A Look Back into the Abyss: The Atrocities of World War II

World War II is probably one of the most influential events in all of human history and continues to affect the modern world even as we speak. While World War I was actually more brutal and the Cold War had much more horrifying implications, World War II is certainly the go-to point in history when people want to tell stories of either epic heroism or unspeakable villainy. What’s sad though is that many Filipinos don’t understand the full implication of that great and terrible conflict and how it continues to shape many policies of today such as human rights and the laws that are established to prevent war crimes.

With the youth today, despite the fact that the Philippines was occupied by Imperial Japan for at least two years, most will just say something like this: “The Japanese came, raped a lot of women, killed a lot of people and the Americans came and kicked them all out.” While this isn’t far from the truth, one can note that the circumstances were far more complicated than that and that everything that happened here in the Philippines was also related to what was happening on a worldwide scale. The participation of Filipinos in fighting the Axis Powers is largely downplayed in media, especially in local ones, even though the Philippines was actually a crucial part of the war.

Anyhow, without further ado…

The Holocaust

wehrmachtThis is perhaps the most popular of all the atrocities that took place during World War II but I think a few others like the rape on Nanjing are every bit as horrific or even more so. Nonetheless, based on statistics, more people were killed in the Holocaust than just about any other genocide and is why nothing speaks “human rights violation” more than the Nazis. Contrary to popular belief, Jews weren’t the only victims of the Holocaust although they were probably the most numerous alongside the Romani (Gypsies) folk and Soviet POW’s. Other victims included homosexuals, people with disabilities and anyone who opposed the Nazi regime and its ideologies like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Freemasons.

When it all started of course, nobody seemed to care. The Jews, the Romani and homosexuals have been receiving plenty of discrimination even since before then and, before the Holocaust began, probably just thought: “They’ve been bullying us for centuries now, I doubt they’ll really go through with it.” Remember also that Jews, Romani and homosexuals weren’t just hated in Germany, or Europe for that matter, they were hated throughout the world for being deviants with a penchant for criminality. Even the Americans hated them and note how the word “Hudyo” (Jew) in the Philippines is often (or at least once was) a derogatory term which my (Filipino) grandparents and parents used as a way to describe greedy people.

What mattered was, despite evidence to the contrary, many of the Holocaust victims (except for maybe the Soviets who also hated the Nazis with a passion) didn’t believe that the Nazis would never go through with their threats of annihilation. Sure, they would probably be bullied and they already were but they probably didn’t expect the terrible massacres that would follow. In the end, the death toll of the Holocaust was about around 5.93 million Jews, 2-3 million Soviet POW’s, around 2 million Polish people, maybe 200,000 Romani and 15,000 homosexuals.

War Crimes of Imperial Japan

To put things in perspective, majority of the Japanese soldiers who fought for the army back then were conscripts, normal citizens who were forced into the army and trained through rather inhumane methods in order to become capable combatants. However, this does not excuse the terrible atrocities they would go on to perpetrate over the course of the war against the Chinese, Koreans, Allied POW’s and, of course, Filipinos. Given the order to “rape all, kill all, burn all” by Emperor Hirohito, many Japanese soldiers did just that, violating and slaughtering all the captives they could find. Unfortunately, despite all the terrible atrocities that they committed, many Japanese officials continue to deny some claims and mitigate the rest.

One of these of course is the Rape of Nanking when the forces of the Japanese Imperial Army stormed the city and committed just about every heinous act possible against the hapless citizens and refugees in the city. The Japanese troops raped just about every girl and woman they could get their hands on and raped them on a regular basis and often outright killed them afterward. Men were just outright killed or were at least brutally tortured first before they were butchered like animals. With the order to “KILL ALL CAPTIVES”, there were around 200,000 victims of the Rape of Nanking and, while many Japanese citizens of today want to apologize for what happened, many elements of their government refuse to even acknowledge the event and there are those who insist on removing it from Japanese history books.

The Japanese were also notoriously cruel to their prisoners. In the Philippines alone, there were quite a few prison camps where the Japanese killed Allied prisoners (including Americans, Australians, British and Filipinos) by the thousands. Let’s not also forget the Bataan Death March that involved marching POW’s across 97 kilometers with very little food or rest and any stragglers being shot out of pure spite. More than 70,000 participants, at least 10,000 of said POW’s never made it to their destination.

To top it all off, the Japanese are quite infamous for their creation of a ring of sexual slavery in East Asia. There has been much talk on the subject of comfort women for quite some time now but many government officials in Japan continue to deny it. My grandmother almost became one but narrowly avoided that fate by hiding with some of her relatives in the dense woods of Ilocos. There have also been quite a few women throughout East Asia who have admitted to becoming victims of the Japanese Imperial Army including Ms. Rosa Henson of the Philippines and Jan Ruff O’Herne, a Dutch Australian.

So I say this to President Aquino after his infamous speech about “crushing” the critics of his administration. Your ancestors sided with the Japanese Axis Powers during World War II. These are the same people who destroyed Manila and raped and killed countless hapless citizens there. So now, if you’re really serious about what you said, then by all means do it. Your ancestors allowed so many of our fellows to die miserably at the hands of Japanese soldiers. So go on, show us that you’re one of them. You’ve shown quite a bit already after your refusal to admit to so many mishaps that have happened in this country from the recent hostage crisis, the Yolanda victims to the Fallen 44, showing us that you’re no different from the Nazis or the Imperial Japanese Army isn’t going to surprise me anymore.

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15 Comments on “A Look Back into the Abyss: The Atrocities of World War II”

  1. My late Dad was a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March. He was just 20 years old , then. I would not had been born, if he did not survive.

    Benigno Aquino, Sr. , was the cause of many tortures and death of Filipino Guerrillas in World War II. My father went to join the Filipino Guerillas, after his release in Camp O’Donell in Tarlac.

    We should never forget these tragedies in our country.

  2. Thanks for the history lesson. BUT, THE JEWS were not the biggest holocaust in history.’POGRAMS’ or ‘ETHNIC CLEANSING’ before WW2, and after, have been far worse than the horrors that befell Europe in the early 1940’s.
    The ARMENIANS at the turn of the 20th century,the Canaanites,the Africans in Dharfur,Ruwanda and all over Africa for that matter.
    IF IF IF it seems that the Jews in WW2 were the worst holocaust of all-time it is only because they cried the loudest and never stop crying about it. WHAH !!!!

  3. Worry about how the Filippines is a complete mess and getting worse. As it stands now, the entire country is ALMOST better off sinking into the Pacific Ocean, how’s that for screwed?

  4. In regards to the war crime mitigation by the Japanese, you have to go about this in a different viewpoint. No country wants to paint themselves as the villain. For instance, the Filipinos killed Magellan, one of the greatest pioneers of his time yet PH history books write it off as a valiant achievement against Imperial Spain. Have you read any US textbooks that shames itself because they orchestrated the Trail of Tears? Good luck with that.

    All this proves that humanity itself has a sense of pride they still need to uphold despite the faults they have committed. It’s one of the core principles of Nationalism and for better or worse, keeps a people united.

    1. Sorry Serge, but the Germans accepted responsibility for what they did. They had a rough time during the Cold War but they’re now one of the more progressive countries out there. I admire them for their willingness to accept accountability.

      1. Germany’s case was mostly out of self-preservation, not wanting to feel the wrath of the Red Army. Not to say it didn’t happen in half of its country, but I really doubt they became instantly reconciling after they lost another World War. Even then, their attempts to stamp out their Nazi past has bordered in outright censorship which in principle I do not approve.

  5. Benigno Sr and Benigno Jr were agents of foreign countries, the former for the Japanese, and the latter for the Americans and the Malaysians. Both ‘served’ their country by screwing the Filipinos. Why should we Filipinos think that from this root a fruit would come out differently?

  6. “while many Japanese citizens of today want to apologize for what happened, many elements of their government refuse to even acknowledge the event and there are those who insist on removing it from Japanese history books.”

    To those who wanted it removed, they maybe thinking it won’t do to dwell with the past that is far from the progressive and tranquil life they are already living. Descendants of the sufferers who don’t want to forget, like the Chinese people, stay angry with the Japanese if not wanting to take revenge even if the guilty parties are already dead and the new generation already atoned from the sins of their forebears. One problem with history is the emotion and idea you can extract from it which gives some the notion that the present and next generations somehow are to inherit the crimes committed by their fathers or ancestors whereas history should be recorded and studied to prevent the repetition of the worst happenings in a country, a ruling family or the world. If one cannot learn from the past and move on, he’ll continue to make the same mistake and suffer the consequences or worst from that time. Thus we still have Muslim revolutionary group who won’t unify with the rest of the country and we have bunch of stupid who continue to vote and support undeserving leaders and hold on to their victim mindset.

    1. For all the Chinese sentiments against the Japanese, am I the only one who notices that they’re becoming more and more like their hated enemies. I mean, hogging territory and racial discrimination? Wasn’t Imperial Japan like them?

      1. Now that you mention it, I think China is having a test of power, not yet to the point of taking up where Japan left off since Japan back then is clear with their intention of Asian invasion. China have never been assertive with their historical claims on islands on “their” South China Sea except when they began to have a military force to reckon with partnered with economic boom while all the rest put their defenses down being contented with a stand off and as with our country, being burdened with a struggling economy and poor military defenses. I think they are taking advantage of the moment where as they rises, the rest won’t compete or can’t keep up (in reference to our country).

      2. Unlike Imperial Japan, China is a bit more cautious as to not piss off the West over their territorial machinations. At most, they are just satisfied with flexing their muscles and bullying weaker states such as the PH thrpugh non outright confrontational means.

        China still likes to butt heads with Japan especially over some islands like Ryukyu, but they’re not dumb enough to make the US, Japan’s biggest ally and also China’s biggest trading partner, into a real enemy.

        1. really? but wait till World War III will erupt and hopefully that China will not be the 1st country to start with it or else the world will be sorry just like what the French general & national hero Napoleon Bonaparte said: “China should sleep or else the world will be sorry.”

  7. The japanese were horrible…. they even killed their supposed allies in Manila, German Nationals…

    The German Club massacre of WWII
    a shared world war II memory.
    LOCATED in Intramuros between the centuries-old Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church, the bronze sculpture by young artist Peter de Guzman is mounted on black granite. Intramuros was brutally damaged along with Ermita, Malate and Paco in the Battle for Manila.

    ”ON THE MORNING of Feb. 10, 1945, about 800 people including Filipinos, Spanish and five German nationals, went to the [German Club] clubhouse on San Luis Street in Ermita to find shelter in a dugout located on the tennis court and in the garden,” recalls Edgar Krohn Jr., a Philippine-born German who survived the destruction and the massacre during the World War II battle for the liberation of Manila from the Japanese imperial forces.

    “At about noon, a platoon of Japanese Marines who had cordoned off the 4,000 square meters of the club premises, started killing everyone in sight,” he says, continuing his painful remembrances of things past. “Martin and Margaret Ohaus, Gustav Vierich, Heinrich Bischoff and Conrad Clausen were the first Germans murdered on the first floor of the club building. The Japanese Marines then systematically fired their weapons into the area beneath the club building which had been converted into an emergency air raid shelter. Gasoline was poured into the shelter as well as the tennis court; these were torched right after.”

    Those who attempted to escape the inferno were gunned down. The killing continued all day and into the night. When Martin Ohaus’ bloated body was found several days later by American soldiers, he was still clutching his German passport, “apparently to convince the Japanese that he was a German citizen” and an ally. His body bore several bayonet wounds.

    Only 10 people survived the massacre. One, Jose Francisco S. Reinares, of Spanish descent, was the son of a prominent sugar planter in Pampanga before the war.

    “I was 15 when my father Francisco, my sister Marivic who was only 14, our maid, and myself took shelter at the German Club, thinking that it would be safe. It was the only concrete building in the neighborhood,” Reinares recalls.

    “I was shot in the stomach and the bullet passed through me. My father, sister and our maid died in that massacre. When I regained consciousness, there were bodies everywhere. Despite my wound, I was able to move from about, scrounging for food and making sure there were no Japanese around.

    “Bodies littered the streets and the houses in Ermita and Malate districts were aflame. Seven days after the massacre, I was found by an American soldier and taken to a hospital. The doctors said the wound wasn’t that serious,” he narrates.

    Ines Estregan, now living in the United States, also survived the massacre. Captain Engracio Losa, a harbor pilot, managed to elude the rampaging Japanese soldiers, but he lost his wife and nine children. Nobody knows the name of a nurse who survived the carnage, but people knew she was caring for retired American Colonel Nathorst, who did not survive.

    Reinares, who later played for De La Salle and Letran Colleges after the war, now lives in Merville.

    “Over 100,000 Filipino civilians and a total of 25 Germans (five at the German Club) were killed in the battle for Manila,” Krohn continues. “The German-Japanese relationship during the occupation had never been very good from the start. We considered ourselves neutral rather than allies.”

    Krohn’s grandfather, John Landhal, arrived in Manila in 1890 to set up a haberdashery shop and was one of the founders of the German Club at the site of the former Casino Español. Nothing was left of it at the end of WWII. The site was confiscated by virtue of the American liberation forces’ Alien Property Custodian rules. German survivors of the war had no chance at jobs, and those with funds still vaulted in banks found their accounts frozen by American authorities. Only until 1947 with Willy Kleinen, German Club president at the end of 1944, did negotiations begin for the return of the property. The argument was that the club had been incorporated by individuals and was never the property of the Third Reich.

    The German presence in the Philippines dates back to Magellan’s convoy. Three German gunners were aboard Magellan’s ship at the first landing on March 16, 1521. Hans Vargue was the only one three among the 18 survivors of Lapu-Lapu’s welcoming committee, who returned to Spain in 1522.

    Though the Spanish attempted to prohibit other foreigners from settling in the Philippines, Father Horacio de la Costa listed seven German names among the Jesuits who came to evangelize during the years 1581 to 1768. Georg Josef Kamel arrived in 1867 and later became a well-known botanist, pharmacist and physician. In 1832, Johannes Andreas Zobel, a pharmacist from Hamburg, arrived with his wife and two sons and established Botica Zobel two years later, despite a continuing anti-foreigner campaign by the ruling Spaniards.

    But Manila officially opened its doors to world trade in 1834 and by 1849 the State of Hamburg had opened a consulate in Manila. There were 17 Germans here at the time.

    In 1880 the predecessor of the German Club, called the “German Reading Club” opened and two years later became the “Casino Union” for citizens of all German-speaking nations. The American authorities permitted the forming of an exclusive German club in January 1906. Until the end of the Weimar Republic in 1932, the German Club served as their social center for residents and visiting German traders, scholars, diplomats, and officers and crews of civilian and naval vessels. It changed location three times but always furnished visitors German newspapers, magazines and a vital radio link to their homeland, until the outbreak of the war.

    After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, their German allies in the Philippines were interned and their property confiscated. The Japanese freed the Germans when they drove the Americans away, but severe restrictions were imposed on them by the new occupation forces.

    The sense of safety and neutrality they felt at the club lasted until the Japanese turned on them in 1945.

  8. Regarding some Japanese officials denying the atrocities, I believe one of them is incumbent prime minister Shinzo Abe, and according to what I have read about him, he has an ancestor who was a war criminal, thus his denial (possibly to cover up what his said ancestor did and save face) and why Emperor Akihito was kinda criticizing him in a speech that he delivered last Aug. 2015 (forgot where I read this from, though). So yeah, guess I shouldn’t be surprised if he and Noynoy does get along quite well? :p

    Also, in one of the lectures of one of my professors, he said that it wasn’t really the Japanese who committed said atrocities; in fact, they were a lot more kind and gentlemanly to the Filipinos. The ones who allegedly committed those atrocities were actually the Koreans who were under the Japanese. If we remember, Korea was also under Japan during WWII, so the Japanese were able to conscript even Koreans amongst their numbers.

    What do you think?

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