The last living Holocaust survivors who sought refuge in the Philippines after fleeing Nazi Germany – known as Manilaners – are opening up about growing up in Manila in a new original documentary series that is now streaming on iWant.
Titled “The Last Manilaners,” the documentary features the perspectives of Margot Pins Kestenbaum, Max Weissler, and Lotte Hershfield, who were children when their families suffered persecution in their homeland for being Jews. They are three of the 1,300 Jews who found a safe haven in the Philippines through Pres. Manuel L. Quezon’s open-door policy – a little known story in history depicted in the film “Quezon’s Game.”
Lotte recalls travelling for four weeks with her family from Germany to the Philippines – “basically the only country that permitted us to come in.” To this day, she can still sing “Bahay Kubo” and remembers Filipinos as friendly and “very, very musical.”
“You can go to the beach every day. You can pick up shells, go swimming, and you don’t have to wear any shoes, you can wear these wooden bakyas. It was terrific. It was paradise in many ways, because we were free. Because the Filipinos very were very accepting,” she says.
Margot, a cousin of Lotte, had finished a year of college in the Philippines when she had to leave for the United States. She says that her stay in the Philippines molded her into what she is today, as she dedicated her life to helping immigrants, people dealing with trauma, children in need, and homeless women in different countries.
“I think my career choice has very much to do with my experience in the Philippines. It is—it has to do with—giving people a chance… And giving a person his self-worth is what I think one of the most important values we got by the way we were treated (in the Philippines). And so, that was part of what I try to do when I then continued my career,” shares Margot.
Max, who says he learned to speak Tagalog before knowing English, fondly remembers playing on the streets with his friends, and how his family made a living in the Philippines – he helped his mother sell muffins made from old bananas.
“My identity? I grew up with the Filipinos. Pareho naman kami. I ate with them. I worked. I got paid. That’s my life that will never leave me. My heart is still there. Manila will never leave me. My Manila memories,” he shares.
Aside from the Manilaners’ stories, the docu also offers historical insights from Dr. Sharon Delmendo, Dr. Jose Tirol, and Dr. Ricardo Jose, Filipino scholars who are subject-matter experts on the topic, and Lee Blumenthal, executive director of The Jewish Association of the Philippines.
Shot in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Israel, and New York, USA and directed by Nico Hernandez, “The Last Manilaners” dropped on iWant on January 27 to join the rest of the world in commemorating the 75th year of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Watch uplifting stories of courage and compassion in “The Last Manilaners” now streaming on the iWant app (iOs and Android) or iwant.ph for free. For updates, like www.facebook.com/iWant, and follow @iwant on Twitter and @iwantofficial on Instagram, and subscribe to www.youtube.com/iWantPH.