Many people are unaware that the Philippines provided safe haven to Jewish, Russian, and Indochinese refugees.
In the late 1930s, 1,200 German and Austrian Jews fled the Holocaust of Europe and found refuge in Manila. The plan for the rescue reportedly came about during regular poker games which included Philippine President Manuel Quezon, an American official Paul McNutt, Col. Dwight Eisenhower, and the Jewish-American Frieder brothers. The Philippines offered visas to Jews who most likely would have died in Nazi Germany. Shortly after the Jewish refugees settled in the Philippines, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and the refugees found themselves in another war. However, the Japanese accepted the Jews as Germans (their allies) and did not persecute them.
For the aid the Philippines extended to the 1,200 Jews, Israel created an “Open Doors” monument in Rishon Lezion Memorial Park just off Tel Aviv.
In 1949, the Philippines welcomed 5,500 Russians. These were the so-called White Russians (or anti-communists) who had fled Bolshevik Russia and the civil war. They went to China but had to flee a second time when Mao Tse-tung came into power. The International Rescue put out a call for countries to help the Russians who had to leave Shanghai. Only the Philippines, under the leadership of President Elpedio Quirino, said it would take them. With the help of the World Council of Churches and the International Refugee Organization, the displaced Russians settled on Tubabao Island, in Central Philippines. Traveling on rusty ships, they arrived and set up a village organized into 14 districts, with churches, schools, communal kitchen, hospital, dental clinic, police force, small jail, open air cinema, and other amenities. Most of the Russians eventually left for the United States, Australia, and France, but some 40 families continue to live in Manila.
A survivor, Kyra Tatarinoff said: “Having the opportunity to go to the Philippines, being accepted there, we are grateful to the people, to the government, for letting us. We think of Tubabao a lot, especially those who were teenagers then. They have a very special place in their hearts for Tubabao.” This quote is from Rappler, which has some interesting pictures of the Russian refugees.
This is an aside, but when Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tubabao in 2013, some White Russians who had found refuge there decades ago, raised funds to help the Filipinos.
I wrote about a Vietnamese woman who found safe haven in the Philippines during this time. Lee spoke highly of the Filipinos and Philippines for helping her and the other refugees. She was pregnant when she left Vietnam to take the dangerous boat voyage. They were cramped, did not have enough food and water, and some of her companions died on that harrowing journey. When she and others arrived Hong Kong, she said she was told daily to have an abortion. When she was transferred to the Philippines, she said Filipinos took special care of her and gave her vitamins — she related her story with strong emotion. Her son, Philip, named after the Philippines, was born in the Philippine refugee center.
I am proud that even though the Philippines is considered a poor developing country, Filipinos and its government have always had the generosity of spirit to welcome and offer hope to those in need.
I pray for all the displaced people in the world!
- Some Prayers for Peace and Serenity
- Photos of the Jews and Vietnamese in the Philippines are courtesy of Wikipedia; I took a photo of the Rappler page.
Tags: refugees, #refugees, Jewish, Russian, Vietnamese, Indochinese, boat people, White Russians, Philippines, Filipinos, refugee centers, history, World War II, Vietnam War, Bolshevik, Russia, China, holocaust
This article is reprinted from my travel blog (Travels (and more) with Cecilia Brainard: