Holocaust scholars urge recognition of Bergson Group

US Holocaust Museum urged to include exhibition of 1940s rescue group.

More than 100 Holocaust scholars and mainstream Jewish leaders from the Reform to the Orthodox movements have signed a petition urging the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to include acknowledgment of the Bergson Group in its main exhibit. The petition, which was organized by the Washington DC based-David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust studies, follows a recent statement by Nobel prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel urging the Museum to add the Bergson Group to its exhibits. The Bergson Group, also known as the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, was a maverick activist group led by Hillel Kook who worked under the pseudonym of Peter Bergson that raised public awareness of the Holocaust and campaigned for a US rescue action to save the Jews of Europe. The organization was viewed by mainstream American Jewish leaders during World War II as being too forthright in its criticism of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt's blatant failure to rescue Jewish refugees, although in recent years most Jewish leaders have come to recognize the group's crucial contribution to the infamously belated rescue effort. The petition, which urges the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to include the Bergson Group in its Permanent Exhibit "for the sake of historical accuracy," was sent to Museum Chairman Fred S. Zeidman. "The Bergson Group's work demonstrates the possibility of ordinary citizens taking action, through the democratic process to bring about humanitarian action by the government," the petition reads. The signatories on the petition include Seymour D. Reich, President of the Israel Policy Forum and a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Prof David S. Wyman, University of Massachusetts at Amherst emeritus historian and author of the acclaimed The Abandonment of the Jews, former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, David Ellenson president of Reform Jewry, Rabbi Dr David Golinkin president of Conservative Judaism's Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Dr. Normann Lamm, Chancelor of Orthodox Judaism's Yeshiva U, prominent Holocaust scholars, and two former Israeli cabinet ministers Shimon Shetreet and Moshe Arens. The organization, which was viewed as a black sheep by the leaders of wartime American Jewry, actively campaigned to save the doomed Jews of Europe through theatrical pageants, lobbying on Capitol Hill, placing more than two-hundred advertisements in newspapers, and organizing a march in Washington by 400 Rabbis, which, the Wyman Institute said, was the only rally in favor of a rescue effort held in the nation's capitol during the Holocaust. 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, including the life of future US Congressman Tom Lantos, the current chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier this year, a New York City theater performance, 'The Accomplices,' written by the former New York Times reporter, Bernard Weinraub offered a stunning critique of the actions of the American Jewish leadership, as well as the apathy of the Times during the war in the face of the efforts of the small Bergson Group. Neither the US Holocaust Museum nor Jerusalem's Yad Vashem mention the Bergson Group in their exhibits, said Dr. Rafael Medoff, Director of the Wyman Institute. A US Holocaust Museum spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.