In the late 1930’s, President Manuel Quezon regularly gathered with his friends after dinner to play poker, drink whiskey and discuss the news. Quezon’s poker pals included US High Commissioner in the Philippines Paul V. McNutt, Lieutenant Colonel of the US Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jewish businessmen the Frieder brothers. The Frieder family owned Helena Cigar Factory, established in Manila in the early 1920’s.
A regular topic discussed was how Nazi and other fascist regimes were persecuting Jewish people in Germany and around Europe. As a result, Jews were fleeing Europe seeking refuge around the world. Finding a safe place to stay was not easy with anti-semitism running rampant.
In 1937, some Jewish refugees started to arrive in Manila. This powerful poker group was sympathetic to their plight, and they bended the rules to allow the arriving refugees to stay.
As their desire to help grew, the poker group formulated more solutions to help. They planned and negotiated places for refugees to live and how to get them visas, employment and help settling in. So long as Manila’s Jewish community could guarantee financial support of these refugees, they would be granted visas allowing them to stay.
The Frieder brothers helped form the Jewish Refugee Committee in Manila, with the existing Jewish community, to help arriving Jews transition to life in the Philippines. President Quezon even loaned the Committee the land beside his family home in Marikina to build Marikina Hall to house homeless refugees.
Unfortunately, not all of the group’s plans to move refugees to the Philippines came to fruition. By the time they were done, they helped 1,200 Jews move to the Philippines. That is about as many lives as Oskar Schindler saved as depicted in the movie Schindler’s List.
President Quezon and Alex and Herb Frieder attend the dedication of Marikina Hall on April 23, 1940. Quezon wears a Barong Tagalog with embroidery all over.