[COMMUNITY] Filipino American's Rescue of Jews During WWII
- Quezon's List
(Supplement to Message #5587)
"We recall today not only the justice in the face of tyranny," Del
Rosario said, "but just as importantly, the common humanity that we
can share, even in the darkest of times."
THANKS to Steven Spielberg, the whole world knows about Oskar
Schindler and his "List" which saved the lives of 1200 German Jews
in World War II. But few know about the Philippine List compiled by
the Frieder brothers which saved a similar number of German and
Austrian Jews in 1939.
It was a shameful time in US history when US policy barred 900
Jewish refugees from disembarking from their liner (St. Louis) in
Miami, forcing the ship to return back to Germany, dooming its
hapless passengers to extermination in Nazi concentration camps.
But it was a proud moment in Philippine history even though it has
never been the subject of a movie nor is it even widely known by
It was celebrated last month on February 12 in Cincinnati, Ohio with
a reunion of Jewish refugees from the Philippines who had gathered
to mark the 60th anniversary of the destruction of their Manila
synagogue, Temple Emil.
Organized by the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education at
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion of Cincinnati, the
event culminated a weekend that reunited 98 Frieder relatives and
seven surviving members of the 1939 List who gave testimony to the
courage of the four Frieder brothers who organized the rescue effort
in the darkening days before World War II. The event also honored
Manuel L. Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth.
The story of the Manila rescue was recounted by Frank Ephraim in his
book, "Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror"
(University of Illinois Press, 2003). Ephraim's book is based on his
research, on his interviews with survivors, and on his own
eyewitness account as a child who was one of 1200 Jewish refugees
who arrived in Manila in 1939.
The history of the rescue begins with the decision of the Frieder
brothers in 1918 to relocate its two-for-a-nickel cigar business
from Manhattan to the Philippines, where production would be
cheaper. Alex, Philip, Herbert and Morris Frieder took turns
overseeing the business in Manila for two years each joining a
community that had fewer than 200 Jews.
In 1937, Philip and Alex Frieder met European Jews who had straggled
in to Manila's port from Shanghai and heard harrowing accounts from
them of the fate of the17,000 Jews in Shanghai who were seeking to
flee the Japanese after they had fled the Nazis.
The Frieders decided to ask the help of their poker buddies to let
the Philippines become a haven for the fleeing Jews.
Fortunately, one of their buddies was Paul V. McNutt, the American
High Commissioner for the Philippines; and another was Manuel L.
Quezon, the president of the Philippine Commonwealth. (Another poker
crony was a young officer named Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the aide
of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then Field Marshall of the Philippines).
McNutt succeeded in convincing US State Department bureaucrats to
turn a blind eye and to quietly allow Jews to enter Manila at a rate
of 1,000 a year. (In 1939, it was increased to 1200).
But President Quezon had a more difficult task as many anti-semitic
Filipinos in his administration opposed the proposal because they
considered Jews to be "Communists and schemers" bent on "controlling
In a letter written in August of 1939, Alex Frieder wrote of Mr.
Quezon's response: "He assured us that big or little, he raised hell
with every one of those persons He made them ashamed of themselves
for being a victim of propaganda intended to further victimize an
already persecuted people."
Quezon even donated personal land he owned to the Jewish refugees.
At the Cincinnati event, Quezon was posthumously honored with the
title "Righteous Person," which, in the tradition of Israel and
those commemorating the Holocaust, is the title given to Gentiles
(non-Jews) who helped the Jewish people in their time of persecution.
Accepting the honor on behalf of the late President Manuel L. Quezon
was his grandson, Manuel L. Quezon III, a Philippine Daily Inquirer
columnist, who told the New York Times reporter "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. We're a sucker for anyone who's
Also at the Cincinnati celebration was Alex Frieder's daughter,
Alice Weston, who described his father and uncles as "the right
persons in the right place at the right time." Alice, now 78, was a
young girl in Manila in 1939 when her father and her uncle Philip
organized the rescue. "My father wasn't an exceptional person," she
said. "He was an ordinary businessman and he saw this horrible
situation and he thought of a way to help a little bit."
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and invasion of the Philippines
ended the Jewish rescue.
Interestingly enough, the Japanese did not intern the German Jews in
the Philippines as they initially treated them as Germans, then as
stateless. In his book, Ephraim wrote that the Japanese "had a dim
view of German racial doctrines - they weren't Aryans."
The survivors at the Cincinnati gathering recounted their harrowing
experience of subsisting on "cracked wheat and coconut milk" during
the Japanese occupation.
In response to the arrival of the American liberation forces in the
Philipp[ines in 1945, the retreating Japanese burned much of Manila.
Eva Asner, a 1939 Manila refugee, told the audience in Cincinnati
that when her father, Bernhard Süsskind, returned to the fire-
engulfed city to rescue a nurse, he was shot to death. He was one of
the sixty-seven Jewish refugees who were among the 100,000 Manilans
killed by the retreating Japanese and the Americans who bombed the
hell out of the city instead of risking more American lives in armed
combat with the Japanese soldiers. In the course of the bombing,
Temple Emil burned to the ground on February 11, 1945.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Albert F. del Rosario informed the
Cincinnati celebrants that Philippine President Gloria Arroyo will
present the National Legion of Honor, Commanders Class, to writer
Frank Ephraim and posthumously to all the Frieder brothers and to
"We recall today not only the justice in the face of tyranny," Del
Rosario said, "but just as importantly, the common humanity that we
can share, even in the darkest of times."
Cigar Saviors: the Frieder Brothers
It was November 10, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht, the "Night of
Broken Glass." Siegfried Strausser and his father, Isadore, had just
been arrested by the Gestapo. While the elder Strausser was released
after ten days, Siegfried was taken to the Dachau concentration
camp, where he might have stayed indefinitely if not for the fact
that his occupation provided him a way out.
Strausser was a cigarmaker, an expert from Schweinfurt, Germany.
Three months before, he and his wife, Klara, had learned about a
refugee immigration program being organized in the Philippines, in
large part, by four American brothers named Frieder who owned a
cigar factory in Manila. To qualify for the program, an applicant
had to be in engaged in one of 14 approved occupations, one of which
was cigar making. Strausser was eventually granted a visa, and on
February 2, 1939, he left Germany for Manila, where he went to work
for the Frieders' Helena Cigar Factory (his wife and father would
The Straussers were among some 1,200 German and Austrian Jews who
managed to flee the Nazis and immigrate to the Philippines -- then a
U.S. commonwealth -- under the auspices of the program coordinated
by the Frieder brothers and the Jewish Refugee Committee they headed
in Manila. While not widely known, the Frieders' efforts in the
late '30s and early '40s helped save as many Jews from the Nazis as
were saved by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler, whose story
is famously recounted in the 1993 film Schindler's List. The
brothers' resourcefulness came during a time when most of the
world's nations, including the United States, were turning a blind
eye toward the plight of the Jews, millions of whom would later
perish in concentration camps.
The Frieders' rescue work is meticulously documented in the 2003
book Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror, which
was written by Frank Ephraim, one of the refugees. Ironically, some
of the Jews who found safety in the Philippines later perished
during the ferocious Battle of Manila, which ended 60 years ago last
Ephraim and a number of other survivors, as well as dozens of
Frieder descendants, gathered last month in Cincinnati to honor the
efforts of the brothers -- Philip, Alex, Morris and Herbert -- six
decades to the day that Temple Emil in Manila was destroyed by the
Japanese. It was the brothers' connections with Philippine and U.S.
officials, as well as their tireless labor -- both in America and in
the East Asian nation -- that allowed them to raise money, secure
affidavits, passports and transit visas, and find jobs and homes for
the refugees in Manila.
"Everybody knew the Jews were being terribly persecuted in Europe,"
Alice Weston, one of Alex Frieder's daughters, said in an
interview. "My father just happened to be the right person at the
right time to make it possible for them to get out."
Who was this family that helped provide a haven to Jews at a time
when most countries were closing their doors to them?
First and foremost, they were cigar men. Their company, S. Frieder &
Sons, was founded by the brothers' father, Samuel, around 1910 as a
retail business in New York City. A few years later, the family
bought a distributorship in Cincinnati. Looking to expand the
business, Samuel and his two oldest sons, Philip and Alex, went to
the Philippines about 1918, where they bought cigars and sold them
back in the United States. Soon, however, they discovered that it
was cheaper to make the cigars themselves, so they established a
manufacturing facility in Manila, called the Helena Cigar Factory.
The four brothers took two-year turns living in Manila and heading
the business there.
The factory produced as many as 250 million cigars a year, according
to Herbert's son Sam Frieder, the current president of S. Frieder
subsidiary DES Tobacco Corp., which operates five retail stores in
Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The cigars, consisting of
brands called Tiona and El Toro, were sold in the States at the not
uncommon price of two-for-a-nickel.
The cigars were made entirely with Philippine tobacco, and simply
getting the tobacco to the factory was arduous. The brothers would
travel north to the Cagayen Valley, which Weston said was a
difficult destination to reach. "There were no good bridges. They
had to get a bamboo raft and ford a stream," she said. A few men
would come along to help negotiate with the farmers, she noted. In
the late '30s, Strausser frequently traveled to the plantations to
serve as a quality control expert during the purchasing process.
In addition to Strausser, at least one other refugee cigar worker
was brought to the Philippines as a result of the Frieders' rescue
efforts. David Rosenblatt, whom Ephraim said he knew, was an expert
in cigar making, but he was also an accomplished cook and later,
after the war, served the Jewish community in Manila as a volunteer
providing relief services.
The seeds for the Jewish exodus to the Philippines had been planted
in 1937, when a group of 28 Jews who had earlier fled Germany for
Shanghai were evacuated by the Germans to Manila after fighting in
Shanghai had escalated between Chinese and Japanese troops. The
newly formed Jewish Refugee Committee in Manila, headed by Philip
Frieder, helped the new arrivals get settled.
"[The Frieder brothers] were in a so-called strategic position
there," said Ephraim, referring to the family's leadership in the
Manila Jewish community. "[The arrivals of the Jews from Shanghai]
gave them the idea: Why can't we bring in more Jews? Things were
getting progressively worse in Germany, and they were aware of that.
That got them motivated, and they wanted to help."
Fortunately, the brothers had contacts in high places. Alex Frieder
had played poker with the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower; Paul
McNutt, the U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippines; and Manuel
Quezon, the Philippine president. In early 1938, McNutt conferred
with Philip, telling him he would allow Jews to immigrate to the
Philippines if the Jewish community in Manila would guarantee their
financial support. Frieder and the refugee committee agreed, at
which point the list of acceptable occupations was devised, which
included physicians, engineers, technical specialists and a rabbi,
among others. By late October 1938, the first group of refugees,
more than a hundred, had been approved to receive visas to enter the
Around the same time, Alex Frieder was returning to Manila to take
his brother's place as head of the cigar factory and director of the
Jewish Refugee Committee. He did whatever he could to assist
refugees, even if sometimes they didn't meet all the committee's
requirements. On one such occasion, according to Ephraim, Frieder
interceded on behalf of a German Jew named Egon Juliusberger and his
son Ernst who had made their way to Manila, but were not on the
refugee committee's "approved" list because the father's coal supply
business was not one of the officially recognized occupations.
Nevertheless, the cigarmaker instructed one of his aides to take
them to see McNutt, who decided to make an exception and grant visas
to the Juliusbergers, presumably because they had brought sufficient
funds to support themselves. Ernst was later imprisoned and tortured
by the Japanese after they took control of the Philippines, but
survived and eventually served with the U.S. Army.
Meanwhile, Philip continued his efforts back in the States. In June
1939, he met with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
in an attempt to raise more money for the rescue work.
While 1,200 Jews were able to take advantage of the Manila refugee
program, which effectively ended in early 1941 as travel
restrictions and other obstacles posed by the ongoing war in Europe
became too difficult to overcome, another proposal, floated in
December 1938, might have brought an additional 10,000 Jews to the
Philippines. Dubbed the Mindanao Plan and supported by President
Quezon, it would have permitted 1,000 Jews a year to be admitted to
agricultural lands on Mindanao, the southernmost Philippine island,
for 10 years. Besides representing the Jewish Refugee Committee in
the plan's discussions, the Frieder brothers worked behind the
scenes, contacting an owner of a ranch that had been identified as a
possible settlement site, and a sales contract was agreed upon. But
opposition by local Philippine officials eventually doomed the
In June 1941, Herbert Frieder, who had been running the Manila
factory since 1939, returned to America and Philip replaced him in
Manila. But in November, with the Japanese threat looming closer,
Philip was forced to depart, bringing along the company's final
shipment of cigars, and the plant soon closed. It was destroyed in
Back in America, the Frieders used tobacco from Pennsylvania,
Connecticut, Florida and Central America to make such brands as
Habanello and Garcia. They eventually established their headquarters
in Philadelphia, and in the late '40s, they produced cigars in
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, then a hotbed for cigar manufacturing.
Alex's son-in-law Edwin Lichtig Jr., who had entered the family
business in the late 1930s in the Philippines, oversaw the Wilkes-
Barre operation. At its peak, in the early 1950s, S. Frieder & Sons
produced about 100 million cigars annually.
Because the company was small, it found it hard to compete with some
of the bigger factories in the area, such as those run by General
Cigar and Consolidated Cigar. "We didn't have the same economies of
scale as the larger companies," recalled Sam Frieder, who joined S.
Frieder in 1957 as a salesman. "We didn't have the infrastructure
and capital to compete with the big guys."
In the late '50s and '60s, the company "found its niche" in
manufacturing private-label cigars for large retailers, Frieder
said. The company formed a retail division, DES Tobacco, in 1974,
and sold cigars inside Sears Roebuck stores. In 1978, the company
sold its manufacturing business to U.S. Tobacco.
Local woman attends ceremony honoring saviors who got German Jews
safely to Philippines
By Tracy Sullivan
MARCH 4, 2005 - WEST HARTFORD - Lotte Cassel Hershfield was able
flee Nazi Germany for the Philippines and come to the United States
because of "the kindness of strangers," she said, quoting a line
from "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Among those strangers were the Frieder brothers of Cincinnati who
used the connections formed through their cigar business to save
1,200 Jewish lives in the darkening days before the storm of World
Hershfield, along with her husband, Rabbi Nathan Hershfield, and
their two children, were among the hundreds of people gathered at
Cincinnati's historic Plum Street Temple Feb. 13 to honor the
Frieder brothers. Organized by the Center for Holocaust and Humanity
Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the
event was the culmination of a weekend that reunited 98 Frieder
relatives and seven Jewish refugees, including Hershfield, who was
just 7 when she arrived in the Philippines with her parents and
Testimony and tributes from those relatives and refugees served as
the focal point of the ceremony, which also posthumously honored
Manuel Quezon, the first president of the Philippines, and Paul V.
McNutt, an American high commissioner there.
Alice Weston, Alex Frieder's daughter, provided the background for
her family's heroic actions. Moving to New York from Hungary in the
1880s, her grandfather, Samuel Frieder, established the S. Frieder
Company in midtown Manhattan and eventually opened a distribution
office in downtown Cincinnati.
It was cheaper to make cigars in the Philippines, so four of the
brothers each took turns running the business on the hot, humid
island, then a U.S. protectorate. Each lived in the Philippines for
Weston said her father and uncles knew U.S. and Filipino officials.
They played bridge with then-Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, she said,
and practiced their poker skills on McNutt and Quezon.
She said the brothers urged Quezon to allow Jewish refugees into the
country. They "promised they would not be a burden on the community,
but an asset." To that end the brothers concentrated their efforts
on bringing over Jews who had skills that would be useful in the
Quezon, a devout Catholic, "enthusiastically agreed," she said, and
gave away parcels of his own land to the Jewish refugees so they
could begin to make their own livings.
Through the efforts of the brothers and the American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee, the refugees received the visas that allowed
them to escape Europe. When they arrived in the Philippines they
were given jobs, money and shelter. Those German-Jewish refugees
joined a community that had only a few hundred Jews before they
A more ambitious plan to open immigration to 10,000 or more Jewish
families fell by the wayside as the Japanese army swept through
Indochina, said Racelle Weiman, director of the Center for Holocaust
and Humanity Education. And the U.S. State Department did not
support the idea, she added.
Frank Ephraim, who was 8 when he fled with his parents from Germany
to the Philippines, wrote "Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to
Japanese Terror," which spurred Weiman to find a way to honor those
involved and to tell their stories. Hershfield is featured in
Recalling her own escape from Europe as a child, Hershfield said it
had been "a great relief" when the Philippines offered visas to her
Born in Breslau, Germany, which is now in Poland, Hershfield said
her family learned about the availability of these visas through
word of mouth and in local newspapers. Her father, who in 1937 had
been fired from his job as a district manager for a liquor company
because he was Jewish, applied for the visas.
"He felt that because the Philippines were an American protectorate
that we could eventually get to the United States," Hershfield
She added that her family was able to obtain visas because the
German consul in Breslau wanted the Jews to get out of the country.
It cost 8,000 German marks for Hershfield, her parents and her
brother to travel to the Philippines.
Hershfield recalled her mother crying as the ship docked in every
port on the month-long trip from Europe. When they arrived in the
Philippines, their first Friday night meal included chicken
soup. "And my mother cried all over again," she said.
Hershfield lived in the Philippines for nine years, from 1938-1947,
primarily in Manila, and her father worked for a Swiss import
"Before the war, for us children, it was a fairly easy life,"
Hershfield said. "You had mostly good weather, and you were not
burdened by having to wear any heavy clothes."
Hershfield went to a Catholic school because, she explained, the
private schools were far better than the public schools, and the
German nuns there were willing to teach her and her classmates
But after a couple of years, the nuns wanted to baptize the Jewish
students. So Hershfield transferred to an elementary school at the
Philippine's Women's University.
She recalled meeting Alex Frieder at special ceremonies as a child,
and Herbert Frieder opened up his summer home in Baguio for Friday
But then life changed dramatically when the Japanese invaded the
Philippines. Hershfield and her family were interned with other
Caucasians at a university in Santa Tomas. "There was great hunger
and deprivation," she said. "There were daily bombings
While the Japanese occupation of the Philippines was "terror and
hell," Hershfeld noted the one thing it was not extermination.
In February 1945, during the month-long Battle of Manila, 100,000
Filipinos were killed. Of those, 67 were German-Jewish refugees. And
on Feb. 11, 1945, the local shul, Temple Emil, burned to the ground.
Hershfield was liberated by the Americans in 1945. Two years later,
she and her family, with the help of unknown cousins in the United
States, settled in Baltimore, Md.
Underscoring a message that "goodness and justice must come from an
impulse of the heart," Manuel Quezon III, the president's grandson,
paid tribute to the humanitarian ideals and efforts that saved so
"If misery and the loss of freedom are part of our past," he
said, "then extending sanctuary and embracing the oppressed must be
part of our present. History is about choices and history demands
that we make the right choice, the compassionate choice, the human
McNutt, a one-time governor of Indiana and who had his sights set on
the presidency, was sent by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Manila to
assume the post of U.S. High Commissioner, where McNutt would play
an integral part in letting the U.S. State Department ignore
immigration quotas and admit 1,000 Jewish refugees a year.
Albert F. del Rosario, the Philippines' ambassador to the United
States, said Philippine President Gloria Arroyo will present the
National Legion of Honor, Commanders Class, to Ephraim and Weiman
this spring. The Frieder brothers and McNutt will receive the
National Legion of Honor, Heroes Class, posthumously at the same
"We recall today not only the justice in the face of tyranny," said
del Rosario, "but just as importantly, the common humanity that we
can share, even in the darkest of times."
Unsung heroes receive their due 65 years later
13 Feb. 2005 Good news about Rescues, Heroes
Former refugees want the world to know of the efforts by 4 brothers
from Cincinnati in saving 1,200 Jews from the perils of Nazi tyranny.
As the Nazis took power in Germany and the world turned its back on
Jewish refugees, four American brothers who ran a cigar factory in
the Philippines worked quietly to help 1,200 Jews flee to Manila.
The Frieder brothers never talked about their part in the little-
known rescue. But more than 65 years later, the remaining refugees
want the world to know what Philip, Alex, Morris and Herbert Frieder
"The Frieder brothers were just ordinary Jewish businessmen, but
they went out of their way to save lives," said Frank Ephraim, who
was 8 when his family fled to Manila from Germany in 1939. "No one
made them do it. They just did what they thought was right."
The four brothers from Cincinnati had taken turns going to Manila
for two-year periods during the 1920s and '30s to run the Helena
Cigar Factory, started by their father in 1918.
While they were there, they established a Jewish Refugee Committee
and worked with highly placed friendsU.S. High Commissioner of the
Philippines Paul McNutt and Manuel Quezon, the first Philippine
presidentto help the mostly German and Austrian refugees get
passports and visas, then find employment and homes in Manila.
"We were welcomed in the Philippines at a time when the gates to
Jews were closed all over the world," said former refugee Lotte
Hershfield, 74, of West Hartford, Conn.
A fifth brother remained in Ohio and was not involved in the rescue.
All the brothers have died, but their family is grateful for the
"We are all so proud of them," said Morris Frieder's daughter, Jane
Ellis, 77. "But we wish they could be here to enjoy this."
The effort in behalf of the refugees was little known until a recent
book by Ephraim, "Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese
Terror," led to efforts in the United States and the Philippines to
mark the humanitarian effort before the aging refugees die.
"Our numbers are dwindling, and I didn't want this story to be lost
forever," said Ephraim, 73, of Washington, D.C.
On Sunday, Cincinnati's Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education
will honor the Frieder brothers, Quezon, McNutt, also a former
Indiana governor, and the Filipino people.
At least 25 refugees and their descendants and nearly 100 members of
the Frieder family planned to join relatives of McNutt and Quezon
and the Philippine ambassador, Alberto Del Rosario.
Documents show the four Frieders had hoped to bring as many as
10,000 refugees to the Philippines, but World War II intervened.
They continued working in Manila until the Japanese invasion in 1941.
Alex Frieder's daughter, Alice Weston, now 78 and living in
Cincinnati, said she remembers her father raising money and spending
hours poring over lists of desperate refugee applicants in Manila.
"Our children have asked why no one ever told them about this, but
we were just kids then," she said. "After we came back to the United
States, my father and uncles never talked about it. I think they
just thought it was part of their duty, and they just went on with
Now the brothers' photos, letters and other possessions, along with
those of the refugees, will become part of a permanent exhibit in
Cincinnati. Part of the exhibit might be taken to the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington, and to Manila.
"We want to tell the world about the humanity of these men who did
so much to save so many people and were never recognized," said
Racelle Weiman, director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity
Education. "We hope it will make people realize that everyone can
make a difference."
Manuel Quezon III said he is proud of his grandfather's role in the
rescue. "In a sense, as president, he was implementing a national
policy of the heart," he said.
A great nephew of McNutt didn't know about his role in the rescue
but wasn't surprised.
"Paul had the chance to do many different things and always chose
public service," said John Krauss, director of the Indiana
University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment.
The brothers offered then-Col. Dwight Eisenhower a job in the rescue
effort, but he decided to stay in the Army, becoming commander of
Allied forces in Europe and then president, said granddaughter Susan