[Marxism] Peter Bergson
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 1 06:59:30 MDT 2007
(Despite his right-Zionist politics, Peter Bergson won the admiration of
Lenni Brenner. The Jewish boxer Barney Ross worked closely with Bergson,
as I mentioned in my blog article on him.)
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
Museum to Revise Exhibit on U.S. Response to Holocaust
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 1, 2007; C01
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has agreed to recast part of its
permanent exhibition to include the story of the Bergson Group, a World
War II citizens' group that called attention to the horrors facing
European Jews and urged the American government to help.
The group was created in 1942 by a Lithuanian Jew who had immigrated to
Palestine and taken the name Peter Bergson. He had come to Washington to
represent a Zionist group and had visions of creating a Jewish army that
would fight alongside the Allied armies. But on Nov. 25, 1942, he saw a
story in The Washington Post reporting that the Nazis had killed 250,000
Polish Jews and planned the extermination of half of the Jewish
population in that country by the end of the year.
The story ran on Page 6.
Bergson was so angry at the news and the placement of the story that he
decided to start a massive lobbying effort.
Some of his tactics were considered divisive and controversial at the
time. The group, formally called the Emergency Committee to Save the
Jewish People of Europe, bought newspaper ads pointing to the failure of
the government and other efforts to save the Jews. There were also
demonstrations, including a march of 400 rabbis in Washington.
He enlisted celebrities, including writers Ben Hecht and Moss Hart and
actors Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. They created a dramatic pageant
called "We Will Never Die," with music by Kurt Weill and readings
praising the achievements of Jews throughout history, as well as
describing the horrific plight of victims of the Nazis. The pageant
traveled the country, drawing 40,000 people to Madison Square Garden.
When it was performed at Washington's Constitution Hall on April 12,
1943, Eleanor Roosevelt and dozens of politicians watched it. When Mrs.
Roosevelt wrote her next newspaper column about the pageant, according
to the Holocaust Museum, "it was the first time [millions of American
newspaper readers] heard about the Nazi mass murders."
At one point, Bergson advocated the bombing of Auschwitz and other
Finally, the group won the support of Congress, which prepared
resolutions asking President Roosevelt to take action. Before the vote,
Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board in 1944.
Museum officials said yesterday that at the urging of the David S. Wyman
Institute for Holocaust Studies they would revise the segment on the
board, a federal agency formed in the waning months of the war to help
people flee Nazi oppression. It helped finance Raoul Wallenberg's work
and saved about 200,000 people. The materials, which will be introduced
next spring, will include wall text and photo reproductions and a new
case for artifacts on the Bergson efforts.
While the permanent exhibition is often updated, this is the most
extensive revision of one subject to date.
"The Bergson Group was important in calling American attention to what
was happening during the Holocaust and demanding action," said Steven
Luckert, curator of the museum's permanent exhibition.
"Most of what Americans know about our country's response to the
Holocaust is that the Jews in Europe were abandoned. There were some
Americans who did speak out, and it is important that their work be
highlighted," said Rafael Medoff, director of the Washington-based Wyman
Institute. He started lobbying for the change in August 2002.
Though historians have focused on the Bergson work, the museum's
treatment is groundbreaking, Medoff said. "The story should have been
included since Day One. The museum has never disputed the Bergson Group
had a role, but they told us [the inclusion] would take time. There have
been changes by some of the smaller Holocaust institutions, but the U.S.
Holocaust Museum is the most important address," he said.
The museum's permanent exhibition, an account of the Nazi atrocities
against Jews and others, was installed when the museum opened in 1993.
It has been changed before. "The museum tries to address a variety of
public concerns," Luckert said. Artifacts are added and rotated. The
work of the Bergson Group was covered in a 2002 exhibition of Arthur
Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist, and in related online exhibitions.
The Bergson Group's "willingness to take a stand and the willingness to
launch controversial publicity campaigns and lobby congressmen for a
cause" underscores its relevance today, Luckert said.
The group's ultimate goal of saving millions of Jews from Nazi
persecution was unsuccessful. By 1943, 2 million Jews had already been
murdered and the total would surpass 6 million. But museum scholars
believe the Bergson Group should be singled out for its efforts to
change public opinion.
Around Washington, Bergson earned the nickname "the nuisance diplomat."
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