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SSC and DLSU Collaborate to Bring Genocide Awareness to BAPP

September 11,2014

St. Scholastica’s College’s (SSC) High School Department in the Manila campus opens its doors to Holocaust scholars and survivors hosted by the Philosophy Department of De la Salle University (DLSU) – Manila to bring genocide awareness to its first batch of participants to the Benedictine Ambassadors for Peace Student Exchange Program (BAPP) who are bound for the Rhabanus-Maurus Gymnasium in St. Ottilien in Bavaria, Germany this coming fall.

Dr. Racelle Weiman, a Holocaust scholar, Philadelphia’s Temple University Dialogue Institute’s Senior Director and recipient of the Philippine Government’s Order of Lakandula Award, the highest government-bestowed civilian award, for her work on the Philippine rescue of Jewish refugees in WWII, initiated the project when she found out that SSC students would be visiting Bavaria in October, 2014 while she was in an interfaith dialogue in St. Ottilien.  She contacted a research collaborator Dr. Leni Garcia, faculty at DLSU’s Philosophy Department and Director of Research and Advanced Studies at the College of Liberal Arts and suggested that the SSC students meet some Jewish refugees via Skype.  In 2012 when Dr. Weiman was hosted by the Philosophy Department of DLSU as a visiting professor, she discovered at least three women who survived the Holocaust went to SSC for some of their grade school levels.  In the late 1930s, the Philippine government under the leadership of the then President Manuel L. Quezon opened the country’s door to the Jews who were fleeing Nazi Europe.  About 1,200 Jewish refugees were saved.  The Quezon administration had plans to accept more Jews to save them from the Holocaust, but those plans became impossible when the Philippines fell under Japanese occupation.  The three women, according to Dr. Weiman, “found a safe haven in St. Scho while fleeing the terror of Nazism in Europe.”  They are Ms. Lotte Cassel Hershfield, who is now in West Harford, Connecticut, Ms. Eva Susskind Ashner, now living in St. Louis Missouri, and Ms. Margo Cassel Pins, now residing in Jerusalem, Israel.

Lectures In Preparation for the Benedictine Ambassadors for Peace

Initial meetings with Sr. Rosalina Fajardo, high School Principal, Ms. Anita Antoni, Director of Student Formation, Ms. Aileen Joy Magbanua, teacher-in-charge of the Student Exchange Program, and Ms. Daisy Umali Espina, head of the Social Studies Area, proved fruitful.  Dr. Garcia suggested projects to these administrators and, to date, the BAPP has organized several lectures and an art exhibit on Holocaust themes.  These include a lecture by Dr. Garcia herself who introduced the students to the history of the Holocaust and the many issues it posed as well as its connection to the present day genocidal wars in different parts of the world.  The program also welcomed another DLSU visiting scholar from Davidson College in North Carolina, Dr. Thomas Pegelow Kaplan, who spoke on the concentration and death camps in Europe during the Nazi period.

“Pagduduyan (ng Kapayapaan)” Exhibit at the Amrhein Gallery

An art and poster exhibit entitled “Pagduduyan (ng Kapayapaan)” was opened on August 4, 2014, at the SSC Amrhein Gallery, featuring the photographs and video from the Holy Land series of visual artist Dr. Ann Pegelow Kaplan, also based in North Carolina.  The Jewish Association of the Philippines (JAP), represented by administrator, Mr. Lee Blumenthal, lent the 40 posters of “The Courage to Remember,” detailing the history of the Holocaust, for the exhibit.  The opening ceremony was attended by Sr. Mary Thomas Prado, President of SSC, Prof. Virginia Fornias, Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Sr. Rosalina Fajardo and the teachers involved in the BAPP.  Guests included Dr. Leni Garcia of DLSU, artist Dr. Ann Pegelow Kaplan, Mr. Lee Blumenthal of JAP, and Embassy of Israel in Manila’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Adam Levene, who gave the opening speech on peace promotion.  

Holocaust Refugees studied in St. Scholastica’s College Manila

The students and faculty involved in the program had the fortune to meet and talk with Ms. Brigitta Welisch Wachs, a Jewish refugee in the Philippines who studied in SSC before the Japanese occupation in the 1940s.  Ms. Wachs shared her experience fleeing from Vienna, Austria and being welcomed in the Philippines at SSC where the nuns gave her and her family food and clothing that they needed, and housed them until they were able to settle down on their own.  She also related the sad story of again fleeing, this time the Japanese who were bombing Manila, forcing them to dig and transfer “from fox hole to fox hole,” just to save themselves until the war was over.

Ms. Wachs came to Manila as part of the reunion of the Frieder family whose grandparents and uncles were involved in the Jewish rescue in the Philippines.  They launched the film, Rescue in the Philippines: Escape from Holocaust, a documentary on how 1,200 Jews were rescued with the help of the Frieder brothers who were then cigar-making businessmen in Manila.  Dr. Weiman served as researcher for the documentary, while Dr. Barbara Sasser and Ms. Peggi Ellis served as consultants.  Dr. Sasser and Ms. Ellis are granddaughters of Alex and Morris Frieder, two of the five Frieder brothers who, with President Quezon and US High Commissioner of the Philippines, Paul V. McNutt, helped rescue Austrian and German Jews by allowing them to settle in the Philippines.  The film was produced by 3 Roads Communications, in cooperation with the Center Holocaust and Humanity Education in Cincinnati, Ohio and in consultation with the Frieder Films, LLC.  It was shown in Malacanang on August 7th, and in De La Salle University on August 8th, 2014 in a program hosted by the International Studies Department (American Studies) and the History Department, in the College of Liberal Arts.  Professor Emeritus and award-winning director, Dr. Clodualdo Del Mundo of DLSU’s Department of Communication gave the film review.

On the night of August 8th, 2014, a service and dinner at the synagogue in Makati were held in honor of the Frieder family.  There to represent St. Scholastica’s College were faculty members Ms. Daisy Umali Espina and Mr. Anton Soto.  Dr. Leni Garcia represented DLSU.  At the dinner, another Jewish refugee in the Philippines, Mr. George Lowenstein, spoke about his arrival in Manila from Berlin in pre-Japanese occupation period and how he was not able to speak anything other than the German language.  He related how the nuns of SSC took him in and translated all his
Kindergarten homework into German so he would understand what to do.  Like Ms. Wachs, Mr. Lowenstein told his family’s story of fleeing the Japanese bombing of Manila afterwards that took his grandfather’s life.

These engagements have enriched the BAPP of SSC so much so that the students’ trip to St. Ottilien will now include a visit to the Dachau Memorial, a former concentration camp in Nazi Germany, to complete the cycle of learning for the student delegates.

The project, however, continues.  The BAPP students are scheduled to meet via Skype the other women refugees mentioned earlier who attended SSC in pre-war period, in late September before they leave for the exchange program.  SSC and DLSU will also draft a research proposal and other peace education programs related to the study of the Holocaust, the Philippine rescue, and their contribution to peace nurturing and promotion in the current times.  The two institutions, with the help of foreign scholars in the USA and Israel, are working on these under the South Manila Inter-Institutional Consortium (SMIIC) which, among its educational mission-vision, promotes collaboration among its member schools to initiate and promote social change.

By: Ms. Daisy Espina
High School Faculty