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The Holocaust was one of the darkest periods in human history, but the brave individuals who took bold steps to save the lives of strangers represent beacons of humanity. Last week the Embassy of the Philippines in Israel commemorated the legacy of one such hero, President Manuel Quezon.

At a time when Europe had gone dark, and Jewish refugees were being turned away from many countries, President Quezon opened the doors of the Philippines, offering safe haven to Jews in need. This courageous step came despite vocal opposition from the US State Department (which at the time exercised control over entry to the country). In total, nearly 1,300 Jews were saved in the Philippines, but Quezon was willing to take tens of thousands more and had pressured the US government for more visas, even pledging his own land to house Jewish refugees.

The Embassy of the Philippines held two events this week to continue the important mission of educating about this inspiring story. On October 27, the film Quezon’s Game premiered in Tel Aviv, with guests of the embassy enjoying the drama based on the true story of Quezon’s efforts. On October 29, Balai Quezon--Quezon House, was inaugurated at the embassy, as an educational center to honor and promote the values of Quezon’s “Open Door” policy.



Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Strategic Communications and Research, Mr. Ernesto C. Abella, was in Israel to join both events. He noted that the efforts of the Philippines to save Jewish lives reflects “the belief in their basic right to exist and pursue a life of freedom and fulfillment,” a fundamental sentiment that was unfortunately absent during much of this dark period.

Philippine Ambassador to Israel Mr. Neal Imperial explained that Quezon’s Open Door policy “remains the cornerstone of the deep and lasting friendship between the Philippines and Israel and that Balai Quezon was a fulfillment of a half-decade dream “to find a place that would honor this special moment in history between our peoples.”

Gilad Cohen, Deputy Director-General for Asia and the Pacific at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs added his own blessings to the efforts of the Embassy of the Philippines in Israel, and the Israeli Embassy in the Philippines, to educate about this important story, and informed the audience that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had requested that Yad Vashem, Israel’s premier Holocaust museum, give formal recognition to the Open Doors policy.

In addition to diplomatic guests of the embassy and those with ties to both countries, those in attendance included Jews who had survived the war years in the Philippines, such as Mr. Max Weissler and Ms. Margot Pins Kestenbaum, “Manilers” who now live in Israel. 

Diplomacy.co.il congratulates the Embassy of the Philippines on these important efforts to promote stronger ties between countries and highlight the fundamental humanity of Quezon’s message.


Photo 1- 

DFA Undersecretary for Strategic Communications and Research Ernesto C. Abella (center), Philippine Ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial (left), and Mr. Yaron Mayer, Director for Southeast Asia Department of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (right) during the Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony to inaugurate the Balai Quezon (Quezon House) and launch the exhibition entitled “The Philippines and Israel:  An Enduring Friendship, A Growing Partnership”.   
Photo 2- (L-R) Unveiling of Quezon portrait. Mr. Yaron Mayer, Director for Southeast Asia of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; DFA Undersecretary Ernesto C. Abella; Ambassador Neal Imperial, Consul  Shimon Weinbaum; and artist Celeste Lecaroz during the unveiling of “Manuel L. Quezon in Spontanrealismus”

 Photos provided by the Embassy of the Philippines

Steven Aiello