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“Three Christmasses in Santo Thomas”

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Courtesy of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum

“Three Christmasses in Santo Tomas’ by Gertrude Hornbostel was published in the December 1946 issue of The STAR, a magazine published bimonthly by the patients of the US Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, Louisiana. The STAR: Radiating the Light of Truth on Hansen’s Disease is still being published today. The issues from the publication’s birth in 1941 through 2001 are digitized and available here as part of a collaborative project between the LSUHSC – New Orleans Library and the National Hansen’s Disease Programs Museum in Carville through the Louisiana Digital Library.

The STAR contains a wealth of information on many topics, not only Hansen’s Disease, as Mrs. Hornbostel’s article attests. Mrs. Hornbostel was a patient and resident at the National Leprosarium in Carville. Her husband resided nearby so that he could visit her daily from 7am to 7pm. Mrs. Hornbostel recounted for The STAR the three Christmasses spent as a civilian internee of the Japanese at Santo Tomas, the largest of several camps run by the Japanese in the Philippines for civilian internees. Major Hornbostel, Gertrude’s husband, was captured at Corregidor and spent the remainder of the war as a POW.

The first Christmas in Santo Tomas, 1942, the internees were allowed a Christmas party with cookies, ice cream and a tree. The next year, toys were made out of bamboo and scraps of old clothes for the 400 children in the camp. The camp Commandant even came to try to distribute the gifts. By the third Christmas in Santa Tomas, 1944, a Christmas dinner was made out of cans of Prem canned meat saved from the previous year’s Red Cross Christmas package.

Of the experience, Mrs. Hornbostel wrote: “It now seems just like a very bad dream which took three years out of our lives, though I cannot say that I didn’t profit from them in greater human understanding and appreciation of life and freedom according to our precepts.” The full text of the article can be read online here.

One can visit The National Hansen’s Disease Museum at the Gillis W. Long Center, 5445 Point Clair Road, BLDG 12, Carville. For information call: 225-642-1950

Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.

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