One of World War II’s unsung stories is that of the Philippine haven for European Jews fleeing the Holocaust. During the late 1930s, when doors all over the world—including in the US—were firmly shut to European Jews making the painful decision to leave their homelands to flee Nazi persecution, the Philippines was one of the few countries willing to take in large numbers of refugees. A small network of people—Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Filipinos and Americans—combined forces and exploited the unique political construction of the Philippine Commonwealth to secure sanctuary to over 1,300 European Jews who collectively became known as the Manilaners. That, it itself, is a story that needs telling. There is, however, a much larger story that needs to be told: Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon, with his Filipino and American associates, tried to save hundreds of thousands of European Jews. Indeed, President Quezon declared that he would welcome up to one million Jews to settle in the Philippines, proposing ambitious refugee resettlements in Mindanao and Polillo. When one considers the Holocaust’s infamous death toll of six million, Quezon’s ambitious generosity in offering to take in one million Jewish refugees is astounding. That only some 1,300 Jewish refugees made it to the Philippines is a story entangled in Philippine-American imperialism, anti-Semitism, and government-sponsored obstructionism. This is a tapestry of titanic political forces interwoven with fascinating individual and family stories.
Sharon Delmendo is a Professor of English at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY, where she specializes in American literature, multiculturalism, and film analysis. She did much of the research for her first book, The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines in 1995-96 as the Fulbright Professor of American Studies at De La Salle University in Manila. She is writing a history of the Manilaners, In Time of Need, an Open Door: Holocaust Rescue in the Philippines, as well as serving as the Co-Producer and Humanities Scholar of the documentary film on the subject. In addition, she is completing Pacific Theater: Reel War in the Philippines 1939-1950, an analysis of Hollywood-produced WWII films set in the Philippines made while the war was on-going and setting the films in their military and political context of Philippine-American relations during the Commonwealth era.
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