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20 FEBRUARY 2024: The Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv held a screening of the film Quezon’s Game in the central Israel city of Hod HaSharon, drawing emotional reactions from local Israelis who learned for the first time of President Manuel L. Quezon’s heroic act of giving refuge to Jews fleeing the Holocaust in the 1930s.


The movie retells the events that led to Jews’ escape to the Philippines, and the inspiring back story of how President Quezon battled sickness and the American bureaucracy and politics to fulfill this humanitarian gesture.


When the antisemitic pogroms started in Europe, the Philippines, then a US colony, was the only country which opened its doors to fleeing Jews. President Quezon, working with Manila’s Jewish community and a few sympathetic American officials, lobbied hard to secure 10,000 visas for the fleeing Jews, but succeeded in taking in only 1,410 after the US government rejected the plan.


These Jews were able to leave Europe and arrived in Manila before the Japanese invasion. They were later called Manilaners.


The screening was held on the first death anniversary of Max Weissler, one of the Manilaners. Max’s son, Danny Weissler, worked with the Embassy and the city government of Hod HaSharon to organize the event. The guests included the family and friends of the Weisslers, Hod HaSharon Mayor Amir Kochavi, residents of the city, students, and some Filipino community members.


In his remarks, Ambassador Pedro R. Laylo, Jr underscored the importance of remembering Quezon’s moral courage and compassion during “one of humanity’s darkest moments.” “We bear witness to the sacrifice and survival of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, as well as the heroism of the righteous who aided and rescued them,” said the Amb. Laylo.


Ambassador Laylo also urged the attendees not to forget and share the lessons of Quezon and the Manilaners’ story, “especially now as we confront the rise of antisemitism across the globe.”


Emotional viewers applauded and wiped away tears as the credits rolled at the end of the film. Many of them then lined up to personally express to Ambassador Laylo their gratitude for what President Quezon did. They expressed amazement at how a remote, little-known Asian country at that time unconditionally welcomed Jews it had little or no connection with.


The Embassy continues to raise awareness of the legacy of Quezon and the story of the Manilaners - a defining chapter in the shared history of the Philippines and Israel.


Subsequent screenings of the movie are planned to reach a wider audience in Israel. The Embassy hopes the movie would also earn recognition for the Philippines, and give President Quezon his rightful place among the Righteous Gentiles inducted at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and the Friends of Zion Museum.


Photos courtesy of the the Embassy and Danny Weissler (son of the late Manilaner Max Weissler).