[TIMELINE] Filipino American Effort to Harbor Jews During WWII
- A Filipino-American Effort to Harbor Jews Is Honored
By JOSEPH BERGER
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
"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
"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.
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