Winnipeg’s Filipino and Jewish communities celebrate links

Regina Teplitsky, left, and Joy Lazo sing the Canadian anthem together prior to a screening of the documentary Rescue in the Philippines at the Asper Jewish Community Campus in Winnipeg on November 9. (Chris Glover/CBC)

How the refugee issue united two communities
By Ted Alcuitas

While Canada continues to debate the Syrian refugee crisis, 10,000 of whom is set to arrive by the end of this year followed by another 15,000 next March, it is fitting that we tell the story of how the Philippines accepted refugees fleeing Nazi Germany during WW2.

Winnipeg’s Jewish and Filipino communities came together in an emotional gathering November 9 as they learned about how the Philippines came to the aid of Jewish refugees during the Second World War.

Local cultural groups hosted a screening of Rescue in the Philippines, a documentary that chronicled the largely unknown wartime connection between the two ethnic groups.

While Most people have heard of the heroic efforts of Oskar Schindler in the Steven Spielberg film Schindler’s List, few know of the story of Manuel Quezon, the Philippine Commonwealth President, and how, in 1939, he helped 1,300 German Jews escape probable extermination in the Holocaust by providing them with visas and safe harbour in the Philippines.

At a time when hardly any country offered to help, and when Canada was saying “none is too many,” the Philippines opened its doors.

The screening took place at the Asper Jewish Community Campus and began with the Israeli and Filipino national anthems being sung by two separate singers, before both singers sang the Canadian anthem together.

“To see the two anthems being sung side-by-side, and to know that there was this link between us … I had never known about this other link,” Chana Thau whose father was a Holocaust survivor, told CBC.

Rescue in the Philippines reveals that while many countries turned away Jewish refugees as they tried to flee the Nazi regime, about 1,200 refugees were allowed into the Philippines.

A plaque unveiled after the documentary screening commemorates the connection, but Tito Alejandria, who attended the ceremony with his wife, said he believes that link will become even stronger now.

“Very proud that I am Filipino,” he said.

This month marks 77 years since the Nazis in Germany nearly killed 100 Jews and arrested many others, as well as destroyed synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses, as part of Kristallnacht, often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.”

The Frieder Brothers of Cincinnati supported and gave employment in their Manila cigar enterprises to these immigrants. This rare piece of humane W.W.II history has not been told before. Now it is documented by the Frieder granddaughters in the ‘must see’ production of ‘Rescue in the Philippines.’