When the Philippines opened its doors to Jewish refugees

When the Philippines opened its doors to Jewish refugees
'We would not be alive today if not for the Philippines,' says Lotte Hershfield, one of the thousand Jews who came to the country during World War II

MANILA, Philippines – Did you know that the Philipines took in Jewish refugees who fled the Holocaust?

Beginning in the early 1930s, the anti-semitic National Socialist German Workers’ Party propaganda led by Adolf Hitler put millions of Jews into concentration camps. Escape was their only chance of survival but many countries shut down their borders to Jewish immigrants.

What many Filipinos do not know is that the Philippines opened its doors to over 1,300 Jewish refugees during that time.

Travel to safety

On Tuesday, June 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Manila hosted a special screening of Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust, to celebrate World Refugee Day.

The film begins with Kristallnacht, an incident in 1938 where the Nazi burned down Jewish synagogues, arrested 30,000 Jews, and attacked their homes.

Following the brutality, President Manuel L. Quezon and US High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul McNutt issued 10,000 Philippine visas to Jews.

When they arrived in the country the Frieder brothers – Philip, Henry, Alex, Morris, and Herbert – supported and took care of the refugees. They helped by expanding their cigar business and seeking aid from different organizations in America.

Also known as “Manilaners,” the Jewish refugees resided in Marikina where Quezon gave a portion of his property to serve as their home.

Among the Manilaners were Lotte Hershfield and Martha Miadowski who both had their fair share of struggles in their new home – beginning a new life in a strange land was not easy.

Shortly after fleeing from the Nazis, the Manilaners faced the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1941. “We went through some very hard times in the Philippines….But, as you see, we survived,” said Miadowski.

Hershfield said the Jewish refugees “would not be alive today if not for the Philippines.”

From the White Russians in the 1920s, to the Vietnamese boat people, to the East Timorese seeking shelter, the Filipinos have always exuded the bayanihan (community) spirit.

Today, there are over 8,000 descendants of Manilaners.

“For Filipinos, World Refugee Day is also an opportunity to recall how past generations have demonstrated generosity to the most vulnerable people when it counted the most,” said UNHCR Philippines head Yasser Saad.  (READ: More solidarity with refugees needed as forced displacement rises)

Displaced persons

According to the UNHCR, the number of forced displaced persons hit an alarming 65.6 million by the end of 2016.

Syria has the largest population of forced displaced persons with more than 12 million fleeing violence and persecution, based on data.

In the Philippines, the UNHCR reported that there were 348,370 persons of concern in the country in 2016. (READ: Displaced families in Marawi to receive P5,000 from DSWD)

As the number of displaced persons continues to rise, advocate and journalist Atom Araullo called for everyone to stand with refugees.

“All of us can act as individuals through donations or simply by an expression of solidarity. The world needs the collective action and commitment to help those fleeing conflict, violence, persecution, and natural disasters,” Araullo said. – Rappler.com

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, encourages Filipinos to stand in solidarity #WithRefugees and with families torn apart by war, conflict and violence. To learn more how you can help, please visit http://donate.unhcr.ph/refugees.

Gari A. Acolola is a Rappler intern