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.”