How a Poker Club Rescued Hundreds of German Jews from the Nazis

August 30, 2016 | Robert Rockaway and Maya Guez
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When 28 German Jewish refugees arrived in Manila via Shanghai in 1937, Alex and Philip Frieder—Jews who owned a local cigar-manufacturing business—decided to do something to bring more of their brethren to the Philippines, then an American territory. To this end, they enlisted their poker buddies. Robert Rockaway and Maya Guez write:

These poker buddies included [the American high commissioner Paul V.] McNutt, Manuel L. Quezon, president of the Philippine Commonwealth, and a young Army colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower, then an aide to Douglas MacArthur, field marshal of the Philippines. At the late-night card games, these friends devised a rescue plan eventually to bring as many as 10,000 German Jews to the Philippines.

Although American immigration laws applied to the Philippines, the country had no quota system. A financial guarantee from a resident sufficed to obtain an entry visa. If a Jewish refugee who arrived in the Philippines was able to find employment, he met an important provision of U.S. immigration policy: that he not become a burden on the state. McNutt, the Frieder brothers, and Quezon became the active movers of the plan; Eisenhower played no ongoing role in the rescue but served as the group’s liaison to the U.S. Army, which oversaw the Philippines. . . .

After America entered the war and Japan invaded and occupied the islands, the granting of visas to Jews ended. Ironically, the Japanese treated the German Jewish refugees considerably better than the British, American, and other enemy nationals residing in Manila. Because Germany was Japan’s ally, they thought of the German Jews as Germans and did not put them in internment camps. . . .

When the U.S. began to reconquer the Philippines, conditions for Jews quickly deteriorated. As the Japanese suffered defeat, their troops in Manila went on a rampage. They committed widespread atrocities against everyone, including the Jews, before they retreated from the city. . . . Despite all they endured, [however], the hundreds of surviving Jews and their children remained forever thankful that the Manila poker players saved them from certain death in the Holocaust.

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