How the U.S. Nixed a Philippine Effort to Save Jews from Hitler

February 24, 2020 | Rich Tenorio
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Near the end of the 1930s, when much of the world had closed its doors to Jewish refugees, the Philippine president Manuel Quezon decided to welcome Jews from Austria and Germany to his country. But the U.S. government, which in 1935 had granted autonomy but not complete independence to the Commonwealth of the Philippines, interfered with his efforts. Rich Tenorio writes:

Quezon wanted to bring tens of thousands of Jews to the Philippines and permanently settle them on the island of Mindanao. [But he] faced internal opposition to his refugee plan within the Philippines. . . . Quezon’s health also hindered his ability [to carry out his plan]; he was battling a relapse of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him. . . .

“Unfortunately, the Americans rejected the idea,” said [Israel Imperial, the current Philippine ambassador to Israel], adding that a compromise figure of 10,000 was reached—1,000 visas over ten years—but the Japanese invasion of the Philippines brought the program to “an abrupt end.” Imperial said that the number of Jews saved by Quezon is between 1,200 and 1,300.

A new feature film, Quezon’s Game, directed by the Philippines-based Jewish filmmaker Matthew Rosen, may help cement the initiative’s place in history. [There is also a] 2020 documentary, The Last Manilaners, directed by Nico Hernandez, [as well as] a 2012 documentary by the Filipino filmmaker Noel Izon, An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines.

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