- Bergson Group
- Hillel Kook, whose alias was Peter Bergson, was the nephew of Rabbi Abraham Kook, the famous Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Jerusalem. As one of the leaders of the Revisionist Zionist movement, he opposed many of the policies of the Jewish Agency executive in Palestine. Between 1940 and 1948, Bergson and his group, which included members of the Palestine underground group Irgun Tseva’i Le’ummi (Etsel), arrived in the United States where they attempted to mobilize public opinion on behalf of a more forceful policy toward Nazi Germany. Their objectives included agitation for the creation of an independent Jewish army that would fight against Germany. Toward this end, the Bergson group formed the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews. Following the failed Bermuda Conference, they organized the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish people of Europe, which urged the Allies for immediate action on behalf of the Jews and called on neutral countries to open their doors to offer temporary asylum to Jewish refugees. The activities of the Bergson Group, however, brought it into conflict with the mainstream Jewish leadership as exemplified by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and the American Jewish Congress.The Bergson Group also attracted a great many journalists and intellectuals such as Max Lerner, Billy Rose, and Ben Hecht. The latter, a Hollywood screenwriter as well as playwright, wrote the pageant “We Will Never Die,” which was initially performed on 9 March 1943, in a packed Madison Square Garden. Hecht wrote the pageant in memory of the two million Jews who had been murdered up to that time. From New York, the play then toured other cities throughout the United States.The committee also organized a campaign to obtain a million signatures on a petition, which was to be presented to Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, calling for the creation of a government body that would deal specifically with the rescue of Jews. In this endeavor it won the backing of such public figures as William Randolph Hearst, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, former president Herbert Hoover, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York, and Will Rogers, Democratic congressman from California. In all, 34 senators and 37 American admirals and generals supported the group. Although many of its objectives resulted in failure, there was also a notable achievement. The Bergson Group did gain the support of Democratic senator Guy Gillette from Iowa and Congressman Will Rogers, as well as Republican congressman Joseph Baldwin from New York, to introduce identical resolutions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that called on the president to establish a government commission for the rescue of Europe’s Jews. Together with the pressure exerted on President Roosevelt from the Department of the Treasury, led by Henry Morgenthau Jr., the president issued an executive order on 22 January 1944 that established the War Refugee Board. Although the Bergson Group played no role in either rescue or aid operations in behalf of European Jewry, its contributions were, nevertheless, important. Its signal achievements were to bring to the attention of the American people the Nazi extermination of the Jews and to pressure high-level government officials to search for means of rescuing the remaining Jews of Europe.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.