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The Saga of the White Russians Refugees in the Philippines

By: Ricardo Suarez Soler

“I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope.” Aeschylus

Wiped clear from memory is the agonizing tale of a child who was conceived in Tibwa, Sinkiang, China’s deep and distant interior, while its parents were on the run from their professed enemies. The child grew in its mother’s womb as both its parents and several hundred White Russians were running away from rampaging swarms of Chinese communists. The group traveled 1,400 miles to Lanchow, where the child was born. Cradled in its mother’s arms and ill-fed from her drying breasts – often near-empty from the lack of food and proper nutrition she was subjected to by force of circumstances – the child survived the arduous land journey of another 1,300 miles to Shanghai and the ensuing 1,500 miles sea journey in a rusty, rickety Chinese steamer to a remote island called Tubabao. Here, a day after their arrival, the now six-month-old baby girl, unable to further endure the travails of the odyssey died. She was buried in a grave dug by her father. She was the first of many White Russians who died in that island.

Filipinos who once knew, and very few did, also no longer recall that 6,000 White Russians refugees, who had fled the communists in their country and were now fleeing from the Chinese communists in Shanghai, were once encamped in the same island, Tubabao. A part of the town of Guiuan in what is now Eastern Samar in the Philippines, the forlorn tropical forest of coconuts was home for them for nearly three years Except for those who survived the ordeal and their kin, the same amnesia exists in most people throughout the world.

Reading Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago many years ago made me aware of the ugly conflict between the White and Red Russians, which the communist Reds won, forcing the Whites to flee to other lands. But a fuller appreciation of who they were I gathered during a casual conversation in the late 80s with the then Russian Ambassador to the Philippines, a conversation I recalled recently while staying in a small resort in Tubabao owned by the family of Guiuan’s mayor, Annalisa Kwan- Gonzales. It was only then I learned it was in this island that the White Russians had been given refuge.

The envoy explained that the designation red and white was merely an imprecise and loose distinction of his people based on their political affiliations during the Russian Civil War and is at present no longer really relevant. Red Russians were the Bolshevist rebels under Lenin who overthrew the ‘white’ Tsar Nicolas II during the bloody Russian Revolution in 1918. The Bolsheviks were denominated Red because the communist flag with its hammer and sickle has a red background; the Whites because they were members or supporters of the Tsar’s imperial court where the official color was white. The Tsars had opted to use white for many years to contrast with the red color preferred by Roman Caesars and the purple favored by Anglo- Saxon royalty. The White Russians, avid military and political supporters of the Tsar, were conspicuous in the use of white as the basic color of their dress, particularly the uniforms of the officers of the imperial army.

The Whites fiercely opposed communism. Seeking to re-establish the old regime, they fought the Reds in many fronts with an imposing line-up of men and materiel. Despite their logistical and manpower superiority, they still lost what was the lesser- known but more devastating Russian Civil War (1919 –1920) because of contentious rivalries between their different groups that led to a fatal disunity and finally to defeat.

Since they faced persecution by the victorious communists, they had to flee their Mathuska Rossiya (Mother Russia) to safer ground. A few of the rich among them were accepted in some of the free world countries in Europe and both Americas while most of the poor could only migrate, mainly by long, arduous travel by land, to China, remaining there until the Chinese communists under Mao Tse-tung that were overrunning China were on the outskirts of Shanghai and they had to flee again. 1

After World War II and the defeat of Japan, full-scale civil war erupted between the Chinese communists led by the peasant-philosopher-revolutionary Mao and the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), a republican party led by the militarist, Generalissimo Chang Kai Tsek. Eventually Mao’s army overtook most of China and drove the KMT to the island of Taiwan. As it became ominously clear that Mao would soon inexorably take Shanghai as well, the White Russians, ‘stateless’ and with no other nation to shield them from harm, were placed in great peril since they were rabid anti-communists and would surely be persecuted by the Chinese communists. Most of them had by this time moved by the thousands to Shanghai from other cities in China to join the other White Russians there. All had to flee and relocate to friendlier ground outside the communist state. 2

Gregory K. Bologoff, a former Cossack colonel in the Tsar’s Imperial Army, managed to unify several contentious groups within the Russian Émigré Association in Shanghai, which had previously been racked by dissension and disunity among the various ethnic groups of refugees. Bologoff rallied the White Russians and planned their mass departure; the greater number of Russian Jews in Shanghai did not face similar persecution. Bologoff’s powerful leadership resulted in most of the white refugees affirming their opposition to communism; their wanting, on foot if necessary, to leave Shanghai; and their refusal to accept Soviet citizenship, and even more so to return to Russia. They demonstrated their fervor by burning their Russian passports. Bologoff circulated appeals for the world’s free countries to grant asylum to the refugees, indicating the tragic situation they would face if no help were forthcoming. Many countries responded with ‘comfort letters’ sympathetically condoling with the pain, hurt and frustration of the refugees but no country offered to take any of them in. In fact, the Americans, English and French, still in friendly albeit tenuous terms with Russia, refused to take the refugees. They had no place to escape to.

That is until, surprisingly, the Philippines, exuding the famed hospitality of its people, agreed to take them all, through the International Refugee Organization (IRO), as transient guests, offering them refuge in Tubabao until arrangements could be made for their immigration to other countries. Then President Elpidio Quirino, himself, expressed the willingness of his country to house the refugees.

Thus begins the story of how the white Russians came to settle in the dry, lonely, thickly greened but sparsely populated island of Tubabao, a saga that needs to be

told, as it was an odyssey of near-epic proportions.

The IRO, however, as far as some White Russians recall, was not really enthusiastically supportive of the refugees. The refugees surmised the reason for this to be that communist Russia, now united as the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), was a member of the United Nations, IRO’s mother organization. The Soviets thus exerted influence on the IRO and, in fact, the latter’s office in Shanghai was conveniently just across the Soviet consulate, making it cozy for them to exert pressure against too vigorous IRO support for the refugees. (Memoirs of Konstatin Kluge, page 6-8 of

Tubabao – Russian Refugee Camp, Philippines 1949 –1951, Russian Historical Society in Australia, November 1999)

The evacuation was beset by problems; to begin with, the matter of registering the refugees as ‘stateless’, organizing their orderly departure, as well as, finding transport for them to Tubabao. The IRO finally found three ready to be scrapped ships but these had no crew. Negotiating with the authorities, IRO was able to get Chinese prisoners who had some sailing experience released from jail to man the ships. Some of these prisoners were murderers; the rest toughened criminals serving long jail terms. While knowing that the ships had every possibility of sinking, they accepted since, as a reward, they were to be set free when they returned from transporting all the White Russians in Shanghai to the Philippines.

IRO’s seeming lack of sympathy was obviously shown when the first group of fifty young men, who were assigned to leave ahead for Tubabao and prepare the campsite for the refugees, arrived in Manila expecting to be met by a certain Capt. Price of the IRO who was to take care of them and help with their necessities. As it turned out, Price was not at the airport. It was only after three months that he made an appearance in the now settled Tubabao camp without giving any reason for his

non-appearance in Manila. (Oleg Miram, pages 11-16 of Tubabao – Russian Refugee Camp, Philippines 1949 –1951, Russian Historical Society in Australia, November 1999)

Oleg Miram, who now lives happily in California, led the initial ‘Working Group”. In a personal account, he writes that his group, stateless, without passports or papers of any kind, was instead met by reporters who were so delighted by his saying that they wanted to express their gratitude to the Philippine President that the Manila Times’ headline the next day read “The Russians Are Thanking The President.” That was as much welcome as the refugees would receive; they were guarded by uniformed men brandishing machine guns upon arrival, a security practice enforced, somewhat less pointedly, throughout their stay in the Philippines. 3 (NB The Manila Times continued to cover

many of the occurrences and events in Tubabao to a public not particularly interested in the refugees.)

Having no funds at all, Miram’s hungry ‘Working Group’ could not afford to buy food. Perhaps the sharpness and ingenuity of the White Russians in their desperate situation was first displayed by Miram’s convincing the American woman owner of a restaurant at the Manila Airport to feed his group with him just signing for bill that would be sent to Price in the Manila Hotel address where it would paid for by him. During their two days before being flown to Tubabao, Miram’s gambit fed the group of 50 and, upon arriving in Guiuan and, using the same technique with the Chinese owner of an eatery, the group was fed until they put up their own kitchen in Tubabao, The same tactic was employed to secure some of the needed materials, tools and equipment to start the work of preparing for the arrival of the first group of arriving from Shanghai.

When the group arrived in the island, it was almost uninhabited except for a few fishing villages along the island’s few and tiny beaches. The Americans, who had chosen Tubabao as one of the ‘receiving stations’ for its Navy, had built facilities for 10,000 military personnel billeted in the island during the war. They had erected Quonset huts for offices, sleeping quarters, kitchens and mess halls, a laundry, recreational facilities and even a church together with essential utilities. Miram’s team expected to see these in the island but when the Americans left, the locals had cannibalized the structures that had not been destroyed or blown away by storms. His team was left with a couple of derelict Quonset huts, an abandoned walk-in fridge, a worthless mechanized laundry, a ramshackle church and a rusted pontoon pier. One of the first things they had to do was to dig latrines and layout a pipeline to direct water from a distant creek nearer the campsite.

Miram’s group arrived on January 12th and had to make the camp as ready as possible for the first mass group of 500 refugees arriving on the old and creaking ship, the S.S. Hwa Lien, scheduled to hit port in Guiuan on January 23, or in less than two weeks. They did their best to make sure that when this group arrived they would not just be dumped in the island and barely succeeded in doing so. As the first and subsequent groups arrived, they were assigned tents built whenever possible on the Quonset hut’s concrete foundations. Groups of tents were organized into districts so that rules could be enforced within smaller groups but otherwise they were practically left to take care of themselves.

Somehow the IRO was able to supply U.S. Army tents and food left over from the long-ago ended war like corned beef, canned powdered milk, macaroni, dried vegetables and some K-rations along with stoves, cooking utensils, dishes and metal tableware. The refugees themselves found supplies of food in tin cans, a few of which were already rusted and bloated as indeed were some of those supplied by the Americans. The macaroni the latter gave were infested with small beetles, which had to be carefully picked out before it would be cooked. The refugees were cautious about the contaminated food but still a few of them got sick from this.

A few able-bodied young members of the National Organization of Russian Scouts

(NORS) led by Scoutmaster Oleg Levitzky came with Miram’s group. Many more scouts arrived with the groups that followed and several young people joined the NORS in the island. The scouts helped many hapless refugees, some of whom were professionals who did not know how to pitch a tent, much less endure a hostile environment that sapped their strength, survive their initial ordeals. The camp was quickly populated by over 6,000 refugees and the scouts, numbering nearly a thousand, helped build a city of tents; reconditioned discarded war equipment salvaged from neighboring islands including jeeps, pumps and small generators to

help make life easier in the island. (Email exchanges with Nikita Gileff)

In time, IRO managed to provide generators to partly supply electricity to the island.

A hospital, sanatorium, an activity center with a stage and a movie screen and a

storage facility with its supply office were also built along with a cemetery and churches for every represented denomination. Camp life, still harrowing and difficult, assumed a subtle sense of bearable discomfort that with the minimum of creature comforts available gave the White Russians a sense of home and helped kindle their hopes for eventual migration to countries that could offer better conditions.

All the living refugees I was able to contact, now mostly in their late seventies, recall their lives as children in Tubabao as being pleasant and exciting. Among the most interesting of these survivors was Olga Valcoff, a very pleasant septuagenarian who was among the last to leave Tubabao. She was finally able to migrate to the United States only in 1951. Here Ms. Valcoff wrote a compelling autobiographical story, Goodbye Russia Hello Golden Gate (Authorhouse Publishers, 2007), that details the White Russians’ odyssey from Russia to China, to Tubabao and finally, in her case, to America. The book is well grounded with historical and factual background. The kind author not only waived in my favor her copyrights on the book and allowed me to directly quote from it but also sent me fascinating photographs of life in Tubabao, a few of which accompany this article.

She makes a distinct differentiation of what life was like for the young and the old in Tubabao: “Life in Tubabao was generally one big party for many young people, but for the adults in our camp, the atmosphere was entirely different. Some were depressed because of the climate, which was often oppressively hot. We had to content with monsoons and typhoons that in turn caused mudslides on occasion. Many of the older people were chronically despondent, seeing no future for themselves and their families in the Philippines. Former businessmen now spent their days fishing and dejectedly reminiscing about their previous lives, which had been busy with work and wealth. Other residents fared better, involving themselves in a variety of chores and occupations to deal with the daily routine of life in the camp.

“Though our quarters may have been sparse, in time the camp grew to be a truly thriving town. We had a church, a school, and a community stage where the residents staged plays and concerts and showed American movies. There were frequent dances and beach parties that many young people enjoyed. As a teenager, I found life in Tubabao certainly provided much fun and a busy social life.” (Goodbye Russia

Hello Golden Gate, Olga Valcoff, Authorhouse Publishers, 2007)

As much, if not more than their elders, most of who did not speak English, the young enjoyed the Hollywood movies shown in the main recreation square. These included Judy Garland musicals and such serious classics as “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. The movies helped improved their English, better preparing them for life in Australia and the United States, where efforts were being done to allow their immigration. Too, they soon and sure enough learned American dances like the jitterbug and boogie. There were many courtships taking place constantly, a few resulting in marriages on the island including that of Oleg Miram. who married one of the many beautiful refugees.

Olga Valcoff’s book is a very personal narrative written as its blurb reveals ‘from a young girl’s eyes that weaves a heartfelt story that will captivate you.’ It is also astonishingly sincere and simple, marking characteristics that I gathered in my communications with her as being her normal traits. In her very first emailed letter to me, she wrote: “It is wonderful that you have taken interest in the history of the Diaspora of the Russian refugees in Asia. Finally, someone other than us has taken an interest to tell the story of the trials of the stateless Russians,” and in answer to my question about what she remembered of the Philippines, she wrote:

“I do remember Guiuan very well as we went there to purchase some food items and, especially local sandals. We also bought fruit from the roadside vendors near the camp. Although I am 76 years old now, I have very vivid memories of my life in Tubabao. I have several friends in California and we often reminisce about our life

there.” (Email exchanges with Olga Valcoff)

Describing her flight from Manila to Tubabao, she reminisces, “The view was spectacular as we flew over the multitudes of islands in the early morning, which gave me hope that life on the island may prove to be pleasant, perhaps,” noting further that the “Philippines had some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen; each one featured different colors that filled the sky and reflected off of everything around us, bathing us in its hue. As we sat in the sand and enjoyed this show of nature’s beauty, the air was filled with the scent of tropical flowers, which grew abundantly and in wide variety all over the island. It was truly an amazing sensory experience that I still enjoy revisiting in my mind to this day.” (Goodbye Russia Hello Golden Gate,

Olga Valcoff, Authorhouse Publishers, 2007)

Her description of the camp clearly reveals the difficulties encountered by her people: “The camp was broken up into several districts, each with its own kitchen, and the adults all had to take turns on KP duty. Everyone had to stand in line for meals, which we would take back to our tents to eat. We were mostly served soup, noodles, rice, and some particularly unappetizing beef stew, although we occasionally had a little cabbage or potatoes as well.” (ibid)

Another survivor of the Tubabao experience, Olga Burger, was born in Shanghai in 1936 and was not among the refugees that moved to the city because of the Chinese communist peril; her family moved to Shanghai when the Bolsheviks took over Russia. She was only 13 years old when she arrived in Tubabao with her parents but clearly remembers the danger of food poisoning was obviated by the truth that “When one is so hungry one does not think too much about the dangers.” She recalls that their “most serious problem proved to be the lack of fresh water. The men had to get it from a little spring and carried it back to camp in metal containers. Water was rationed, about three cups per person, per day.” But she does recall, “For

the children, it was an adventure.(http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/belongings/burger/)

In various exchanges with Nikita Gileff, who was an eight-year-old scout when he arrived in Tubabao and is now Chief Scout of NORS Australia, Gileff recalls: “I was one of the 8,000 White Russian refugees on Tobabao (sic) in 1949. I was only a small child and my recollections are good. As a kid I had a wonderful time swimming in the warm waters and going to Russian Scouts every morning for flag parade. On Sundays there was a huge scout campfire. For us young ones life was great but not so wonderful for my mother and other adults who endured the heat, humidity, fevers and living in a hot army tent. Facilities were almost nil. Anyway fond memories.(Email

exchanges with Nikita Gileff)

Among Gileff’s memories is the nostalgia of how the scouts raised the flag daily, attended religious services regularly and assisted in enhancing the life of the community They led exemplary lives, serving as models of discipline for the young, making it possible for the young refugees not to feel the pressure, stress and difficulties experienced by their elders. Instead the camp was an adventure for them where they learned to swim, dive, fish, learn first-aid and lifesaving procedures and

participate in various sports with no little abandon.

(NB There has never been an exact count of the White Russians who came to Tubabao and numbers are subject to question. Perhaps the 6,300 mentioned by Olga Valcoff in her book would be the closest approximate.)

Paralleling the living survivors’ personal reminiscences, a number of their relatives reminisce their own wistfulness on the subject and the circumstances their relatives went through.

One of these, Susan Hendricks, who works for an insurance company in America, researched and conducted interviews regarding the experiences of her great- grandparents and grandmother. She sent me snippets of her efforts with some pictures of the principals in China and Tubabao. Her grandmother, Zoya Ivanovna Pliasovskaya, married in 1937 an American soldier based in Tientsin, China against her parent’s wishes. Zoya’s parents had moved to China after the Russian Civil War and, forced to stay there, tried to live up to their customs and culture; this included marrying within their kind.

Zoya’s American Army husband, however, was her ticket to safety and freedom out of Tientsin long before the hordes of Chinese communist were anywhere near the horizon. Zoya’s parents had to stay in Tientsin since, as Hendricks writes, “the US wouldn't allow communists,” a sentiment she thinks ironic because her husband’s “great-grandparents (and probably their parents) were White Russians who fled the Communists from Western Russia to Eastern Russia to China, the Philippines, then to the US. In 1949, they were able to escape to Shanghai from the communists Chinese southerly takeover. From Shanghai, they went to the Philippines where they

camped out until 1951.(Email exchanges with Susan Hendricks)

The USSR issued invitations for the White Russians to come home and help rebuild their country. A number of White Russians believed there was sincerity in the Soviets’ invitation but those that went back discovered that the Soviets’ meaning was to rebuild the country from concentration camps where they were forced to work as virtual slaves. Many were not so lucky; they were brutally executed upon arrival in their home country.

Most of the refugees knew that they would not be welcomed in the Soviet Union. Cossack officers and their families were sure to be executed as enemies of the state, and Susan’s great-grandfather was a captain in the Cossack army. With great horror they had heard about England’s helping repatriate, in accord with the Yalta Agreement, some 40,000 White Russians from Lienz, Austria, who upon landing in Russia, were cruelly persecuted, with many being killed soon after their arrival.

Among the most tragic banes to befall refugees then was the Yalta Conference, held in early 1945 between the Big Three, the USA, England and the USSR as the war in Europe was ending to discuss the partitioning of Europe’s countries after the war; really no more than a ‘division of the spoils’ no matter how euphemistically the conferees, who pronounced it as the ‘re-establishment of war-torn Europe’, termed it. This was particularly true because Joseph Stalin, Secretary General of the USSR, held all the aces during the conference. His Red Army occupied and held almost all of Eastern Europe. He had massed three times more forces than the Allies had in the West and, knowing his position was strong, dictated terms so that in hindsight,

and too late, the Allies realized the whole thing had become a sellout as it legitimized Soviet expansion into what became known as the Soviet Bloc or communist Europe. But what was critical for the White Russians was that Stalin got Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt of the USA and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of England to agree to handing over Russian refugees to the USSR, regardless of their consent, through a process of repatriation. This led most refugees to tear their passports, disavow their citizenships and declare themselves ‘stateless’, as what happened in Shanghai. It was also agreed that German war reparations to Russia could be paid in the form of slave labor to repair the damage Germany had inflicted in Russia. It became simple to extend this ‘legitimized’ slave labor to Russian refugees repatriated to the country.

Susan brought to my attention the book The Tarasov Saga, written by Gary Nash from where she “learned the most about camp life in Tubabao,” explaining that Nash’s perspective was that of a teen-ager and thus very different from what her husband’s great-grandparents endured.

Gary Nash (born Igor Ivashkoff), grandson of Leonid Tarasov, a colonel in the White Russian army and head of a closely-knit family during this tumultuous era, was born in Tientsin, lived there until he was 17 years old when he was shipped to Tubabao before migrating with his family to Australia in 1949. In his book, he explicitly recalls the happy life he and young people like him lived on the island. But Susan may have missed Nash’s bemoaning the hardship of his elders with an eloquence that can only be born of the delicately guilty sorrow the young feel about the difficulties their parents endure:

“The tough life, the deprivations – these are what made our parents and grandparents courageous and resilient. They had to fight for everything. They learned not to wilt under pressure, nor to take anything for granted. They treated hardship as just a normal phase of life, a stepping-stone to a brighter future. And they were grateful for the good times when they came.” (The Tarasov Saga, Gary Nash - Kenthurst,


Susan also tells of an 82-year-old friend in San Francisco who was in Tubabao as a teen-ager and confirms that life in the island was one big ‘camp out’ for the young and a torment for the old, “The young people didn’t have to work and they enjoyed American movies and other entertainment. The adults’ experience was that of hardship and oppressive heat. They lived in tents, had to boil all their water, and they worked hard on the infrastructure and daily needs of the camp.”

The close and long-standing relationship between the living refugees, as well as their descendants, is displayed by Hendricks’s friendship with an 86-year-old refugee who lives in San Francisco, far away from her in home Seattle and patent in Gileff’s maintaining contact with Oleg Levitzky, his first scoutmaster in the island until the latter passed away last year in California, far away from Australia where Gileff lives.

Finally, the appeals made by the revered religious leader of the Orthodox White Russians, Archbishop John Maximovich of Shanghai, and their political leader, Gregory Bologoff, moved Pres. Elpidio Quirino to allow the White Russians to temporarily settle in the Philippines, the only country in the world to do so.

But they still had to overcome the objections of other countries to allowing them to settle as immigrants in their shores. Both men tirelessly worked to convince the free world countries that the only hope for the refugees was refuge as immigrants in countries like the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, Argentina and other South American countries.

Their ardent, continuing supplications resulted in officials from the USA and Australia to finally consider the refugees’ situation and to take a personal look at their condition by visiting the camp. The most prominent of these visitors was United States Senator William Knowland, a California Republican and a persuasive man not known for subtlety, who used the anti-communist mood prevailing in America to enhance his political standing with great success. 4 Knowland was one of the senators instrumental in amending the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, allowing the Tubabao refugees to finally migrate to America. 5

In the end, some 3,000 refugees in Tubabao migrated to America. The greater number of those remaining moved to Australia, the balance, particularly those in need of medical treatment for such chronic diseases as tuberculosis, psychiatric ailments and cancer mainly to France and Germany. Some 100 migrated to Argentina and 200 to Uruguay, while the rest went to other countries in smaller numbers.

There are no traces of Russian features in terms of facial or skin characteristics among the inhabitants of Guiuan today, supporting the general denial of any sexual or romantic, licit or illicit, relationship between the natives and the refugees. Neither are there any traces of the camp the Russians inhabited for three years.

It is as though the whole thing never happened.

From all indications, the difficulties and sufferings that often tormented their lives, which began in Shanghai long before they moved to Tubabao, were not to end even after they migrated to Australia and America. In both these countries, many of them continue to feel oppressed, albeit subtly, after the many years they endured the pains and hurts that started during the Russian Civil War many, many years before.


1. With the overthrow of Nicholas II, a provisional republican government took over control of the country. But this did not last long because Bolshevik groups led by Vladimir Lenin, a rabid disciple of Karl Marx’s economic principles, and supported by workers (represented by the hammer in the red flag) and peasants (the sickle) succeeded in toppling it and formed a communist-controlled government. Differently leaning groups opposed the Bolsheviks and this resulted in the Russian Civil War (1919 to1920), a less known historical event than the Great Russian Revolution. The most prominent and uncompromising oppositionists to the Bolsheviks were members of the tsarist aristocracy and imperialists loyal to the Tsar. It is this civil war that led to the color denomination of Russians as Red and White. With this imposing line up of men, which included the famed Cossacks, a special social estate that enjoyed collective autonomy in Russia and had ferocious military units that served as a special imperial guard, protected the country’s national borders and joined in the many conflicts of Russia during that and earlier periods, and a vast arsenal of weaponry, the Whites were initially able to maintain control over vast portions of Russia. But internal conflicts, defections and clashes for control and the sad reality that the white alliance soon became one in name only so that the White armies began to fight the communists separately instead of as cohesive and cooperating allies – together with the disenchanted masses taking the side of the communists – finally led to their defeat.

Some of the more affluent Whites, who had political and financial clout, took refuge in rich foreign lands, including England, France and the United States. The less fortunate had to escape to China. Here they were primarily located in Harbin, Tientsin, Peking and Shanghai where they lived harrowing lives but survived the savage Japanese occupation of China and WWII, remaining there until the communists under Mao Tze-tung were on the outskirts of Shanghai.


2. As Mao’s army overtook much of China, the White Russians on the verge of being taken saw the necessity of moving to Shanghai. Being rabid anti-communists, they were ripe for persecution by Mao’s army or, at the very least, for repatriation to Russia where they faced deportation to brutal slave labor camps or certain death – as had happened to some 40,000 Cossacks and their families, who, betrayed by the English to comply with the Yalta Agreement, were repatriated from Lienz, Austria to the USSR where most perished.

Shanghai, because of its foreign concessions – quasi-autonomous areas occupied and independently governed by agreement with the former Chinese authorities by Americans, English, German, French and other nationalities who lived there in comfortable and splendid autonomy and allowed this because they were traders and essentially a main link in the trading structure between China and the world – seemed safe as it was thought Mao would not take Shanghai and disrupt a system of trade that had worked for years. Controlled by various foreign forces, Shanghai was an exceptional city virtually open to all comers since it did not require visas, passports, affidavits or certificates of identity or guarantee of financial or social acceptability to be allowed entry. As a result it became a haven for thousands of White Russian and other refugees.

3. From the start of the gathering in Shanghai of White Russians from various Chinese cities, there had been suspicions that Soviet spies were infiltrating their ranks; the NKVD, the USSR’s spy network responsible for military counterintelligence wanted as many eyes and ears in as many places in the globe as it could situate spies in. In China the refugees themselves noted sudden, suspicious defections of people holding Soviet passports into their ranks. This was the reason the Philippine and the American intelligence forces in residence here were distrustful and why strict security measures about the group were put in force.

4. Knowland preached that Asia was as important as Europe, if not more so, insofar as the foreign policy of America was concerned, earning him the derisory soubriquet of the ‘Senator from Formosa’. He espoused his conservative philosophy with dictates such as “No Republican president would have entered into the Yalta agreement,” and, “We can no more return to isolationism than an adult can return to childhood,” to the point that US conservatism assumed on a more universal bearing. In line with his “Free China” and “Asia First” arguments, he took up the cudgels for the Tubabao refugees after a visit to the island and persuasion from Bologoff, who guided him around the camp and from Archbishop Maximovich, who he met in Washington.

5. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 classified displaced persons into two groups: those who were ‘forcibly displaced’ and were allowed entry into the US and those who were ‘voluntarily displaced’ and were not allowed entry. Not only did this stipulation exclude White Russians who had voluntarily elected to leave Russia, the US also barred communists from migrating to America, thus excluding to an extent Tubabao refugees since, having no papers to otherwise prove the contrary, they could unjustly be suspected as communists; enough to deny them entry as in the case of Susan Hendricks’ great-grandparents.

American President Harry Truman indeed reluctantly signed the bill into law noting that he would have returned it to Congress without his approval saying, “In its present form this bill is flagrantly discriminatory. It mocks the American tradition of fair play. Unfortunately, it was not passed until the last day of the session. If I refused to sign this bill now, there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons until the next session of the Congress.” Truman firmly urged legislators to draft a fairer, more humane bill.

The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was finally amended in June 16,1950, resulting in expanding the extension of rights of immigration to nearly half a million refugees not covered by the original law. As Truman mentioned on signing the amendment, it applied to some “4,000 European refugees who fled to the Far East to escape one form of totalitarianism and must now flee before a new tyranny”, patently referring to the Tubabao refugees and others in the same predicament.!