Bali, who sustained three severe beatings at the hands of the Japanese
From Mrs. Armen Baliantz,
San Francisco, CA 94111
Dear Dr. Michell,
Thank you for your book which brought memories to life buried all these years. I smiled, laughed, cried and sobbed but kept on reading far into the night. How vividly alive it was once again!
My son Artie, killed in a motorcycle accident a few years ago, was born there. I remembered how I used to take him and my daughter Jeannette, just a tot then, to watch you kids play games under the guidance of our Eric Liddell, whom we all loved so much. How sad it was when he died still so young. Perhaps he could have been saved if we had proper medical facilities.
There were other casualties as you describe, some survived and some whom time never healed. One of them is my ex-husband Bali, who sustained three severe beatings at the hands of the Japanese. He was unable to get over these horrible experiences emotionally, or physically. His brain was damaged by the blows on his head and he became irrational in his behaviour over the years. He drinks heavily still and has to rely on his very old mother to cope with living. In spite of all medical treatments while we were still married, he continued to deteriorate mentally so that living with him became dangerous for my children and myself. Eventually he left for Florida to join his parents leaving me with his enormous debts, our small business on the verge of bankruptcy and two children to raise. With God's help and hard work I survived, paid off all debts and made my restaurant one of the best known in San Francisco.
Much of my husband's problems with the Japanese was his inability to control voicing his true feelings. His family owned the Vienna Cafe, bakery and confectionary in Tsingtao. They were successful and were known to be rich. The Japanese knew that too, and on pretence that we were Iranian, or Persian subjects, confiscated all their property. We could not prove that we were stateless Armenians since the Persian, or Iranian Consulate was closed due to severance of diplomatic relationship with Japan. The Japanese took advantage of this to send us to Weihsien.
The first beating occurred while we were still in Tsingtao.
There was a Jew from Russia by the name of Goez, who had a Portuguese passport and who made no secret of being an informer for the Japanese. He also dealt in gems. Bali openly criticized him and he apparently informed on Bali. As a result, Bali was taken from Iltis Hydro, where we were held, and beaten so badly that he bled from neck to legs. He was also questioned where he hid his money and other possessions. Thankfully, in spite of the beating, he did not reveal this. Luckily for Bali and us, his family, there was a Canadian physician, Dr. Chen, also an internee at Iltis Hydro, who saved Bali's life. We also had moral support from our new friends, the Whipple family, whose daughter and Jeannette became good friends. They were there for us with encouraging words and prayers which we appreciated with all our hearts.
Bali was born in Manchuria, where there were no English or Russian schools. They lived in Mukden and his parents sent him to Asian elementary schools so he was fluent in Chinese and Japanese. While in a Japanese school, he met Kogo, and the two boys became friends. You may remember that Kogo was in command at Weihsien for a few days. Personally I feel this was no coincidence, but a Japanese attempt to get Bali on their side. Later Kogo and Bali went to Red Croft, an English school in Tsingtao. Both took Cambridge exams to graduate and Bali passed these exams with honors. Incidentally, Ida Lupino was also at Red Croft. When she visited us here, they enjoyed reminiscing about their time there.
We were in the first group to arrive at Weihsien and were assigned a closet size cubicle where four of us adults, and later two children and all our luggage had to fit. We lived one on top of the other like that until V-Day. Coupled with all these hardships, there was a lack of necessary facilities, a constant feeling of hunger, and at times, despair. Kogo accompanied by a former teacher, a Catholic nun, chose this time to persuade Bali to work for the Japanese offering a possibility of work in the Supply Room. Bali refused. "Why don't you want to work in the Supply Room and be able to get better food and living conditions for your family?" Kogo also stressed that Bali was an Armenian from Asia Minor. To this Bali replied: "If I'm an Armenian born in China, then what in the hell I'm doing in this camp? " I'm sure Kogo reported this conversation to his superiors as Bali was placed on their black list.
Instead, Bali joined the Catholic Fathers, de Jaeger and Martin and Oswald Dallas to provide news to the internees. Bali's contribution to this secret conspiracy were translations from Japanese newspapers which he snitched at every opportune moment. Later he managed to get hold of a radio which a Japanese guard trustingly gave him to repair. To avoid detection, the radio was played during Mass hidden in an obscure corner of the altar. Eventually, the Japanese got wind of that and Bali was taken to the Guard House and beaten so severely that his face and hands were swollen beyond recognition for a very long time.
The third beating occurred while I was in labor attended by Doctors Elizabeth Corky and Grice. The Japanese guards barged right into delivery room and demanded the name of the child to transmit to Tokyo. Bali replied that until the child was actually born he couldn't tell whether it was a boy or a girl. The guards still insisted so Bali told them that if it was a boy, he would name him Arthur in honor of General MacArthur. This enraged the guards and they beat him in front of my eyes. I'm surprised that in the books I read about Weihsien, the "Shantung Compound" by Langdon Gilkey and "Rising Sun" there is no mention of Bali's contribution to the acquisition of news, or the beatings he endured at the hands of the Japanese.
There is also no mention that two Armenians, my father-in-law and his friend, Mr. Sanosian, both experienced in the art of baking bread, operated the camp's bakery and provided all of us with fresh bread daily.
Thinking back to those days at Weihsien, I can't help admiring the dedication of your teachers in spite of all privations they faced, in being able to organize some semblance of ardor and care for you children, so cruelly deprived of your family support during the war. They did more than their duty to ease your suffering and continue your education in spite of all hardships. I must say you behaved beautifully and we all enjoyed your presence there.
Weihsien brought the best in us and I still remember some wonderful people I met there and with whom I'm still in touch. One of them, of course, is our hero, the Navy Lt. Jimmy Moore, who along with the other six of his men, risked their lives to tell us that the war was over. I'll never forget that scene which you described so well in your book. The element of surprise and the exhilarating joy that followed when their appearance out of the blue was explained. Who can forget that day! It will remain with all of us who were there as one of the most wonderful memory of our lives.
The lesson I learned at Weihsien is to be helpful as much as I can, and to treat all people with the same trust and respect I knew from fellow internees while a prisoner of the Japanese.
Again, thank you for your gift, a well written book, which all of us who were there will treasure.
May God bless you and your family.
Cordially, Armen Baliantz
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ARMEN BALIANTZ 1921-2007 / Joyful owner of Bali's restaurant, warm-hearted friend of the great
© - Steven Winn, Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic
Published 4:00 am PDT, Saturday, August 4, 2007
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... read Laura Hope-Gill's blog about Weihsien - March 2012.