|President Manuel L. Quezon|
The number of Jews living in the Philippines is significantly small however their presence in the country is surprisingly long. Jewish presence in the Philippines dates back to the Spanish Colonial era. There was the story of Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez, the Spanish-Jewish brothers who escaped the Spanish Inquisition and settled in the Philippines in the 1590’s. Both men were charged and convicted of practicing their Jewish faith while outwardly professing that they were Roman Catholics.
After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. During the American colonial period there were American Jews who served in the US armed forces. After their separation from the military service some of them joined Jewish civilians who opted to settle in the Philippines which was then an unincorporated US territory in the Far East. Notable personalities included the Frieder Brothers who established businesses and helped organize the Jewish community in Manila.
The meteoric rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930’s was a serious threat to the Jewish people all over Europe. The party headed by Adolf Hitler devised a scheme to systematically exterminate the Jews. Fearing for their lives, the Jews from Germany, Austria and other fascist countries flocked to friendly embassies to seek refuge to countries that would let them in.
The Commonwealth of the Philippines was one of the few countries of the world which heeded the call of the Jewish people for help. President Manuel L. Quezon, Paul V. McNutt, the US High Commissioner to the Philippines and the leaders of the Jewish community worked together to come up with a rescue effort. In relation to it, Quezon granted 10,000 working visas for Jews who would come to the country. In addition resettlement areas in Mindanao were prepared for them.
At first there was only a trickle of Jews who came to the Philippines. Most of those who did were Jews from Shanghai, China who escaped from the Chinese-Japanese armed conflict. But after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 the persecution of the Jews increased, and as a result more and more Jews wanted to get out of the fascist regimes of Europe. As the war escalated in Europe, Hitler became more obsessed than ever to conquer Europe and implement the “final solution” to deal with the Jews. In the Philippines the number of Jews that seek refuge from Europe from 1937 to 1941 reached 1,200. The flow of refugees stopped when the Japanese invaded and occupied the country at the outbreak of the Second World War.
In the Philippines, during the war, some of the Filipino and American officials whom the Japanese perceived as uncooperative were incarcerated, and so were some foreign nationals especially Americans who were considered by the Japanese as “enemy aliens”. Some of the Americans were American-Jews. The Germans though were fortunate of being considered by the Japanese as ally in the war. Since the Japanese was hard put in distinguishing between an ethnic German and a German-Jew, the Jews in the Philippines were not subjected to the same level of anti-Semitism that their brothers in Europe suffered in the hands of Nazi Germans. However, like most Filipinos and Americans, the Jews also suffered the brutalities and the horrors caused by the war.
Quezon died while in exile in the US on August 1, 1944, and the Second World War ended in August 1945 with the defeat of the Japanese. On July 4, 1946, the Philippines gained its independence from the United States. The two events saw the Jews resettling either to the United States or Israel so that the number of them in the Philippines greatly diminished. Just after the war the Jewish population in Manila was just only about 600.
Philippine empathy on the plight of the Jewish people was further shown during the implementation of the United Nation Partition Plan of Palestine when the Philippines became the only Asian Country that voted in favor of it on November 9, 1947. The majority of affirmative votes for the plan paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel.
The world has only little knowledge of the deed of President Manuel L. Quezon and the Philippine Commonwealth to save the lives of 1,200 souls from the horrors of the Holocaust of which over 6,000,000 innocent Jews were victimized by state-sponsored murder and terrorism of the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. Slowly but surely, however, the Israelis, the Filipinos and the people of the world take cognizant of that exemplary deed by honoring President Quezon and his commonwealth government with the construction and unveiling of the “Open Doors” Monument on June 21, 2009 at the Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon Lezion, a city south of Tel Aviv in Israel.