In 3 reunions give tribute, love, thanks to Filipinos – INQ7.net, there is a special report I prepared on my visit to Ohio for ceremonies to commemorate the role played by the Philippines in saving victims of Nazi persecution.
This is the full text of my speech on February 13, 2005:
Remarks at the Plum Street Temple, February 13, 2005
A year or two after the events we’re commemorating here today took place, my grandfather and his family found themselves refugees, as well. Fleeing the occupation of his country by the Japanese, my grandfather found himself in Australia on his way to America. Upon landing in Australia, an Australian journalist approached him and asked him, “did you arrive here today,” pronouncing it, in the Australian style, as “to-die.” Now my grandfather knew what he meant, but if there’s anything that could be said of him, it was that he had chutzpah. So, looking dramatically at the newsman, he quickly replied, “No, I came here to live!”
We are gathered here to recognize the efforts that made it possible for refugees from the Holocaust to come to the Philippines to live. Mr. Ephraim’s loving record of the lives of his fellow “Manilaner,” the refugees from Nazism that found refuge in Manila, traces the ways President Quezon tried to do all he could to help those escaping from terror and annihilation. When Philippine officials balked at granting access to public land to the refugees, my grandfather gave the refugees access to his own private land; thereby bearing witness to one of his own maxims. “Social Justice,” he once said, is far more beneficial when applied as a matter of sentiment, and not of law.” He meant, and wanted to prove, that goodness and justice must come from an impulse of the heart, lest it be fatally constrained by bureaucrats and the law.
A politician, which is what my grandfather was, often finds his ambition to be a statesman fatally constrained by the dictates of what is often called political pragmatism. There are many extenuating circumstances that can conspire to turn even the most charitable into the most cold hearted of people. There are circumstances that too often serve to circumscribe foreign policy by the lowest and basest appeals to public opinion; there are the insufferably thorny thickets of the law, that too few are willing to hack through; there are too many instances when reality presents a superficially immovable obstacle, when resources are too easily quantified as limited, and when time is too quickly said to be insufficient. All too often, it is all too easy to do all too little.
When he inaugurated Marikina Hall, the halfway house for refugees on his own land, on April 23, 1940, my grandfather was quoted as having said, “It is my hope, and indeed, my expectation, that 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 hand of welcome.” He had no way of knowing it, but a few months after his death in 1944, one of the “Manilaner,” a doctor, would write a letter in broken English; a letter filled with the most heart-rending compassion. Addressing himself to the Mayor of Manila, this Jewish refugee spoke up for the hundreds of hungry, often orphaned children begging in the streets of the capital. The refugee, who himself had very little in life, pleaded for the children to be fed, and for individuals like himself to be given a chance to organize relief for them. The letter was never answered.
But that letter made it to a compilation of historical documents titled “Readings in Philippine History,” by a Jesuit scholar; the book is required reading in many schools. While the name of the kind-hearted Jewish refugee is lost to us, his words are not; they have been read by generations of Filipino schoolchildren, and in every reading, history has given a resoundingly positive answer to my grandfather’s hopes and expectations of the “Manilaner.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a legend, so old as to be well known to my grandfather’s generation, that the day before our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was to be executed by the colonial authorities of Spain, Rizal’s mother, a woman of great intelligence and dignity, humbled herself by climbing the stairs of the governor-general’s palace on her knees, to be beg for the life of her son. My grandfather said that as he climbed the stairs of the same palace, this time as the elected president of his country, he recalled the legend and vowed never to permit the execution of any of his countrymen during his term. He never did. In the same manner, he extend the hand of compassion to foreigners who wanted to live in his land.
History often unfolds in horrifying ways, but with its unfolding, there is also offered us a chance to react with a compassionate and generous response. If misery and the loss of freedom are part of our past, then extending sanctuary, embracing the oppressed, and giving refuge to the persecuted must be part of our present. History is about choices. And history demands we always make the right, the compassionate, the human, choice.
My family thanks you for your kind tribute today. Most of all, we thank you for your testimony. May it remind present and future generations to always look, as Lincoln put it, to the better angels of our nature.
Until we meet again, Shalom.
And by the Cincinnati Enquirer: Frieders’ heroism is recalled
Also by The Filipino Reporter: The Filipino Reporter , by the New York Times and International Herald Tribune: Philippines Saved German-Jewish Refugees
and Filipino-American effort to rescue Jews honored. It was also covered by the New Jersey Jewish News, NJJN – Family reunion celebrates brothers’ Holocaust heroism. The most reprinted story was one carried by the Associated Press, which was picked up by CNN and many newspapers around the world: CNN.com – Brothers who rescued Jewish refugees honored – Feb 7, 2005
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published an editorial, Sanctuary – INQ7.net. Inquirer readers reacted with the following: Adamson’s Jewish professors – INQ7.net and Man searches for his ‘Holocaust’ brothers – INQ7.net
My own writings related to this were:
Threads of life – INQ7.net (which also appeared in the American Israelite, oldest Jewish daily in the United States)