Late last year on one of our excursions to Makati, our host Leslie introduced us to local historian Edgar Krohn, who is called Bubi by his friends. It is one thing to read and be told about history, as is the case for most of us. Bubi is a “having lived it” historian.
Recently we returned to Makati, which is the business district of Manila, as you may recall. We asked Leslie if it would be possible to sit down with Bubi again. He was not available on Tuesday, since it was the first meeting of the year for the Rotary Club, in which he is active. Bubi still works, at age 80. On Wednesday afternoon we were able to sit down with him at the Pancake House, and talk over sodas and ice cream.
Although a Philippine citizen, Bubi is of German extraction, with his grandfather moving here over 100 years ago to set up an import business. His father’s brother was one of the first members of the Nazi party, despite being married to a Jew. Later when he realized his awful mistake, life became very difficult indeed, but he managed to escape and live to 101. Bubi’s grandfather was not so lucky, having gone to the Mayo Clinic just before the war broke out and dying in America before he could return to his family.
Bubi’s sister, three years his elder, was in a private school in Switzerland before the war. Their father was given assurances by the headmaster that she would be safe, but that headmaster died. His sister ultimately ended up having no choice but to serve in the German army, despite Philippine citizenship. Fortunately, she survived the war.
Because Germany and Japan were allies, the Germans in the Philippines were held under suspicion by the U.S. Army. But less than a month after the war broke out, the Americans declared Manila an “open city” – uncontested, leave the civilian population alone – and got the heck out of Dodge, so to speak, leaving the Germans now in the hands of the newly occupying Japanese. Most European and American civilians like Leslie were interned. The Germans, while not interned, weren’t treated particularly well by their Axis allies. Interestingly, Bubi and his parents and other Germans were interned by the Americans at Bilibid, the Manila City Jail, for several months after the liberation. They were finally released in September, more than a month after the war was over.
As the Americans returned to Manila in February, 1945, the Japanese began a campaign of killing civilians. The worst massacre was in the German Club, where 500 innocents were murdered. According to a recent documentary depicting the atrocities of the Japanese in Manila in 1945, they were under orders from Tokyo to kill all civilians, and they may very well have succeeded had the Americans not intervened. As in all conflicts, American bombs killed some civilians in its liberation effort, truly unfortunate, but the alternative is unthinkable.
Bubi, about 16 at the time, moved from building to building trying to avoid the fires that were deliberately being set by the Japanese, as well as the bullets and bombs that were flying all over the place. During our first 10 days here we stayed at the Lotus Garden Hotel, which is near the corner of Mabini and Padre Faura. That neighborhood, home to Bubi at that time, was totally destroyed. We wonder how many Filipinos who travel those streets every day realize or even care what happened there less than 65 years ago.
Bubi has co-authored two books about the German Club of Manila. We think that a book about his life would be fascinating. He told us that he has piles of papers with his notes on them. Maybe someday he’ll let us look at them and write his biography. A mutual friend told us that this would be better because if Bubi wrote an autobiography it would be 10 volumes.
On a side note, thanks to those of you who asked for our address to send us bottle openers, but we are happy with the status quo.
By the way, should you want to send us something via snail mail, our address is:
Steve and Marcia Kwiecinski
c/o Artemio Matibag
Corregidor Foundation, Inc
2nd Floor, Room 212, Dept of Tourism Bldg
T M Kalaw St, Ermita, Manila 1000 Philippines
We tried having things sent to Corregidor via the Cabcaben post office but have so far received nothing. Marcia’s stepmother sent us a Christmas card from Minneapolis on December 11. The postmark for arrival in Manila is December 24. Because that is holiday time here, it was not delivered to the CFI office until the day before yesterday, January 8. It was a nice surprise. Unlike in America, apparently the post office here also gets a long holiday vacation.