Sharing of Stories: Jewish Survivors in the Philippines during the Holocaust

L-R: Mary Farquhar, Amb. Effie Ben Matityau, Amb. Philip Goldberg, Celia Tischler Black, Margot Cassel Pins, Hans Hoflien, Ralph Preiss and Gordon Lester.

The alumni members of the American School in Manila had organized a reunion that not only promised the rekindling of memories but a remembrance of the plight of the Jews who faced annihilation during the Holocaust.

The event, “Sharing of Stories”, was organized by the Pilipinas Sandiwa Heritage Foundation and the Embassy of Israel and highlighted the major role that the Philippines had played in Jewish history when President Manuel L. Quezon welcomed the Jewish refugees through his “Open Door Policy”.

The Atrocities of War

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg also highlighted the shared history between the US and the Philippines during the time of the Commonwealth, the 70th Anniversary of the Leyte Landing last year and the upcoming 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Manila. He also underscored the “openness” of the Filipinos who opened their doors for the Jewish refugees, who in turn, have established roots in the country which continue up to this day.

Ambassador Goldberg also quoted President Obama’s anti-semitism speech which emphasized that anti-semitism doesn’t threaten Jews but threaten the world today and stressed the basic human rights to live without persecution.

Meanwhile, Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Effie Ben Matityau focused on the moral collapse of Europe during the Holocaust and the moral victory of the Philippines as the latter embraced the Jewish refugees in times of extreme persecution.

Ambassador Matityau also reacted to the CNN article on the 1,200 Jewish refugees and the distorted viewpoint that mentioned that the “refugees fled Europe only to end up in another war in the Philippines…” He said that the “Jewish People had to flee Europe not because of the war in Europe but because of being Jewish” and that “the fact that the majority of European states singled out Jews and that they were targeted by their fellow countrymen and governments, not just by Nazi Germany.”

Ambassador Matityau relived the acceptance of the Jews with open doors and open hearts in the Philippines, sharing together with the Filipino community, the horrors of the war without being singled out as Jews, not even by the Japanese. He added that “1,300 Jews who fled to the Philippines didn’t need to hide their identity and fear their neighbors” as the only danger was the war itself which Filipinos and Jews shared together.

“Take me back to Manila”

For the Jewish survivors, coming back to Manila was more than just a homecoming. There were survivors who were born and raised in the Philippines, with their parents hiding the truth of their escape from the Nazis until it was time to pass on their stories.

Gordon Lester recounted the glorious red sunsets of Manila Bay as the backdrop of the maritime war fleets docking in the horizon. Celia Tischler Black remembered the summers spent with her friends at the American School and Mary Brings Farquhar fondly recollected the plight of her parents to the Philippines and how they had themselves naturalized as Filipinos for they had come to love the Philippines.

The event also brought together the Jewish survivors who were born in Germany and Austria but eventually moved to the Philippines. Such were the stories of Hans Hoflien, Ralph Preiss and Margot Cassel Pins–stories of hope, love and survival.