- Philippines welcomed Jewish refugees during Holocaust while other countries closed doors
- About 1,200 European Jews moved there before 1941
- While they escaped the Holocaust, they were confronted with the Asian front of the war as Japan invaded
(CNN)Even at the age of 7, Lotte Hershfield knew her world was crumbling.
She avoided the benches with the sign: No dogs or Jews allowed. She couldn't attend public schools. And the Nazis and their growling German shepherds raided her family's house, throwing their books into a fire.
As a child, "we were very aware," said Hershfield, now 84. Jews weren't welcome in their own home.
Growing increasingly fearful, her parents and her older brother left their hometown of Breslau, Germany, in 1938 and journeyed to an unlikely new home -- the Philippines.
About 1,200 European Jews fled to the Philippines from 1937 to 1941, escaping the throes of the Nazis only to face another bloody war under Japanese occupation.
Many of the Jews came from Austria and Germany, as the anti-Semitic policies including the Nuremberg race laws intensified. Unable to immigrate to countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, thousands of Jews escaped to places such as Shanghai in China, Sousa in the Dominican Republic and Manila.
Those who arrived in Manila didn't realize that they had escaped the Holocaust only to be caught in the war in the Eastern Front, where the Philippines came under attack.
"We were going from the frying pan to the fire," Hershfield said. "We went from Nazi persecutors to the Japanese."
The Philippines capital was liberated after a grueling, monthlong campaign in the Battle of Manila, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which now marks its 70th anniversary.
From persecution to a welcome
This little known chapter of history about Jewish refugees in the Philippines has inspired two documentaries and talk of a possible movie.
"We know about stories like Anne Frank, 'Schindler's List' -- the things that grab popular imagination," said Michelle Ephraim, whose father, Frank Ephraim escaped to the Philippines after Kristallnacht in 1938. "Once you bring an Asia element, it becomes so complicated, interesting and surprising."
About 40 of the Philippines refugees are alive today, according to documentary filmmakers. They were children when they arrived in the Philippines over 70 years ago.
"That was like a rebirth," said Noel Izon, the filmmaker of the documentary, "An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines," in which he interviewed several Jewish refugees. "They went from certain death to this life."