File picture of President of Philippines Manuel Quezon
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In the late 1930s, Philippines president Manuel Quezon gave refuge to over 1,200 Jews, after their expulsion from Germany and Austria. Quezon, who was born on this day in 1878, has been known over the years as the Filipino Schindler for the “Open Doors” policy he had laid out for Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

Who is Manuel L. Quezon?

Quezon was a Filipino soldier who became a lawyer and a statesman and then served as the 2nd president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935 until his death in 1944. He was able to establish a government-in-exile in the United States amid the outbreak of World War II and the impending threat of the Japanese occupation.

The Holocaust

When most countries denied any admission of Jewish refugees into their borders, Quezon with the support of U.S. High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, wanted to welcome tens of thousands of Jews to the Philippines and have them permanently settle on the island of Mindanao. However, his efforts were stone-walled by the U.S. government who limited him to accept only a thousand Jews a year for a period of 10 years.

The rescue

Little is known about the rescue conducted by Quezon during that time, not even to most Filipinos. Based on historical accounts of Jewish filmmaker Matthew Rosen, Quezon befriended the five Frieder brothers who came from a Jewish cigar manufacturing family. One of the Frieder siblings learned from a telegram that the Germans were building death camps for Jews and urged Quezon to offer a safe haven for Jews looking to flee the horrors looming over Europe.

Quezon took no time to request thousands of visas from the U.S. government. However, he was faced with anti-semitism in the State Department and Filipino politicians were worried about his plan and the opposition was certainly not in favor of it. Quezon pulled through at his own political disadvantage while his efforts were fully supported by other Americans in the Philippines.

The Quezon List

With the US having stymied Quezon’s initial plans, Philippine ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial told the Times of Israel that the number of Jews saved by Quezon is between 1,200 to 1,300. "There is no exact figure,” he added.

Based on Rosen’s list, the number is 1,226. From that list, 1,200 were said to be off the boat and 26 were refugees from Shanghai that came in before the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Quezon settled the Jews on his private property, having given Manila’s Jewish Refugee Committee a 10-year-loan to use part of his presidential home in the city of Marikina. The land housed homeless Jewish refugees in what is known today as Marikina Hall, dedicated on April 23, 1940. “He actually [saved] a few more than [Oskar] Schindler,” Rosen remarked.

The “Manilaners”

It was in August 1937, that President Quezon issued Proclamation No. 173 which called on all Filipinos to welcome the fleeing Jews. The Manila Jews came to be known as “Manilaners”. Among the Jews rescued by Quezon are Max Weissler, who would be 92 this year and Ralph Priess, who came to the Philippines when he was just 8 years. Both shared their perspectives on Quezon’s rescue. Preiss recalled having gotten an autograph from Quezon but barely knew much about him.

When asked what he remembers well about Quezon, Preiss replied, “Just that he was a nice, kind man … He helped people. That’s all I really knew about him at the time.” “We had a community, we had a synagogue, we had a rabbi, a cantor,” Weissler said.

Post War

When the Japanese came to invade the Philippines, Preiss said that about 85 Manilaners lost their lives during the occupation and liberation of the Philippines which he described as a grim period. Manila was considered to be the second-most devastated city of World War II next to Warsaw. Weissler and Priess were forced to leave the Philippines.

A Tribute: The Open Doors Monument in Rishon Lezion

On June 21, 2009, the “Open Doors” monument was dedicated at the Holocaust Memorial Park in the city of Rishon Lezion, in memory of Quezon’s legacy. The monument received generous donations from Manilaners and their families along with their personal inscriptions.

Open Doors Monument in Rishon Lezion, Israel Photo by Anton Diaz/ Flickr

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