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Payback

/ 01:18 AM November 23, 2013

Did this report update what the Inquirer’s “Viewpoint” column of Jan. 12, 2010, originally titled “Memory of the Heart”?

Helping the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda/Haiyan” is “the perfect time to show gratitude to the Philippines,” the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC) said. “This land helped save hundreds of Jews seven decades ago,” Thea Alberto-Masakayan of Yahoo Southeast Asia Newsroom reported.

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Jewish communities worldwide track JTA Weekly. The latest issue bannered a column titled “In Its Time of Need, Repaying a Debt to the Philippines.” What “IOU”?

Then President Manuel L. Quezon authorized 10,000 entry visas for Jews fleeing Nazi gas chambers. Over 1,200 of them found sanctuary here.

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“The people of the Philippines will have, in the future, every reason to be glad that when the time of need came, their country was willing to extend a welcome hand,” Quezon said.

Now, after Yolanda, the AJJDC said: “We are fully committed to fulfilling President Quezon’s prophecy.” It’d funnel aid through Ayala Foundation and Catholic Relief Services for the relief and rehabilitation of the typhoon survivors.

This private initiative is separate from official aid. Two hours after Israel set up a fully equipped field hospital in wrecked Bogo City in northern Cebu, its doctors and nurses helped deliver a baby boy. Parents Emylou and Audrin Antigua named their son—what else?—Israel.

“Baby boy Israel is the second ‘miracle baby’ born in the aftermath of Haiyan,” Ayee Macaraeg of Rappler said. Earlier, Bea Joy Sagales was born, at an emergency clinic in the ruined airport in Tacloban City.

The AJJDC will also field development specialists. Danny Pins’ mother and grandparents, for instance, were “among the German Jews who fled to the Philippines to seek safe haven in 1938.”

After the 1938 Evian Conference floundered, the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees sounded out countries who’d offer havens for Jews, Viewpoint recalled. Many slammed their doors. “The last avenue of escape was from Shanghai.” That shut down, too.

A US Commonwealth then, the Philippines offered visas and farms, Frank Ephraim wrote in his 246-page book, “Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror.” He was eight when his family reached the sanctuary of Manila. After World War II, he emigrated to the United States and studied at the University of California. His memoir stitches together 36 eyewitness accounts from refugees saved by Quezon’s visas.

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The University of Illinois published Ephraim’s book in 2000 and reissued it in 2008. “I was lucky to find a hardcover copy in a bargain bin of a New York bookshop,” wrote historian Ambeth Ocampo in his Inquirer column of March 3, 2011.

The Jews who found refuge here called themselves “Manilaners,” Ocampo wrote. “Quezon lobbied for a permanent Jewish settlement in Mindanao. [He] donated land he owned outside Manila for a settlement and farmland.”

“Memory is gratitude of the heart.” Thus, 70 years after Quezon’s offer, Israel inaugurated the Open Doors memorial at Rishon LeZion City. Designed by Filipino artist Luis “Junyee” Lee Jr., the geometric, seven-meter-high sculpture rises at the 65-hectare Holocaust Memorial Park.

“Few are aware that Quezon shares the distinction of ‘Righteous Gentiles’ honored in that memorial,” J. Alvin Inacay Bautista notes.

Etched on the memorial’s marble floor are three sets of “footprints.” They belong to former refugees: Max Weissler, George Loewenstein, and Doryliz Goffer, a young Filipino-Israeli and granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Weissler was 11 when his family settled in Pasay City. To eke out a living, his mother baked cakes which his father sold. “We came with practically nothing. Always, we found help from Filipinos,” Weissler told the Inquirer’s Volt Contreras. “They have an open heart. [So] we have this monument.”

“Refugees attended Temple Emil synagogue along Taft Avenue.” Mention of the street brought retired engineer Ralph Preiss to tears. Now over 70 and a father of four in Connecticut, Preiss explained that his cousins died at Auschwitz. “If I stayed, I’d have been killed. I’m very grateful to the Philippines for opening the doors…”

The late ambassador to Israel Antonio Modena launched a “campaign for remembrance of the Philippines’ humanitarian support for Jews.” Taking off from Ephraim’s book, Modena proposed a modest marker. But Rishon LeZion Mayor Meir Nitzan insisted on a major memorial.

Modena didn’t see the completion of the memorial. He died of lung cancer in 2007. His name leads the Open Doors dedication plaque.

“In November 1938, an indignation rally was held in Manila to make known and protest Nazi persecution of the Jews,” Ocampo recalled. Sen. Quintin Paredes delivered a stirring speech. This was followed by a resolution passed by the Municipal Board of Manila condemning Nazi persecution of Jews, and extending a “brotherly welcome” to the Jewish immigrants.

“These small gestures gain significance in the context of the polite silence from other countries.” That inaction allowed Hitler to implement the Third Reich’s notorious “final solution.”

Once upon a time, a rabbi from the barangay of Nazareth summed this all up in one stark line: “I was a stranger, and you took me in.”

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E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: AJDC, Jews, Juan L. Mercado, Manuel L. Quezon, opinion, Viewpoint, Yolanda
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