PBS Doc Recounts Reno Woman's Father's Part in Holocaust Rescue

It's a story that parallels Schindler's List, but has rarely been told until now.

It involves a plot to save Jews from the Holocaust launched around a poker table by a group of powerful men including a future president of the United States and the father of a Reno woman.

Now it's the subject of a PBS documentary "Rescue in the Philippines."

As Europe toppled on the brink of war, Jews in Germany and elsewhere had run out of options.

After years of repression, the Nazi government had stripped them of their rights. Some were already being shipped to the camps.

The world offered them few options. Most nations including the U-S turned them away, but a half world away a plot was hatched to open a door.

It involved the president of the Philippines, then an American commonwealth, a US diplomat, then Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, a Jewish family of cigar makers from Cincinnati and a Greek American private detective.

This unlikely group of friends often gathered for poker games at a Manila hotel or in private homes including that of Angel Zavourlakis.

He had come to the Philippines with the U-S Army and stayed, marrying a Filipino woman, raising a family. Daughter Olga was then a young girl.

"What I saw was a bunch of men having fun and you could hear them in the room having fun," says Olga Owens, now 84 and living in Reno.

These gatherings were about more than poker. What emerged was a plan to gain Visas for Jews to come to the Philippines under the guise that their professions were needed there. In all perhaps as many as 13 hundred made it out.

There they remained, many received further protection during the Japanese occupation.

It would be decades before Olga Owens knew the full story.

"I never got to hear the story from my father, except for bits and pieces," she says with regret.

Her father died of malnutrition shortly before liberation and she never heard the story from his lips. Decades later she learned more researching a book she's written about her experiences during the war.

It was that book that drew the attention of the producers filming the PBS documentary "Rescue in the Philippines."

"The war takes a toll and I never really got to know my father who he is except my beloved papa. And now that I know what a big part he had, I love you, papa."


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