Three Gaijin Letters from Yokohama in the aftermath of WWII

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  • Three Gaijin Letters from Yokohama in the aftermath of WWII

    1. “What a beautiful death.” A Marianist Brother’s Outlook: The first letter is by Xavier Bertrand, a teacher at the Marianist school, St. Joseph College, whose student body drew largely from the expatriate community as well as from among mixed-race families. St. Joseph and its faculty of Brothers avoided the worst of the war by moving the school into the mountains, although many other Marianist schools in Japan suffered much worse fates.

    1. A Teenage Survivor: The second letter is from John Schultz who had been a classmate of my Uncle Ray at St. Joseph until the war began and ended the flow of money from his father in the United States. He was 15-years old the time, and lived with his single mother and sister. It is hard not to be moved by his story.

    1. One German businessman’s perspective: The third letter is from Willie Helm, my grandfather Julie’s youngest brother. He was always one to take risks and somehow always ended up okay. He took his inheritance early and invested it in failed ventures in the Japanese colony of Manchukuo, yet when he returned, his oldest sister took pity on him and left him with her fortune. Although his mother was Japanese, during World War I he went to war to protect German’s Chinese colony from the Japanese army. He suffered a head wound but survived and was sent to a prisoner of war camp. When World War II began, my American grandfather had to leave Japan for California, so Willie, a German, was put in charge of the family company, Helm Brothers. Willie made a great deal of money working with the German navy, which was based in Helm House. It is said he operated a lucrative black market out of the apartment building’s basement. But when U.S. forces arrived after the Japanese surrender, Willie’s luck had run out. His assets were frozen by U.S. occupation forces, and not long after he wrote the letter, he was deported to Germany. Before the trip, Willie put all his family jewelry and other valuables in the safekeeping of a German diplomat. The valuables were never returned.

    1. A Marianist Brother’s Perspective: This letter was written by Brother Francis Xavier Bertrand of Japanese vice province of the Society of Mary, and a French teacher at St. Joseph College, a Marianist school established on the Bluff in Yokohama in 1901 and closed in 2000. The letter, delivered “through the kindness of Archbishop Spellman” of News York, was translated from the French and distributed to friends and former students of St. Joseph in the United States. My grandparents, Julius and Betty Helm, whose children, Larry, Ray and Don attended St. Joseph, and had moved to Piedmont, California shortly before the war, copied the letter and and passed it on to friends and relatives on October 9, 1945

Park Hotel, Gora, Hakone Japan Sept 15, 1945

Dear Brother John Kessler,

Finally the World War has ended, and we are all still alive. Who would have believed it? We are profiting by the kindness of Archbishop Spellman, Archbishop of New York, who honored us today with one of his pleasant visits, and who took it upon himself to carry our correspondence to America. Mail in Japan is not functioning as yet for foreigners. (Mssr. Spellman gave us a gift of $250 and instructed Captain Cyril Curtis, an Australian, to buy us supplies. It was this Captain who flew the Archbishop here. Incidentally, he is one of our old boys. And now I am going to begin to relate a few of the vicissitudes of war we underwent.

St. Joseph College, established 1901

In the month of September,1943, the 29th, I believe, the police came to tell us that all the foreigners on the Bluff in Yokohama must evacuate. We immediately searched for a desirable and convenient place. We discussed for quite some time whether should move to the seashore or take up new quarters somewhere on the Tokyo plain. Finally we decided, after the New Year 1944, to live in the mountains. We were able to rent St. Joseph’s College for 12,000 yen a month. This allowed us to move into the hotel in the Hakone mountains at the bottom of “Big Hell” [a hot spring.] We used thirty and a half trucks to transport the most necessary and important things to Gora. These trucks went irregularly from the 20th of February 1944 to the end of March. The first time I went along in a truck. I almost had an accident. The roads here, as you know, are very steep and our truck didn’t use gas. It was one of those charcoal burners you no doubt remember. Well, the one I was on stopped and almost rolled into a ravine.

 Finally, one after another, we all arrived for good on the 17th of March. Living here was very trying because in the month of March it was very cold, with much snow, and there was no furnace installed. As the hotel had been neglected during the war, the windows and doors didn’t close very well. By the followings winter we were able to install a stove in the study room and it was O.K. One of the best things about the hotel was the fact that there were warm baths of mineral water coming from one side of Big Hell (which you know.) Unfortunately, it is only from time to time that we have this warm mineral water.

Toward the end of April 1944, we started school with seven pupils. Now we have forty boys and girls. At the present, I have 14 pupils taking music lessons, most of whom are girls. They are using three of our five pianos. I left one piano in Yokohama, taking a chance on it; the fifth was taken to Tokyo and fortunately was not burned. The little organ we had in the second parlor at Yokohama was sent to the Gyosei (Morning Star School) and burned there.

In Tokyo, the building at the Morning Star School was not bombed, but four buildings caught fire and burned. Fire from our neighbors spread to the large school constructed of reinforced concrete, then to the Brothers’ house then to the science building, and finally to the tailor shop, kitchen and refectory. We especially regret the loss of our rich and valuable library and the wonderful museum, which took go many years to develop.

At Kobe our school building was bombed and burned, but our Brothers had already moved to the country. Father Fage(Benefactor and Affiliated Member of the Society) was caught in his burning church and trapped by falling debris. He was burned to death while trying to save the Blessed Sacrament. What a beautiful death for a missionary after having been at the post in Kobe for fifty years.

At Osaka the Meisei (Bright Star School) suffered great damage due to incendiary bombs. All was burned except the building constructed of reinforced concrete.

At Nagasaki, the Kaisei (Star of the Sea School) suffered damages due to the atomic bomb, the new weapon which Hitler hoped to use to crush the allies.

Star School at Sapporo was spared as also our school at Yokohama. But our neighbor, the sisters [St. Maur’s], were burned out at Yokohama, Tokyo and Shizuoka. The third story of the main school building at Yokohama caught fire by accident, and that on Christmas Eve 1944. We still own our school in Yokohama and will come back if there are pupils. We will return there, soon, perhaps. In the meantime thieves have not scrupled to steal many things, among them curtains from the windows and the large drop on the stage in the auditorium. Today, two of our brothers , Bros. Crambach and Gessler, received an obedience to return to Yokohama to watch over St. Joseph College.

You did well to leave for America because the internees of your [American]concentration camp were moved to our old country house near Yamakita [in the mountains outside Yokohama.] They were not well treated especially towards the end. One man (Emery Jones) died of hunger. American fliers let fall 40 sacks of supplies for them. One sack went through the window of the old confession room.

Now you see, I am writing my old pupil and walking companion to return old favors and to acquaint you again with the French language. When are we going to take our next walk together. Here in the country near the Grand Fujiya Hotel it is very beautiful. The big shot of the American military authorities have taken over the Fujiya Hotel as their quarters. On the 6th of Sept we received our first visit from American soldiers and drank to their health. The next day they took many photographs and some movies of our Brothers and pupils for American papers. If you watch carefully you many see them. They also promised to send some to Dayton University. We are now 24 brothers. Bro. Gerome left here last spring to die in Tokyo of an ordinary sickness.

Bro. Bertrand.

2) Tales of a Mixed Race Teenage Survivor

Letter from John Schultz — Jan 8, 1946

Dear Ray,

I thank you very much for your nice letter which I received it yesterday. I reached San Francisco on 18th of December last year. It was lucky for me that I have found two American Red Cross men on the ship. When the ship reached San Francisco, these two men brought me to the American Red Cross in the  city. The lady in there was very kind to me. On the first day, I slept in the Y.M.C.A. But it is the first time for me in United States since 18 years that I don’t know where to go. I even don’t know how to go to the restaurant. So I did not eat anything on that day. The lady in the Red Cross worried about me and put me in the Buddhist Church in S.F. because there are lots of Japanese people, and I am used to it with Japanese character.

On the second day, I went to see Bro. Tribull. He was very glad when he saw me and at the same time he was laughing because she put the Catholic boy in the Buddhist Church.

At his place, I was told about your telephone number. So when I went back to Church, I have phoned you, but you were not there. I heard that you went to Jujitsu lessons. On the third day, I went to see him again and he introduced me to other brothers. I will tell you an interesting thing that those Japanese people in the Church don’t believe that Japan was really defeated. On the same day, at half past six, I took a train from Oakland and went to Corvallis, Oregon. It took me 21 hours. I met my father at Albany. He was very glad when he saw me. I went to my uncle’s house. I spent my Christmas at his house. After three days of staying in Corvallis,1 took a bus and came to Olympia. 0lympia is a small town, but it is very beautiful. Perhaps I can say that it is one of the most beautiful town I have ever seen since I came to United States. I used to live near the Capitol Bldg, but it was raining all day that I had no chance to go and see it. After three days I took a bus and came to Renton. First 1 got off at Seattle (my home town) and took another bus to

Renton. I am in my aunty,s house now. She is very kind to me. I am in here for ten days already. That means I have traveled three states in ten days. Even the circus cannot travel three states in ten days.

I am very glad to hear that you are attending to school. I have wasted three and half years of school, because when the war broke out, our source of money from America was cut off. Afterwards, Mr. Haegeli told me to come to school, so went, but two months after, school was closed because Bluff was in the fortified zone. After the school was closed, all the teachers went to Hakone and opened the school there, but the police did not permit me to go there.

When Japan declared war against America on 8th of December (7th in U.S.) I was only 15 years old, so the police did not say anything to me. But on the first and second day, I did not go out anywhere, because I was afraid of the police. 1 have gone to the school for a month after the war was started. After that, I went out to work in the typewriter company in Tokyo. They paid me only 15 yen ($1) per month. With that much money, I helped my mother.She was her very glad much when I sent so much with the money, but I helped her quite much with other thing, because I lived in Tokyo and ate the meals at the company.

The government and the people were very kind to me at the beginning of the war, because they were winning all the time. But when they were defeated at the Island of Guadal Canar (crossed 1) and lost the way to go to Australia, the  government began to talk bad thing about America to the people, and they forbade to use the enemy people in the company. So ten months after, I was out of job and I came back home again. After that, my uncle used to give us little money, and we made the farm on the back of our house to raise the vegetables. The government even tell the people to give out all the Jazz records. Persons who did not give out these records were be punished. They said that they cannot fight against America when they are listening to the American music. After I was back from Tokyo, I was at home for about ten months. Afterward, Mr. Haegeli told me to come to school, so I went into 1st High School class from Sept 16, 1943. It was too difficult for me and Mr. Grosser taught the Algebra, which we have to learn in one year, he taught in two months, so I don’t even know the addition of the algebra. The school was closed on the 22nd of Dec 43, and all the foreigners have to move out from the Bluff. Honmoku was also the fortified zone. It was lucky for us that we were out of the zone. After the school was closed, the government made more strict law against the American people who was not interned. I was not permitted to go out from my house unless if it is not necessary. Even they don’t permit me to go out to the town to buy something. I was only allowed to go around my house and I could go as far as Sagiyama. I was not permitted to pass the tunnel and go to the other side of the town. Once, I went to the shore, secret,and on the way back home, I was caught by the police. He took me to the police station, and did not let me go out for half a day (I was not in the jail) That day, I don’t know how many slaps and kicks I got. After I came back home in the evening, I got sick, and I went into the bed for eight days. Then I came back home and sat down,that was the end for me. I could not even stand up on account of the kicks I got. It was 15th of February 1944. I will never forget this day. This is secret to everybody except you. Even Donker doesn’t know about this. After that, I was strictly guarded by the police, I have to write the diary and bring to the police station every week. I have done this till the date of the air raid. After that, what I can do was just stay home and help my mother. When the B29 begin to appear on the sky of Tokyo, most of the rich Japanese and all the foreigners except the enemy people had gone to the country. We could not go because we are enemies of Japan. That is why, on 29th of May 1945, we were burnt out. Donker Curtius , Mr. Mayes, Eddie Duer, Bryden, Gomes, and rest of other enemy people were also burnt out. The air laid began at nine o t clock in the morning, and finished at eleven o’clock. Two hours after, there is no more fire. At the same time, there is no more Yokohama left.  used to say “Gone with the fire” for Yokohama, Americans dropped average of two bombs to every people of Yokohama (including small and big bombs) Believe it or not, but it was written in the Japanese newspaper. For me I got one extra bomb than other people, we got three of hundred pounds incendiary bombs into our house, I think you know how small my house was. The air-raid siren alarmed, when I was still in bed. That time, the planes are over our house already. Whenever they bomb Tokyo, they use to fly over our house. That is why,  thought they are going to bomb Tokyo again. I was counting the planes in the bed. First line was with ten planes, but they did not drop any bombs. Second line was twenty planes. Third was thirty three, fourth was fifty two. And with the fifth line of hundred one planes they dropped the bombs around your house and Honmoku. I will not forget that noise, when the bombs are coming down from the sky, I cannot remember anything but, when the bombs came into my house, it made a big noise, and at the same time, what I can see was only the black smoke and the red flames of the fire. At this time, I got a burn on my hand and on my leg. It was the hottest and the coldest day I ever had in Yokohama. During the fire it was very hot  and in the evening it was very cold, because I have no more house and clothing, I came out with on gray short pants and one pink sweater. I came out with no underwear, no underpants, no shoes and no socks. I was wondering what shall I do this winter when the war does not finish: but luckily the war is over and we won the war, so the army supplied me with the clothing. After the air-raid, I walked around my house, but I could not find my mother and sister. On the next day, I found my mother and sister’s body in the canal. Both suffocated to death by smoke. That day, I can’t even understand what the people are talking about, because I lost my mother and sister at once, word that I cannot forget was: the neighbor told me that mother and sister must be glad because they were killed by the American bombs. Two days after, I made a small shack with burnt tin and burnt wire. During the war time, we could not get any wires and nails; but after the airlaid you could find the tins, wires, and nails in everywhere, but they are all burnt ones; I used to live in this small shack for two and half months. On 15th of August, Japan surrendered and there was a negotiation that the US Army is going to come into Japan on the 26th of August. But they postponed till 28th because there was a typhoon, my shack was blown away. After that I used to live in the air laid shelter, because even I rebuild my shack, it was in the typhoon season. Three days after, I met one captain and I begin to work for him as an interpreter. I worked for him for three weeks. After that I was sent to Manila as a recovered personnel. I got on C54 from Atsugi and went to Manila via Okinawa. It took only ten hours. I was in 29th Replacement Depot (25 miles south of Manila) for four weeks I used to get better food and better treatment than the ordinary soldiers, because I was a recovered person, I was in there from October 2nd to October 30th. Afterwards, they sent me back to Japan, because I was civilian. They told me to go to Tokyo and go through the American Consulate in Yokohama. It was not my fault. It was the army who made the mistake. I have landed on Atsugi Airfield on 1st of November. I was in Tokyo for one month. During that time I went through the American Consulate, and the army put me on the ship called LT. S.S. Leonard Wood. They know that I am going to Seattle, and they put me on the ship that goes to San Francisco. But it was lucky for me, because the ship that goes to Seattle left Yokohama game time with us, and this ship went into the storm and lost all the lifeboats and one man.

I left Yokohama on the 4th of Dec. and reached San Francisco on 18th. Donker Curtius was interned three days after the war started. When I went to his house to see Bouldwin and Henry on the 8th of Dec., he was very intoxicated, because he was so discouraged by the outbreak of war. But he came back from the camp in the end of 1944, because he got sick. After he came back, they have moved to the back side of the Honmoku middle school. During the war time, I did not visit him so many times, because we were both enemies of Japan. Maybe I didn’t even visit him ten times, after the war was started.

I myself was told by the police not to visit the enemy people of Japan. On 29th of May, he was also burnt out. His house was burnt and his neighbors were not burnt. Afterwards they have rent the room from the neighbor and they are still there. Since Jimmy and Joyce were Japanese citizen, they could go any place they want to go. His grandfather was interned when the war was started, but he came back home three weeks after, because he was too old. He died in 1942. After the school was closed, Jimmy was just playing around the house, but Joyce was attending to Koran Gakko till the date of air raid, Jimmy is still small but Joyce is very big now. She is only little bit smaller than I. On 29 of May, his house was also burnt down, and they are living in the air-raid shelter now. I saw both of them once after I came back from Manila. His father is working as an interpreter now. When 11th Airborne Division occupied Sendai, he also went to Sendai. He is still there now.

Japan had a short of food during the war time. I think you know that. The time when you left Japan, the sugar and the rice was already rationed. After the outbreak of war, the food condition became worse and worse. In 1942, even the fish and the vegetables became rationed. In the same year, the fuel like charcoal and wood became rationed. In 1943, they used to give us half of the food what we need. In 1945, we could not get anything. The fishermen does not go out to fish, because they were afraid of the submarine and the sea planes. After the air raid, the food what they gave me for 20 days was just enough for me for only four days. They used to give a little bit of rice and hard soy beans and some shoyu. They gave me only 2 sen worth of salt per month. Vegetables once in about three weeks; frozen fish, once in about three months. I did not see the meat for three years.After Saipan was taken by the Americans, we could not get any sugar. In 1945, eight pounds of sugar cost 5000 yen in the black market. So I got sick after U.S. soldiers came into Japan, because I took too much sweet at once. When the army came into Japan, I was weight only 85 lbs., (only three times as heavier as a turkey) and I am 135 lbs now. The day when I went to Manila, I weighed 110 lbs. That means I have gained 50 lbs in 4 months.

In Washington, we have “liquid sunshine” every day. These few days, we have frost in the morning, but usually it is very warm. (Much warmer than Yokohama) If it is fair weather, we could see Mt  Rainier from our house.

I’ll close here, otherwise there will be no limit. Please give  my best regards to your parents and Larry. Shultz


Oct 24, 1945

Letter from Willie Helm, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Julius Helm and Ray and Larry

533 Boulevard Way, Piedmont, Calif.

Authorities ordered all foreigners to clear out of Honmoku and Bluff. Most went to Hakone and Karuizawa orders came March 1944.

Willie’s family went to Karuizawa after having taken most of the clothing and some old furniture to Karuizawa. The good furniture as well as baby grand, phonograph, Frigidaire, washing machine, sun lamp, were placed in go-downs [warehouses]  in the settlement no. 90. Which was burned down.

Willie Helm Born: Yokohama 1891; Died: Germany 1951

Agnes, Veronica and Richard were in Karuizawa and still there.

Willie lived half time in Karuizawa and half time with Bud.

Bud purchased 804 [Julius’s house?] with all contents. We thought it a good idea instead of any Nip getting it. But now it’s no use as all burnt out together with contents.

In the excitement, Bud only rescued his tuxedo, swallow tail suit, hard form shirts, still with New York laundry labels and 85 cents alarm clock. All the rest of his stuff is gone.

Butter is now 100 to 150 yen a pound but impossible to get. Potatoes 20- 30 yen a kwan. Rice 60- 80 yen a sho. Agnes still has kidney trouble.

After the fire, Willie moved to a room in helm house. On the morning of the 29th of May practically all of Daijinguyama went up in smoke up to former mis ross’s house.  Same day all of Motomachi, Isezakicho, Honomku were gone.

What is left of Honmoku near our place, just a couple of Japanese houses, all our houses—Willie’s Gomei, Bernard-Bells houses broken up through bombs.

Although [Japanese]soldiers are back it’s impossible to get carpenters.

The Nips seem to be dazed that they lost the war—how long they will be like that we do not know—they ought to work since they have no food to eat but even if they had money what could they buy.

When 804 burned on the 29th, Bud shared Willie’s room in the Helm House. Everybody being very nervous before they left Willie’s place. Agnes and they were no more on speaking terms—Willie also got somewhat fed up—outside of these there were another two burnt out people put into the house. Four guests at one time for such a long period was too much. (E+L

[sisters Eloise and Louisa] were staying there during that time)

On the 24th of August Nip authorities gave orders for all people living in Helm House to clear out within 24 hours as the place had to be made for sleeping quarters for U.S. officers. Nips would not even allow Bud and Willie to stay there so had to find quarters.

Katchan lost all her stuff, went to the country and now came back two weeks ago and working for Walter—she has only one dress what she has on. Walters leg at last better, had been bad for over two years.

Bernards living in servants rooms of Barney’s place, old man now 92 years old they were interned up to the end of war. Total eyesight, 98 percent hearing gone but brains working normal and good appetite.

Would appreciate very much if you could do something if any way possible—victuals as well as money—Willie will repay when he can—nothing can be done from here. Would be nice if they could be brought to your town.


Helm Brothers, Marianists, St. Joseph, Yokohama

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