June 18, 2007

Notables Give Nod To the Efforts Of Bergson Group


Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, Mayor Koch, author Pete Hamill, and others gathered at Fordham University yesterday to remember the Bergson Group, activists who sought American support for rescuing European Jewry.

Hosted by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, the conference examined the life and work of Hillel Kook, who arrived in America in 1940 and took the name Peter Bergson. A daughter, Rebecca Kook, described her father as an individualist.

His group held pageants, took full-page newspaper ads, and helped mobilize more than 400 rabbis to march on Washington in 1943, despite opposition from Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Stephen Wise. Thanks to the Bergson Group, Mr. Wiesel said, there was a measure of hope during the Holocaust. ”Because they at least tried,” he said.

Historian Rafael Medoff told how a number of leading African Americans including W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and Zora Neale Hurston lent support to the Bergson Group. Mr. Koch discussed the support of an earlier mayor, William O’Dwyer, for the group.

The Bergson Group’s efforts helped lead to the creation of the War Refugee Board, which saved about 200,000 Jews.

Historian David Wyman said there had been a ”curtain of silence” regarding the Bergson Group. ”They have been read out of history,” he said, adding that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had not included Bergson. Mr. Wiesel, the museum’s founding chairman, replied that he would look into the matter.