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[TIMELINE] Filipino American Effort to Harbor Jews During WWII

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  • madchinaman
    A Filipino-American Effort to Harbor Jews Is Honored By JOSEPH BERGER http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/14/national/14rescue.html CINCINNATI, Feb. 12 - It was a
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 14, 2005
      A Filipino-American Effort to Harbor Jews Is Honored
      By JOSEPH BERGER
      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/14/national/14rescue.html

      CINCINNATI, Feb. 12 - It was a time when Jews were frantic to get
      out of Germany, risking voyages to places they were not sure would
      accept them and finding doors closed almost everywhere.

      In Manila, though, a vigorous expatriate cigar manufacturer from
      Cincinnati had been playing poker and bridge with the likes of Col.
      Dwight D. Eisenhower; Paul V. McNutt, the American high
      commissioner; and Manuel L. Quezon, the first Philippines president.
      When the manufacturer, Alex Frieder, saw refugees straggling to the
      port pleading for entry, he cajoled his poker cronies to let the
      Philippines become a haven for thousands more.

      Through his efforts and those of three of his brothers, about 1,200
      German and Austrian Jews eventually found sanctuary in the
      Philippines in the late 1930's, then an American protectorate, even
      as the liner St. Louis was turned away from Miami with a boatload of
      900 Jews in a more typical example of American policy.

      Over the weekend, 98 of Mr. Frieder's relatives came together here
      with a half dozen refugees and a grandson of Mr. Quezon to celebrate
      this little-known tale of one of the war's unlikely rescues.

      "They were the right persons in the right place at the right time,"
      said Mr. Frieder's daughter, Alice Weston, 78, who was a young girl
      in Manila in 1938 and 1939 when her father and her uncle Philip
      Frieder masterminded the rescue. "My father wasn't an exceptional
      person. He was an ordinary businessman and he saw this horrible
      situation and he thought of a way to help a little bit."

      Filipinos from the Cincinnati community serenaded the relatives with
      love songs in Tagalog as well as "Hava Nagila." Mrs. Weston, among
      others, sang along with the Tagalog lyrics she remembered from
      childhood. There were Filipino dishes like chicken adobo. Refugees
      led a Sabbath eve prayer service, and Manuel L. Quezon III, a 34-
      year-old journalist in the Philippines, introduced the blessing over
      the challah.

      "We're a very hospitable people and we had experienced exile and
      imprisonment during the Spanish colonization and the early American
      occupation, so someone of my grandfather's generation would have
      been conscious of the plight of refugees," Mr. Quezon said. "We're a
      sucker for anyone who's suffering."

      The reunion, organized by the Center for Holocaust and Humanity
      Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion here,
      was held on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese destruction of
      Manila's synagogue, Temple Emil.

      The story of the Manila rescue begins in 1918 with the decision of
      the Frieder family to move much of its two-for-a-nickel cigar
      business from Manhattan to the Philippines, where production would
      be cheaper. Alex, Philip, Herbert and Morris took turns living in
      Manila for two years each, Mrs. Weston said, in a community that had
      fewer than 200 Jews.

      Frank Ephraim, who as a child was one of the Jewish refugees in
      Manila and who wrote a history of the rescue, "Escape to Manila:
      From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror" (University of Illinois Press,
      2003), said that in 1937 Philip Frieder saw European Jews arriving
      in Manila's port from Shanghai while it was under siege by the
      Japanese. Shanghai remained an open port and eventually harbored
      17,000 German Jews.

      The Frieder brothers were reluctant to burden the Philippines with
      poor refugees, so they focused on importing people in occupations
      the country needed, like doctors. Mr. McNutt, the high commissioner,
      was able to finesse State Department bureaucrats to turn a blind eye
      to quotas and admit 1,000 Jews a year.

      Mr. Quezon's approval was also needed. Dr. Racelle Weiman, the
      Holocaust center's director, said there was a letter written by Alex
      Frieder to Morris Frieder that said skeptics in Mr. Quezon's
      administration spoke of Jews as "Communists and schemers" bent
      on "controlling the world."

      "He assured us that big or little, he raised hell with every one of
      those persons," Alex Frieder wrote of Mr. Quezon in August 1939. "He
      made them ashamed of themselves for being a victim of propaganda
      intended to further victimize an already persecuted people."

      Mr. Frieder combed lists of imperiled Jews for needed skills and
      advertised in German newspapers. The brothers and the American
      Jewish Joint Distribution Committee arranged visas, jobs and housing
      and raised thousands of dollars for sustenance.

      Ralph J. Preiss, 74, of Manhattan, was 8 when he left Germany and
      recalled his family studying Spanish on the ship because they had
      read an outdated encyclopedia describing their intended haven as a
      colony of Spain. "We didn't know what the Philippines was or where
      it was," Mr. Preiss said.

      Eva Süsskind Ashner, 71, of the St. Louis area, was 5 when she took
      a train from Breslau in what was then Germany to Genoa, Italy, and
      from there sailed through the Suez Canal to Manila and its swampy
      heat.

      "The first thing I remember is that we stayed in a boarding house
      and it was the first time I had to sleep with a mosquito net," Mrs.
      Ashner said. "It made a big impression on me."

      Like most refugee children, she attended catechism in Roman Catholic
      schools. She even remembered crossing herself when saying her
      nighttime Hebrew prayer, "Shema Yisroel" (Hear, O Israel).

      "My father put a stop to that in a hurry," she said.

      Most refugees hoped the Philippines would be a way station to
      America, yet were delighted at the kindly reception from Filipinos.
      Doctors' organizations blocked refugees like Mr. Preiss's father
      from practicing on their own but tolerated Filipino supervision, and
      generally refugees carried on with old routines. Mrs. Ashner's
      mother made gefilte fish out of the local catch. Still, Lotte Cassel
      Hershfield of West Hartford, Conn., said some people, like her
      father, never adjusted.

      The Japanese invaded after Pearl Harbor, ending the rescue. They
      treated refugees first as Germans, then as stateless, but did not
      intern them. "They had a dim view of German racial doctrines - they
      weren't Aryans," Mr. Ephraim said.

      But their commandeering of food supplies forced refugees and
      Filipinos to survive on cracked wheat and coconut milk, Mrs.
      Hershfield said.

      With pain in her voice, Mrs. Ashner remembered how after the
      Americans recaptured the Philippines in 1945, the retreating
      Japanese torched much of Manila. Her father, Bernhard Süsskind,
      returned to the burning city to rescue a nurse and was shot to
      death. Sixty-seven refugees were among the 100,000 people killed.

      "To me, when you have an experience like this it doesn't leave you,"
      she said, explaining why she came to the reunion. "It's always with
      you, and the people you went through it with are dear friends of
      yours."
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