24 November 2015, Tel Aviv, State of Israel – "Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust", a film documenting the story of 1,300 Jews fleeing the Holocaust and finding a safe haven in the Philippines, was screened for the first time in Israel on 24 November 2015 at the Yad Vashem.
The one-hour documentary recounts how President Manuel L. Quezon, the five Frieder brothers Philip, Henry, Alex, Morris, and Herbert, then US High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul McNutt, and then Army Colonel Dwight Eisenhower - men of different backgrounds, yet united by their moral courage to help others in need - helped 1,300 Jews escape the Nazis and immigrate to the Philippines. At a time when many countries shut their doors or circumstances made it desperately hard for Jews to escape with their lives, these men embarked on a plan of rescue and settlement in the Philippines, risking their reputations and careers, simply because they believed it was the right thing to do.
President Quezon ordered an "Open Door Policy" initially allowing up to 10,000 European Jews to enter the Philippines. He went further by donating a land he owned in Marikina (outside Manila) for settlement and lobbying more land for Jewish refugees in Mindanao. As the Philippines was then a Commonwealth Government subject to US policies on visas, High Commissioner McNutt took on the task of convincing the US to keep the Philippine borders open and issue thousands of working visas for Jews. The Frieder brothers worked in raising funds to transport Jewish refugees to Manila, providing them jobs in the brothers' cigar factory, and building housing and schools for their children.
The story of the rescue is told through a series of interviews and interwoven tales from surviving refugees, historians, relatives, and friends of these men who interestingly came up with the plan of rescuing Jews over poker games.
Not many Filipinos and Israelis know about the rescue story in the Philippines. As such, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev and Philippine Ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial collaborated to premiere the film in Israel on Tuesday to promote awareness among Filipinos and Israelis of this beautiful, yet little-known part of their history.
During the program, Philippine Ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial said that the event was purposely held in November to coincide with the anniversary month of the "Kristallnacht" (Night of Broken Glass) and show that 77 years ago the Filipinos were in solidarity with the European Jews, expressing outrage at the racism and inhumanity of the Nazis and their sympathizers through a large indignation rally held in Manila in 1938, when other countries chose to be silent.
Senior Assistant to the Yad Vashem Chairman Mr. Yossi Gevir said that while the horrific attempts to annihilate Jews were the core of the Holocaust narrative and remembrance, the Yad Vashem also continues to be inspired and be empowered by other stories such as the rescue in the Philippines and the vision and behavior of the men behind it who chose to uphold their principles and take action during the darkest of times, under the most difficult circumstances and even as many countries remained unconcerned. The Yad Vashem is committed to recall and focus on aspects of the Holocaust that provide inspiration, strength and hope and to create and build anew from these. It salutes these people and remembers them with admiration and seeks to follow their footsteps, in the footsteps of their integrity and loyalty to their principles.
Co-producer of the film Dr. Barbara Sasser said that the "Rescue in the Philippines" honors these rescuers for their moral courage and it is hoped that the documentary will inspire others to do the same. She added that in making the film, she and the people behind it also honor the Philippines for accepting Jews when few other countries did. She also expressed hope that the Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. would find a way to include the Philippines in their list of rescuing nations.
Ambassador Imperial speaks about President Quezon's moral courage to help Jewish refugees during the premiere screening.
The screening also included a lecture on the topic: "Hoping to be a Refugee: Jewish Migration Efforts during the Holocaust" by Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian of Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research and Editor of Yad Vashem Studies. Dr. Silberklang underscored the importance of the Philippines' efforts to help save Jews by setting the rescue against the backdrop of other countries' failure to respond or their indifference to the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. The Philippines may have saved only 1,300 Jews - a number so small when compared with other countries and a number which could have reached up to 10,000 or perhaps more if not for the outbreak of war - but the fact that the country willingly accepted them and invited them to stay and be part of its economic development is what makes the rescue efforts a unique and special case. He ended the talk by saying that at a time when most countries shut their doors, were hesitant or even silent and when other circumstances made escape so difficult and out of reach, the Jewish refugees who found a home in the Philippines were among the few lucky ones.--END--