More than one thousand Jews fleeing the Nazis on the eve of the Holocaust found refuge in the Philippines, a United States territory.
The rescue plan grew out of an unusual personal friendship between Philippines president Manuel Quezon, the islands’ American governor, Paul V. McNutt, and the Frieder brothers, a group of American Jewish businessmen who manufactured cigars in Manila. At weekly poker games and other social occasions, the Frieders put forward the idea of bringing in Jewish refugees as employees of local industries. McNutt agreed to the plan despite objections from State Department officials, who claimed the refugees did not have sufficient funds to support themselves. For Quezon, it also offered an opportunity to develop underutilized parts of the country.
With the financial backing of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, about 1,200 European Jews immigrated to the Philippines between 1938 and 1941. In early 1941, the Joint agreed to finance an expansion of the plan, which would have brought 10,000 Jewish refugees to the Philippine region of Mindanao. America’s entry into World War II after Pearl Harbor put an end to those hopes, as the Philippines became an active war zone.