Cigars and poker chips are usually props for a night of revelry, but in 1938 Manila, they set the scene for government officials and American Jewish businessmen to rescue 1,200 Jews from Nazi Europe.
Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust, a documentary which airs on WHYY April 7 and 8, tells the story of Jewish brothers in Cincinnati who saw a way to use their cigar business and political connections to save German and Austrian Jews at the start of the war.
The Frieder brothers, of S. Frieder & Sons, which later relocated to Philadelphia, took turns manning their company’s operation in the Philippines, where their poker buddies included Paul McNutt, the U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippines; Manuel Quezon, Philippine president; and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was stationed there at the time. In 1938, the brothers reached an agreement with McNutt to allow Jews to immigrate to the Philippines on the condition that the Jewish community in the Asian country would guarantee their financial support.
“Whatever Frieder was in the Philippines really had three responsibilities,” said Sam Frieder, a Huntingdon Valley resident who was 2 years old when his father, Herbert, moved the family to the country. “One, they had to be president of the temple. Two, they had to be in charge of the agency that helped getting Jews out and three, they had to try and take care of the business.”
One of the refugees saved by the immigration program tells his and others’ stories in a 2003 book, Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror. Some of the Jews who escaped Germany later died in the 1945 Battle of Manila.
Sam Frieder, who is interviewed in the documentary, said he enjoyed the film, which received some of its funding from his family, because it focuses on the refugees who were saved. After the book was published, he said relatives asked why they hadn’t heard about the brothers’ efforts, and that question led to the documentary.
“It’s good that the next generation can see the tzedakah their uncles and grandparents were doing,” said Frieder. “And hopefully, they will emulate that.”