Petition urges Yad Vashem to add Bergson Group

US group raised public awareness of the Holocaust and campaigned for US rescue action during WWII.

peter bergson 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
peter bergson 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
More than 100 Israeli political and cultural leaders from across the political spectrum have signed a petition to Yad Vashem urging the Holocaust museum to add material about the Holocaust rescue activists known as the Bergson Group to its exhibits. The Bergson Group was a maverick activist group in the US in the 1940s, led by Peter Bergson, also known as Hillel Kook, that raised public awareness of the Holocaust and campaigned for US rescue action to save European Jewry during World War II. At the time, mainstream American Jewish leaders viewed the organization as being too forthright in its criticism of the Roosevelt administration's failure to rescue Jewish refugees. However, in recent years most Jewish leaders have come to recognize the group's contribution to the belated rescue effort. The signatories on the petition, which will officially be presented to Yad Vashem on Thursday, include former and present cabinet ministers and Knesset members, prominent novelists, playwrights, journalists and artists, as well as leading academics from numerous fields. "This is a truly bipartisan cause," said Dr. Rebecca Kook, daughter of the Bergson Group leader, who teaches political science at Ben-Gurion University and who worked with the Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in organizing the petition. "Israeli political and cultural leaders from Right to Left recognize that the omission of the Bergson Group from Yad Vashem is a terrible injustice which must be rectified." Museum spokeswoman Iris Rosenberg said that the work of the Bergson Group was very well known to Yad Vashem, which teaches about the group's "important" activity in its educational seminars, guides and lectures. "It should be emphasized that Yad Vashem did not plan and does not plan its exhibits based on public pressure or petitions, but by balanced decisions," Yad Vashem said in a written response. The Holocaust Authority said that it could not include all the events and activities pertaining to the Holocaust and World War II in one museum, but added that some of these found expression in various Yad Vashem activities, such as education, documentation and research. "It is legitimate that certain people believe that certain events peoples or events close to their heart should be exhibited in the museum, but there are other ways to express the activity of these persons or groups aside from their exhibition in the museum," Rosenberg said. The petition will be presented to Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev by a delegation headed by Nili, Dr. Kook and Prof. David S. Wyman - the acclaimed author of The Abandonment of the Jews, about America's response to the Holocaust. Among the signatories to the petition are former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, former education minister Shulamit Aloni, former defense minister Moshe Arens and author A. B. Yehoshua. Last year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington agreed to add material about the Bergson Group to its permanent exhibit following a similar petition organized by the Wyman Institute and signed by more than 100 prominent Americans. These included former members of Congress, prominent historians, and Jewish leaders such as Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The Bergson Group is credited with helping to persuade the US president in 1944 to establish the War Refugee Board, which ultimately saved 200,000 Jewish lives - including future Congressman Tom Lantos, who passed away earlier this year. Despite opposition from mainstream US Jewish leaders, the group actively campaigned to save the doomed Jews of Europe through theatrical pageants, lobbying on Capitol Hill, the placement of more than 200 newspaper advertisements, and a march in Washington by 400 rabbis, which the Wyman Institute said was the only rally for rescue held in the nation's capital during the Holocaust.