The online blog Politiko, in a recent post, once more displayed the laziness that many journalists and pseudo-journalists in the Philippines today are wont to be. They rehashed an already debunked claim that the former wife of former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Elizabeth Abellana Zimmerman, was the child of a Jewish refugee in World War II. Using this "Jewish connection", Politiko and several other columnists have criticized Vice-President Sara Z. Duterte for opposing the request of the American government to temporarily provide shelter to 50,000 Afghans who are former employees of the US government during their occupation of Afghanistan while they fix their papers. The media has reminded VP Sara that her maternal family, the Zimmermans, benefitted from the benevolence of the Philippine government when her Jewish ancestor was one of German Jewish refugees who found refuge in the country during the Holocaust, so why is she opposing giving safe haven to the Afghans? But the question is, were the Zimmermans REALLY Jewish refugees during World War II, to begin with?
When Vice-President Sara Duterte's father was elected President in 2016, one of the first state visits he made was to Israel. Our relationship with the State of Israel has always been quite special due to the refuge we gave to more than a thousand Jews escaping the Holocaust in Europe. It must be remembered that President Manuel L. Quezon opened our country’s doors to Jewish refugees from Europe during World War II and in so doing saved the lives of more than one thousand and three hundred Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Because of President Quezon’s bold move, known as the Philippines’s Open Door policy, his memory would forever be remembered and known to the Jewish people. He also guaranteed that the world will forever remember that Filipinos have always represented the spirit of compassion, solidarity, and humanity for a very long time, long before the Philippines had official immigration laws or became a State party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, being among the first to voluntarily provide asylum to successive waves of refugees fleeing persecution.
So, naturally, their reception for President Duterte and then Mayor Inday Sara was more than just perfunctory; in fact, the Israelis were more than welcoming due to a claim made by PRRD that his former wife, and the mother of his three children, was the daughter of one of the Jewish refugees aaved by President Manuel L. Quezon's Operation Open Doors. The Israelis embraced Duterte and his daughter like one of their own, especially since the Israeli media made such a big deal of the so-called Jewish connection with a Philippine President.
But all the hoopla about the Zimmermans being Jewish was nothing but the usual unverified oral history in a Filipino family plus the Philippine media's laziness to conduct a simple fact check of PRRD's claims of his former wife's Jewishness. While President Duterte cannot be blamed for believing in the Zimmerman family's oral history, we can put the blame of the media's refusal or inability to verify facts. Here are the facts: Elizabeth A. Zimmerman, the ex-wife of PRRD, was the daughter of two Filipinos: Godofredo Baldazo Zimmerman and Purisima Abellana. Elizabeth Zimmerman's father was born on November 18, 1916 in Hilongos, Leyte, Philippines, baptized on November 25, and died on June 26, 1993 in Davao City, Davao del Sur, Philippines. He was the son of George John Zimmerman and Cristeta Baldazo. Although he used Zimmerman as a last name all his life, both his birth and baptismal records list him under his mother's last name - Baldazo. His birth register in Hilongos, Leyte, while identifying him as illegitimate, does provide the name of his father: Geo. J. Zimmerman.
George John Zimmerman, the grandfather of Elizabeth, was born on January 17, 1890 in Peoria County, Illinois, USA to German immigrants, Michael August Zimmerman and Maria Augusta Wenzel. Michael August Zimmermann, son of Andreas Zimmermann and Marie, was born on July 4, 1857 in Bayern, Germany and died on July 27, 1925 in Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, USA. He married Maria Augusta Wenzel on July 12, 1883 in Peoria, Peoria County, Illinois, USA. Michael Zimmermann arrived in the United States in 1882. Michael Zimmermann was a tavern owner and true to his surname, also a carpenter.
Sometime after returning to the United States, George Zimmerman married Josephine Mathilde Johnson and they had 3 daughters: Helen May Zimmerman (married name Allyn), Georgiana Zimmerman (married name Ginn), and Josephine Zimmerman (married name Moseley). Descendants of George's daughters are scattered in Washington, Minnesota, and South Carolina.
The Zimmerman lineage of VP Sara comes from Unterlangau, Bavaria, Germany, and German and Jewish genealogists have written that "Zimmermann" (and its variant Zimmerman) is the German equivalent of the English surname carpenter, as it is derived from the profession. The fact that there ARE German Jews with the name Zimmermann does not make it Jewish in origin. Also, census data from the district of Oberviechtach between 1900 and 1939, of which Unterlangau was a part, shows that the district's population was overwhelmingly Catholic back then, with just a single-digit number of Jews. Furthermore, US census and other records list Michael Zimmerman and his family as congregants of the Lutheran Church.
And of course, DNA testing in both the Philippine Zimmermans and their half-relatives in the US have further disproven the Jewish claim. Results from their ancestral breakdown clearly do not show any Jewish heritage. A German-Jewish grandfather (as claimed by Filipino journalists) would have shown up as 25% Ashkenazi Jew, great-grandfather as roughly 12%. But the family's DNA result shows 0%, which means a non-Jewish ethnicity.
The politics of welcoming the Afghan employees of the US government is not the subject of this article. But journalists and columnists must always make sure that before they use genealogical tidbit to make a political point, they must first do a fact check of the information they simply rehash, otherwise they'd end up looking lazy and stupid. The funny and sad thing is that the "Jewish connection" of the Dutertes came from PRRD's unverified oral history, which the Israeli media simply accepted, and then which became the source of Philippine media, as well. So much for journalistic integrity.