In the late 1930s, all the countries of the world—including the US—shut their doors firmly to European Jews. Hitler and his Nazis were persecuting them. So they had to make the heartbreaking flight away from the towns and cities of their birth in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the lands of their happy childhood, schooling and university education, their ancestral homes and their jobs as great achievers in the arts, the sciences, in industry, banking and business.
The Philippines was one of the few countries willing to take in large numbers of refugees. A small network of people—Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Filipinos and Americans—combined their resources and used the unique political construction of the Philippine Commonwealth to give a new home to more than 1,300 European Jews.
They later came to be known as the “Manilaners.”
Our archipelago was then the US-colony known as the Commonwealth of the Philippines. President Manuel Luis Quezon, with his Filipino and American associates, tried to save hundreds of thousands of European Jews. He wanted to welcome as settlers in the Philippines as many as a million Jews. He wanted to open refugee settlements for Jews in Mindanao and Polillo.
If that had happened, Hitler’s murder of six million Jews called the Holocaust would have been reduced to five million. That only some 1,300 Jewish refugees made it to the Philippines is buried in the mysterious workings of bureaucracy, imperialist policy, anti-Semitism and, something like what we Filipinos now despise in our government, factional conflicts, incompetence, inefficiency and obstructionism.
“This is a tapestry of titanic political forces interwoven with fascinating individual and family stories,” said Filipino-American professor, historian, author and filmmaker Sharon Delmendo, who shares the personal saga of the Manilaners and the despicable bureaucratic intrigues in the book she is writing, In Time of Need, an Open Door: Holocaust Rescue in the Philippines.
Delmendo is a professor of English at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, where she specializes in American literature, multiculturalism, and film analysis. She did much of the research for her first book, The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines in 1995 to 1996 as the Fulbright Professor of American Studies at De La Salle University in Manila.
While writing In Time of Need, an Open Door: Holocaust Rescue in the Philippines, she is also serving as the co-producer and Humanities Scholar of the documentary film on the subject.
In addition, she is completing Pacific Theater: Reel War in the Philippines 1939-1950, an analysis of Hollywood-produced WWII films set in the Philippines made while the war was going on and setting the films in their military and political context of Philippine-American relations during the Commonwealth era.
On August 7, President Benigno Aquino 3rd hosted the Philippine premiere of Rescue in the Philippines—Refuge from the Holocaust, a well-received film about the Manilaners.
It is not just a film that tells the drama of how the Quezon humanitarian project came to be, it has also become a way for the Manilaners and their descendants to repay the Filipinos’ generosity.
The showings of Rescue in the Philippines have raised funds for Super Typhoon Yolanda victims.
One can buy a copy of the film through the Internet. The film’s website describes itself as:
“Rescue in The Philippines is a one-hour documentary of the previously untold story of how the five Frieder brothers, Cincinnati businessmen making two-for-a-nickel cigars in pre-WWII Manila, together with Manuel Quezon, the charismatic first president of the Philippines, Paul McNutt, US High Commissioner and former governor of Indiana (preparing for his own presidential campaign) and an ambitious Army Colonel named Dwight Eisenhower—helped 1,200 Jews escape the Nazis and immigrate to the Philippines.”
Here is a more detailed description of the film:
“(August 2012) This Untold Saga Involving Presidents, Cigars, and Poker, Tells a Gripping and Inspirational True Story of moral courage
“In pre-war Manila, a mix of unlikely cultures and characters reminiscent of ‘Casablanca’ gathered to save lives. The Players: Five cigar makers from Cincinnati. The president of the Philippines. A future president of the United States. A US High Commissioner. They all sat down to a series of poker games where the stakes were life or death for an unimaginable number of men, women and children, who were guilty of only one thing—being Jewish.
“This is the exotic setting in the new documentary Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust . . . It tells the little known account of how five American brothers used their political friendships in the Philippines to rescue as many Jewish refugees as possible, comparable to Oskar Schindler’s feat in Germany.
“A first look at this forgotten story of how the Frieder brothers—Philip, Alex, Morris, Henry, and Herbert, Manuel Quezon, then-president of the Philippines, Paul McNutt, then US High Commissioner of the Philippines, and future President Dwight D. Eisenhower banded together, will take place at the “Magic of the Far East Film Festival” on August 24th (2012).”
The website also gives dozens of very good comments about the film. We can only publish a few here.
“It’s one thing to sit around a card table and talk about a worrisome situation—even a dire situation. It’s quite another to actually take some action, and I think that’s why this is a story for all time.”—Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower
“Rescue in the Philippines will recount the relatively unknown story of how a small, eclectic and influential group of businessmen, politicians, and military leaders living in the Philippines took action during one of history’s darkest eras to provide sanctuary to Jews being prosecuted in Europe by the Nazi regime . . . There is a large and enthusiastic audience for historical documentaries and we expect that this tale of integrity will appeal to viewers.”—Christopher Funkhouser, vice president, American Public Television
“I think for my grandfather, it was perhaps that simple. You have a country. You have a little authority. You have an opportunity. Someone has asked for refuge—which is the most basic humanitarian appeal anyone can make. You answer it.”—Manuel Quezon 3rd, grandson of the late President Manuel Quezon
The film has been shown at the United Nations headquarters, in New York venues, in Israel and major cities in the US.
At its Philippine premier, President Aquino was delighted with the one-hour documentary that tells the story of over 1,200 Jews that took shelter among us Filipinos.
In his speech, the President remembered the dark days when many Jewish people perished at the hands the Nazis. Though thousands of miles away, he said, the Philippines were they’re to help the Jews and the distance never stopped the solidarity of Filipinos with the Jews.
The chief executive also had in mind the difficulties that the Jews went through as they left their homeland. He equated that suffering his experience when his family moved to Boston during the Marcos dictatorship. Despite the unfamiliarity of the new environment, the President said that the hospitality of the Americans they met, they were able to start their lives anew in America.
“However different the situation may be, the sadness of being torn away from familiar surroundings can be tempered by the warmth and friendship you encounter in a strange environment, which our countrymen demonstrated to our Jewish friends,” President Aquino said.
He profusely thanked the team behind the documentary and other Jewish organizations for their assistance during the relief operations after Typhoon Yolanda struck the nation. They donated $2.5 million worth of prosthetics and raised $1.4 million for the benefit of the survivors.
“It is my sincere hope that all those who watch this documentary, whether here today or in classrooms and homes in the coming years, will continue this virtuous cycle—will continue to make the choice to always help their fellowmen, whatever the future may bring,” the President ended.
The man behind the documentary
The main talent behind the documentary An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines is prize-winning filmmaker Noel Izon. Delmendo serves as co-producer.
This description is also accurate: “An Open Door is a feature-length documentary on the uplifting story of how a small Asian nation was able to save over 1,300 Jews as they fled the pogroms of Nazi Germany. It is written, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Noel M. Izon and co-produced by author Sharon Delmendo. This is the third film in his World War II trilogy Forgotten Stories.”
Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia says this of the book:
“I wish to commend filmmaker Mr. Noel Izon and author Sharon Delmendo for their project entitled An Open Door, which documents the fascinating rescue of over 1,200 Jews from Nazi Germany during the administration of President Manuel Quezon. The documentary is an enlightening tale about the little known efforts of a former Philippine president and his Jewish and American friends in Manila, who overcame huge bureaucratic and logistical challenges to save people from the Holocaust. The Philippines has long been a haven for refugees and displaced people, and it is hoped that this project will inform future generations about the values of courage and compassion.”
Lastly, a former US Ambassador to the Philippines, a retired leading light in the US State Department’s dealing with Asian countries, and current president of the US-Philippine Society, John Maisto, gave this testimonial: “On behalf of the US-Philippines Society, I congratulate Noel ‘Sonny’ Izon, Sharon Delmendo, and their talented team for documenting the remarkable story of how the Philippines opened its doors to people fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe, even as war clouds were gathering in Asia. This compelling drama had been lost to history but is etched indelibly in the memories of Jewish families who were offered sanctuary in Manila and whose spirits were buoyed by the warm Filipino welcome they received. Some of those family members moved to the United States after the war and became American citizens. But, they remained profoundly grateful to the Philippine Commonwealth under President Quezon, whose actions saved 1,305 Jews, comparable to the number saved by Oskar Schindler. The US-Philippines Society supports Mr. Izon’s efforts to document this chapter of history and bring the dramatic story of refuge and rescue to today’s generation of Americans and Filipinos.”