Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp

Life and Liberation at Santo Tomás, Manila, in World War II

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About the Book

During World War II the Japanese imprisoned more American civilians at Manila’s Santo Tomás prison camp than anywhere else, along with British and other nationalities. Placing the camp’s story in the wider history of the Pacific war, this book tells how the camp went through a drastic change, from good conditions in the early days to impending mass starvation, before its dramatic rescue by U.S. Army “flying columns.” Interned as a small boy with his mother and older sister, the author shows the many ways in which the camp’s internees handled imprisonment—and their liberation afterwards.
Using a wealth of Santo Tomás memoirs and diaries, plus interviews with other ex-internees and veteran army liberators, he reveals how children reinvented their own society, while adults coped with crowded dormitories, evaded sex restrictions, smuggled in food, and through a strong internee government, dealt with their Japanese overlords. The text explores the attitudes and behavior of Japanese officials, ranging from sadistic cruelty to humane cooperation, and asks philosophical questions about atrocity and moral responsibility.

About the Author(s)

Rupert Wilkinson is emeritus professor of American Studies and History at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. He has published ten books on aspects of American and British society. He lives in London.

Bibliographic Details

Rupert Wilkinson
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: 46 photos, 2 maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6570-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1218-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction: Telling the Santo Tomás Story  1

 1. War Clouds Over Eden  9

 2. Internment  24

 3. A Porous Prison  35

 4. Dorms, Shanties, and Sex  49

 5. “Cheer Up! Everything’s Going to Be Lousy”  68

 6. Child’s Play  82

 7. Power: The Japanese  94

 8. Power: The Internees  104

 9. Hunger  116

10. Threat vs. Hope  132

11. “They’re Here!”  143

12. Aftermath  157

13. Significance  178

Appendix I: Chronology  193

Appendix II: The Camp’s “Ten Commandments”  198

Appendix III: The Literature of Santo Tomás  200

Notes  203

Bibliography  221

Index  229


Book Reviews & Awards

“perhaps the best book we have ever read on the civilian POW’s in Wold War II Philippines…this book is rated four stars”—Military Bookshelf; “Wilkinson has produced a compact, eminently readable, thoroughly sourced and documented account of a neglected aspect of captivity during World War II. He clarifies how internees survived their ordeal in Santo Tomas and how the imprisonment experiences of Allied soldiers differed from those of civilians. Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp does a valuable service by opening promising new lines of inquiry for students and historians of World War II in the Philippines.”—Michigan War Studies Review; “Wilkinson’s discussion presents a fascinating window into the lives of internees…a wonderful work on a marginalized subject and a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any reader interested in the occupation aspects of the Pacific War”—H-Net Reviews.