POSTSCRIPT / September 4, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Quezon gave haven to persecuted Jews

WITH the ongoing visit of President Duterte to Israel highlighting cordial Filipino interaction with the Jews, we dug into our archive to review Postscripts on the Philippines’ having been a haven to the Jews and other persecuted peoples.

On Aug. 5, 2014 — or four years ago — we filed from New York:

“While Adolf Hitler’s Nazi hordes were systematically slaughtering millions of Jews in Germany and Austria in the Holocaust during the last world war, at least 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 Aug. 7 at Malacañang with President Noynoy Aquino as host. The guests will include refugee family members.

“The film will also be shown Aug. 8 at the De la Salle University with the United States embassy hosting it. By happy coincidence, US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg is a Jew.

“The granting of a large number of visas for the Jews was arranged by the Frieder brothers who promised then President Manuel L. Quezon to absorb the refugees in their tobacco business in Manila. They were known to be poker buddies of the President.

“In convincing Quezon to open Manila to the Jews, the Frieders were backed by such personalities as then US High Commissioner Paul McNutt and Col. Dwight Eisenhower, chief of staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

“While other countries – Cuba, Canada and the US — had turned away a shipload of Jewish refugees, notably those on the MS St. Louis, the Commonwealth government under Quezon readily issued them visas. Wikipedia said a quarter of the boat’s passengers who returned to Europe were killed in the Holocaust together with some 11 million others.

“Business executive Lin Bildner said that the documentary 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 go to the premiere with a party of 25.

“Sasser said her group would include 19 Frieder family members, four original survivors now based in the US who were among those granted visas and grew up in Manila, and two filmmakers.

“The documentary was also presented last November at the United Nations in New York, helping generate donations for the victims of killer typhoon Yolanda. The presentation carried the subliminal message that having helped victims of persecution, Filipinos deserve aid and comfort in their hour of need.

“Among the immediate reactions was that of the firm Ability Prosthetics, which accelerated its donating $2.5 million in reconditioned prosthetics to Yolanda victims. Otto Bock, the world’s largest prosthetics manufacturer, also helped.

“The film producers announced that they raised $150,000 in one week in conjunction with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“The 1,300 refugees 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 as depicted in the 1993 Spielberg-directed historical drama film ‘Schindler’s List’.

“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, the President 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.’

“He said that as part of their response, JDC will ship critically needed food, shelter, and hygiene and medical supplies — as well as water and sanitation-shelter support items through its partners, the Afya Foundation and Catholic Relief Services.”

 Filipino hospitality is legendary

THE HOSPITALITY of Filipinos is legendary. The traditional Pinoy will readily sleep on the sofa, or on the floor, and give the best bed in the house to an esteemed guest.

When the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 sent waves of Vietnamese on decrepit boats seeking refuge across the seas, the Philippines was among the neighbors that welcomed them.

In 1980, with UN help, the Philippines put up for Vietnamese and other Indochinese refugees a processing center in Morong, Bataan, while they prepared for their ultimate destinations. The fully equipped center could accommodate as many as 18,000 refugees at any time.

Culling from a Manila Bulletin article of former President Fidel V. Ramos, we summed up these acts of hospitality in Postscript on Oct. 11, 2016:

During the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, droves of Spanish Republicans fleeing the fascist Falange Española of General Francisco Franco chose to settle in the Philippines, the former colony that Spaniards hold dear.

When the communists overran China in 1949, Filipinos welcomed some 30,000 Kuomintang members fleeing the mainland. Much earlier, others escaping the atrocities of the Japanese invaders in 1940 also fled to Manila, where they found a new home and prosperity.

Some of the 6,000 White Russians in Shanghai who escaped in 1949 as the Red Army prepared to lay siege were welcomed in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. After 27 months, many of them relocated to the US, Canada, and Australia.

After the Viet Cong captured Saigon in 1975 and until 1995, the Philippines — with UN help — gave halfway haven to some 400,000 Indochinese “boat people” (Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians) in Bataan and Palawan before they were relocated to other countries.

During the Ramos administration in 1996, at the end of the UN refugee programs, some 3,000 Vietnamese were allowed “indefinite stay” in settlements in Palawan and elsewhere, supported by the CBCP’s Center for Assistance to Displaced Persons.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 4, 2018)

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