By NICK GIONGCO
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU, Poland—The Philippines’ own concentration camp in Capas town in Tarlac and the notorious POW camp here that saw the deaths of a reported 1.1 million Jews during World War 2 share something in common.
They were the venues where sportsmen from all over either came to realize one horrific thing: that life is cruel and not even a celebrity status stemming from sporting excellence is enough to save one from the atrocities of war.
The most famous athlete internee here at Auschwitz, the epicenter of the Holocaust, was a Jewish French-Tunisian world champion boxer Victor Young Perez, who was deported from Paris when a collaborator blew the whistle on him.
Perez, who reigned as world flyweight king from 1931-32, was shot to death in 1945 after an 18-month stint as a POW.
Perez wasn’t the only athlete of note who perished during the war but he was the most recognizable name who, at one time, spent their days at Auschwitz.
The Philippines’ own version of the Holocaust in Pacific, though not as documented, took place in Tarlac where box cars similar to the ones that criss-crossed Germany and Poland, France, Hungary, Bulgaria and as far as Italy and Greece—but much smaller—traveled for over 50 kilometers from San Fernando in Pampanga to Capas, loaded with Filipino and US prisoners from Bataan.
All in all, there were eight top Filipino athletes, mostly veterans of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, who died during WW2.
Swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, bronze medal winner in the 1928 Amsterdam and 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, was the biggest casualty as he died in the Capas concentration camp more than two months after the Philippines surrendered in June 1942.
Another Olympic medalist, Filipino-American hurdler Miguel White, bronze medalist in Berlin, who served in the Philippine Scouts, followed two months later.
Other members of the Philippine team to the Berlin Games, swimmer Ali Abdurahman, cagers Jacinto Ciria Cruz and Amador Onordo, both part of the fifth-placer team, sprinter Nemesio De Guzman, shooter Otoniel Gonzaga and wrestler Enrique Jurado, also died in action or simply didn’t survive the war.