January 12, 1942

The long wide road from the Big House to the front gate led to the outside world. Tall and shady acacia trees lined each side of this road, and here we stayed all day after our camp and personal chores were over. Here we ate our meals, napped, played cards, read, or swapped rumors. It was good to be in the open, away from the congestion and depression of the gloomy rooms and corridors. But our happiness was short-lived, for the Commandant no longer allowed us to clutter up that part of the grounds.

It was a blow to us, for the trees farther away from the road were small and scraggly with little or no shade. But we were thankful for the blessed sunshine and the dry season.

We continued to remain outdoors, usually until we were near the sunstroke stage. Then we’d gather our belongings and square our shoulders as though bracing ourselves for added courage and strength. It took courage and strength to stand the pandemonium found in the buildings.

The one bright spot in our lives at present was the enormous crowd of people who came to the outside gates to see us. They came daily, two hours in the morning and two hours in the after- noon, and they brought us food, clothing, clean laundry, bedding, cooking utensils, and messages of cheer.

Knowing that our servants, friends, and business associates hadn’t forgotten us gave us a tremendous lift. Knowing their loyalty, interest, and faith that the Americans would some day return gave us added faith. It made us feel that we weren’t isolated and alone in an enemy world.

With hundreds of faces pressed against the outside fence, it was clear why many of the Filipino houseboys carried long bamboo poles with the name of master and friend printed in huge block letters.

When a Filipino boy finally spotted his master in camp, it was touching to see his face light up as though he had seen God. No wonder eyes grew moist on either side of the fence at this mass display of loyalty, faith, and affection! Undoubtedly, it was a great demonstration of Filipino loyalty and faith in the American people, and of course our jailers were considerably perturbed by it. They could not understand why we hadn’t lost face with the Filipinos now that we were prisoners.

The congestion on our side of the fence was just as great. Since we were not permitted to get close to the fence, we motioned our friends and servants to move down to the lower end of the fence where we thought congestion was less. But others had the same idea, and soon there were hundreds of others beside us. All were screaming different messages back and forth across the fence. No wonder we rarely understood.

After one of these fence sessions, most of us were emotionally and physically exhausted from the heat, from the sight of a faithful and familiar face, and from complete frustration.

I tried to understand what Catalino was screaming about, but I finally gave up. Every other day Catalino sent us cooked food and clean laundry.

Inside the gate there was a long table presided over by several Japanese soldiers and civilians. Six internee men helped carry the bundles and other articles to the Japs, who inspected the baskets of food and other packages.

After the article had been inspected, another internee, chosen, no doubt, for his hog-calling talents, bellowed the name on the package, and the happy recipient stepped up to claim his prize.

By eight in the evening I was ready for bed. Four hours of hospital work, preparing meals, and washing dishes under conditions existing in the days of the Pilgrims had worn me out completely.

Five-thirty a.m. came around quickly the next morning, but I was never early enough to beat the line at the toilets, despite the fact that additional facilities had been installed.

One of the first things our new Commandant did was to order the long front fence covered with swali [sawali], a native woven grass, and now we were no longer able to see and talk to our friends from the outside world.

Catalino brought us twenty-five pounds of dried navy beans, sugar, several cases of canned goods, and enough cooked food to last for two days.

In his note, cleverly concealed in the hem of my freshly laundered slacks, he had written that the Japs had been snooping in my apartment on several occasions and that Rags was sick.

So far they hadn’t taken anything, for which I was grateful. Other internees were less fortunate. The Japs looted their homes, and many of them returned to help themselves to whatever appealed to their fancy.

In the hem of my other slacks which I sent out to be laundered, I had a note instructing Catalino to take what was left of my belongings to Adoracion’s home and to contact Mr. Nagy, an old Hungarian friend, to look after my dog. Mr. Nagy, though impractical, temperamental, and argumentative, was a loyal friend, and I felt sure he would take Rags.

I first met Mr. Nagy at his Hungarian restaurant in Shanghai in the spring of 1937. He had just finished playing a sobbing Hungarian tune on his violin when I entered the restaurant. It was an old tear-jerking folk song that I had often heard played as a child by gypsy musicians.

The excellent food, the wine, and the delightful atmosphere of the restaurant made me happy and very much at home. I wanted to hear more gypsy music. So I wrote him a note in Hungarian and asked him to play several of my favorites. He played all of my requests with a great deal of feeling, and this time the violin sobbed tremulously. When he came to our table and stayed the rest of the evening, the long, thin nose of my nice but rather stuffy Scotch escort quivered dangerously.

I learned that Mr. Nagy was a political exile from Hungary and that he was of noble birth. He spoke five languages fluently, and wrote light verse and prose in a faintly Dostoevski vein. He painted, sculptured, played the violin, and wrote political articles for the Shanghai daily papers. With his broad knowledge of Europe and the Orient and with his flair for interpreting news behind the news, his articles were interesting and often tinged with prophecy. Had I believed in his political predictions in 1937 and later in 1940, I wouldn’t be in a prison camp now.

After the first meeting, he would call me by phone and send me flowers and notes, begging for a date. But I was too busy with my nursing, shopping, dancing, and visiting interesting spots in and out of Shanghai.

The truth was that I considered him too old, pedantic, and continental. He affected a ridiculous monocle. This wasn’t too hard to take, but when he bent over my hand and kissed it with each meeting and departure and said, “Keset cshokolom, Terushka” (I kiss your hand, Tressa), it was hard to keep from going into wild laughter. Yet I had seen my newly arrived relatives from Europe doing the same thing when I was a child.

Because I spoke Hungarian with no trace of accent, to him, I was someone dear and familiar from his home country. Because I liked wine with my meals and loved Hungarian music, I was a true countrywoman of his.

Dear Mr. Nagy! So kind and impractical. Had he been younger and less romantic, he would have sensed that I was as American as hot dogs and hamburger.

Eventually, he stopped asking me for dates, but the few times I saw him at his restaurant he remained as charming and cordial as at our first meeting.

In August of 1937, when Americans in Shanghai were evacuated to Manila because of the rapidly approaching Japs, I stopped to say good-bye to him. His monocle was suspiciously cloudy when he bade me farewell, and after kissing my hand he added with a gallant sigh that he would always look upon me as his daughter.

A year and a half later, he too came to Manila, and when the Axis nationals were first interned a few days after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Nagy packed his bags in expectation of being interned by the Americans. At army headquarters he was told that he was too old for prison life and that he could come and go as he pleased. So instead of our handing him comfort kits and packages over the fence, he was handing them to us.

In his notes to me he always wrote that he prayed for us daily and hoped we would be as well treated as he had been during four years of internment in Siberia under the Czarist regime in the first world war. Four years of internment! How could he bear it?

We hadn’t completed a month, but already the confinement, the noise, the lack of privacy, the bedbugs, the hundreds of people always around us, the primitive conditions under which we lived, and the uncertainty and anxiety with which we viewed our future made us edgy and irritable.

Women were already losing weight and having menstrual disturbances, while many others were afflicted with unsightly boils.

One woman was removed to a mental institution today, and the man who failed to recognize us on the day of our arrival in camp committed suicide in a psycho ward outside.

The Red Cross was already serving two meals a day to about fifteen hundred internees, and the Red Cross officials urged all of us to eat in the line in order to conserve our canned goods. Perhaps pride and cloudy thinking kept many of us from joining the line. As long as we had a reserve food supply, a little money, and outside contacts, we planned to feed ourselves as long as possible.

The Japanese ignored letters of protestation regarding the internment of Red Cross officials and the confiscation of Red Cross property as a violation of international conventions. In addition, the Red Cross was unable to communicate with the outside world by letter, cable, or wireless, and it was dependent entirely on the money and supplies it could raise locally.

Fortunately, interned Red Cross officials were able to organize an outside surveying and purchasing squad while inside, the officials had charge of receiving, storing, and disposing of food and supplies.

On paper this sounded simple. But in reality it took a great deal of effort, time, disappointments, and endless and pointless arguments and conferences in order to get Japanese permission for more supplies and food.

From notes in our packages and from buyers who went out daily to make purchases, we learned that business on the outside was more or less at a standstill. The large business houses were closed, for most of the executives were with us. Other business houses were naturally reluctant to sell their merchandise in exchange for the Mickey Mouse currency, the nickname for occupational money.

It was clearly evident that the Nips were certain of victory, for the Japanese government had brought shiploads of the currency with the first invading forces. The moment they landed on Philippine soil, the country was flooded with Mickey Mouse money.

So was Santo Tomas! The paper notes resembling tobacco coupons and stage money bore this short and sweet legend: “The Japanese Government,” and also the denomination of the note in pesos.

Our room monitors constantly reminded us that no one should make a direct appeal to the Commandant for passes or for permission to live outside. All appeals were to be made to internee men who had been appointed by our Central Committee to handle all such affairs.

But the hardheads, the thoughtless, and the fools were here as elsewhere in the world. One internee wishing a pass went directly to the Commandment with the tale that his wife had been bitten by a mad dog. The story proved to be a lie. He went on a drunken toot and didn’t show up in camp for several days. Naturally, the Commandant was furious, and as a result he banned the passes for many days.

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