21 June 2012, Holocaust Memorial Park, Rishon Lezion – The Municipality of Rishon Lezion organized a simple but memorable program at the Open Doors Monument located at the Holocaust Memorial Park to honor the Philippines for its kind gesture of "opening its doors" to escaping European Jewry from the scourge of the Holocaust during the Second World War.
The ceremony celebrates the third anniversary of the inauguration of the Open Doors Monument in Rishon Lezion which was the first and only monument that attests to and recognizes the Philippine government's openness and humanitarian assistance to the Jews especially during their darkest hour.
Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge attended the ceremony as guest of honor, together with Philippine Embassy officers and staff, some leaders and members of the Filipino Community, Holocaust survivors, Mr. Luis Yee (visual artist who designed the Open Doors Monument) and "Manilaners," the Jewish Community who lived in the Philippines in the 1930s and 1940s.
Mr. Asher Cohen of the Foreign Relations Department of the Municipality, also a Holocaust survivor himself from Romania, opened the program with tears, emphasizing and highlighting the kind gesture of the Philippines, under Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, of offering a safe haven to Jews escaping oppression from Nazi Europe. "When it seems that nobody in the world cares, the Philippines opened its doors to welcome people like us," Mr. Cohen said. "Although I am not one those who were lucky to benefit from the kindness of the Philippine government, I could relate and feel the warm welcome accorded to us by the Filipino people," he added.
The Rishon Lezion Municipality also welcomed the unexpected but timely attendance of Mr. Luis Yee or "Junyee" (National Artist of the Philippines) to the ceremony. Mr. Yee won the competition in 2007, organized by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts, for the design of the monument. "This is the first time that I was able to see my artwork. I never had the idea that I would be given the honor and privilege to be a part of this memorable ceremony," Mr. Yee said in his speech. "I would like to thank, on behalf of our government, the Municipality of Rishon Lezion for recognizing the Philippines' simple act of love and kindness," Mr. Yee added.
Mr. Max Weissler, a Holocaust survivor and among the 1,200 Jews who reached the Philippines by virtue of the "open door' policy of President Quezon, testified to the kindness and humanitarian act of the Philippines. He recounted vivid stories about his life in the Philippines and the ordeal that he and his family experienced when they were fleeing Nazi tyranny in Europe. His story would have been forgotten and left unknown to many until Mr. Frank Ephraim, also a Jewish refugee, documented and thoroughly discussed their plight, as well as the warm hospitality of the Philippines, in his book titled "Escape to Manila from Nazi Tyranny and Japanese Terror." During the ceremony, Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge handed over to Mr. Weissler a memorabilia-letter from the daughter of President Manuel Luis Quezon, Mrs. Maria Zenaida Quezon-Avanceña.
The Chief Rabbi of Manila, Rabbi Eliyahu Azaria, greeted the audience and thanked the Philippines for demonstrating humanitarian love for people who have nothing and no one else to turn to at that time. The Philippines, he said, demonstrated love for humanity through this generous act.
In his speech, Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge said that the Filipino nation, represented by the entire Embassy and the Filipino community in Israel, was deeply honored to attend the third anniversary celebration of the Open Doors Monument. "We are gathered here once again to forever instill in our collective memories President Quezon's magnanimous act of welcoming Jews facing persecution in Europe. We will never forget those days of darkness when a race was elevated to be superior to another, when a people who served their countries of residence were rejected as members of that polity and when the vital contributions of that people to the societies were they lived were ignored," the Ambassador said. "The sufferings have gone past and we have to move on," Ambassador Calonge pointed out. "Our duty, in our generation, and in this day and age, is not to forget that the Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient Seas, responded. It saved precious lives and gave all it can," the Ambassador noted.
Ambassador Calonge expressed his wish of continued prosperity for the Municipality of Rishon Lezion. He assured its leadership that the Philippines will always be a partner in its endeavors. He also heralded the Manilaners who were present in the ceremony. "They are living proof of our relationship as nations. While they departed a continent where there was cruelty, they found solace in a group of islands known for its kindness. May our memories be not dimmed by the passage of time because our peoples care for each other not only in this generation but also in generations to come," the Ambassador concluded.
The Honorable Mayor of Rishon Lezion, Mr. Dov Zur, said that history would forever attest that Israel has always been a partner of the Philippines. Aside from welcoming the Jews during the Second World War, he recounted that the Philippines was also instrumental in the creation of the State of Israel when it voted in the United Nations in favor of the partition of Palestine. He publicly expressed the Israeli government's appreciation for what the Philippines did for the Jews when the world seemed to have shut their doors on them. The erection of the monument in Rishon Lezion was just a simple act to recognize the Filipino nation's kindness to the Jewish nation.
Earlier that afternoon, Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge paid a courtesy call on Mayor Dov Zur in his office. They had a lively discussion and exchanges of ideas on how to expand and strengthen relations between the Philippines and Israel. Mayor Dov Zur briefed the Ambassador with the current plans and programs of the Municipality of Rishon Lezion which is the fourth largest city in Israel, Jerusalem being the largest, followed by Tel Aviv and Haifa. Ambassador Calonge said that the Philippines, through its Embassy, will always be a partner of Israel in the promotion of common interests that strengthen bilateral relations. Mayor Dov Zur was glad to hear, among others, that the Philippines, per information from the International Monetary Fund, has "graduated" from being a debtor country and now enjoys a creditor status in the international arena.