|Bergson in 1940s & ’70s (VarianFry.org)|
The NY Jewish Week has posted my latest article, on a film and filmmaker dealing with the Holocaust-era controversy of the “Bergson Group” and whether American Jews were too passive. It begins with a discussion of the filmmaker’s background and how pre-State Zionist divisions and the politics of that time and ours enter into the controversy, including a word from J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami on how this should not have been the case:
Pierre Sauvage … owes his life to the good people of Le Chambon, France, who saved him as a child, along with many others, during the Holocaust. His 1989 film, Weapons of the Spirit, documents their story.
His new documentary, Not Idly By—Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust, is a searing indictment of the leadership of the American Jewish community during World War II as articulated by Hillel Kook, better known as Peter Bergson. Its 55 minutes interweave Bergson’s statements from two sources, Laurence Jarvik’s Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die (1982) and outtakes from Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985). …
Sauvage expressed surprise that a woman would come up to him after the debut screening last month at New York’s Center for Jewish History to praise him while simultaneously fulminating at “the traitors in J Street.” He “steers clear of the Mideast” conflict, having trouble “wrapping his head around” its complexities.
Nevertheless, the complexities of the Mideast do enter into this subject. Bergson came to the U.S. from Palestine in 1940. He and most of his closest colleagues were members of the Irgun, the “Revisionist” (right-wing) Zionist underground.
Among these was Jacob or Yitzhak Ben-Ami, the father of J Street’s founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami. In the recent posthumous publication of a memoir by Bergson’s colleague, Samuel Merlin (Millions of Jews to Rescue, published by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies), Jeremy Ben-Ami writes an afterword expressing pride in his father’s role in the Bergson Group. He argues that “All Jews from right to left should have been able to support [its rescue mission].” He also points out that most individuals recruited into the Bergson Group, such as Ben Hecht and Stella Adler, were liberals, augmented by varying degrees of support from such leftists as Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson. …
The entire article can be read at the Jewish Week’s website.