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December 27, 2002 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-12-27

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anti-Semitism also deterred many
from speaking up.
Yet that should have been no imped-
iment to those Jewish leaders who
were in the know and positioned to do
something about it. Unfortunately,
they, too, were more fearful of the
prospect of American anti-Semitism
than they were horrified by accounts
of Nazi slaughter.
Some, like the American Jewish
Congress' Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, were
fearful of alienating President Franklin
Roosevelt and thereby losing their
privileged status to forcefully protest
American inaction.
Yet somehow, Bergson (who operat-
ed under an alias to avoid involving his
prominent rabbinic family in his
protests of British policies against the
Jews to Palestine) was motivated to
drop everything else and make the bat-
tle for rescue his one and only priority.
Others, such as famed writer and
journalist Ben Hecht, soon joined him
in his Emergency Committee to Save
the Jewish People of Europe. He
excelled in getting non-Jews, including
those thought to be hostile to Jewish
causes, to join in the effort.
In the end, through his genius for
public relations, theatrics and sheer
determination, Bergson created a
movement that eventually forced the
Roosevelt administration to act. In
January 1944, FDR created the War
Refugee Board (WRB).
This reversal of American policy (a
U.S. Treasury Department report on
American policy towards Hitler's Jewish
prey was titled "Acquiescence of This
Government in the Murder of the
Jews") was an enormous achievement.
Perhaps as many as 200,000 Jews were
saved by WRB (for example, the efforts
of Swedish hero Raoul Wallenberg in
Budapest were subsidized by the board).
But, as the board's own director
admitted, its efforts were "late and lit-
tle." In fact, only a small percentage of
the WRB's budget was funded by the
U.S. government, instead depending on
contributions from Jewish groups like
the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee. Had the board been creat-
ed sooner and been better supported, it
is impossible to tell how many more
lives could have been saved.
This story is by now well known,
though it is-certainly worth re-telling.
What makes it important for us today is
learning one of the chief reasons why
Bergson/Kook was unable to fully suc-
- ceed: the obstruction and sabotage of his
campaign by the Jewish establishment.
Wyman and Medoff's book lays out
in heartbreaking detail the vicious

campaign to undermine the Jewish
Emergency Committee. Caring more
about turf than the fate of their
endangered brethren, most of the
influential Jews of the day did their
utmost to defeat the Emergency
Committee. They rejected his offers of
cooperation and even conspired to
have Bergson/Kook deported.
Hillel Kook, who died in Israel in
August 2001, went to his grave still
bitter at this betrayal, still lamenting
the Jews who might have lived had his
campaign been heeded.

Still Relevant Today

Six decades later, the situation of
world Jewry has markedly improved,
and American Jews remain the most
powerful and prosperous diaspora
community in Jewish history.
But with a terror war being waged
against the Jewish state that
Bergson/Kook (he served in Israel's
first Knesset from 1949-1951) as well
as Wise strove to create, the need for
Jewish activism is undiminished. Yet
the forces of inertia and indifference
are still with us today.
Israel needs a motivated, active and
sometimes brash American Jewish
community to continue to speak up
on its behalf. Troublemakers are need-
ed to take on a media that is the bas-
tion of a journalistic culture of bias
against Israel as well as an academic
establishment that treats Israel-bashing
as a form of honored study.
Yet, no less an authority than
Forward editor J.J. Goldberg asserted
in a panel discussion at the November
General Assembly of the United Jewish
Communities that concern for the fate
of Israel was merely the province of an
activist minority while the majority of
American Jews remained relatively
indifferent to the issue.
Liberals are horrified at the efforts of
other Jews to mobilize conservative
religious Christians on Israel's behalf (a
heartening reminder of the righteous
activism of those non-Jews who helped
Bergson/Kook).
Other Jews won't support an Israel
run by a party that is descended from
Bergson/Kook's right-wing political
comrades, and still others question the
validity of Zionism itself.
We cannot save the lost millions of the
Shoah. But we can do something about
helping the Jews of Israel fight back
against those who would destroy them.
The memory of the ragtag effort to
save the Jews of Europe must continue
to inspire American Jews in the years
and decades to come. El

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