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June 07, 2007 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-06-07

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Jewish statehood. They established
the Hebrew Committee of National
Liberation and the American League
for a Free Palestine to mobilize public
support for creating a Jewish state.
Michigan supporters of this effort
included U.S. Reps. Roy Woodruff,
John Lesinski, George Sadowski, and
John Dingell Sr. as well as Grand
Rapids Mayor George Welsh and
Detroit doctor Noah Aronstam.
The Bergson Group was deter-
mined to make rescue and statehood
bipartisan issues. Note, for example,
that Sen. Ferguson and Congressmen
Jonkman, Bradley and Woodruff were
Republicans, while Gov. Van Wagoner,
Sen. Brown and Congressmen
Sadowski, Lesinski and Dingell were
Bergson's supporters also included
such prominent New Deal Democrats

More recent research has docu-
mented the previously unknown sup-
port given to Bergson by such widely
admired public figures as Walt Disney,
Bob Hope and House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi's father, Congressman Thomas
The Bergson story has been attract-
ing widespread public attention this
spring thanks to an off-Broadway
play, The Accomplices, by former New
York Times correspondent Bernard
Weinraub. Playing to packed houses
every night and winning overwhelm-
ingly positive reviews, The Accomplices
opened a painful but important new
public discussion of a difficult topic.
The discussion will continue in
earnest on June 17 at New York City's
Fordham University Law School,
when the David S. Wyman Institute
for Holocaust Studies will hold the
first-ever public confer-
ence about the impact
and legacy of the Bergson
Group. Scholars and pub-
lic figures will discuss the
latest research, including
new evidence of Bergson's
alliances with Irish-
Americans and African-
Americans, and his contacts with First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
The event will also feature rabbis
who took part in the group's 1943
march in Washington.
It is noteworthy that one of the
conference's sponsors is Rabbi David
Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Rabbi Ellenson is a successor to Rabbi
Stephen Wise, who was Bergson's
staunchest opponent in the 1940s.
Rabbi Wise was the Jewish leader who
compared Bergson to Hitler.
The involvement of Rabbi Ellenson
and other major Jewish leaders in the
upcoming Bergson conference marks
a turning point in the evolution of
American Jewry's attitude toward the
Bergson Group.
The clashes and quarrels of the
1940s have at long last been put to
rest, and the Jewish community is
finally ready to take a fresh look at the
Holocaust years — and to learn the
lessons of that dark era.

The Jewish community is
finally ready to take a fresh
look at the Holocaust years.

as Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and
American Labor Party leader Dean
Alfange as well as staunch conserva-
tives such as Herbert Hoover and
William Randolph Hearst. A coalition
this broad could not easily be ignored
by the Roosevelt or Truman adminis-
Not everyone was happy about
Bergson's achievements. Some
mainstream Jewish leaders feared
his unorthodox tactics would pro-
voke anti-Semitism or usurp their
positions of leadership in the com-
munity. These leaders urged the
U.S. Justice Department to draft or
deport Bergson and pressured VIPs
to cut their ties with the activists.
Sometimes, the pressure succeeded.

Time Shaped
But time heals wounds. As the next
generation of American Jews came
of age in the 1970s and 1980s, the
bitterness and rivalries of the 1940s
began to recede into distant memory.
At the same time, scholars such as
David Wyman (The Abandonment of
the Jews) and Monty Penkower ( The
Jews Were Expendable) uncovered
new evidence that the Bergson Group
played a significant role in publicizing
the Holocaust and bringing about the
creation of the War Refugee Board.

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Rafael Medoff is director of the David S.

Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies,



which focuses on issues related to
America's response to the Holocaust.

www.WymanInstitute.org .


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June 7 • 2007


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