Activist Harry Louis Selden Dies

Published February 27, 2004, issue of February 27, 2004.
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Harry Louis Selden, a newspaperman at the forefront of the rescue of European Jews during the Holocaust, died February 14 in Rockville, Md., after a short illness. He was 96.

A reporter for the Long Island Daily Press and an associate editor at Newsweek during the early 1930s, Selden came to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland, as a solution to the crisis in Europe. He put aside his career to raise money to smuggle European Jews to Palestine despite British restrictions.

Following the outbreak of the war, Selden and his colleagues — called the Bergson group after their activist Zionist leader Peter Bergson — utilized dramatic tactics to mobilize American support. The group clashed with the mainstream American Jewish organizations, which advocated a quieter approach to the situation. Nevertheless, with support from many prominent figures including actor Marlon Brando and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, the group rallied public opinion, mainly by lobbying in Washington and placing shocking advertisements in national newspapers. These efforts succeeded in pushing the Roosevelt administration to form the War Refugee Board in 1944, which eventually rescued more than 200,000 Jews.

“Selden devoted himself to the cause of his people in an exceptional way,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Philadelphia, which holds a collection of Selden’s documents. “He and his colleagues were unsung heroes.”

After the Bergson group voluntarily disbanded in 1948, Selden remained politically active through his work for the Fair Campaign Practices Committee.

Selden is survived by his wife, Florence, and their daughter, Judith.

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