history, photography

(9) Creating Historical Fiction: Herbert Zipper

Barbara and Zorka Kiss are lost in more ways than one. Struggling to survive in Manila during the Japanese occupation in 1942-45, I came to a spot in the narrative where I needed to blend the Nazi and Japanese atrocities together for sharing the characterizations of two unique Jewish sisters. Zorka is the classical musician who is accomplished with the viola. She is at a crippling part of the story and needs to move forward and not let tragedy keep her captive. At twenty, she must learn that her childhood avocation has a more meaningful purpose to her identity.

“But we all learned the motto of Dachau to heed

And became as hardened as stone

Stay humane, Dachau mate,

Be a man, Dachau Mate,

And work as hard as you can, Dachau mate,

For work leads to freedom alone!” – “Dachau Lied”

Enter the real man, Maestro Herbert Zipper. I had never heard of him. I stumbled upon his unique story and was thrilled, for I found my bridge and motivation for Zorka. It’s one of those human stories that can’t possibly be made up. Reality is stranger than fiction. Herbert is that and more!

Herbert Zipper (1904-1997) was a refined and educated Vienese Jew. By the time of the Anschluss in 1938, his father went to Paris to secure emigration papers for his family. Herbert had fallen in love with his soul mate,Trudl Dubsky, who was an accomplished ballerina. Herbert and his brother were arrested, transported by cattle cars and deposited to Munich’s concentration camp, Dachau. The infamous greeting, “Arbeit Macht Frei” greeted the Jews. While he was in the camp, he survived by focusing his energies on composing and creating an “outhouse” orchestra. For fifteen minutes a week, music was played and their humanity stayed intact. Through music, Herbert survived and gave inspiration to those around him.

Februrary 20, 1939, his father had secured the necessary papers and his sons were released from Dachau. Once in Paris, Herbert made his plans. Trudl was in a ballet in Manila having secured a spot with another Vienese conductor the pair knew. When he suddenly died of a heart attack, Trudl advocated for Herbert to replace him as Conductor of the Manila Symphony.

Zorka will befriend the Zippers and it’s Herbert’s wisdom which will lift and transform Zorka. The plot becomes richer because of Herbert and Trudl’s love, courage, and underground activities. It will be a pleasure to showcase the real couple in the novel. The tie in with fact and fiction is perfect.

I found Paul Cummins biography of Herbert Zipper fascinating. Try Dachau Song: The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper. His famous song, “Dachau Lied” was composed and sung by the inmates of Dachau. Here it is if you’d like to listen to it:

https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/music/detail.php?content=dachau

Rough Draft:

During a sticky-hot monsoon in August, Zorka scanned the papers and discovered an article featuring the conductor of the Manila Theater of Arts, Dr. Herbert Zipper, a Vienese Jew who escaped Dachau and Buchenwald and came to Manila to accept the post of head conductor. A particular quote resonated with Zorka. “Music,” he quoted, “is God’s powerful gift that fills the heart and replenishes the soul when all seems lost.” Zorka felt a glimmer of inspiration. She desperately wanted to meet and talk to him. If he can survive the camps with music as his beacon of light, then so too, can I.

She stared at her viola case set in a corner of the living room. She pulled out the instrument, and her bow announced clear notes. The music seemed to seep into her blood. She played for hours a day, remembering her first recital at eight and her performances as a teenager for the Minneapolis Youth Symphony. She replayed pieces from solo concerts during Purim. She remembered the requests by the family in the parlor during Yom Kippur. As a transfusion, music flushed the sadness out of her heart.

Thanks for reading!

1940s, historical fiction, history, World War II, writing

(8) Creating Historical Fiction: Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor Island, Philippines

Forgive me, it’s not Corregidor Island, but my shot is an island in the Pacific. Can we agree the sunsets are similar?

For my blogging buddies who study WWII, and for those who enjoy how historical fiction is created, here is an update on Chapter 5 of “The Lost Sisters of Bataan.”

Barbara Kiss and her nursing mates evacuated the jungle hospital in Bataan and find themselves at Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island. Reading memoirs is the best way to incorporate the details of an event to create the historical climate. The vernacular. The incidents. A day in the life. The tragedy.

Differing accounts experience similar events but from a different place on the island. A Navy officer tells his story on a ship. Another account is from the standpoint of a pilot. One is a Marine in a gunpit defending the southern shore at Monkey Point. Nursing accounts in the tunnel are priceless.

Next, factor the research from scholars, historical foundations, sites, specialty groups, and documentaries which have an important say about war in the Philippines. My head fills up.

Interested in the facts at Corregidor? Roger Mansell, Palo Alto, CA site titled “Center For Research Allied POWS Under the Japanese” is a great compilation of primary sources: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/philippines/pows_in_pi-OPMG_report.html#Malinta_Tunnel_Hospital_Group

How about a virtual field trip to Corregidor Island? I liked the site “Battery Way” created by John Moffitt.

https://corregidor.org/fieldnotes/htm/fots2-100523-2.htm Battery Way John Moffitt “Rediscovering Corregidor”

Finally, avoid “fact dumping” by describing the facts without plagerizing and integrating the facts into the adventures of the fictional characters.

The result? Historical fiction is an echo of the past.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 5:

_________________________________________

April 9, 1942 

Six nurses huddled close, unable to see. Barbara crouched in the inky night waiting at the jungle periphery of Mariveles Harbor for a boat to transport them to Corregidor Island. To deprive the enemy, dynamite explosions rumbled and fire flashes announced U.S. efforts to demolish weapons and ammunition. She looked at her wristwatch and tilted the face until a flare illuminated it was 0330. During the intervals between detonations, the darkness was like a dense fog that insulated them from the demolition of war. Only their voices were heard.  

“Where’s our boat? It was supposed to be here at 0200.”

“Be patient. It will come.”

“I wish it were daylight. All I see in this blackness are faces. Our patients. We left them.”

“How could we?” 

“What were we supposed to do? We followed orders. We did our best.”

“I see the scared faces of the villagers who begged for a ride out of the jungle.” 

“What of the soldiers waiting for surgery?” 

“Where will the Japs take them?” 

The patter of small arms fire nearby interrupted their talk. A jeep arrived at the docks. Barbara breathed a sigh of relief when a flash illuminated Captains Roland, Fox, and Lt. Nesbit. Where was Lt. Colonel Schwartz? Someone whistled at the officers. In the jungle ferns, Barbara sat on a log with Cleopatra Dulay who shivered with chills. Yesterday the Sergeant had mild symptoms, but now Malaria fever throttled her. Barbara blindly stretched out her hand and aimed for Cleopatra’s forehead. She was burning up. The only idea Barbara could think to do was distract Cleopatra from her uncomfortable situation. Curiosity prompted her. “How old are you, Dulay?”

Barbara heard teeth chattering. Cleopatra answered, “I am thirty.” 

“You look–”

“I know. I’m so tiny people assume I’m a girl.” She wrapped her arms around herself and clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from clacking when she talked. “My mother wanted me to marry and have children. My aunts and sister had problems delivering babies due to our size.” She started to wheeze. “That’s not for me.” It took time for her to regulate her breathing. “I enlisted in the Filipino Army when I was eighteen. It was the only way to bypass village life. Join the Army. Send money to the family.”

“You did a fine job as the chief supply clerk. No. 2 ran smoothly because of you, Cleopatra.” 

She tapped Barbara’s hand in thanks. “What will Malinta Tunnel be like?”

“Better than the jungle, surely?” 

The male officers drew closer to the nurses and stood vigilant on the sandy beach. Lt. Nesbit batted away fronds and crawled over buttress roots to get to the pair. “I thought it was your voice I heard. How are you holding up, Sgt. Dulay?” 

“I’m glad you finally found us, Ma’am. What happened?”

“When we got the order to move, in the confusion, some of us had to fend for ourselves and walk. I was one of them. Until I came upon Captains Roland and Fox. Has anyone seen Ethel Thor? I can’t account for her.”

Silence. 

A twinge of worry warbled her voice. “It’s a hodgepodge scramble. I’m sure Thor will catch up.”

“She’s a tough cookie.” 

“A crusty old bird, that one.”   

“I watched her help Capt. Roland with a complicated surgery. Her hands were inside the cavity rearranging the innards of a patient while Paul stitched his aorta.”  

“She’s a lifer.” 

“Not this nurse. As soon as the war is over, I’m going back to Wisconsin to kiss my future husband and watch my children grow up.” 

“Amen to that, Carol.”

“I’m going to live in a big city and eat in cafes every day. I’ll find a nice man who loves books, and we will live together in sin.” 

“Who said that?” 

“What? That was Barbara?”

“I thought you’d be back in your Minneapolis neighborhood, married, and filling up on bagels with lox?” 

“And a chocolate egg cream.” Barbara laughed. “I pledge to order both every day for the rest of my life. But it won’t be in Minneapolis.” 

A hefty explosion silenced their chattering. They had a clear view along the coast of an ammunition dump explosion. The fireworks catapulted upward like white ribbons reaching for the moon. Lt. Nesbit announced, “I’m going to the pier to find a phone and contact headquarters at Corregidor for help. If a boat arrives, nurses, make sure you take it.”  

Lt. Fox told her, “I’ll go with you, Lieutenant.” They scrambled down to the harbor buildings. Soon a Navy seaman waved his flashlight in their direction. He pulled a cord and started the outboard motor attached to the stern of a dinghy.  

Captain Roland said, “Go, girls. He can take the six of you across the bay to Corregidor. We’ll catch the next ride.” 

Barbara, Cleopatra, Laura, Carol, and two Filipino nurses crept with their heads down to the dock. The waning moon kept the waters dark, and their eyes adjusted to shadows. As the boat puttered away from Mariveles Bay, no one said a word. The water was smooth, and Barbara put her finger in the coolness. Laura reached over and yanked on her arm. She pointed. A few yards away the water shifted and rolled. The dorsal fins of several sharks sliced up through the water testing the air. Barbara yelped and put her hand back in her lap.  

Thanks for reading, friends.

P.S. This eighteen minute video is useful for my spatial, mathmatical-logical learners. The technology is excellent. It puts World War II into perspecitve as a human, global event.

The ending is uplifting. Have you seen it?

1940s, books, culture, historical fiction, history, Research, World War II, writing

(7) Creating Historical Fiction: DC-3, Short-snorter, Nisei and Racism

Some of my blogging friends have expressed interest in the inner-workings of creating historical fiction. Or, they love history in general, especially WW2, and wanted to read about the research. These topics might interest you.

In chapter 4, the character Zorka Kiss moves by train and plane to get to the Philippines. With her is Ken Suzuki, a Nisei language student. He’s been assigned to Manzanar to recruit other Nisei to join the Army and become a spy for the U.S. Racism surrounds him from all sides.

To get some idea of what obstacles faced Nisei on the homefront, I read the 1957 memoir by John Okada. After the release of Japanese Americans from internment camps, it was expected they move forward with their lives as though nothing happened. Those men who resisted were known as “no-no boys,” for twice having answered no on a compulsory government survey asking whether they were willing to serve in the U.S. armed forces and to swear allegiance to the United States. 

No-No Boy tells the story of draft resister, Ichiro Yamada, whose refusal to comply with the U.S. government earns him two years in prison and the disapproval of his family and community in Seattle. I highly recommend it. 

Photo by Amber Brierly on Pexels.com

DC-3

At one point, Zorka prepares to fly from Oahu to Australia to Manila. To describe what that was like, I enjoyed the 2010 Flying article, “DC-3, A Real Man’s Airplane” by female pilot, Martha Lunken who describes, “The truth is that a “real” working DC-3 is a man’s airplane — incredibly grungy inside and out; dripping black stuff; reeking of Mil-5606 hydraulic fluid, engine oil and 100LL; with leaking relief tubes, dead animals and body odors of the unwashed freight dogs who fly it. You’re likely to find tins half-full of tobacco juice, decades-old candy bar wrappers and rusty soda pop cans, sometimes full of cigarette butts, on the cockpit floor.” You can read the article in its entirety here: https://www.flyingmag.com/pilots-places/pilots-adventures-more/dc-3-real-mans-airplane/

Another article in JSTOR gave insight to the planes and conditions after the Japanese Imperial Army took over Manila and the surrounding islands. I had never heard of the “Bamboo Fleet,” but it added to my understanding the chaos of the takeover, the dangers, the heroism of the pilots. Here is a brief excerpt written by John Farrell:

“As with the fighter aircraft, the initial missions of the Bamboo Fleet were comprised mostly of transporting passengers. Between 100 and 120 personnel were evacuated through the Bamboo Fleet. (42) Bradford alone evacuated twenty-two key personnel from Bataan. (43) Some of the more interesting Bamboo Fleet evacuees included a Chinese emissary from Chiang Kai-shek caught on Luzon when the Japanese invasion commenced. (44) Also evacuated on the same flight were two Nisei American spies who had been undercover among the Japanese community in the Philippines gathering intelligence. (45) Had they been taken prisoner, their ethnicity and status as spies would have made them subject to treason in the eyes of the Japanese. Had the Bamboo Fleet not gotten them out, they would have most probably been executed. Most of passengers, however, were fellow pilots. Although fighter pilots served in infantry units while on Bataan, their skills and experience would be needed in cockpits for the future air operations. Some were ferried to airfields in Mindanao to fly up some of the three fighter aircraft shipped in from Australia, but most were being evacuated to Australia to serve in other flying units.

While the fleet flew out passengers, the return trip would usually bring extra food and ammunition to Bataan. As the siege wore on, medical supplies became the more vital cargo, particularly quinine to ward off and treat malaria. By the end of January, most of the troops were infected with malaria parasites. By March 23, 1942, 750 cases of malaria were reported daily. The Bamboo Fleet’s flying in 758,000 quinine tablets helped alleviate the situation, but three million tablets per month were required to prevent the spread of malaria. (46) Despite their efforts, whatever supplies the Bamboo Fleet could fly in was never enough.”

Farrell, John F. “THE BAMBOO FLEET: HOW A RAGTAG AIRLIFT OPERATION SUPPORTED BESIEGED U.S. FORCES IN THE PHILIPPINES IN WORLD WAR II.” Air Power History, vol. 59, no. 2, 2012, pp. 14–23. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26276176. Accessed 30 Jan. 2021.

Notice Nisei spies were airlifted. A perfect opening for my fictional character Ken Suzuki to be a part of the plot. And, Kay Weese, from book 2 becomes associated with the Bamboo Fleet.

Photo by Signal Corps – US Army, Eleanor Roosevelt signing short-snorters

The Short-snorter

Learning about the short-snorter from the National Museum of the United States Air Force was perfect trivia to include in the scenes where pilot Kay Weese incorporates authenticity to the flying experience. The ultimate goal in writing historical fiction is to place the reader back in time and have them feel with all their senses what it was like to be in the Philippines in 1942. I’m always looking for the little bits that give the fiction a sense of reality.

https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196124/a-useful-souvenir-the-short-snorter/

The souvenir was a way for soldiers sharing an aircraft to obtain as many signatures on a currency bill. When a soldier made it to the base bar, “show me your short-snorter” was the challenge. If you precured one, you did not have to buy a round. Those with the fewest signatures had to buy a drink, too. Even if one wasn’t into drinking games, it was a souvenir along the likes of a passport stamp showcasing all the places a soldier traveled in the world.

Racism

Two memoirs helped me understand the fight to survive after the Japanese takeover. One, from a navigator’s perspective (Edgar Whitcomb) and two, from the Navy officer trying to save his crew (John Morrill). Their job specific vocabulary, the flight patterns, the activities of mine sweepers, subs, various ships as they escaped from Corregidor was helpful when I created fictional scenes that felt like 1942.

I have a historical dilemna perhaps you can help me with. Whatever memoir I’m reading, whatever memory I recall growing up of people referring to the Japanese, they were referred with the racial slur, “Jap” or “Nip”. If I were to use the term today, I would be considered a racist. I would never use the term. But if I lived in 1942…

If I am creating a historical fiction, wouldn’t it make sense that my characters would refer to Japanese Imperial Army soldiers as Japs and Nips? I bring this up because in the first novel, my African American character is called the N word and the editor at the time warned me it would offend readers.

If I don’t refer to the Japanese Imperial Army with the ubiquitious slang at the time, I would not be creating the historical climate. After all, it’s history that informs the present society how the past society acted. Historical fiction allows the reader to compare the past with the present. Time is a gauge that helps change the future. To implant present morays to the past, alters the past. That feels very Orwellian to me. What do you think?

Thanks for reading! On to Chapter 5…