Foreign ‘Filipinos’ who call the Philippines their homeland

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MY friend  Ma. Isabel ”Maribel” Ongpin wrote a beautiful column last week  entitled “Jewish memories of WWII Philippines” (MT, Feb.13, 2015). She gave an insightful context of her article with the commemoration of the 70th year of the Battle of Manila, the World War II destruction and the pyrrhic liberation of the City of Manila.

If I may add, the 70th year of the Liberation of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Europe as featured in CNN two weeks ago. During WWII, Hitler’s Nazi Third Reich exterminated some six million Jews all over Europe in Germany, Austria, Poland and other nearby countries known as the horrific Holocaust.

Maribel Ongpin also mentioned “the importance of remembering is now being celebrated for its role of in identifying us to ourselves and others.” She added: “An understanding of the past makes the present much clearer and prepares us to meet the future armed with what we need to make it better.”

The press conference or forum last week was the Sharing of Stories of the  children of Jewish refugees who fled to the Philippines and escaped Hitler’s Holocaust. They narrated the stories on how their families survived certain deaths had their parents  remained in Germany and Austria. The six speakers, who are now in their late 60s to early 80s, were either born and/or raised in Manila.


It must be repeated for everyone to know that the Philippines was the only country in the world that accepted the Jewish people, who were being persecuted in the late 1930s and later annihilated by the millions in the early 1940s. The “enlightened nations” in Europe and North America did not accept the Jews – not the United States of America, not neutral Switzerland and not even the Catholic Vatican (Holy See)!

President Manuel L. Quezon (MLQ) allotted some 10,000 visas for the Jewish people in Europe. However, only some 1,300 Jews made it to the Philippines because Hitler’s Nazi Germany closed its borders and those countries it had already annexed like Austria and Poland.

Gratitude to the Philippines, Filipinos
After the war, the United States opened its doors to immigrants that included the Jews. (It actually started earlier in January 1944.) Thus, there were opportunities for the Jews in the Philippines to move to America. However, many of them opted to stay in their new tropical home where they were welcomed with hospitality by the Filipinos.

Celia “Topsy” Tischler Black, one of the children of the Jewish refugees, shared the story that her father, Adolf Tischler, was notified in 1947 that he could migrate to the States. However, Mr. Tischler refused and said his home will be the Philippines for what they had done for the Jewish people.

Topsy Tischler revealed that her parents stayed in the Philippines for 40 years (1939-1979) before joining her in the United States where she had studied for college and raised a family.

It happened a year after her first homecoming in 1978 when she returned with her husband and baby daughter. Her second homecoming was 37 years later this year in 2015 for their Alumni Reunion of the American School in Manila.

Another Jewish family that chose to remain in Manila was that of Mary Brings Farquhar whose parents were from Vienna, Austria. Mary Brings said that her parents “loved the country and people and saw no need to leave.” More than staying in the Philippines while others left for the United States or Palestine (now Israel)  after the liberation, Mary and her parents became naturalized Filipino citizens in 1948.

As Filipino citizens, the Brings family could now buy property in the Philippines. Professor Brings bought a lot in Santa Mesa, Manila  and later moved in their  newly-built home in 1955. Her parents stayed in their house until her mother passed away in 2001. Mary left for the US in 1961 to study and later emigrated there.  Both Mary’s parents and two grandmothers are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Manila.

Mary’s parents were highly-respected educators in Manila. Her father, Theodor Brings, was a Physics Professor of the University of Vienna who later taught Physics in UP, FEU and the Ateneo.  Her mother Paula Brings taught Physical Education (PE)  at Assumption College and Saint. Theresa. As Maribel Ongpin wrote in her column: “Mrs Brings will be remembered by Assumption Alumane as the long time P.E. teacher.”

The Jewish parents of the other speakers like Gordon Lester, Ralph Preiss, Hans Hoeflein and Margot Cassel Pins also stayed in the Philippines even if they had gone to the United States for their studies in college. The decision to remain in our country simply shows their deep gratitude and appreciation for what the Filipinos have done for them in their greatest hour of need.

What struck me the most with the children of the Jewish survivors is that they consider themselves as “Filipinos” and call the Philippines as their “homeland.” This is something unexpected from them since they have been away for some 50 years and have visited our country only a few times in between.

Among all of them, perhaps the most Filipino is Topsy Tischler Black who told me that she has remained a Filipino in her ways all these years in America. Her own children do not understand why she has not become “Americanized” in spite of living there for almost half-a-century now. Topsy told me that before her departure, she wrote her three children a six-page letter explaining why she is a Filipina travelling back to her homeland.

“I am back again to the land of my birth and the home of my people. I consider myself as a Filipino in spite of the color of my skin, eyes and hair. The Tagalog words I once uttered many, many years ago have started to come back since I arrived,” she said in the forum. Topsy said she would like to return for good and retire here in the Philippines.

Like Topsy who is “very happy to be back home,” Mary Brings exclaimed during her talk: “how wonderful it is to be back home.” The same is true with Gordon  “Gordie” Lester, who was enjoying the Filipino food and fruits that he missed like the langka and lanzones. After all these years, Gordie still has his Filipino taste for the sinigang na bangus (cooked with ripe guava broth) and the tilapia.

In their Alumni Reunion of the American School, there were non-Jews who also said they are “Filipinos.” Valerie Clarkin Scatcherd, who studied in American School and Maryknoll, still eats chicken adobo and sinigang in Canada after leaving Manila 50 years ago. Her father was the president of Pepsi-Cola in the Philippines.

During our lunch at Barbara’s restaurant in Intramuros, Valerie ordered adobo because she said “I am a Filipino!” Later, I asked her to have our photographs taken. When I told her that we were having our photos taken because she told me she is a “Filipino, “ the statuesque  lady added: “Ako kaibigan mo at kababayan!” (“I am your friend and compatriot.”) I was pleasantly surprised.

Two other alumni of the American School who consider themselves “Filipinos” and the Philippines as their “homeland” are close friends Charles Jones and Skip Haven, who also both studied in Brent School in Baguio. They said that when they went to the US, they spoke English with a Filipino or Tagalog accent!  Last week, they could still speak the same way they did 50 years ago in Manila.

rbrpilipinas@gmail.com

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14 Comments

  1. ANTONIO JOAQUIN on

    As an Ateneo high school student in 1946 I believe there was another Jew, a prominent one we later found out who worked with Albert Einstein discovering the atom bomb. His name was Dr. Modry (his first name escapes me now). He taught us and others about physics and higher science. He was extremely well equipped except when he lectured with the strong Austrian accent.

    • “During the war, my brother and I were tutored daily by Dr. Arthur Modry (not Nodry), who had been Professor of Mathematics at the University of Vienna.. He taught us maths, physics, chemistry, botany, all the sciences 3 days a week, and his wife taught us English and french twice a week. The Jesuits at Ateneo at Padre Faura had given the Modrys a room in which to live. After the war, my father was President of the American School board of directors, and got Dr. Modry a job. He was my maths teacher there.” From a friend

  2. My father was Jewish and left Germany in 1935. Mom and I being Lutheran did not leave until 1937 when we were re-united with Dad in Manila.

    I loved the cheerfulness, friendliness, hospitality and warmth of the pinoys.

    .Yes, I lIved in Manila thru the Occupation and left at the end 1950. Now I live near Chapel Hill, N.C. and still dislike winter and its cold. I miss Manila with it’s year long tropical climate and most of all the pinoys. Juergen R. Goldhagen

    • Jurgen, I read your book Manila Memories with Hans Hoeflen. Roderick Hall and Hans Waiser. Hans and Rod are friends. They were both here for the Reunion of the American School and the Memorare to commemorate the 70th year of the Liberation of Manila.Thank you for the kind words about us, Filipinos. I have read about Chapel Hill in N. C. in National Geographic. Lovely place except for the winter, which is not as bad as in the upper East Coast. By the way, have you been since since 1950. Rod Hall has been back at least a dozen times.

  3. You might want to read about how the Jewish community was rescued in Denmark during WWII. I also resent how you tend to glorify the experience of non-Filipinos during WWII and overlook the heroism of “ordinary” Filipinos who suffered the most. As usual only the elite rich can be heroes.

    • Kindly quote the sentences or paragraphs where I “tend to glorify the experience of non-Filipinos.” I would appreciate it very much. The heroism of Filipinos in the last war is greatly appreciated by the foreigners. For example, the milk smuggled from the UST was brought by a Filipino boy who delivered it to the home of an Austrian family whose infant child would have died without it. I am meeting her today at the Manila Hotel. She was interviewed in documentary “Rescue in the Philippines.”

  4. JASMS in QC had American students who are children of Protestant ministers who were born or grew up in the Philippines. One of them, the blond Eleanor Palm, could speak Tagalog lightning fast with no accent. One time we were on a bus going to Cavite and she was yapping her mouth away. An old woman couldn’t contain herself so she asks my friend: “Is she American or is she albino?” Eleanor turns on the old woman and let go of her mouth as the whole bus erupted in laughter.
    Another one is artist Joanna Poethig who is based in Oakland, CA. She got featured in a Filipino TV magazine show in the Bay Area and she talked about her fondness for the culture. She always wears ‘tsinelas’ back then probably because of her 6 foot frame. She also makes sandals as her love became her expertise. At the end of her interview she sang ‘Bakya Mo Neneng’ with imperfect lyrics and accented Tagalog which nevertheless touched me in a raw way it brought tears to my eyes.

  5. Sonya Rodolfo-Sioson on

    Many thanks for this beautiful story.
    The Brings and Rodolfo families became friends through the Rodolfos’ close friend, the mathematician Vishnu Gokhale. In 1939 Dr Gokhale posted an open position for a PhD holder in physics or chemistry in the University of the Philippines faculty. That post was seen by ‘Uncle Theddy’, who told his wife, ‘Aunt Paula’ – ‘I don’t know where Manila is, but there is a job there, so we’re going!’ We met the new baby Marylen (named for grandmothers Mary Katz and Helen Brings) a few days after her birth. I lost touch with Mary after my marriage in 1961. Years later, while visiting ‘Aunt Paula’, I found out that Mary moved to San Francisco shortly before I moved to Berkeley. It was with great pleasure that I re-established contact with this childhood friend and met her husband Peter Farquhar.
    Another childhood friend and I were in the audience when the documentary ‘Rescue in the Philippines’ was premiered in San Francisco. We were happy to meet some members of the local Jewish community.
    I echo the cry of the Jews who found safe haven in Manila from the Hitler thugs:
    Mabuhay!

    • Sonya, thank so much for sharing the story. I will add the information when we do the book project. Mabuhay!

  6. correction — Vatican is in Italy, which the dictator Moussilini is part of the axis power. Even if the Vatican wants to open its door to the fleeing Jews, they will have to cross the borders of Italy. Also, you need to research about Pope Pius XII, with him saving more that 100K Jews inside the Vatican. Research good, because you might read the communist version which they hate the Catholic Church. God Bless!

  7. Justaskingseriously on

    Whatever prompted you to include the Vatican (emphasized as Catholic) among the “enlightened” countries that refused Jewish refugees? Hell-o, Ricky! Since when did a tiny piece of real estate had the capacity to house refugees whether Jewish or otherwise, and give them status as immigrants and eventually citizens? All catholic cardinals are citizens of the Vatican. But if all the world’s cardinals were to reside in the Vatican, they would not fit — and none of them have families of their own to speak of. Let’s get real. All the quiet efforts of Pope Pius XII to help the Jewish refugees get their paperwork to enable them to go elsewhere to reside are negated by the continuing propaganda to put down Pope Pius XII — simply because he deemed it counterproductive to loudly condemn Hitler! Enougjh already. Meanwhile the left hand goes on not knowing what the right hand does — isn’t sheltering the homeless one of the things the right hand keeps doing? Works of mercy are the real fasting and abstinence, and not just during this time of Lent.

  8. MacArthur did not return to the Philippines because of his love for the country, he had vast wealth and property there, not to mention his “alaga” These foreigner “Filipinos” you refer to belongs to the 1 percentile, PepsiCola, Tabacalera, San Miguel Corp, and countless others, etc..had for years benefitted from the wealth they amassed from the people. Have you seen how these people live? Have you seen how the other 99%? Like many others, you have seen the glitter of their bling and blinded by it.

  9. MacArthur did not return to the Philippines because of his love for the counbling and blinded by it.try, he had vast wealth and property there, not to mention his “alaga” These foreigner “Filipinos” you refer to belongs to the 1 percentile, PepsiCola, Tabacalera, San Miguel Corp, and countless others, etc..had for years benefitted from the wealth they amassed from the people. Have you seen how these people live? Have you seen how the other 99%? Like many others, you have seen the glitter of their bling and blinded by it.