'I hope killing of people in war doesn't happen again'

Moshe Hai Sion was 15 when Singapore fell to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942.

Able-bodied adult Jewish men were among those rounded up and interned at Changi Prison but he avoided the internment.

"I was too young to be a threat," Mr Hai Sion, now 90, recalled.

He was then living in a shophouse in Short Street with his father, a watch spare parts trader, and a younger sister.

His father, who was in his 60s, was too old to be interned but the family had to wear white armbands in public which identified them as Jews.

Mr Hai Sion stopped studying at St Andrew's School to help with his father's business. But the family got rounded up again in March 1945.

They were taken to the Sime Road Internment Camp and spent about six months there until the Japanese surrender in September.

The Japanese set up the camp at what was a Royal Air Force base to hold mostly Europeans and Eurasians.

"We heard Germany wanted Japan to kill the Jews in Singapore but the Japanese said no because the Jews here were no threat to them," he said.

"We were locked up instead."

At the time, Jews in Europe were systematically rounded up and killed in concentration camps.

"Life at the camp was hard. There was not enough food and we made mostly stew," he recalled.

Photo: The Straits Times

"Once a week, we would get a duck egg. We had to write our initials on the egg and give it to the kitchen to be cooked."

At 18, Mr Hai Sion was considered strong enough by the Japanese to be a labourer.

He spent his days farming and was occasionally taken to Johor to log rubber trees.

Unknown to him at the time, his future wife Victoria was also interned at the female section of the camp.

"Once a week, on Sunday afternoon for two hours, the male and female internees were allowed to meet," Mrs Hai Sion, 90, said.

The couple did not meet during their internment.

But she said life there was not all depressing: "There was a woman who would play the guitar frequently. There were also two babies born there."

Mrs Hai Sion estimates there were a few hundred Jews in the camp.

Some knew through radios smuggled into the camp that the war had ended in Europe in May 1945.

They also had an inkling that the war was coming to an end in Singapore.

The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug 6 and 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered the next month.

"The Japanese gave us better breakfasts with eggs," she recalled. "They were also more polite."

Just before the war ended, Mr Hai Sion had a close shave with death.

He said a group of labourers were told to dig a tunnel but it was not finished.

"We learnt after the war that the British were planning to land in Malaya to retake Singapore and if that had happened, the Japanese were planning to put us in the tunnel and bury us. We were digging our (own) tombs," he said.

After the war ended, the couple went back to their families.

They met a year later at a social function, got engaged in 1949 and married in 1951, raising four daughters.

The couple did not visit the Sime Road camp after the war or talk much about their internment days.

"I'd love to visit the site one day," said Mrs Hai Sion.

Her husband continued his father's watch spare parts trading business and has visited Japan several times for business.

Asked how he felt towards the Japanese, Mr Hai Sion said: "I bear no animosity towards the Japanese.

"We are lucky to be alive. I hope such killing of people in war does not happen again."


This article was first published on February 14, 2017.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.