(Washington, D.C., Jan. 27, 2020)–B’nai B’rith International held events at the United Nations in New York and Israel today to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Both focused on the vital role of the Philippines in saving Jews from Nazi death camps.
In New York, B’nai B’rith International and the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations, in cooperation with the U.S.-Philippines Society, held a joint Holocaust commemoration event. Ambassador Kira Christianne D. Azucena, representing the Philippine Permanent Mission to the U.N., delivered a welcome address, followed by opening remarks from B’nai B’rith International Chair for U.N. Affairs Millie Magid, who noted: “as memory fades, so do lessons, which is something our world cannot afford.”
During his keynote address Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., said that the program today commemorated the “simple decision to do the decent thing” and later noted of Philippine society, “What we will not have done to us, we will not stand by when done to others.”
A trailer for the documentary “An Open Door: Holocaust Haven in the Philippines” was also screened. Noel “Sonny” Izon, the film’s director, introduced the trailer and told the audience he was “hopeful that this story encourages future generations to have the courage to care and the compassion to keep the story alive.”
B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin moderated a panel discussion with Bonnie Harris, a lecturer at the San Diego State University Department of History; Ralph Preiss, a Holocaust survivor whose family was taken in by the Philippines; and Hank Hendrickson, the executive director of the U.S.-Philippines Society.
Many of the event’s speakers focused on the legacy of the Philippines’ “Open Door Policy” to Jews fleeing the Holocaust, which allowed almost 1,300 Jewish refugees to settle in the Philippines. Harris noted that the legacy that the Philippine people have left for the world is that “compassion can overcome complacency.” Preiss expressed his gratitude for the “vision and legacy” of Philippine President Manuel Quezon, who implemented the policy.
Mariaschin concluded the event commending all of the participants and expressing gratitude to Quezon “for this marvelous act” of rescue. He also stated the overall goal of B’nai B’rith’s programs to help “preserve the memory of the Holocaust and highlight ongoing threats and discrimination.”
At a companion event today in Israel, the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem teamed up with the Philippine Embassy to hold an event entitled “Safe Haven: Jewish Refugees in the Philippines” spotlighting the “Open Door Policy.” The Jewish refugees who settled in Manila referred to themselves as “Manilaners.” B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider spoke about the history of the “Open Door Policy.”
“The ‘Open Door’ policy was pursued by President Quezon out of a deep sense of outrage at the violence and dispossession visited upon German Jews from the moment the Nazis came to power – until it was stopped by the outbreak of WWII,” Schneider said. “He did so with determination and in the face of voices in the U.S. administration and in his own government that objected to the large-scale immigration Quezon envisioned. For this we honor him today.”
A Manilaner who still lives in Israel, Max Weissler, attended the event. Ambassador Neal Imperial delivered opening remarks: “Each person that managed to reach Manila was a life saved, a life allowed to reach its full potential, a life continued through the next generations. Quezon offered a new home and hope to 1,300 refugees, who went on to marry and have children and grandchildren. That is the true weight and worth of Quezon, Paul McNutt’s and the Jewish network in Manila’s legacy.” The ambassador quoted Quezon’s speech before the Jewish refugees at the inauguration of Marikina Hall, the Jewish shelter he had built on 7.5 acres of land he personally donated: “It is my hope, and indeed my expectation, that the people of the Philippines will have in the future every reason to be glad that when the time of need came, their country was willing to extend a hand of welcome.”
The event featured a panel discussion with Imperial and Professor Robert Rockaway of Tel Aviv University, as well as screenings of excerpts from two films about the refugee policy, “The Last Manilaners” and “Quezon’s Game.”
To watch the archived video from our event at the United Nations New York City headquarters, visit this link.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org