In November we ran an article about the Philippines war hero Lt. Col. Aaron Feinstein alias Harry Fenton who had been a Schenectady native. The article by Dirk J. Barreveld, a Dutch national and author, told what he knew of the betrayed Feinstein and his regrets that Feinstein lay in an unmarked grave. We solicited information wondering if there was anyone in our community who knew of the Feinstein family. Barreveld tells us here what happened next.
Your article in The Jewish World about Aaron Feinstein alias Harry Fenton last November created quite some interest by people who remembered him. They apparently bought my book Cushing’s Coup to read the complete story. Many e-mailed me with information I did not have before. Some were retired members (one was over 90-years old) of the Americal Division, the division that liberated Cebu in 1945, others were servicemen who met Cushing while they were stationed in the Philippines after the war. There were also relatives from both Cushing and Feinstein. From Cushing a great-grand-daughter of one of his elder sisters contacted me. She is working for an American University as an associate professor on a project in India. She updated me about the ins and outs of the Cushing family after the war. From Feinstein it was someone who calls herself a step-daughter of Aaron Feinstein. After the war Aaron’s widow married an American serviceman and ended up in the U.S., she is the daughter of this second marriage of her mother. The mother passed away in 2010. She is a professor in humanities at a University on the U.S. east coast. One of Aaron’s sons (Steve) is also still alive. But also in the Philippines there were a number of reactions with information that was new to me.
All this information made it possible for me to fill the holes in the story.
First the name Fenton. Aaron Feinstein arrived as a U.S. military member in the Philippines at a moment that 2000 German and Austrian Jews just had arrived in the Philippines. They came as refugees on invitation by Philippine President Manual Quezon. Once in the Philippines many changed their German/Austrian names in American sounding names. The reason was that they were afraid that if ever the Japanese would occupy the Philippines they might be rounded up on the basis of their German/Austrian names and end up in a concentration camp after all. Aaron Feinstein did do the same, and chose the name Harry Fenton. In the army he could not change his name so he used his alias initially only in his artist life. He used his alias later also as a guerrilla. It means the U.S. army has two files for the same man, one for Aaron Feinstein, and one for Harry Fenton.
After he was executed in September 1943 Harry Fenton was buried on the spot where the execution took place, in Tabunan, Central Cebu, under the name Harry Fenton. He was known in Cebu only under the name Harry Fenton. As soon as the Americal Division had cleared Cebu in 1945 of Japanese Harry Fenton’s remains were recovered under the name Aaron Feinstein under personal supervision of Col. Cushing as he knew his real name. The remains were temporary buried in a temporary cemetery in Manila. As soon as the Manila American Cemetery in Makati, Manila was completed Aaron Feinstein was buried in Plot G Row 5 Grave 44. A picture of the grave is attached. This cemetery has 36,000 graves of which still 2,600 are still not identified.
The fact that his remains in Cebu were recovered under the name Aaron Feinstein gave Cebuanos the idea that the remains of Harry Fenton were never recovered. They simply did not know that Fenton and Feinstein were one and the same person.
Recently, explained the whole story in an hour-long TV interview with Bobit Avila, columnist of the Freeman and Philippine Star and one of Cebu’s leading TV anchors. You can find his column in The Freeman under “Shooting Straight,” it is published on 25 April. The reason these stories are still very popular in Cebu is the fact that this tiny island (it is only 5,000 sq. km) is extremely proud that it was the scene of the greatest intelligence coup of World War II. The only Japanese admiral ever caught prisoner during World War II was caught in Cebu. These people want the story to be correct.
Although there are still some lose ends, for instance the rank of Aaron on his gravestone is incorrect, it should have been lieutenant colonel instead of lieutenant we (the family and I) have decided to let the matter rest.
Although I have tried to contact them neither the U.S. embassy, nor the synagogue in Manila has ever shown any interest in the issue. A little bit of help (I am a Dutch national and as such I do not have access to American military files) could have saved me a couple of months work. But never mind, I am happy the case is closed and everybody is happy.
Thanks very much.
Dirk J, Barreveld