As with many countries across the world, the United States’ quota system of immigration severely limited escape routes for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism in the 1930s. Incredibly, it was the Philippines, a U.S. Commonwealth, that became a minor port of rescue in Asia for 1,200 refugees. In this blog posting I briefly explore the history of Jewish rescue in Manila and the networks of aid across the port cities of Manila, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
In collaboration with Philippine President Quezon and the U.S. High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, the Frieder brothers, leaders of the Manila Jewish community, established an official refugee immigration programme that rescued 1,200 Jews from 1937 to 1941. It was a plan based on professions needed in the Philippines including doctors, engineers, mechanics and agricultural experts, amongst others. The trio went further and attempted to rescue tens of thousands of persecuted Jews by opening a major Jewish agricultural settlement on the island of Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. Although other international agricultural settlement schemes had been proposed (such as British Guiana), the Mindanao Plan was the only such scheme to be seriously considered in Asia. The plan was initially mooted in the months following the failed Evian Conference of July 1938, organized to find a haven for European Jews escaping Nazi persecution, but ultimately failed due to local opposition, problems of land acquisition and funding, and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines.
Originally from Cincinnati, the Frieder brothers owned the Helena Tobacco Factory in Manila which produced cigars for the U.S. market. They met with the Kadoorie brothers and other Jewish representatives in Hong Kong immediately before Kristallnacht (a violent pogrom in Nazi Germany) in 1938 to offer solutions to the growing refugee crisis most notably in Shanghai, where hundreds of refugees had already arrived. As reported in the meeting minutes, the Frieders were keen to forge links and co-operate fully ‘with the communities of Hong Kong and Shanghai in order to better the situation of these refugees’. Although the Frieders were American and the Kadoories were British, the diverse port communities of Hong Kong, Manila and Shanghai worked closely together, sharing knowledge and resources across the region in their attempts to elicit support and employment for refugees. During my trip to the States I was delighted to meet and interview Alice Frieder Weston, daughter of Alex Frieder, who kindly shared her memories of family trips to Hong Kong and visits to refugee centres in Shanghai with the Kadoorie brothers in 1940, demonstrating the interconnectivity of Port Jews.
For more information as well as oral histories, photographs and records on rescue in the Philippines, please visit the website of the 2013 documentary film: rescueinthephilippines.com (a must watch!).
For further reading, I also recommend:
- Ephraim, Frank, Escape from Manila, From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror
- Kotlowski, Dean J., Breaching the Paper Walls: Paul V. McNutt and Jewish Refugees to the Philippines, 1938 – 1939