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Film, photographs to mark Yom Hashoa
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Film, photographs to mark Yom Hashoa

Dick Frieder, far right, and his grandchildren, from left, Steven Wilf, Lizzie Frieder, and Laura Conn, at the premiere of Rescue in the Philippines at Malacanang Palace in Manila.
Dick Frieder, far right, and his grandchildren, from left, Steven Wilf, Lizzie Frieder, and Laura Conn, at the premiere of Rescue in the Philippines at Malacanang Palace in Manila.

The Center for Jewish Life/Hillel at Princeton University and the Jewish Center in Princeton are both using the arts this year to commemorate Yom Hashoa. 

The Jewish Center will screen Rescue in the Philippines, a film about the 1,300 European Jews who were saved thanks to the support of the Philippine government, U.S. government and military officials, and a family of five Jewish American businessmen — one of them the grandfather of a Jewish Center member, Jonathan Frieder.

The CJL will host “One Family,” an exhibition of photos by Vardi Kahana that document the survival of her mother and her two sisters, who rebuilt their lives in Israel, and their descendants, who express the diversity of Israeli society. The opening reception on Thursday, April 16, will feature a tour of the exhibition and an intimate conversation with the artist. 

Kahana’s photos capture both the tragedy of the Holocaust and survival in a new land. Israelis, said CJL Israel fellow Slav Leibin, refer to the day as Yom Hashoa V’hagevura, a day not only recalling death but also triumph and bravery. “We don’t want to only focus on tragedy and remember the past, but also to explicitly tell stories of the brave people who survived. They are role models of the people of Israel,” he said.

The CJL will also hold a separate event at which the grandchildren of survivors will share their experiences. One of the planners, Matthew Silberman — whose four grandparents survived the Holocaust, is organizing third-generation young people who will speak about their families and experiences.

Silberman said he appreciates the serendipity of his own existence. The value to him of being the grandchild of survivors, he said, “is never taking life for granted and appreciating what I do have instead of lamenting what I don’t have.” 

Silberman also carries with him the lesson of the Polish-Catholic woman who hid one of his grandmothers. “Being the grandchild of survivors is not just about surviving but about helping others live,” he said. “If I have something that others are lacking, it is my responsibility to recognize their value and that they are not so different from me and do something about it.” 

At the Jewish Center, Rescue in the Philippines will recount how, in the 1920s, the Frieder brothers of Cincinnati set up a cigar manufacturing operations in the island country in southeast Asia.

The Frieders, including Jonathan Frieder’s grandfather, Herbert, became part of Manila’s social elite. As the noose tightened on European Jews, the Frieders pushed for the Philippines to supply visas for Jews in Europe, promising to provide jobs for the refugees in their cigar business. 

“They had grandiose plans to take one of the Philippine islands [for settling Jews], a jungle island that had never been settled, and were on the verge of getting the Philippine government to agree to clear the island when, on the same day, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded Manila,” said Frieder. 

The children and grandchildren of the Frieder brothers did not hear about their family’s role in rescuing Jews until Frank Ephraim published Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror, in 2008. “Their parents never discussed it,” Frieder said, noting that the Frieder brothers left Manila four months before Pearl Harbor, having been warned by Gens. Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower that the Japanese emperor was stepping up his country’s aggression. In fact, all that Dick Frieder, Jonathan’s father, remembered from his time in the Philippines at age seven or eight were his pet deer and pet turtle and the Friday night fried chicken parties served when European refugees dined at the Frieder home.

The publication of the book led to a family reunion in Cincinnati, where the idea for the film was hatched.

Last summer Dick Frieder was invited with some cousins and two survivors to the premiere in the Philippines. They met Philippine president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. He took along Jonathan’s daughter, Lizzie, a sophomore at Northwestern University, and two of her cousins. Lizzie was impressed when the president told them he wanted the story taught in all Filipino schools because “it was a really proud moment that we opened our doors and other countries didn’t.”

Lizzie was also moved by the story of one of the survivors, who at age 10 was running away from the Japanese with his grandfather, who stepped on a mine and died. The survivor “doubly survived because he survived the Holocaust and the Japanese invasion of the Philippines,” she said.

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