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Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror

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Escape to Manila

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Escape to Manila
From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror

By Frank Ephraim
Foreword by Stanley Karnow
University of Illinois Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-252-07526-1

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - April 3, 2009

Throughout World War II, thousands of Jews fled from Europe, trying to escape the Nazi onslaught and their murderous designs upon any Jews that fell under their dominion. Finding a place of sanctuary was not easy, and even if you did obtain the necessary papers allowing you to enter this place of refuge, you still need to obtain exit visas from your current place of residence, obtaining financing for your trip, and figure out a way of getting to where you were going - something that was easier said than done, especially during a time of war. One of the varied places that Jews found a place of refuge was the Philippines. However, in some regards, this place of refuge turned out to be akin to jumping out of the frying pan into the fire! This is because when most of the Jewish refugees from Europe found their way to the Phillippines, it was an American commonwealth. As the winds of war changed, the Philippines were occupied by the Japanese, an occupation that resulted in the murder of countless civilians, including dozens of the Jewish refugees.

Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror, was written by Frank Ephraim, and although it can be classified as a biography, it is more of a general history of the Jewish refugee experience in the Philippines during World War II. This is because rather than simply telling his own story, Ephraim has interwoven the stories of thirty-six other Jewish refugees into his account. He has also incorporated information garnered from a host of other sources such as government archives and newspaper reports. Building upon this information, Ephraim not only recounts what life was like for the Jewish refugees in the Philippines, and the political machinations that went into deciding which Jews would be allowed into the Islands and where they could settle, but he also details how these Jews came to learn of the possibility of finding sanctuary in the Philippines, the various methods by which they traveled there, and the dangers they faced along the way. The end result is a comprehensive, and riveting account, of a practically unknown aspect of Holocaust history.

Born in Berlin, Ephraim and his parents fled to the Philippines in 1939. At the time he was only eight years old, and was destined to grow up in what was to him a strange and exotic land. His memories of his life in Manila are crisp and vivid, and the experiences of his own family mirror that of many of the refugees that made to their way to the Philippines. Ephraim also explores how the refugees were integrated into the preexisting, though small, Jewish community in the Philippines and the generally, positive reception that the refugees received from the Filipino people.

Escape to Manila not only recounts how thousands of came to find sanctuary in the Philippines and what their lives were like there, but it also follows the story throughout the war. This includes describing how life changed once the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the ofttimes barbaric events that occurred during the occupation, and the very real danger that everyone on the Islands faced during the numerous battles and actions that were fought as the Americans fought to retake the Philippines. The Battle of Manila was to play a significant role in the experience of the Jewish refugees because this is the city which had the largest Jewish population. Ephraim also details what happened after the Americans retook the Philippines, and what life had in store for him, his fellow refugees, and the Filipino Jewish community, in general.

Escape to Manila is a gripping story. Before reading this book I was not aware that the Philippines had served as a place of sanctuary for so many of the European Jews that had fled from the Nazis, nor was I aware of what life was like for Jews in the Philippines during the war. As such, this book was an eye-opening account, which was for me and I'm sure will be for many, an unknown chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Best of all, Ephraim's account is written in an engaging and spirited style that makes this an easy book to read, despite the wealth of historical facts, names, and events that it describes. This book will fascinate both general and academic readers, and it is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Holocaust or Jewish studies, as well as for those with an interest in Philippine history. For those wishing to delve deeper into this intriguing subject, you will find Ephraim's endnotes to be a great source for additional information.

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