Monument in Israel honors Filipinos

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by syscom3, Jun 28, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Monument in Israel honors Filipinos -, Philippine News for Filipinos

    For saving 1,200 Jews from HolocaustBy Volt Contreras

    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    First Posted 03:37:00 06/28/2009

    MANILA, Philippines—Before Schindler’s List, there was another document—the Philippine visa—that saved hundreds of Jews from the gas chambers and mass graves of the Holocaust.

    In 1939, two years before World War II reached the Pacific, the Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon allotted 10,000 visas and safe haven to Jews fleeing Nazi Europe. Some 1,200 Jews made it to Manila before the city itself fell to Japanese invaders.

    Before sunset on June 21, 70 years later, the first ever monument honoring Quezon and the Filipino nation for this “open door policy” was inaugurated on Israeli soil.

    The monument—a geometric, seven-meter-high sculpture titled “Open Doors”—was designed by Filipino artist Junyee (Luis Lee Jr.).

    At the program held at the 65-hectare Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon LeZion, Israel’s fourth largest city south of Tel Aviv, the mere mention of “Taft Avenue” by one of the speakers brought Ralph Preiss to the verge of tears.

    Preiss, a father of four now in his 70s, later explained that Taft Avenue was where a synagogue-run soup kitchen provided the first hot meals he had as a refugee. He was eight when he arrived from Rosenberg, Germany, with his parents at the port of Manila on March 23, 1939.

    “If I stayed in Germany I would have been killed,” Preiss, a retired engineer living in Connecticut in the United States, told the Inquirer in an interview.

    “My cousin who lived in Berlin and whose father was a lawyer went to Paris [instead]. The Paris police handed them over to the Nazis, and they were sent to Auschwitz and got killed,” he recalled, adding:

    “I’m very grateful to the Philippines for opening the doors and letting us in.”

    ‘Salamat sa inyo!’

    At the program with an audience of around 300, Max Weissler, glib as a jeepney driver plying the streets of Quiapo, barked onstage: “Thank you! Salamat sa inyo lahat, lahat nandito! Nakapunta kayo lahat! Salamat sa inyo!”

    “Unfortunately,” Weissler noted, “very little is known about this great deed of President Quezon and the Filipino people during the Holocaust. Very little is known about this among us Israelis, the Jews around the world, and even in the Philippines.”

    Weissler was 11 when he and his German family settled in Pasay City. To eke out a living, his mother baked cakes that his father sold.

    They all survived the war, and Weissler went on to fight another by joining the US Army in the Korean War.

    “We came to Manila with practically nothing and always found help one way or another from the Filipinos,” Weissler said. “They have an open heart, and this is why we have this monument.”

    3 triangles

    Junyee won a competition held by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in February 2007 for the monument project.

    He bagged a P300,000 cash prize for his design, which bested seven other entries, including one submitted by a National Artist, according to the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv.

    Rendered mainly in steel and set on a base of marble tiles shipped from Romblon, the monument depicts three doors of ascending heights (three, five and seven meters).

    Viewed from above, Junyee’s work joins together “three triangles”—one representing the triangle of the Philippine flag, and the others signifying the two triangles that form the Star of David in the Israeli flag.

    Etched on the marble floor are three sets of “footprints” approaching the doors. The prints are said to be those of Weissler, fellow Jewish refugee George Loewenstein, and Doryliz Goffer, a young Filipino-Israeli born in the Philippines and a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.

    Modena’s mission

    In November 2005, speaking before the Rotary Club of Jerusalem, then Philippine Ambassador to Israel Antonio Modena launched a “campaign for the remembrance of the Philippines’ humanitarian support for the Jews,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

    That campaign merely proposed that a marker for the Philippines be placed on the Holocaust Memorial Park’s “Boulevard of the Righteous Among the Nations,” which features a row of red granite blocks with the names of countries and number of persons in each country who saved Jews.

    But the response from then Rishon LeZion Mayor Meir Nitzan “surprised” the Philippine mission: Not just a slab of granite but a monument with its own prominent spot in the park was to be built to thank the Philippines and its people.

    Technical and financial difficulties delayed the completion of the monument for two years; Modena and Nitzan originally set the inauguration in 2007 to mark the golden anniversary of Philippine-Israeli relations.

    Modena died of lung cancer in February 2007. His name is first on the dedication plaque unveiled at the “Open Doors” monument on June 21.

    Modena’s campaign was said to have been inspired by the 2003 book “Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror” by Frank Ephraim.

    The 246-page eyewitness account gathers the voices of 36 refugees, who described in detail their arduous journeys to Manila, the lives they tried to build, and their fresh ordeals under Japanese rule.

    Born in Berlin, Ephraim was eight when he fled to Manila with his parents in 1939. After the war he immigrated to the United States, began a career in naval architecture and later worked with the US Department of Transportation.

    Ephraim died in August 2006. “He was very attached to the Philippines and was very anxious to go back there. We were supposed to go, and then he got lung cancer and that was the end of it. It was just too bad,” said his American widow Ruth, another special guest at the inaugural.

    Filipino pride

    Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano, who attended the inaugural on the invitation of the Israeli government, shared passages from the book which, he said, “made me proud to be a Filipino.”

    Quoting Ephraim, Durano read: “Filipinos were a tolerant people who never interfered or took any action against the Jews. [Their temple] on Taft Avenue was very visible and Jews attended services and congregated in front of the temple without the slightest disturbance.

    “There was never a ghetto in Manila, and Jews lived in close proximity with Filipinos, and all sides introduced neighbors to each other’s cuisine, music, culture and history.”

    According to Durano, the “Open Doors” monument “celebrates the most powerful force on earth, second only to God’s will, and that is the human will.”

    “It was just amazing, the will of these Jewish families who escaped to Manila. Some had to go through Siberia, some had to take boats for weeks and months,” he said.

    But also, Durano said, the monument “celebrates the Filipino heart ... a heart that touches others with compassion, a heart that makes one a blessing to the world.”
  2. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    This ‘mestizong bangus’ speaks Tagalog -, Philippine News for Filipinos

    By Volt Contreras
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    First Posted 04:40:00 06/28/2009

    MANILA, Philippines—His Filipino playmates in Pasay City called him “mestizong bangus” for his pale skin. Some 70 years later, it still puts a smile on Max Weissler’s face.

    Like Weissler, Ralph Preiss relishes childhood memories of the Philippines, including hacking away with a bolo for firewood on Mount Banahaw in Laguna—and clumsily nicking his own wrist.

    Weissler still speaks “kanto boy” Tagalog; Preiss regards the scar on his left wrist as a souvenir from a great jungle adventure.

    But between these episodes of play and mischief, they share harrowing stories of wartime survival in a country not their own.

    Weissler and Preiss were two of the 1,200 European Jews who escaped death in the Holocaust by fleeing to the Philippines between 1939 and 1941.

    They were special guests in Rishon LeZion, Israel, at last week’s inauguration of “Open Doors,” a monument recognizing President Manuel L. Quezon and his humanitarian assistance to persecuted Jews.

    ‘Invited’ physician

    Preiss and his parents arrived in Manila in March 1939, though as early as July 1938 they had gotten word in their native Germany that they could come to the Philippines.

    According to Preiss, his father was one of 20 Jewish physicians “invited” to Manila but was unable to practice his profession for not being fluent in Tagalog.

    By 1940, the family had moved to Liliw, Laguna, but the Japanese invasion in 1941 forced them to relocate to San Pablo City.

    Preiss managed to resume his high school studies in San Pablo, where he befriended a classmate, Octavio Reyes, who would become a lawyer.

    “I still communicate with him. He found me on the Internet. He’s also retired now, like me,” Preiss told the Inquirer in Rishon LeZion.

    Near war’s end, when the losing Japanese army began hunting down and killing “white people,” Filipino guerrillas helped the Preisses evacuate to Mount Banahaw. The family hid there for three months.

    UP guy

    After Liberation, Preiss enrolled in an engineering course at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, and his parents put up a pharmaceutical company.

    “I was there when they moved The Oblation (statue) from the Manila campus to Diliman. I got pictures of it,” he said, smiling.

    A storm that “blew away the UP Engineering building” interrupted Preiss’ studies. In 1949 he moved to the United States, where he resumed and completed his course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    His parents stayed in the Philippines until 1968. Before leaving, his father helped the government rid sugarcane fields of a rat infestation.

    “I guess that was the present he gave back [to Filipinos]: He saved the Philippines from rats,” Preiss said.

    Arduous journey

    Weissler still remembers how his father was tipped off about the impending crackdown on Jews in Germany shortly before the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

    (On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi storm troopers smashed and burned Jewish shops and synagogues. Tens of thousands of Jewish men were arrested and sent to the concentration camp in Buchenwald. The glass shards littering the streets gave the dark event its name.)

    Weissler’s father was the first in the family to escape to Denmark. He and his mother soon followed but were held by Danish police who learned that they were refugees and not tourists.

    Mother and son had to return to Germany. The father was allowed to stay in Denmark, and this bought him time to get a Philippine visa.

    The father thus managed to reach Manila months ahead. While waiting for his wife and son, he worked as a salesman, “going house to house.”

    The family was reunited in February 1941, but only after Weissler and his mother had endured a two-month journey through Poland, Russia, Japan and China.

    No money

    With “only two suitcases [and] no money,” the family lived in Pasay City, Weissler recalled somberly.

    Quickly shifting to a lively tone, he continued: “I got acquainted with the neighborhood kids, walking around barefoot. They first thought I was American, but I could not speak English or Spanish, and was classified by the local kids as a mestizo.”

    Weissler easily learned Tagalog from the streets. During the Japanese occupation, he found himself catching up on his studies at St. Paul College on Herran, a Catholic school for girls.

    Shortly after his bar mitzvah (a coming of age ceremony) at a synagogue on Taft Avenue, “things began to turn bad.”

    Weissler witnessed how the Japanese burned Manila—“including our store, our apartment, our synagogue”—and killed civilians including “my best friend” with bayonets, dumping the bodies in Manila Bay.

    ‘Tagarito rin ako’

    With Liberation, Weissler and his family were again “starting from scratch.”

    When his mother died in an accident, she was buried in the Jewish section of Manila’s Chinese Cemetery.

    In the 1950s, Weissler joined the US Army and saw action in the Korean War. He got married in Japan and went to the United States to complete his studies before settling in Israel.

    Recalled Weissler: “We were in Manila three years ago, and when I walked around, people were asking, ‘Bakit marunong kang mag-Tagalog (Why do you speak the language)?’ I answered them, ‘Eh ano, tagarito rin ako, di ba (But I’m also from here, right)?’”

    “Despite having lived in the Philippines for less than 10 percent of my life, I still feel very much attached to that place and its people,” he said.
  3. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Never even heard of it, Great Post!
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    davebender Well-Known Member

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