MANILA -- The Philippines and Israel on Thursday honored the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, the darkest point in history that saw the mass murder of around six million Jews.
"Six million Jews were murdered – one-third of the Jewish population, only because they were Jewish,” Ambassador Ilan Fluss said during a symposium hosted by the Israel Embassy in Manila and the Department of Education (DepEd).
“We are gathered today to remember and commemorate the Holocaust, the darkest time in human history and of the Jewish people... This can’t be ignored, we can never let it happen again,” he added.
This year's theme of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is "Memory, Dignity, and Justice," a fitting one amid the growing prevalence of Holocaust denial or distortion through disinformation.
In a recorded message, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said everyone has a "deep responsibility to remember the Holocaust and hold firm to the commitment — never again".
"Although it happens again and again. But never on the same staggering scale, dark design and unspeakable relished cruelty," he said.
"My country is anchored on the conviction that we shall not stand by when something is done to others that we would not have done to ourselves. The manner of this one still boggles the horrified imagination," he added.
At the time of the Holocaust, Locsin said the refuge the Philippines gave to the fleeing victims under President Manuel L. Quezon's Open Door Policy was a defining moment in the country's friendship with the Jews.
He stressed that the Philippines would always stand by Israel "against any declared purpose or hint of another attempt to repeat its extermination by the barefaced lying denial that it ever happened."
This as he emphasized that Holocaust denial is tantamount to a "declared purpose of state to make it happen again to the Jews."
In remembering the six million Jews who lost their lives, the Filipino top diplomat said: "Let us say their names again and keep saying their names. For the sound of it at least survives into the future they and their possible posterity were denied. Their murderers killed more than the Jews they starved to death, sickened, shot, and gassed."
"So let us say their names; not in the collective as Jews; but the names of each one of them. And keep saying them; one after the other. We owe this as much to our sense of humanity as we owe it to them."
DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, meanwhile, underscored the need to further educate the Filipino youth about the Holocaust as a way to honor the memory of the victims as well as to impress upon them the importance of extending help at a time of need.
“Even as we worry about many challenges, especially the pandemic, even as we worry about what is happening all over the world and other countries and people being discriminated against, I believe that it is also appropriate for our children to be thought that one does not have to be the richest country in the world, one does not have to have so much to be able to help and to extend shelter," she said.
"We have done that on several occasions as a country," she said.
The Embassy also led the lighting of six candles, representing the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.
Rina Quint, a Holocaust survivor, was also present to retell her survival story.
'Life was impossible'
Born Freida "Freidel" Lichtenstein, Rina was three old when the Nazis invaded and occupied her hometown in Piotrkow Tribunalski, Poland in 1939.
"Soon they made a fence of barbed wires and rolled us into that area. Jews and other neighborhoods were not allowed to leave there," she shared.
"If you think of one apartment for one family, there were four and five and six families that had shared that apartment. There wasn't enough food, there was no heat, and there was no medicine."
She said her last memory of her mother was her holding her tiny hands and her brothers' with the sound of deafening gunshots in the background.
"I don't know how it happened but there was a door at the back of the synagogue where a man stood and he beckoned to me and said 'run' and I ran. I could have been killed by the bullet. Maybe the soldiers didn't see me because there was a commotion-- I ran out," she said.
"That was the last time I saw my mother, my brothers, and the rest of those people. Two thousand people were taken at a time, almost all the people in my hometown were killed," she said.
In October 1942, her mother and her two older brothers were deported to the extermination camp of Treblinka where they were murdered.
Rina was later deported with her father to a concentration camp, where she pretended to be a boy in order to survive. She remembers wearing some boy's clothing her father got for her as well as the dogs, the hunger, the sickness, and the fear.
When the Allied powers were starting to come in, the Nazis decided to get rid of all the Jews in Poland, she said. "We were put in those terrible cattle cars and 80 to 100 people were put into a cargo like that."
"There was nothing to eat on those things, there was nothing to drink, and there was no toilet that we had to use a pail. But how long can a pail last for 80 to a hundred people? The place was terrible, the smell. People went crazy, people were dying, people were yelling and shouting," Rina recalled.
After crossing the borders from Poland to Germany, they had no choice but to eat the snow due to hunger and extreme thirst when they finally got out.
When Rina's father was murdered, she was left alone and was eventually sent to various places where she endured brutalities and terrible camp conditions. She was adopted and raised by many women, whom all have died.
"We were put in these terrible barracks where everything was broken down and the toilets-- you have a hundred people going at one time. Life was impossible, everyday people died and women would take them out in the blankets," she said.
At the end of the war, Rina was sent to Sweden and later went to the United States. She and her husband emigrated to Israel in 1984.
"I survived because other people helped me. I came to Israel now, I live in Israel, this is my family, thank God we are growing and existing," she said.
"And again, we thank the Philippine people for letting in 1,300, many of them are probably no longer alive, the only ones who are alive are children like me, and we are dying off. But if we have friends like you and we have a state there is a lot of hope. We must not have wars, we must have peace, we must learn to love each other," she said. (PNA)