running to manila
what struck me most about the jews fleeing persecution to manila in the midst of the holocaust is the philippines' geography.

it seems the archipelago on the pacific has always been framed as a strategic stopping point to elsewhere. that if the allies succeed in taking it during the second world war, they're a stepping stone closer to japan. by taking the philippines, the japanese now have a closer hand in taking the rest of china, southeast asia and australia.

but in this story, the philippines became a destination beyond historic hopping point and current tourist spot. a valentine's day article in the new york times recounts how jewish expatriate and manila cigar maker alex frieder urged american commonwealth president manuel quezon to let his countrymen use the philippines as sanctuary for a while until the second world war dissipates.

president quezon's grandson, manuel III, confirmed the story with a februray opinion column from cincinnati, ohio, of a simple remembrance ceremony for the philippines' role in the jewish diaspora. he followed it up with stories of manilenas affected by the presence of the expatriates.

i am glad writer frank ephraim, now 73 and living in washington d.c., decided to chronicle his memories of their fleeing to manila at the height of the holocaust. it's challenged more of what i think i know about my own country.

his book, "escape to manila: from nazi tyranny to japanese terror," published in 2003 by the university of illinois, will be launched by the philippine consulate general in los angeles on wednesday, march 30 at 6 p.m.

there are many, many anecdotes to the larger story of the holocaust, and scholars criticize that each one, like "the piano" and "schindler's list," as yet adding to the growing pile of accounts that tell the same story.

but even they have to admit that a story about far-off philippines, currently an active participant in worldwide current events, taking in european jews is justified and relevant.

press release from philippine expressions bookshop:

The Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, in association with Philippine Expressions Bookshop, invite you to the booklaunching of "Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror," by Frank Ephraim.

The event will be Wednesday, March 30 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Philippine Consulate General, suite 500, 3600 Wilshire Boulevard, corner Kingsley, Los Angeles.

Seats are limited. RSVP required. Please call Linda Nietes at (310) 514-9139 or e-mail linda_nietes@sbcglobal.net.


Frank Ephraim was born in Berlin in 1931 and fled to the Philippines with his parents in 1939. In 1946, he immigrated to the United States at the age of fifteen, and he later earned a B.S. from the University of CA, Berkeley and an MBA from George Washington University. He was a naval architect in San Francisco and joined the US Maritime Administration in 1960. From 1973 to 1995, he served as the director of program evaluation for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, US Department of Transportation. Since his retirement, he has volunteered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.


Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror. University of Illinois, 2003. 220 pages. Clothbound.

With the rise of Nazism in the 1930's, more than a thousand European Jews sought refuge in the Philippines, joining the small Jewish population of Manila. When the Japanese invaded the country in 1941, the peaceful existence of the Jews filled with the kinds of uncertainties and oppression they thought they had left behind.

In this book, Frank Ephraim, who fled to Manila with his parents, gathers the testimonies of thirty-six refugees. Combining these accounts with historical and archival records, Manila newspapers, and the US government documents, Ephraim constructs a detailed history of this little-known chapter of world history.

This book also makes known to the world the hospitality of the Filipino people and of the Philippine government towards these oppressed people. Manuel L. Quezon, who was President of the Philippine Commonwealth when this group of refugees arrived in the Philippines was recently declared posthumously as a "Righteous Person". Read more details below.

The Jews who escaped to Manila recall the long, dangerous trek from Europe to the Philippines, and the elaborate series of permits, visas, and travel tickets it required. They describe the lives they built in Manila upon their arrival and the events surrounding the Japanese invasion. Under the Japanese occupation, the Jews, barely settled, were faced afresh with oppression, imprisonment, torture, and death.

In the book, the survivors tell in their own words the stories of escape, or hardship, and finally or rebuilding and hope.

Stanley Karnow who wrote the Foreword to the book is the author of "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines", for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.


"The vignettes and first person histories make for very interesting reading. The history of the Jews in the Philippines, long neglected, can now claim its rightful place among the more fascinating places where Jews lived during the dark years of the Holocaust." - Jewish Book World

"Although not a professional historian, Ephraim has done superb research that makes this autobiographical memoir the almost complete story of nearly 1,300 Jews who jumped from European fire in 1938-40 into Japanese terror in the 1945 Battle of Manila" - Bulletin of the American Historical Collection

"Ephraim has constructed a fascinating narrative from a rich mix of archival research, oral history, and autobiographical memoir. He offers us a stirring portrait of a community of resourceful, resilient, courageous, and compassionate individuals." - Michael Shapiro, Director, Program in Jewish Culture and Society, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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