Many people are familiar with the number six million in the context of World War II—the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. On Wednesday night at the Cinematek theater, guests of the Philippines Embassy in Israel were introduced to a new number—1,300, the number of Jews saved during the war by the Philippines government and people.
The event, timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, included a private screening of the documentary “An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines” by producer Noel Izon.
The evening opened with refreshments, and introductory remarks by Philippines Ambassador H.E. Mr. Nathaniel Imperial, who is also featured in the film discussing the importance President Manuel Quezon’s courageous decision to save Jewish refugees during World War II. Representatives of Asia-Pacific Desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Director of the AJC Jerusalem Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich also spoke about the importance of saving a human life and the magnitude of the story that needs to be told and retold about Jewish refugees in the Philippines.
Producer Noel Izon addressed the audience next and explained about his own personal connection to the story of Jewish refugees—the Jewish doctor who saved his father’s life a year before he was born, and the Jewish conductor of the Orchestra who introduced Mr. Izon to the world of music.
Following the opening remarks, guests were treated to a private screening of the film. The movie opens chronologically, discussing the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in Nazi Germany, its effects on Jews, safety in the Philippines, the occupation of the Philippines by Japanese forces, and eventual liberation. Interspersed throughout the film are World War II-era photos and interviews with Holocaust survivors, bringing life and detail to this important story. The main theme of the film is the truly remarkable story of how President Manuel Quezon and the people of the Philippines not only saved more than 1,300 Jewish lives during the Holocaust, but actually planned to take in more than 170,000 Jewish refugees in total, before politics and circumstances prevented those plans from coming to fruition.
The screening was followed by a Q and A session with Mr. Izon, the film-maker, two Holocaust researchers and historians, and one of the survivors featured in the film. The questions ranged from questions about the kinds of Jews who lived in the Philippines, to the role of anti-Semitism in influencing American foreign policy during the war, to how to ensure that a broader audience of Israelis and Filipinos are aware of this important history. Perhaps the most emotional question came at the end of evening, when a young man explained that he himself was descended from Jewish refugees who had survived the war in the Philippines and asked where he and his family could get more information about their own heritage.
Guests at the event included diplomats, religious leaders, like Mr. Kern Wisman, representative of the Bahai community in Israel, historians like Professor Emeritus of Jewish History Dr. Robert Rockaway, families of survivors, and Philippines citizens living in Israel. In addition to the screening, the audience was also invited to a lecture the next afternoon at the Philippines Embassy by historian and professor Dr. Sharon Delmendo on Manuel Quezon’s efforts to save Jewish lives during World War II.
In a time in which hatred and xenophobia are rearing their head, and the world is once again plagued with armed conflict and refugees, the story of the courageous humanity and moral courage of President Quezon and the people of the Philippines is both heartwarming and inspiring—a call to action for responsible citizens. On Wednesday night, thanks to the Philippines Embassy, the ties between Israel and the Philippines, and Jews and Filipinos, were strengthened, as everyone involved was left to ponder the responsibility of being a moral and empathetic global citizen.
Photos Silvia Golan