POSTSCRIPT / August 5, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Filipino hospitality saved 1,300 Jews

MANILA REFUGE: While Adolf Hitler’s Nazi hordes were systematically slaughtering millions of Jews in Germany and Austria during the Holocaust in the last world war, some 1,300 of them were able to escape and find refuge in the Philippines.

This little known historical fact will be highlighted in a documentary titled “Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust” to be premiered on Thursday at Malacañang with President Noynoy Aquino as host.

The film will also be shown on Friday at the De la Salle University with the United States embassy hosting it. By happy coincidence, American Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg is a Jew.

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FRIEDER BROTHERS: The granting of a large number of visas for Jews at the time was arranged by the Frieder Brothers who promised then President Manuel L. Quezon to absorb the refugees in their tobacco business in Manila.

That the Frieders were poker buddies of the President and knew well-connected individuals must have helped expedite the request.

Business executive Lin Bildner said the other day that the film’s producer Barbara Sasser, a granddaughter of Alex Frieder, one of the five original tobacco magnates who worked out the visas, told her she would come with a party of 25 for the premiere set at 3 p.m.

Her group includes 19 Frieder family members, four original survivors now based in the US but who were granted visas and grew up in Manila, and two filmmakers.

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YOLANDA AID: Bildner said the documentary was also presented by Sasser last November at the United Nations in New York, helping generate donations for the victims of killer typhoon Yolanda.

The special presentation at the UN carried the subliminal message that having helped victims of persecution, Filipinos deserve aid and comfort in their hour of need.

Among the immediate reactions, the firm Ability Prosthetics accelerated its donating $2.5 million in reconditioned prosthetics to Yolanda victims. Otto Bock, world’s largest prosthetics manufacturer, also offered assistance.

The film’s producers announced that they were able to raise $150,000 in one week through combined efforts with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

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REJECTED ELSEWHERE: In convincing Quezon to open Manila to the Jews, the Frieders were backed by such figures as then US High Commissioner Paul NcNutt and Col. Dwight Eisenhower (then chief of staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur).

While other countries – Cuba, Canada and, shockingly, the US — had just rejected a shipload of Jewish refugees, notably those on the MS St. Louis, the then Commonwealth government of the Philippines under Quezon readily agreed to issue them visas.

Some notes from Wikipedia: “The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner most notable for a single voyage in 1939 in which her captain, Gustav Schröder, tried to find homes for 937 German Jewish refugees after they were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, until finally accepted to various countries of Europe. Historians have estimated that, after their return to Europe, approximately a quarter of the ship’s passengers died in concentration camps.”

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MORE THAN SCHINDLER’S: An estimated 11 million victims, six million of them Jews, were systematically exterminated in the Holocaust. Some 1.1 million were children.

Bildner noted that the 1,300 lives saved by the Philippines were more than the 1,000 or so Polish-Jews that industrialist Oskar Schindler protected by employing them in his factories in the 1993 Spielberg-directed historical drama film “Schindler’s List”.

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PRESCIENT: Alan H. Gill, chief executive of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, said in an article in JTA (The Global Jewish News Source) that at the time Quezon welcomed the Jews he made what now sounds like a “remarkably prescient statement”:

“The people of the Philippines will have in the future every reason to be glad that when the time of need came, their country was willing to extend a welcome hand.”

Gill wrote: “As part of our ongoing response, JDC will ship critically important food, shelter, and hygiene and medical supplies — as well as ensure the provision of water and sanitation items and shelter support — through its partners, the Afya Foundation and Catholic Relief Services….

“We are fully committed to fulfilling President Quezon’s prophecy and returning the favor to the Filipino people. Not just because we are Jews, the heirs to this nation’s life-saving actions, but because we firmly believe in mutual responsibility and the idea that each individual life is valuable beyond measure.”

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PINOY HOSPITALITY: The hospitality of Filipinos is legendary. A Filipino is ready to sleep on the sofa, or even on the floor, and give the best bed in the house to an esteemed guest.

After the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 that sent waves of Vietnamese on decrepit boats seeking refuge across the seas, the Philippines was among the neighbors that opened their harbors to them.

In 1980, with the help of the United Nations, we put up for Vietnamese and other Indochinese refugees a processing center in Morong, Bataan, to provide them a temporary home and prepare them for their ultimate destinations.

The center could accommodate up to 18,000 refugees at any one time. It was a total community complete with essential facilities and amenities.

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OOPS!: Our Postscript that came out last Sunday was only a rough draft. For some reason the corrected version did not reach the desk. The copy published carried such embarrassing errors as the US ambassador’s name being spelled “Phillip” when it should be “Philip.” Our apologies.

In the same column, we mentioned tongue-in-cheek an “Erik, our resident intelligence officer” without giving his full identity on the belief that he should remain incognito. On second thought, however, that shadowy reference might raise identity problems. Hence, we here clarify that Erik is not Erick San Juan, one of our peripatetic media colleagues.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 5, 2014)

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