Erika Stahr, a "Manilaner" in Melborne. “Quezon’s Game”, an internationally awarded film about heroism in the time of holocaust, is extended in selected Australian theaters until March 13
On March 1, 2020, The Pilipino Elderly Association of South East Region (PEASER) threw a birthday celebration for one of their members. At 90, she still drives herself to the gathering. Her memory is still sharp as evidenced by her recollection of early childhood. But what stood out the most was that she didn’t look Filipino at all… Her name is Erika Stahr
, a Jewish elder who was one of the hundreds Manilaners
, the Jews who fled from Nazi, Germany and found refuge in the Philippines in the wake of World War II.
“To me, I’ve always felt like a Filipina. I was more at home there than anywhere else,” she says as she fondly begins to recall her happy childhood, how she found love, and built a career during her years in the Philippines.
It is fortuitous that TFC discovered Stahr through a media peer while on the promotion of “Quezon’s Game’s”
Australian screenings. The ABS-CBN Films
production, in association with iWant
, brings the untold story to the big screen of Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon’s fight to bring as many Jews as he could into the country, away from certain death.
In the film, which Stahr had the opportunity to watch at Village Cinemas Century City, Quezon showed great resolve albeit the opposition of allies and his deteriorating health in a bid to save as many lives under Hitler’s regime. “I was amazed. Because I was a small child during that time. I didn’t know that Quezon had such a battle to bring Jewish refugees. I had no idea of that. Everything was nice to us and we were always welcome. I didn’t realize he had such a hard time bringing us there,” she shares in surprise as this piece of history has long been forgotten until now.
To Stahr, the closest connection she knew of Quezon would be that she went to the same school as the late president’s daughter Maria Aurora “Baby” Quezon, who – as shown in the film – likewise had her contribution in welcoming the Jewish people to Manila. This was among her priceless experiences as a child and teenager in the Philippines.
At age 5, the Berlin-born Stahr was not aware of the great horrors behind their family’s decision to leave Europe. The only thing she wondered was why her father and sister did not join her, her mother, uncle, and grandparents, when they left for Italy. Their next stop was China where her uncle and grandfather, both medical practitioners, would stay to pursue their professions. Stahr, with her mother and grandmother, pushed further south to the Philippines where she would spend thirteen years.
Orphaned at 9 as her father perished in a death camp and her mother due to illness, Stahr credits her early years in the tropical country to her positive disposition: “I had a very good childhood even though we have an unhappy life.” She would learn how to play the violin, speak German and French, as well as American shorthand and typewriting even when the Japanese took over the country.
A moment during the Japanese-American war stood out for the then eleven-year-old Erika. She and her grandmother joined several foreigners in hiding as their apartments burned down after the bombing of Manila. In there, alone Filipino was found by a Japanese soldier determined to shoot him right then and there. In a twist of fate, the soldier walked away, and the Filipino was spared. Through the whole ordeal, as the other people screamed their objection, the man stood calmly and stared straight to the eyes of his supposed executioner. “He is a hero all my life. We were all so frightened, but he stood there calmly. I never have forgotten him,” she shared.
In the passing of seasons, she would begin working in a Filipino establishment and later on in an American hospital as a typist. She would get married to a Jewish man. And she would leave the place she had known to be ‘home’ to join her husband’s family in Australia. She would also be reunited again with her sister who, as it turns out, was able to escape to England before the war broke out.
Stahr was able to build her career as an educator in Australia. She continued with attaining diploma, bachelor and master’s degree in teaching German and French. Upon retirement, she was able to take her journey as a Jewish refugee full circle when she began teaching English to non-English speaking migrants and refugees. All these were made possible by her inner strength and optimism, as well as her grandmother to brought her to learn new skills whilst in the Philippines.
It was a struggle to adjust to the culture after being in a different one for so long. But now at 90, Stahr still has got her glow, especially that she had found “her people” in Australia – the Filipino migrants.
Now is your last chance to watch the EXTENDED SCREENING of “Quezon’s Game
” in selected theaters in Australia:
Hoyts Mount Druitt
Screening from 5-11 March
Classic Cinemas Elsternwick
Screening on 7-8 March
The Ritz Cinemas Randwick
Screening on 9 & 13 March
Village Cinemas Eastland Tasmania
Special screening on March 11 at 6:45 PM
Check updates on www.QuezonsGame.com, www.mytfc.com or follow TFC Australia Facebook. Information on screening time and tickets is available at the box office or at www.hoyts.com.au
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Visit Us Online: www.QuezonsGame.com
Dominique “Nikki” Pechuela-Famador
PR & Integrated Public Service – Asia Pacific