Holocaust scholars in new plea for exhibit on WWII rescue group

Yad Vashem unmoved as pressure grows over 'inexplicable' Bergson omission.

Bergson 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bergson 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of more than 50 Holocaust scholars from around the world on Thursday urged Yad Vashem to include an exhibit in its museum about a WWII rescue group. The scholars' appeal to add information about the Bergson Group in the Holocaust museum came two months after Yad Vashem surprisingly rebuffed an earlier petition by a cross-section of Israeli political and cultural figures on the issue. The Bergson Group was a maverick activist group in the US in the 1940s that raised public awareness of the Holocaust and campaigned for US rescue action to save the Jews of Europe during WWII. Led by Hillel Kook, a nephew of Israel's first chief rabbi who worked under the pseudonym of Peter Bergson, the organization was viewed by mainstream US Jewish leaders during the war as being too direct in its criticism of the Roosevelt administration's blatant failure to rescue Jewish refugees, although in recent years most scholars have come to recognize the group's crucial contribution to the infamously belated rescue effort. "As scholars who have researched and written about the Holocaust, we support the recent appeal, by a wide cross-section of Israeli scholars and political and cultural figures, urging Yad Vashem to add to its exhibit materials about the Bergson Group's role in promoting rescue from the Holocaust," the August 21 letter to Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev read. "Yad Vashem's exhibit already includes material about the failure of the United States to admit significant numbers of refugees or to bomb Auschwitz. But this chapter of Holocaust history is incomplete without reference to those in America who did act to bring about the rescue of Jews from the Nazis," the letter states. The signatories to the letter include Dr. Irving Greenberg, chairman emeritus of the US Holocaust Memorial Council, which governs the US Holocaust Museum. In contrast to Yad Vashem's surprisingly steadfast refusal to include such an exhibit in its museum, the museum in Washington DC earlier this summer added information about the Bergson Group to its museum on the heels of a similar public campaign. The American Holocaust Institute, which is leading the campaign to include an exhibit on the Bergson Group in Yad Vashem, said Thursday the Israeli museum needed to amend its historical omission. "More than 50 leading Holocaust historians have urged Yad Vashem to correct its inexplicable omission of the Bergson Group's rescue campaign," said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the Washington DC-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. "This is a body of serious scholarly opinion that no Holocaust institution can reasonably ignore." But Yad Vashem said Thursday inserting information about the Bergson Group in its Museum without "the overall context" would be "misleading." "It is unclear if all those who signed on to the letter are familiar with Yad Vashem and the Holocaust History Museum, and with the presentation of this subject in Yad Vashem's research and educational activities," a Yad Vashem representative said in a written response. "The Holocaust History Museum does not presume to include every person, event, and place connected with the Holocaust, but rather to present the visitor with the story of the Holocaust, providing an experience that will hopefully encourage the visitor to learn more via books, the Web site, and other sources - available at Yad Vashem and elsewhere." The Bergson Group is credited with helping to persuade the president in 1944 to establish the War Refugee Board, which ultimately saved 200,000 Jewish lives during the Holocaust. "Omitting the saving of 200,000 lives is a mistake," said Prof. David S. Wyman, a leading international authority on America's response to the Holocaust, and author of the highly acclaimed The Abandonment of the Jews. Despite opposition from mainstream American Jewish leaders, the group actively campaigned to save the doomed Jews of Europe through theatrical pageants, lobbying on Capitol Hill, newspaper advertisements and organizing a march in Washington by 400 Rabbis, which was the only rally for rescue held in the nation's capital during the Holocaust.