Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise fought against the Bergson group which tried desperately to push American Jews to help European Jews caught in the Nazi death grip.

The group began by raising money for illegal Jewish immigration to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine and promoting the idea of an army composed of stateless and Palestinian Jews. But the mission abruptly changed in November 1942 after reports of the Nazi annihilation of two million European Jews emerged. Like earlier reports of the mass killing of Jews, the news barely made the inside pages of major American newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The Bergsonites were appalled by what they saw as the indifference of the Roosevelt administration and the passivity of the Jewish establishment, which staunchly supported the administration and largely accepted its argument that the primary American military objective was to win the war, not to save European Jews. The group embarked on a provocative campaign to publicize the genocide and to lobby Congress to support the rescue of Jews, roaming the hallways of Capitol Hill and knocking on doors, displaying a degree of chutzpah that made the traditional, pro-Roosevelt Jewish establishment uncomfortable.

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Uncomfortable?

The establishment, led by Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, fought Kook’s group tooth and nail. Writer Ben Hecht, recruited by Kook to stage a huge pageant in Madison Square Garden in March 1943 (“We will never die”) to raise awareness and embarrass the government into action, described one encounter:

I first became aware that there was annoyance with me among the Jews when Rabbi Stephen Wise, head of the Jews of New York, head of the Zionists and, as I knew from reading the papers, head of almost everything noble in American Jewry, telephoned me at the Algonquin Hotel where I had pitched my Hebrew tent.

Rabbi Wise said he would like to see me immediately in his rectory. His voice, which was sonorous and impressive, irritated me. I had never known a man with a sonorous and impressive voice who wasn’t either a con man or a bad actor. I explained I was very busy and unable to step out of my hotel.

“Then I shall tell you now, over the telephone, what I had hoped to tell you in my study,” said Rabbi Wise. “I have read your pageant script and I disapprove of it. I must ask you to cancel this pageant and discontinue all your further activities in behalf of the Jews. If you wish hereafter to work for the Jewish Cause, you will please consult me and let me advise you.”

Wise was a confidant of Roosevelt, and tried to use his influence to get the British to allow European Jews to enter Palestine, with no success. He was even unable to get Roosevelt to publicly speak out on the subject. According to Hecht, Kook told him that

The United States has a secret pact with Great Britain concerning the future of Palestine. It is intended to belong to the British. President Roosevelt will do nothing to violate that pact. He will not speak of Jews being massacred because that might excite popular opinion to rescue them–and result in their being sent to Palestine as a haven, which would be a violation of this pact [in December 1942, Roosevelt and allied governments did finally issue a declaration denouncing Hitler’s murderous project, but no concrete actions were taken — ed.].

When Kook organized a march of 400 mostly Orthodox Rabbis (but including Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, z”l, who had been ordained as a Conservative rabbi some months before) to the White House, Roosevelt left before they arrived, on the advice of Wise and others.

In Louis Rappaport’s words (“Shake Heaven and Earth: Peter Bergson and the struggle to rescue the Jews of Europe,” p. xi),

During the era, Zionist leaders like Rabbi Wise and Nahum Goldmann told the State Department that Kook/Bergson was as big a threat as Hitler to the well-being of American Jewry.

Wise did his best, in the tradition of the medieval ghetto community leader who protects his people by virtue of his relationship with the goyische prince, but he failed utterly. And then he did his best to sabotage the more aggressive, public efforts of Kook. His publicly stated reason was that he feared that Kook’s actions (which included criticism of Christians who did not intervene) would stimulate an antisemitic reaction in the US.

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Vic Rosenthal created FresnoZionism.org to provide a forum for publishing and discussing issues about Israel and the Mideast conflict, especially where there is a local connection. Rosenthal believes that America’s interests are best served by supporting the democratic state of Israel, the front line in the struggle between Western civilization and radical Islam. The viewpoint is not intended to be liberal or conservative — just pro-Israel.

53 COMMENTS

  1. I am less than thrilled with your accusation here. Just because one is Liberal means he is anti-Zionist? Just because I do not vote for the Tea Party-who seeks to make the USA a Christian nation-does not mean I am anti-Zionist. It means I hate the idea of the Tra Party always voting to discriminate against Jews, Gays, and the disabled-those who were killed during the Shoah…in case YOU have forgotten.

  2. C Itai, JStreet lobbies congress and organizes protest AGAINST Israel. That makes it an anti-Israel organization. The Reform movement openly supports J-Street, and the head of the movement, rabbi Rick Jacobs is a J-Street member.

    We are not calling them ant-Zionist because they are left wing, we are calling them anti-Zionists because there actions and words are AGAINST Israel.

  3. Then explain why the comment states ‘Liberals’ as anti-Zionists. It sickens me that you can use the Yom HaShoah as a political Republican push.
    You called Liberals anti-Zionists. Well, we aren’t.
    Some Liberals just hate Republicans pushing Christianity and hate down our throats.

  4. Maybe we should not use the word Liberal to describe Reform Judaism. It leads us to think you support the Christian Republican Right wing, which seeks to rid the world of Judaism and any religion besides Christianity. You do realize they ‘love’ Israel but in reality only seek to convert it to Jesus, their messiah? It sickens me that anyone would support them in ridding the world of Judaism in the name of love. Hate and discrimination is all the right wing knows. Sad that we attack fellow Jews rather than standing against oppression.

  5. My grandparents, father and uncle were members of the Bergson Group. They also were gun runners in Israel’s War of Independence. They smuggled guns and parts to Israel in wooden crates marked as farm equipment and tractor parts. I remember my father saying that some of the Jew’s worst enemies were other Jews. Not much has changed. ………. Many of us still act and react with Ghetto Jew Mentalities, and that is something we must get rid of. The ancient Hebrew warrior that resides within the soul of every Jew must rise and our people must act from that place of boldness and direct strength of mind and purpose. HaShem made us “stiff necked” for a reason- and it was NOT to bow down to others, nor was it to lower ourselves to their ways. It was to survive and thrive as JEWS -despite the best efforts among the worst of them to wipe us off the face of this earth. The fact is, the nations hate us because we refuse to give up who we are to become like them. And “Rabbis” like Wise, and those who follow the Ghetto Jew Mentality, will only get Jews killed.

  6. Possibly just another liberal , liberal who does not know what she is talking about . When one of your own ,refused to answer Golda Meir’s urgent plea for arms , planes and tanks to defend themselves from ALL THE ARAB countries around them in the 1967 war , it was the Republican President who she called after the then Secretary of State , Henry Kissinger refused her cries , who sent her everything she asked for and ALL THE ARAB COUNTRIES around them were SOUNDLY BEATEN !!! I cannot recall his name at this time but it is reported that he said,” Let the Isralies bleed a little .” His name was Henry Kissinger , and by the way, that Republican President was none other than Richard M. Nixon ! Go to the library and read a little, knowledge goes a long , long way !!! Shalom

  7. I hate the Tea Party and I support Israel. The Tea Party would prefer it if I went away or died. I’m stubborn and I’m not going away. And it’s the republicans trying to do away with Social Security and Medicare which would kill me. My Eyes are wide open. I don’t like Obama or Kerry. My Eyes are Open enough to know that anyone who dares judge my Jewishness is going to be blocked and exorcised from my Life. I won’t tolerate that from anyone. Not NOW or EVER. Think before you type. I did.

  8. It’t not blaming any set of Jews for the Shoah. However, it is a fact, that the Reform movement then (and its leader rabbi Stephen Wise) was against saving Jews. Similarly, the current head of the Reform movement, rabbi Rick Jacobs belongs to a group that lobbies congress and protests AGAINST Israel.

  9. I will support and never divide Jerusalem, because it’s your only land when bad times comes, you have a land where to be in Peace! I hope not but in case the situation in USA gets worse and discriminates Jews, then you have a land where to be and go. DON’T BE FOOL! It’s the LAND that ADONAI ELOCHIM Promised to our Father Avraham, in case you forgot, Read your Jewish History and your Torah and Tanach! If a Jew is anti-Zionist, he or she is AGAINST HASHEM and HIS plans! PERIOD. MAY HASHEM BLESS US ALL!

  10. I will support and never divide Jerusalem, because it's your only land when bad times comes, you have a land where to be in Peace! I hope not but in case the situation in USA gets worse and discriminates Jews, then you have a land where to be and go. DON'T BE FOOL! It's the LAND that ADONAI ELOCHIM Promised to our Father Avraham, in case you forgot, Read your Jewish History and your Torah and Tanach! If a Jew is anti-Zionist, he or she is AGAINST HASHEM and HIS plans! PERIOD. MAY HASHEM BLESS US ALL!

  11. Thank you for this brilliant article. The same scenario all over again, Jews against Jews. So sad…
    The comments here contain discussions about Liberals, Reformers, Democrats, Republicans, ……
    What does it have to do with the annihilation of Jews during World War II, does it matter? What matters is , that the American Jewish leaders – influential Rabbis, betrayed their European brethren and it is happening again. Yes, now it’s Leftists (Sorros and others Jews) who support boycott, and other dire actions against Israel. These enemies of Israel create numerous new organizations (J Street etc.) in order to incite young Liberal Jews , who are badly educated, do not know history of Israel , did not experience anti-Semitism, and were raised comfortably in the US at the absence of war, to promote their agenda. This is an old “revolutionary” scenario, which is now under successful implementation here in US – Jews have always been a useful tool in any revolution. American Jews do not want to know that their comfort here is not forever, they are not immune from slaughter (remember relaxed German Jews?). This time, with the “redistribution” and Islamisation of the US, very soon the American Jewry will feel what the anti-Semitism is, just watch many youtube videos. I am not writing all this for J Street people, who are probably paid for, or simply dumb. I am writing it for those few who can hear, because I came from there, from Europe, and I know what I am talking about. The understanding of Jewish Mission, having a Jewish soul, is not equal to being, or called, a Jew. At the end only 1 of 5 Jews left Egypt with Moses, as we know from Torah. This few will safe Israel, despite all obstacles, all this miserable howl, but it is so terribly sad to watch this repeating betrayal…

  12. I truly don’t understand why the Haredim don’t want to fight our work? Our ancestors all did, In fact the Jews of Elephantine, an area of Egypt, were mercenaries, hired by Egypt, and they and a large synagogue there.

  13. Thank you for this brilliant article. The same scenario all over again, Jews against Jews. So sad…
    The comments here contain discussions about Liberals, Reformers, Democrats, Republicans, ……
    What does it have to do with the annihilation of Jews during World War II, does it matter? What matters is , that the American Jewish leaders – influential Rabbis, betrayed their European brethren and it is happening again. Yes, now it’s Leftists (Sorros and others Jews) who support boycott, and other dire actions against Israel. These enemies of Israel create numerous new organizations (J Street etc.) in order to incite young Liberal Jews , who are badly educated, do not know history of Israel , did not experience anti-Semitism, and were raised comfortably in the US at the absence of war, to promote their agenda. This is an old “revolutionary” scenario, which is now under successful implementation here in US – Jews have always been a useful tool in any revolution. American Jews do not want to know that their comfort here is not forever, they are not immune from slaughter (remember relaxed German Jews?). This time, with the “redistribution” and Islamisation of the US, very soon the American Jewry will feel what the anti-Semitism is, just watch many youtube videos. I am not writing all this for J Street people, who are probably paid for, or simply dumb. I am writing it for those few who can hear, because I came from there, from Europe, and I know what I am talking about. The understanding of Jewish Mission, having a Jewish soul, is not equal to being, or called, a Jew. At the end only 1 of 5 Jews left Egypt with Moses, as we know from Torah. This few will safe Israel, despite all obstacles, all this miserable howl, but it is so terribly sad to watch this repeating betrayal…

  14. Well said Robbie!
    Although, sometimes I have this little feeling that our “liberal” Jewish brothers are not just simply idiots. I think they have business interests in the Muslim world and that is more important to them than the life of a few million fellow Jews.

  15. Well said Robbie!
    Although, sometimes I have this little feeling that our "liberal" Jewish brothers are not just simply idiots. I think they have business interests in the Muslim world and that is more important to them than the life of a few million fellow Jews.

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