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Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror

I know this is a strange title to an article but I thought it would catch your attention. I have mentioned in the past I was born in a Jewish family. What I believe in now and my religious beliefs are not really needed for this or any discussion. Let’s just say I believe in a Spiritual being and respect all beliefs and religions as long as they do not try to force their beliefs on me and do not cause problems for others.

I am and have always been interested in World War II stories and the plight of Jews then, before and now. When I met Elena and then planned to move to the Philippines I wondered about the history of Jews in the Philippines. I did not find a lot of information but that there were not a large population of Jewish people here and there is just one Synagogue and that is in Manila. During my research I found information about the book, Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror by Frank Ephraim.

Once I received my copy, I found it very interesting about the history of Jewish people in the Philippines. Once I started the book it was hard to put down. The following is interesting information and history I learned from this book.

The first to arrive was two Brothers, Adolphe and Charles Levy in Manila in 1873 after a 6 month voyage froescape-to-manilam San Francisco.

Toward the 19th Century there was just a handful of Jews living precariously under Spanish rule, but they prospered.

Many came here after the Spanish American War. Most were entrepreneurs and one was instrumental starting the Stock Exchange.

With the start of Nazi rule in Germany many of the American Jews looked for ways to help family members and other Jews in Germany to escape and to come to the Philippines for safety. There was also a time when the organization here working with the Philippine Government and American philanthropists to bring 10,000 Jews from Germany and locate them on Mindanao to open farms, but with all the war problems, this deal fell through.

Then comes the time when the Japanese forces occupied the Philippines. At first they looked at the German Jews as Germans who was their ally in the war against the US. Then they realized they were Jews and an enemy of their allies.

The book then tells the story of how these people worked, survived or died during this occupation.

If you’re interested in World War II, the plight of the Jews, or just history, I would recommend it. That is why I have it on my link to the Amazon book ad on the site.

There are some other interesting books I have read about the Philippines and will give some excerpts and my thoughts on the subject.

If there are any books you have read and feel I or others might like to read, please comment.

30 Responses to “Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror”

  1. Dan2maasin says:

    Hey Bruce,

    This book looks very interesting, and I also love to read about World War II. I use to sell military books on eBay, a few years ago, but just got too busy with work to keep it going.
    I have a bunch of books left over that I still need to sell and was going through them recently and found a book called “Guerilla in the Philippines”, written by an American who was stationed in Cebu area when the Japanese invaded the islands. He then went to Leyte to help set up guerilla operations, which is a little funny because one of his main base of operations was in Maasin City, where I will be moving to. Is a very interesting read..for sure.

    Take care,
    Danny Huseman

    • Bruce says:

      It was interesting and that is why I have it on my Amazon recommended books list. Next I will be reading “Ghost Soldiers” and will review it here too.

  2. Dan2maasin says:

    Hello again Bruce,

    One of the things I also found interesting about the filipino guerilla groups fighting during World War II, were that most of them despised each other, and had many battles among themselves.
    There were two or three groups in Leyte, and they hated each other. Those same groups didn’t dare go to Mindanao, because the resistance fighters didn’t like them, and the same in Luzon. But somehow eventually came together in the end for final victory against the Japanese…

    Danny 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      It looks like you have read more than I have.
      There is an old movie that I remember, but do not remember the name and cannot find it. It was about a American Soldier separated from his unit and was hidden on top of a cliff and they would send food up with a basked he lowered down. At the end, the war ends and the family goes up and joins him and he falls in love with their daughter. Do you know the movie and its name?

      • Dan2maasin says:

        No I am not sure, but they did make a movie about this book in 1950 by the same name “American Guerila in the Philippines”, and it was actually filmed in the Philippines. The first color movie filmed in the Philippines they say…not sure about this, but I have never seen this movie, and it seems the script to this movie did not follow the book too well…but that is Hollywood. I believe it starred Tyrone Powers, the original cast was suppose to be with Fred MacMurray and William Bendix filmed in 1945, but it was “canned” when the Japanese surrendered, and Hollywood wanted to get away from making war films.
        This is information that I googled.

  3. Riza says:

    Thanks for sharing, I will definitely look for one, my son is into world war 2 stuff and he will definitely benefit from the information…the only knowledge that I know about Jews is that they came to the Philippines because of oppression and then there’s the Israelites and the Philippines voting for their freedom or for the Israel to be a country or something like that, that’s why we don’t need a visa to go there…

    • Bruce says:

      It is just a click away on
      It is interesting someone is still interested in WWII. I had family in Europe who were killed by the Nazis

      • Dan2maasin says:

        Hey Bruce,

        My love for history is from my school days, was my best subject. But also my two grandfathers, plus many other relatives, and neighbors were veterans of WWII.
        My grandfather served with the 2d Infantry Division during WWII in Europe, he turned 35 years old on the ship taking him to France. He saw combat in Northern France, Germany, and Belguim. It was at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium where he was wounded for the third time, and finally taken out of combat, and sent back to the USA.
        I could go on and on about my relatives, but I won’ other grandfather was in the CBI Theater, China-Burma-India Theater flying supplies over the Himalayas, he spent almost 4 years there for the Army Air Corp.

        Take care,
        Danny 🙂

        • Bruce says:

          My father was in the Air force in Casablanca and Italy. He was in the group that repaired shot up planes. He also played Softball for the camp team. I joked with him that he got a Purple Heart, got hit in the face with a line drive. hahaha

  4. macky says:

    i remember reading ghost soldiers a few years back. good book.

    there’s also an hbo series starting next year called “the pacific”. basically like “band of brothers” but in the pacific theater. it’s a hanks/spielberg production, so it should be good.
    the trailer is out on the net.

    • Bruce says:

      I just started it and it looks interesting. I also enjoyed Dan’s comments about his knowledge of the Guerrilla soldiers.
      I look forward to that series. Did you ever see Clint Eastwoods 2 movies, “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”? They are not about the Philippines but good movies.

  5. macky says:

    Yes, I did. Between the two, I much preferred Letters to Iwo Jima. It didn’t feel too Hollywood contemporary than the other one. Still, both were very good. Can’t go wrong with Clint behind the camera.

    By the way, there’s a movie version of “Ghost Soldiers”. But it ain’t that great. I actually didn’t finish watching it. Then again, it’s always a downer when you’ve read the book first.

    By the way, if you are curious about how pre-war Philippines looked, here’s a fascinating video of Manila in the 1930’s shot for the US audience:

  6. macky says:

    Also, if you know a few WW2 old-timers there, they might have interesting wartime stories to share.

    My Grandparents (who came from Pampanga) had to hide up the Davao hills (probably the Calinan area) when the Japanese invaded. My grandmother, in fact, learned to hunt for boar using a rifle when she was late in her pregnancy … I’ve always wondered where my grandpa was during that hunt. Later on, they hid in Samal island.

    And after the war, they started a business that thrived partly because GI’s were frequent customers. That family owned business still exists to this day.

    There was a story about one of my grandparent’s relatives playing dead after here house was shot up by the Japanese. But when she got up after the Japanese left, a Filipino neighbor saw her & called the Japanese back & they finished the job.

    Interesting fact: Davao was the first Philippine city bombed by the Japanese. Soon after Pearl Harbor, they decided to start their campaign south & work their way up.

    It also helped that Davao had a large Japanese population then & a few of them were valuable assets for information. They were mostly situated in Mintal (now a Japanese heritage area). And that is why there are places in Mintal with Japanese sounding names (Bago Oshiro, Mintal for example).

    • Bruce says:

      Thank you for the interesting story and information. What and where is the family business?
      I also think it is typical opposites here. Davao City was formed to stop all the Japanese take over of the land, and then they celebrate the Japanese in a holiday.
      You might enjoy the book, this article is about. Even though it highlights the plights of the Jews, it talks about what went on here. There is even a part about a family that came to Mindanao, Compostila area, then hid out in Davao. They eventually sneaked over to Samal, became friends with the natives and developed how to pasteurize palm oil. They would sneak back at night and sell it to the GI’s.

  7. macky says:

    Hi Bruce,
    Not sure if you have esp or maybe know a media insider at inquirer, but the newspapers just posted an article about Jews erecting a monument in Manila as gratitude to the Philippines giving them asylum in 1939 from Nazi persecution.

    Prior to your mention in your article, I had no knowledge of this. The article goes into detail about the Quezon administration offering those 10,000 visas. A few survivors are also quoted. It’s a shame that this part of history is not well known to Filipinos.

    This is also interesting to me because I have relatives on my mother side who are Jewish & survived the camps in the war.

    Regarding the family business. I wouldn’t mind telling you but I normally avoid mentioning it on comment boards, Though Bob knows. You can ask him or maybe when we email.

    • Bruce says:

      It is interesting how these article came to life. I did not think I would get any comments or find out more about you and your history. You might be interested in reading the book. Remember to order it through here. hahaha

      I hope someday if you come back to visit, we can meet and get to know each other. You are a very interesting man.

      If you want, you can email me through the contact form.

  8. macky says:

    Thanks, Bruce. My wife & I had planned a Christmas visit, but is now postponed since we just found out that a stork with a package will be visiting us at that time. Though, I must warn you, I am nowhere near as interesting as the relatives I have mentioned.

    I will put the book on my must read short list. I read the amazon reviews.

    One of the reviewers noted that the author erroneously described La Salle University as Jesuits. I found this quite comical because La Salle would take this as a serious affront to them. Their bitter rivals, Ateneo de Manila, are the Jesuits. It’s like mistakenly assuming that Harvard/Yale or North Carolina/Duke are one & the same. These 2 elite schools have a serious rivalry going on.

    • Bruce says:

      First Congratulations on your little “bun in the oven”. I am sure, you both and the family are excited. Is this your first?
      I am sure your an interesting man just how you are.

  9. Evelyn says:

    hmmmmm..interesting story here..
    i am familiar with these books because my employer has all those books as well as the dvd discs..he reads the book and then buys the disc…
    he has the letters to iwo jima,flags of our fathers,the band of brothers (gift to him from my daughter),the great raid dvd of the stars of the great raid is one of our popular actors there in the Phil by the name of Cesar Montano and when my employer went to the Phil for a visit,he was able to dine in the restaurant owned by the actor in Quezon City and he saw the framed pictures of him being in the movie..
    he just showed me a disc about “Back to Bataan” movie starred by John Wayne..he is a fan of John Wayne..hehehe
    he is interested of these because he was a history teacher and he retired as a guidance counselor..

    • Bruce says:

      I grew up watching all the old movies. Ask your boss if he knows the movie about a US soldier that was hidden on a cliff and a filipino family would send up food every day. at the end, the family comes up to see him.

  10. Riza says:

    My grandmother said that men are hidden from the Japanese because they are being tortured or killed. A filipino guy wearing a bayong with two eye holes would point to the poor guy in line and they will be tagged as rebels or something, that’s why there’s no grandfather in my grandmother’s stories. Another story was that, the Japanese soldiers would take the babies and children, cut their heads off and throw them in the air to bayonet the bodies. I’m being gory..

    • Bruce says:

      There has been support and resistance in all the war areas. If you ever read about the french and the french resistance.
      Unfortunately the Japanese were more gruesome. Maybe it is an asian thing, there were some really discusting things the Viet Cong did there too.

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