A. Paulita Roa .
Third and last part
THERE is a book that came out in 2003 titled “Escape to Manila from Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror” by Frank Ephraim, and it tells how how 1,200 Jews escaped from the clutches of Hitler in Europe and settled in Manila prior to the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. That it was through a prominent Jewish businessman of Manila, Herbert Frieder, a poker buddy of President Manuel L. Quezon, US High Commissioner Paul McNutt and Col. Dwight Eisenhower that an open door policy was issued in 1938 by Quezon for the Jews. Incidentally, the number of Jews that safely made it to Manila was the exact number that was saved by Oskar Schindler, whose exploits were made into an award winning movie in 1993, the “Schindler’s List.”
Quezon was a brilliant individual who placed 4th in the bar exams and was politically astute. He already discerned that the Japanese would at any time invade the Philippines because of the wealth of its natural resources. So in June 1938, he secretly went to Tokyo with the hope of negotiating a neutrality pact with the Japanese. His trip was a failure and this angered Gen. Douglas MacArthur when it was leaked to him because by then, the latter was busy strengthening the country’s defenses. For a while, their relationship was cold and remote.
A few hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 8, 1941, Japanese planes bombed key military installations in the Philippines. They also bombed Baguio where, at that time, Quezon was staying at the Presidential Mansion. He just won the November elections for the third term as President and was supposed to take his oath of office in Luneta by January. But because the country was at war then, Quezon took his oath inside the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor island. He was frustrated over the seeming lack of help by the Americans that he was famously quoted as saying, “Que demonio! How typical of America to be so concerned of the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the backroom.” In the early months of the war, Quezon thought of pleading to the United States for independence so the Philippines could then stay neutral and end the war.
As the war worsened and many areas in the Philippines fell in the hands of the Japanese, Quezon had to leave Corregidor with his family and staff just like what MacArthur did earlier, and go to the United States but not before he appointed several men to take the reins of government while he was away. The presidential party took the route to the Visayas and other places, then Cagayan de Oro and finally to Del Monte where an American plane took them to Australia and then later, to the United States. It was in Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC that an office for the Philippine government in exile was established. However, Quezon’s health worsened and he was bedridden in his last years in exile. Because he was conscious of the fact that he was very much a part of Philippine history, he told his family that he was theirs in life but in death, he belongs to the nation. He died on Aug. 1, 1944 in Saranac Lake, New York, and was temporarily buried at the Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC. Years later, his remains were exhumed and is now buried beside his wife Aurora at the Quezon Memorial Park in Quezon City.
POSTCRIPT: In September 2018, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte, in the course of their official visit to Israel, went to the Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon Lezion to offer a wreath of flowers at the Open Door Monument there. This monument was erected in honor of President Manuel L. Quezon’s open door policy to the 1,200 Jews who fled the Nazis in Europe and were given asylum in the Philippines. What Quezon did is now a part of the history of the Jews worldwide and will not be forgotten by a grateful people.