[Marxism] Peter Bergson

Louis Proyect 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 
concentration camps.

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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