Jean “Sascha” Weinzheimer was born on Feb. 7, 1933. At 18 months, she contracted polio. Mom traveled with her to the United States every 15 months for new braces, shoes and surgeries. Her previous trip was November 1940.
She lived a life of leisure on the family’s sugar plantation with her brother, sister, parents, uncle, aunt and cousins in Canlubang, Laguna Province on the island of Luzon, Philippines.
Sascha’s grandfather, Ludwig Weinzheimer, established and managed his plantations for years. Early in 1941 he retired to a 1,800 acre ranch in the Sacramento Valley. With great concern Sascha’s mother wrote to her father-in-law, “Should we come home to Sacramento because there are rumors of a Japanese invasion?”
Her father-in-law told them to stay because the rumors were “greatly exaggerated.” Most grandfathers would be concerned for the safety of their sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Ludwig was secure in Sacramento. Apparently, report says he had short arms and wore pants with deep pockets.
The Japanese began bombing the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941, causing her to miss her February 1942 appointment. When Japanese bombs fell near their plantation, they moved to the Bayview Hotel in Manila. Jan. 2, 1942, the Japanese captured Manila. Sascha’s father was taken to Santo Tomas University, which became a Japanese internment camp with 4,000 expatriate males from America, Australia, Britain, France, Holland, Norway and New Zealand.
Sascha, her mother and siblings were allowed to live in several convents from 1942 to 1943. After Sascha witnessed a small Filipino boy drowned by several Japanese soldiers, her mother decided the family would be safer in Santo Tomas. Sascha’s younger brother, Buddy, had not seen his dad for a year and did not recognize him.
Sascha’s mother never lost hope of being liberated. “Sascha, save one nice outfit to wear the day we are liberated from the Japanese.” After enduring two years of starvation, mom could not walk. Her weight had dropped from 148 to 73 pounds. Leaflets were dropped from US planes, “You will be liberated soon!”
Tears of joy stained their cheeks, as the family watched their panic stricken Japanese guards on the evening of Feb. 3, 1945. Quickly they changed into their liberation outfits. Suddenly mom realized she had forgotten to apply the small piece of saved lipstick. Her husband had to carry her to and from their 10-feet-by-11-feet shanty to recover and apply her lipstick. “I’ve been saving this for our boys!” Rule one; look your best for your liberators.
Seven days after landing at Lingayen Gulf, on the evening of Feb. 3, 1945, the 1st Cavalry Division’s lead Sherman tank rammed the front gate liberating 3,000 internees including 60 Army nurses, “the Angels of Bataan.” The newly liberated prisoners cheered as GIs rushed through to capture cowering Japanese guards. Sascha shared, “We ate candy bars (from the GIs) until we had diarrhea.”
In April 1945 the family returned to Sacramento by ship shortly after President Roosevelt had passed away on April 12.
Sascha was interviewed in Ken Burn’s documentary, “The War.” She shared her experience as a starving internee at Santo Tomas. For months before they were liberated, every day up to ten internees died from starvation. She had no patience with people living in the states during the war who whined about dealing with ration stamps. “We were prisoners of the Japanese for two years eating fish heads and rice. We learned to consider the bugs in our rice as protein. If we did not bow correctly to a Japanese guard, we were struck with rifle butts!”
Sascha was four days short of turning 12 when Santo Tomas was liberated. Today she lives in Vacaville and is involved in the Bay Area Civilian Ex-Prisoners of War Association. Sascha will celebrate her 83rd birthday on Feb. 7, 2016 because she overcame obstacles.
“Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” — Vince Lombardi
(I recommend reading “We Band of Angels” by Elizabeth M. Norman, who wrote the untold story of American nurses trapped on Bataan and spent three years caring for their fellow prisoners at Santo Tomas.)
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.