If you’ve watched the film, “Quezon’s Game” (or even if you never do), hopefully you will become interested in learning more about the rescue of Jews who found a safe haven in the Philippines.
Hopefully the extracts from academic articles and books will help provide a deeper understanding of these events. All errors and shortcomings in attribution are my responsibility alone.
Cast of Characters:
Manuel L. Quezon: “In 1935, Filipinos had elected him as the commonwealth’s first president. At the time, the Philippines were still a colonial possession of the United States. Quezon was an astute politician who used his fluency in English, political acumen, and gift of flattery to win over policymakers in Washington. Most important, Quezon was friendly and socialized with McNutt and the Frieders and visited with them at their homes. As a non-Aryan, he hated the Nazis and sympathized with the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. He also believed the Jewish refugees would become an asset to the Philippines, especially with their expertise and knowledge of medicine and other professional fields. His endorsement proved significant because the commonwealth’s officials determined who could get off the ships and enter the territory.” According to
Goldstein/Kotlowski: “the Philippine president had made good friends with its Jewish-American community in part because Jews, who were familiar with discrimination, made an effort to be friends with Filipinos at a time when other Americans would not.”
Despite the monumental tasks Quezon faced during the ten-year Commonwealth period—overhauling the Philippine economy, “Filipinizing” the government, widespread poverty, and the ever-looming threat of Japanese invasion—Quezon, with High Commissioner McNutt, proposed a plan to settle 30,000 refugee families on Mindanao, and 40,000-50,000 refugees on Polillo. Quezon made a ten year loan of the parcel of land he had bought for his only son, Manuel “Nonong” Quezon Jr., to Manila’s Jewish Refugee Committee for the housing of homeless refugees. This parcel was adjacent to Quezon’s own family home in Marikina, which Quezon used as a Presidential retreat when his tuberculosis and other medical issues required short rests and recuperation. Marikina Hall, a large group home and farm, was dedicated on April 23, 1940. One of the inhabitants, Morris Grimm, had been released from Buchenwald concentration camp on the condition he leave Germany.
Paul V. McNutt: “a Roosevelt appointee, had been a professor of law, governor of Indiana (1935-1937), and a prominent figure in the Democratic Party. A decent and humane individual, McNutt learned about the Nazi atrocities from Jacob Weiss, a close Jewish ally in Indiana’s Democratic Party, and from reports he received from Jewish groups. McNutt had long disdained racial hatred and anti-Semitism, and respected Jews, as he said, “for their toughness, resiliency, and success.” He often spoke out and condemned the German government and Hitler, and supported the Zionist goal of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. McNutt realized that any long-term effort to permit large numbers of Jews to enter the Philippines had to be methodical, carefully planned, and in accord with United States immigration statutes.”
The Frieder Brothers: Alex, Phillip, Herbert, Morris, “who owned a two-for-a nickel cigar business. In 1918, the brothers decided to transfer their cigar manufacturing operation to Manila from New York City, to reduce production costs. The brothers then took two-year turns living in Manila and overseeing their plant. They also became active in Manila’s Jewish community of 150 men, women, and children.” Watch a Frieder home movie of their Brixton Hill, Santa Mesa residence.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: At the time Douglas MacArthur’s chief of staff and No. 2 man in the Military Adviser’s Mission in the Philippines.
In his memoirs, At Ease. he recalled that:
“[By 1937] President Quezon seemed to ask for my advice more and more. He invited me to his office frequently. This was partly because of the office hours General MacArthur liked to keep. He never reached his desk until eleven. After a late lunch hour, he went home again. This made it difficult for Quezon to get in touch with the General when he wanted him. Because I was the senior active duty officer, my friendship with the President became closer.
“Our conversations became broader and deeper.They were no longer confined to the defence problem.Taxes, education, honesty in government, and other subjects entered the discussions and he seemed to enjoy them. Certainly I did.”
As pointed out by Sharon Delmendo:
As relations between MacArthur and Quezon increasingly grew strained, Quezon developed a close professional and personal relationship with Eisenhower. Quezon gave Eisenhower an office in Malacañan, and invited Eisenhower to weekend trips aboard the presidential yacht Casiana.
A popular myth holds that Dwight Eisenhower was centrally involved in Jewish refugee rescue in the Philippines, but extant documentation does not support this legend. Eisenhower kept a voluminous diary of his tenure in the Philippines and published several books after WWII, but never mentioned working on Jewish rescue (other than relating that he turned down a lucrative contract to head Jewish refugee efforts across the Pacific). Eisenhower is never mentioned in hundreds of US government documents relating to Jewish immigrants to the Philippines. Eisenhower was entirely consumed by his duties under MacArthur, building up Philippine defense in the face of increasingly certain attack by the Japanese.
Jewish Refugee Committee in Manila: “In 1937, the Jewish Refugee Committee (JRC) was established. American Jewish organisations – the Joint Distribution Committee and Refugee Economic Corporation – funded the JRC to maximise the number of refugees that could be admitted.”
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC): est. in 1914, to “provide relief for Jews in Palestine and eastern Europe, was the primary organization for the distribution of funds from the American Jewish community to Jews in Germany.”
Harris: “founded in 1914 to provide relief for Jews in Palestine and Eastern Europe, was the primary organization for the distribution of funds from the American Jewish community to Jews in Germany. It had a virtual monopoly on overseas aid.”
Refugee Economic Corporation: “the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The JDC had created the Refugee Economic Corp. (REC), which helped resettle Jewish refugees. The REC worked with the Hilfsverein der Juden in Deutschland (Relief Association of German Jews).“ Harris: “The REC was founded on November 20, 1934 and specialized in creating Jewish settlements in countries that agreed to absorb Jewish refugees.”
According to Sharon Delmendo:
The REC funded the Mindanao Exploration Commission, a panel of experts charged with evaluating Mindanao’s suitability for European (i.e., Jewish) settlement on Mindanao.
Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden: “This German Jewish organization had been established in 1901 to engage in social welfare and educational activities among needy Jews. After Hitler came to power, the association assisted German Jews trying to emigrate everywhere but Palestine, which was handled by the Jewish Agency.
“The Hilfsverein kept lists of those German Jews who applied to emigrate. The lists included the occupation or profession of each prospective emigrant. The German government allowed the Hilfsverein to exist because it wanted all Jews out of Germany, and the Hilfsverein promoted this goal. After the war broke out, the German government shut it down and assumed its activities.”
Bonnie M. Harris in a 2016 paper provides necessary background on the whole story:
The United States’ Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924 became the dual directives of immigration policies of the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century. However, only the Immigration Act of 1917, which outlined “qualitative” restrictions on potential immigrants, applied to the Philippines during its eras as a territory and then as a commonwealth nation of the United States. This 1917 Act imposed numerous conditions excluding individuals as acceptable immigrants to the U.S., and by extension, to the Philippines. While the U.S. State Department supposedly could not restrict the numbers of Jewish immigrants coming into the Philippines, it could, and did, demand a process that ensured adequate financial support for the refugees….
While the opening section of the 1917 Immigration Act details that its provisions “shall be enforced in the Philippine Islands by officers of the general government,” no such directive appears in the text of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 that regulated immigration numerically into the United States with the imposition of immigration quotas. This is extremely important when discussing the rescue of refugee Jews in the Philippines… However, no number restrictions on immigration into the Philippines existed in U.S. Immigration Laws…. Thus… restrictive quotas did not apply. But perhaps even more importantly, neither did U.S. State Department nor consular oversight in approving the issuance of visas to refugee aliens immigrating to the Philippines.
This timeline is color-coded. Red dates are related to the Holocaust in general, and world events affecting the Philippines in particular: they provide a running reminder of what was happening to European Jews in general and the approaching global conflict. Blue dates apply to dates when news articles came out, and what those articles said: they will help provide global and local context to what was going on. Dates in black are dates more precisely related to the story of the rescue of European Jews.
The appearance of quotations is a guide as well. Information in italics is information from third-hand sources, such as the media at the time, or from people writing after the fact. They help provide background and updates to the emerging story. Material in ordinary text means it was written at the time, representing the actions and opinions of people involved in the story.
January 30: Adolf Hitler Appointed Chancellor
February 28: Reichstag Fire Decree
March 22: Establishment of Dachau Camp
March 23: Germany passes the Enabling Act, giving Hitler dictatorial powers.
April 1: Anti-Jewish Boycott
April 7: Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service
April 25: Law Limits Jews in Public Schools
May 10: Book Burning
July 14: Law for the “Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases”
September 17: Central Organization of German Jews Formed
September 28: Philippine Magazine:
Chancellor Hitler publishes a decree prohibiting discrimination between Jewish and non-Jewish firms in Germany.
In 1933, the Nazis staged a boycott of Jewish-owned business, burned books by Jewish authors and took steps to exclude Jews from the civil service, medical profession and enrollment in universities.
October 4: Editors Law
November 24: Law against “Dangerous Habitual Criminals”
Depending when in the time frame of the pre-WWII era in which refugees left, there were two different major routes that provided transport for refugee Jews from various points of departure in Europe to ports in southern and eastern Asia. From the early 1930s to the mid-1940s, the first route, by sea, carried fleeing refugees from ports mostly in Italy on to Alexandria, Egypt and then through the Suez Canal to ports-of-call in Bombay, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, Shanghai, and Kobe and Yokohama, Japan. Other vessels that left from seaports in northern Europe, such as Bremen or Hamburg, usually sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, extending the already four week voyage time to east Asia by another six weeks.] Ships could be booked six months in advance and carry as many as one thousand Jewish refugees per voyage. The other major route of transportation to the Far East was the land route across Russia and Siberia via the Trans-Siberian Railway and Chinese Eastern Railroad that had once brought Russian Jews to Asia two decades earlier.
Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecutions began arriving in Asian ports as early as 1933, following Hitler’s ascent to power. Some refugees en route to the open city of Shanghai jumped ship in Manila, seeking asylum in an American overseas colony rather than an Asian one. The number of refugees seeking asylum in Asian ports corresponded to the waves of increased antisemitic violence in the Third Reich under Nazism…
Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany arrived in the Philippines as early as 1933, but they were few in numbers and their escape almost entirely undocumented.
Most significantly, the United States Immigration Act of 1924, which established the system of annual quotas, “took no official cognizance of ‘refugees’ and thus made no provision for offering asylum to the victims of religious or political persecution” … And the “Likely to Become a Public Charge” provision of the United States Immigration Act of 1917 prohibited the issuance of visas to anyone who lacked the wherewithal to support themselves….
March 24: Enactment of the Tydings-McDuffie, or Philippine Independence, Act, by the U.S. Congress.
The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, also called The Philippine Independence Act, outlined the terms of the Philippine Commonwealth and its ten year transition period into the fully independent Republic of the Philippines, which was predetermined for July 4, 1946. The Tydings-McDuffie Act authorized the Philippine Legislature, now one body called the National Assembly, to draft a constitution for the government of the Commonwealth
The first German Jewish refugees from Hitler may have been Karl Nathan and Heinz Eulau from Offenbach. They arrived in Manila in June 1934 on affidavits of support from Eulau’s cousin Dr. Kurt Eulau, who had lived in the islands since 1924.
Ernst Simke arrived in the Philippines in 1932 to take a job offer from Maxime Hermanos of Levy Hermanos, an import-export business. Ernst decided to leave Germany because he found it almost impossible to get a job. In 1937, ES had a German passport issued to him by the Germany embassy in Manila (without the “J” for Jude), good for two years. When it expired in 1939, Simke became a naturalized Filipino citizen. Ernst married another Manilaner, Dr. Rita Broniatowski, who arrived in the Philippines in 1940.
June 30: Night of the Long Knives
August 2: Death of German President von Hindenburg
August 19: Hitler Abolishes the Office of President
November 20: Refugee Economic Corporation (REC), with headquarters in New York City, established to create Jewish settlements in countries that agreed to absorb Jewish refugees.
Two years later, the so-called Nuremberg Laws defined Jews as non-Aryans, relegated them to the status of a subject class and prohibited them from marrying Aryans.
On September 15, 1935, the Nazi party publicized two laws during the annual Nuremburg party rally in Nuremburg. Two laws were decreed: the Reichs Citizenship Law, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship and outlined the “racial” classification of Jews, and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which criminalized marriage or sexual relations between Aryans and Jews and prohibited Jews from employing German women under the age of 45. These two laws were the first of many laws and policies which progressively disenfranchised and systematically impoverished Jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied territories.
March 25: Constitution of the Philippines certified as conforming to the Philippine Independence Act by the President of the United States
May 1: Nazi Ban on Jehovah’s Witness Organizations
May 14: The 1935 Constitution of the Philippines is ratified.
(See: Constitution Day, by Teodoro M. Locsin.)
The executive power of the new government centered in an elected Filipino President, as stipulated by Article VII of the Commonwealth Constitution, which was ratified on May 14, 1935. Another important provision of the Tydings-McDuffie Act was the creation of the Office of the U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines. The U.S. High Commissioner had no direct administrative powers in the Philippines, but was concerned primarily with protecting American interests in the new commonwealth nation. This office superseded that of the American Governor-General. The relationship between these newly invested offices and the U.S. War Department was never really clarified until Philippine Supreme Court Justice George A. Malcolm composed an official statement to the High Commissioners Office on January 9, 1939. His official opinion clarified “the relationship of the office of the High Commissioner to the Philippine Islands and the War Department.”
Malcolm’s treatise explained that three agencies were provided to act as representatives of the President of the United States in the execution of his duties as the supreme commander over the Islands of the Philippines, as provided by the Tydings-McDuffie Act. In the Philippines proper, that representative was the U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines. At the U.S. Capital, as pertaining to the foreign affairs of the Philippines, that agency was the Office of Philippine Affairs within the Department of State. Certain other affairs of the Philippines continued to be administered by the Secretary of War through the Bureau of Insular Affairs
June 25: Philippine Magazine:
At a meeting presided over by General Emilio Aguinaldo, the National Socialist Party is formally organized, the Sakdal Party, headed by Jose Timog, and other minority groups including the Radical Party, headed by Rep. Alfonso Mendoza, the Laborista Party, headed by Pablo Manlapit, the Pampanga Communists, headed by Abad Santos, the Philippine Fascists, headed by Miguel Cornejo, and the Civil Union, headed by Vicente Sotto, all taking part.
June 28: Revision of Paragraph 175
July 15: Philippine Magazine:
The worst anti-Jewish demonstration in two years is staged in Berlin, inspired by the Swedish anti Semitic cinematograph film, “Petterson and Binder,” at which Jews whistled and booed.
September 15: Nuremberg Race Laws
In spite of Germany’s openly anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws of 1935, the United States still resisted accepting more immigrants than the quotas for Germany allowed, even after over 500,000 German and Austrian Jews were declared stateless enemies by Hitler in 1935.
November 15: Commonwealth of the Philippines inaugurated. Philippines becomes self-governing except that foreign policy would be the responsibility of the United States. Laws passed by the legislature affecting immigration, foreign trade, and the currency system still had to be approved by the President of the United States.
Watch Frieder family home movie of Commonwealth inaugural ceremonies: