locked had been looted - furniture, clothing and almost everything. I felt very sorry for the parents of children, for some did not know how they could manage. I went to our school where Sister Callista and the Chinese Sisters were still living. There was not much to be said by any of us, for an officer trailed us constantly. Sister would prepare our things, pack our trunks and get the beds and mattresses ready for shipment which the Japanese would manage.
I recall several especially interesting incidents. When the Japanese announced that we were to be removed to another camp, I thought I should write to Sister Callista to tell her what to prepare for us. I thought I would get permission to write if I asked the chief of the Consular police, for he had more power than the soldier-guards we had. This man was called. Mr. Mikita and spike Chinese quite well. But he was always snooping around into the buildings and even into the women’s dormitory during the daytime. He had a rather suave way about him so we nicknamed him Soapy Sam. Well, I asked Soapy Sam to write, but the reply was, “It won’t work!” I thanked him graciously, went into the dormitory and wrote the letter. I knew that our cook boy would come later with food. Sure enough, he came but Soapy Sam was there with about seven soldiers and another consular police (blue-uniformed while the soldiers were in khaki). I greeted Soapy Sam for he loved to be recognized. Then I told him a funny story in Chinese and he laughed heartily. Of course, every soldier wanted to know what I had said, so Soapy Sam ceremoniously told them in Japanese.
I walked over for the food and slipped the letter from beneath my mantle to Peter, our cook. Sister then knew what we thought we needed - white habits and all.
One other time during these days Mrs. Zimmerman advised me to sell some silk, a large amount, which I had purchased for vestments in Shanghai before the Pearl Harbor affair. I wrote out all the instructions and when Mary, one of our graduates, came to the gate I slipped her the letter. There were many people at the gate and it was raining thus causing some confusion; otherwise my attempt would have failed. I quietly asked Mary to go to Shanghai, get the silk from the Convent of the Sacred Heart, call in a merchant, sell it and deposit the money with Father Shultz, the German S.V.D. procurator. She should forward only half the money to some Franciscans who were in dire need in the interior mission field. Just imagine! Mary’s report upon her return was this: She received twice the amount in US money that I had paid for the silk.
We set out for our new destination on Friday morning, March 19, 1943. No one was allowed to see us at the station, for the buses drove into the train yards. But we did not mind, for by this time we were prepared for more difficulties. Early in the afternoon we arrived at the station Weihsien where we were to leave the train and go by the bus to a Protestant mission compound about two miles out in the country. Soon we were there and entered the massive iron gates which were to close upon us for thirty months.
A short description of this compound is necessary for a better understanding of our camp life. I think the size of our entire campus was at least sixty acres, rectangular in shape, and completely surrounded by a thick brick wall at least fifteen feet in height. Turrets at various distances on the top of the wall served as sentinel stations. I do not think the Japanese added these to the existing walls, but perhaps they did.
This compound had been built by American Presbyterians and had served as a Chinese college called Ching Ling. Later this college was removed to the Provincial capital, Tsinan, and from that time on the buildings served as a Bible school for young Chinese missionaries. It was not a complete middle school, for emphasis was placed upon Bible study, but the students were of secondary school level or older.
The main large buildings, about nine in all, had served for the college, but when the Bible school took possession of the place, rows and rows of long brick buildings were built to accommodate the boarders. These buildings were only one story high and were divided into a row of rooms about 9x12 feet in size, with only a front entrance, a larger window at the front, and a small window at the rear. The rooms were not joined by doors. Each was a complete unit facing a little courtyard about 12 feet wide and the length of the building. Each building faced the rear of the next and a small sidewalk ran along the edge of the entire group of buildings. I do not know how many rooms there were in all these buildings, but I think there were approximately 450. One thousand Bible students had attended before the institution was taken from the missionaries. In general, families were put in these rooms - a man and wife were given a room; if they had children, doorways were broken through the dividing walls. All men and women whom the Japanese called “detached” were put in classrooms of the larger buildings.
We from Tsingtao were the first to arrive and we were told that since we had five months’ training we were to be models, Saturday we were still alone. The Japanese showed the committee of our group the building which was to serve as our kitchen and mess hall (that is what it was). There were to be three kitchens - Tsingtao, Peking, and Tientsin - for only North China nationals were to live in this camp. Shanghai and other places were to be provided for elsewhere. But North China included Mongolia and far into the western interior thus making it a big territory. About two thousand were to arrive during the following ten days.
THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE IS MISSING… [I hope to find it in the Motherhouse Archives one day.]