Marie Adams on life in an internment camp
Just hours after attacking Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded the Philippines. The second assault was less immediate but arguably much longer lastinglongest of all for the thousands of American civilians living there at the time, who quickly became Japan's captives. Many of them would remain interned there until the end of the war, with little attention from home, making them feel, in the words of American Red Cross worker Marie Adams, like the "lost tribe of the Philippines."
Adams made the comparison in a report she wrote about her experience in June 1945, four months after she was liberated from a camp in downtown Manila. Like her fellow prisoners, Adams stayed in the camp for longer than three year, with living conditions declining drastically as military leaders took over the camp's administration. "We were hungry; we were starved," she wrote. "When I went to bed at night, I felt just on the verge of screaming." Adams adds professional objectivity to her personal frustration, calculating that, had they not been rescued in early February, the detainees would have died within a month.
From the report:
Internment in the Philippines
this way that no official list of prisoners in the military camps in the Philippines had ever been submitted by the Japanese to the United States Government. When we read that each week a food kit was being distributed to prisoners held in Europe, I think our morale hit an all-time low. We had known that we were isolated from the world, but the fact was truly driven home to us by that information more than anything else. We felt that we were indeed the "lost tribes of the Philippines" no contact with home, no contact with the Red Cross, no contact with the outside at all, and none to be expected. People became very nervous and irritable that year. The mail situation was a contributing factor. Some in the camp received none at all. I received my first letter, then eighteen months old, in March, 1944. Between then and November, 1944, I received altogether sixty-eight letters, none of which was younger than a year. My family received my first letter two weeks before I was liberated. Beginning in February, 1944, we were each allowed to send a postal card a month. I sent eleven. So far my family has received the ones I wrote in March and May of last year and just last week, the one I wrote in July.
In my May card, which they received just before I was liberated, I asked them to send me milk, meat, sugar, butter, chocolate, soap, and various toiletries. I thought that that might convey the message that we had nothing to go on. However, just after that, in June, the Japs forbid us to give any further information about what we needed or wanted.
Among the minor irritants toward the last was the fact that we had to bow to every Jap we met. That seemed to get on people's nerves more than any other single thing. It didn't particularly disturb me, because I had had to do it at the military camp where I had been interned previously. During the last few months there was a tension among the internees that is almost indescribable. Irritability is one of the first symptoms of starvation, and certainly that symptom was marked among us. We were all cross, irritable, and edgy; we argued about things that were utterly insignificant. We were ready to claw each other's eyes out over nothing at all. We were hungry; we were starved. When I went to bed at night, I felt just on the verge of screaming. I ached to the ends of my fingers and toes, with the most horrible ache that I have ever experienced. We were so thoroughly depleted that frequently I would sit on my bed and stare at the sink in the corner of the room, wondering whether it was worth while to make the effort to get up and go over to it to wash my hands, or whether it wouldn't be better to wait until lunch-time to do it, because it would save that much energy.
Everyone was stooped with fatigue. Many had horrible skin conditions. Tropical ulcers and boils were developing everywhere, and infections were on the increase. To aggravate the situation, there ... .