Memory of the Heart

by Juan L. Mercado

DUMAGUETE — “Visas of  Last  Resort” (Viewpoint/Jan 14 ),  sketched  a  brawl  sparked by  Israel’s interior ministry.  A confidential   memo  urged  deportation of   Filipinas  who marry  to get a  visa.

Remind  Tel Aviv  that  President Manuel  Quezon  offered  10,000  visas and  Mindanao land  to  Jews  fleeing  Nazi  gas chambers,.emailed   Inquirer readers  Alfredo Yulo in Florida and  Angela Collas-Dean  in  Orgeon.

After  the  1938  Evian Conference floundered,  an  Intergovernmental Committee on  Refugees  sounded out   countries  to offer safe havens   for  European Jews.  Many  slammed  their  doors.  “The last  avenue of escape from Nazi persecution  was  squalid Shanghai”. It shut down  too.

But  the Philippines, then a  US  Commonwealth,  offered  both visas and  farms,  the late  Frank Ephraim  wrote in his book:  “Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror.”

Ephraim was  eight when  his family, in 1939.   His  246 page  book compiles  36  eyewitness accounts from. 1,200  refuges  saved  by  those  visas

World War  II  ended  Quezon’s  plan  to open  Mindanao,  noted  Ephraim  in   “Political Obstacles to  Jewish  Refugee Settlement (Oxford  University Press 2006).  “The ‘‘Mindanao  Plan’  ultimately failed  because its architects underestimated  extent of  local opposition and complexity of land acquisition”.

“Memory  is  gratitude of the  heart”. Thus, 70 years after Quezon’s offer,  Israel  inaugurated  the “Open  Doors”memorial  at   Rishon  LeZion  city.  Designed  by  Filipino artist  Luis  “Junyee”  Lee Jr..  the  geometric, seven-meter-high sculpture rises  at  the 65-hectare Holocaust Memorial Park.

“(Only) a  handful  are  aware  that  Quezon  shares the distinction  among “Righteous Gentiles’, honored by  Jewish people in that memorial”,  J. Alvin Inacay Bautista  notes.

“Too many  Filipinas” today seek  visas thru wedding rings,  a  faceless Interior Ministry official   groused,  Haertz  daily reported. “It must stop. They must be removed from the country.

The  document  “reflects a  trend of trying to prevent  marriages between  Israelis and  Filipinas,  Haertz  columnist   Dana Weiler-Polak  commented.

At  this  tempest’s center  is Filipina Suzanne Kapistrano. She is a 52- year  old  widow and mother of two. Caretaker  Kapistrano didn’t fly home after her  patient  passed away.  She  married, instead,  Israeli  Shlomo Tzagir,67.  Interior Ministry officials  rejected  their petition for citizenship.

In  contrast,  Jews  escaping  the Holocaust  got “Philippine  visas”,  Yulo emailed.  “As a young kid about  six old,  I remember  a Jewish  bachelor  whom my father befriended.  He was  introduced to a Filipina and they got married.

“This  happened a number of times to other single Jews”, my dad said.  I’d like to see this story told to that Israeli official  who  (wrote) cam that internal memo”

Indeed,  “before Schindler’s  List, there was another document—the Philippine visa,”  Volt  Contreras  wrote in Inquirer  ( PDI/June  28, 2009)   “That saved hundreds of   Jews from the gas chambers and mass graves of the Holocaust.

Etched  on  the “ Open Door’s”marble floor are three sets of “footprints” They to  belong to former  refugees  Max Weissler, George Loewenstein, and Doryliz Goffer, a young  Filipino-Israeli  and  granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Weissler was 11 when his  family found refuge in Pasay City. To eke out a living, his  mother baked cakes  that  his father sold.  “We came to Manila with practically nothing. Always, (we)  found help  from  Filipinos,” Weissler  told Contreras “. They have an open heart.  (So) we have this monument.”

The  refuges  worshipped  at  a  synagogue. called Temple Emil along Taft. Avenue.  Mention of “Taft Avenue”  brought retired engineer Ralph Preiss to the verge of tears,  Contreras  wrote.    

Now 70 and a  father of four in  Connectucut, .Preiss explained  his cousins died at Auschwitz.     “If I stayed, I’d    have been killed, I’m very grateful to the Philippines for  opening the doors and letting us in.”

It  was the late Ambassador to Israel Antonio Modena who  launched a  “campaign for     remembrance of the Philippines’ humanitarian support for the Jews.”. Taking  off from  Ephraim’s books,  Modena  proposed a  modest marker.

Rishon LeZion  mayor Meir Nitzan, however, insisted  on a major memorial.  Modena  didn’t  see completion of the memorial. He died of lung cancer in  2007. His name leads then “Open Doors”  dedication  plaque.

“Migration (often) gets a bad press,” says  UN  Human Development Report.  “Negative   stereotypes  portray migrants as ‘stealing our jobs’ or ‘scrounging off the taxpayer’.  For others, the word ‘migrant’ evoke images of  people at their  most vulnerable.”

Hitler’s  thugs sent Jews  fleeing .  Today, “extraordinarily unequal global distribution  of opportunities” drives people to move.  A  Singaporean  can  expect  to live almost a generation longer than someone born in Maguindanao. He’ll also have thrice the schooling.

“These differences in opportunity create immense pressures to move. But migration is not a one way street, HDR  says.  Both hosts and migrants  benefit, if  bold vision and reforms – from regularizing of  entry  to protection of basic rights —  are adopted.

As  a  Rabbi from what was then the barangay of Nazareth said: “I was a stranger, and you took me in.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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