(page 2 of 3)
The “some” were Hillel Kook, an Israeli better known by his pseudonym Peter Bergson, and his ally Samuel Merlin. They were disciples of rightist firebrand Vladimir Jabotinsky, whose Revisionist movement had split from mainstream Zionism in the name of “unity.” Mainstream Zionism was a coalition of parties, led by David Ben-Gurion. Jabotinsky favored one unified party, led by him.
Kook and Merlin came to America in 1940 to join Jabotinsky, who was meeting with followers. But in August Jabotinsky died suddenly, leaving his young acolytes stranded. Unable to return to Europe or Palestine, they set about continuing his work by undermining and discrediting Ben-Gurion’s liberal ally, Rabbi Wise. In 1982 they were still at it. Merlin played a central role in Goldberg’s commission. Both, appeared as star interviewees in the “Who Shall Live” film.
Dawidowicz touches only briefly on the Bergson Group’s well-known wartime exploits. She recalls their courting influential people in Washington and Hollywood, forming and dissolving successive front-groups with grand names like the Committee for a Jewish Army and the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe. They made a lot of noise. They probably helped turn public opinion and goad the administration to action. But they also created a libelous myth that lived on past the war. And they vastly inflated their own role.
She describes Bergson-Kook’s film appearance, telling “how he first learned about the mass murder of the Jews.” He read about it in the Washington Post in November 1942, when the State Department verified Hitler’s secret plan for a Final Solution.
But while Hitler’s Final Solution had been secret, his mass killing wasn’t. It was all over the Jewish press. “Even the New York Times” covered it, Dawidowicz wrote. Others have written of Wise’s mass rally at Madison Square Garden in July 1942, where he read a message from Roosevelt saluting “the determination of the Jewish people” and vowing to hold the Nazis “to strict accountability in a day of reckoning which will surely come.” How did Bergson not hear about it until November? “Where was he?”
Bergson’s admirers make much of his own Madison Square Garden rally the following March, drawing 20,000 people to see a pageant, “We Will Never Die,” featuring Stella Adler and a young Marlon Brando. Few remember that Wise had held another rally a week earlier in the same arena, attended by 70,000. British government memos credited Wise’s rally with forcing the Allies to hold a conference on Jewish refugees in Bermuda in April.
After Bermuda, Roosevelt’s close friend and treasury secretary (and future United Jewish Appeal chairman) Henry Morgenthau Jr. ordered funds transferred to Europe for Jewish relief. The State Department blocked the transfers for months. When Morgenthau’s staff discovered the obstruction, they leaked it to the House foreign affairs committee, whose Jewish chairman Sol Bloom convened stormy hearings in November. That led directly to Roosevelt’s creation in January of the War Refugee Board, tasked with saving Jewish lives. Bergson claimed it was his doing.