Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

1942: A Year of Survival for Philippine Jews at the Edge of the Diaspora

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

1942: A Year of Survival for Philippine Jews at the Edge of the Diaspora

Article excerpt


When one views the year 1942 in historical perspective, it was very much a turning point in terms of Allied military victories and a growing worldwide awareness of the Holocaust. The 18 April 1942 Doolittle air raid on Tokyo and four other Japanese cities shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility. Japan suffered major naval reversals in the May and June 1942 battles of the Coral Sea and Midway; the 7 August 1942 United States Marine assault against Japanese positions on Guadalcanal in the British Solomon Islands, a battle that would last six months; and the devastating 17-18 August 1942 attack by U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Evans Fordyce Carlson's 2nd Raider Battalion against the Japanese garrison on Makin Island in the British Gilbert and Ellis Islands.

Information slowly began to emerge about the nature and extent of the Holocaust, which was only formally proclaimed by Hitler's underlings at the January 1942 Wannsee Conference. On 24 August Geneva-based World Jewish Congress leader Gerhart Riegner alerted world Jewish leaders by telegram about the mass murder of Jews. Various Allied governments whose intelligence services were fully aware of Jewish annihilation began to publicise the atrocity. The Polish Government in Exile in London, in particular, circulated radio reports from the Polish underground in Warsaw. Approximately sixty Palestinian Jews who returned to the yishuv from Eastern Europe gave eyewitness testimony to genocide. Despite this publicly-available evidence, 1942 was also the year in which the Vatican issued two equivocal pronouncements about Jews and genocide.

The news of Allied military victories in the Pacific, along with simultaneous advances on the North Africa and Russian fronts, should have been a source of consolation and encouragement to Jews worldwide. But this depended on the extent to which communications got through, the ability of the listener to digest and believe such extraordinary reports, and the individual Jew's preoccupation with the sheer hardships of daily living. Reaching the next day became the exclusive object of his or her activity, not pondering the fate of Allied governments or far-off brethren. The Jews of the Philippines fall into the category of individuals who were simply unaware that 1942 was a turning point in the military history of the war and of the Holocaust. To fully comprehend the lack of awareness of Philippine Jews in 1942, some historical background on events of several preceding years is necessary.

Political and Military Context

On 27 December 1941, Field Marshall of the Philippine Army and United States Army, General Douglas MacArthur, faced overwhelming odds. Nearly three weeks earlier the Imperial Japanese 14th Army, based on Taiwan, launched amphibious assaults against Luzon, the main island in the 8,000-isle Philippine archipelago. At that time the Philippines were a self-governing Commonwealth scheduled to receive full independence from the United States in 1946. Navy pilots of Japan's 11th Imperial Air Fleet, also based on Taiwan, obliterated most of Macarthur's air force on the ground at Clark Field and at the nearby American fighter base in Iba. MacArthur had almost no hope of reinforcements from the American mainland, let alone from the devastated United States naval base at Pearl Harbor or air station on Wake Island.

Macarthur had been building fortifications in the Philippines since his graduation from West Point in 1903. Facing these overwhelming odds, he declared Manila an open city in the faint hope that this gesture would induce the Japanese to protect the city's infrastructure and its civilian population of approximately 700,000. Shortly thereafter, MacArthur, his family, and Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon retreated to the comparative safety of Australia, promising to return at some unspecified date. He handed all civilian authority over to Commonwealth Vice President Jose P. …

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