The Exceptional Israel-Philippines Connection
This article is dedicated in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls every year on January 27th – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Haifa is a beautiful city located in northern Israel which offers its residents a rich quality of life. The country’s third largest city, Haifa is on the comeback trail after having fallen into a sixty-year decline following Israel’s independence in 1948. Accordingly, a number of clients have rediscovered Haifa and purchased apartments there, either for their own use or as investments.
One of these clients sent me a photo of a property on Manila Street. The street name piqued my interest, as I wondered: what’s so special about the capital of the Philippines that a street in Haifa was named in its honor? I then discovered an extraordinary long-standing friendship between the Philippines and the Jewish nation, which hearkens back to pre-World War II.
The Philippine Commonwealth was one of the very few governments – and the only nation in Asia – that came to the rescue of the beleaguered Jews in World War II. In 1939, the Philippine government attempted to issue over 10,000 visas to the Jews and set up Jewish refugee settlements in the country. However, due to resistance from the US State Department and the fact that the war broke out a few months later, only 1,300 Jewish refugees were able to avail themselves of these precious visas.
This act of kindness came about over a friendly game of poker. The Frieder brothers owned a cigar business in Cincinnati, Ohio, and set up a manufacturing plant in Manila. Well-connected, they would often play poker and enjoy cigars with President Manuel Quezon, US high commissioner to the Philippines Paul McNutt and American colonel Dwight Eisenhower, who was Quezon’s military advisor and a rising star in the US military.
Alarmed by the deteriorating situation for Jews in Germany, and aware that most countries were closing their doors to immigration, the Frieder brothers saw the writing on the wall. Encouraged by their successful involvement in the 1937 evacuation of 28 Jews from Shanghai to Manila, in which they formed the Jewish Refugee Committee in Manila to help the new arrivals get settled, the Frieders devised an immigration program to rescue thousands of Jews. Their fellow poker enthusiasts Quezon, McNutt and Eisenhower were highly principled individuals and were happy to cooperate. They helped cajole a reluctant President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and an openly hostile State Department to begrudgingly grant visas to Jews. Although the original plan was to rescue 10,000 Jews, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Europe and foot dragging by American diplomats short-circuited the plan.
After the war, the Philippines continued its friendship with the Jewish nation. In 1947, the Philippines was the only Asian nation that voted in favor of the UN Partition Plan of Palestine, and cast the decisive vote that created the State of Israel. Ten years later, in 1957, the Philippines established diplomatic relations with Israel.
The Philippines’ kindness towards the Jewish refugees is but a small story of heroism in the larger saga of the Holocaust. However, it was a rare ray of light in a very dark and gloomy world and epitomized the message of altruism, morality, and hope in the face of global prejudice, indifference, and despair.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.