The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
The story of the Roosevelt administration’s response to the Holocaust has been chronicled in books and on film. Now, for the first time, it is coming to the stage.
“The Accomplices,” an off-Broadway play written by former New York Times correspondent Bernard Weinraub and directed by Ian Morgan, will be performed by The New Group with preview performances starting March 20. After meeting earlier this month with the author and cast for more than two hours, I have no doubt this is one play that will not be soon forgotten.
Weinraub recently retired from the Times after a long and distinguished career as a staff correspondent. He is best remembered in the Jewish community for his explosive front-page exposes in 1983 about the ill-fated American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust.
Chaired by former associate justice of the Supreme Court Arthur Goldberg, the commission brought together scholars and representatives of Jewish organizations, ostensibly to prepare an impartial review the American Jewish community’s response to news of the Holocaust. Instead, as Weinraub revealed, it fell apart, largely because some Jewish groups were not ready to acknowledge their predecessors’ failings.
Weinraub’s articles in 1983 stimulated some much-needed introspection among American Jews, and “The Accomplices” will help complete the process. There is no doubt that the American Jewish community’s view of its past has matured a great deal in recent decades. Most Jewish leaders today recognize the need to learn from, rather than attempt to deny, the mistakes that were made in the 1940’s. Those mistakes are addressed frankly, but soberly, in “The Accomplices.”
On one side of this drama stand President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the anti-Semitic Breckinridge Long, whom FDR put in charge of immigration affairs. The play shows how, with FDR’s approval, Long did everything possible to obstruct opportunities for rescue, and to keep the number of Jewish immigrants way below even what the restrictive immigration quotas allowed.
On the other side stands the American Jewish community – anguished over the suffering of Europe’s Jews but deeply divided as to how to respond. These divisions are exemplified through Rabbi Stephen Wise, the most prominent Jewish leader of the time, and Hillel Kook – better known as Peter Bergson – a maverick activist who led controversial protests against Roosevelt’s refugee policies.
Wise favored a cautious, low-key response to the news from Europe; Bergson led marches in Washington and sponsored full-page newspaper advertisements that rocked the Jewish community, Capitol Hill, and beyond.
Infusing the characters’ dialogue with their actual language, taken directly from historical documents, Weinraub succeeds in bringing these painful events to life.
Precisely because Weinraub strives to maintain historical accuracy, the story does not reflect well on FDR. That’s obvious from the play’s title. But then, one sometimes forgets that even at the time, Roosevelt was strongly criticized – including by some of his most loyal supporters – for his refusal to rescue Jewish refugees.
For example, a March 1943 editorial in the liberal political magazine The Nation declared: “You and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt. If we had behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent cowardly ones, the two million lying today in the earth of Poland … would be alive and safe. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and yet we did not lift a hand to do it…”
In a similar spirit, the editors of The New Republic wrote in May 1943: “If the Anglo-Saxon nations continue on their present course, we shall have connived with Hitler in one of the most terrible episodes of history… if we do not do what we can, our children’s children will blush for us a hundred years hence.”
During the first week of rehearsals, I was invited to brief the cast of “The Accomplices” about the historical issues and personalities they are portraying. As it turned out, they needed much less briefing than I would have expected. They had been reading David Wyman’s 1984 best-seller The Abandonment of the Jews, Stephen Wise’s autobiography, transcripts of interviews with Peter Bergson, and the diaries of Breckinridge Long. They are likely one of the best-informed casts of any historical drama in recent memory.
About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 14 books about the Holocaust, Zionism, and American Jewish history. His latest book is 'FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,' available from Amazon.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai
20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse
Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise
She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes
Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times
Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program
“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me
Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.
The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.
The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.
“…his neshamah reached out to us to have the zechus of Torah learning to take with him on his final journey.”
The gap isn’t between Israeli and American Jews-it’s between American Jews and the rest of the world
An estimated 1.5-million Jewish men/women served in US, British, Soviet & Allied armies in WWII
Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.
The long ordeal of the Armenian Orphan Rug, held hostage to fears of angering Turkey, has finally ended. Or has it?
Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”
With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria.
While grateful not to be returned to Germany, the passengers understood they were still in the middle of a danger zone.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/fdr-and-the-holocaust-on-stage/2007/03/21/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: