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Not Idly By: Peter Bergson

Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust
Not Idly ByPeter Bergson, America and the Holocaust by Pierre Sauvage (58 min., Varian Fry Institute, 2017)


        Fresh Headlines From the Crypt: 'Bomb Auschwitz,' Says Golda; FDR: No Way, by J. J. Goldberg, Jewish Daily Forward, Sept. 5, 2011

Pierre Sauvage's response to the attack on the Bergson Group that is at the heart of this article:

Yes, Roosevelt was good for the Jews—the Jews of America. And yes, bringing a reluctant country into the war was a major Roosevelt accomplishment. And yes, to be sure, American Jews then did not have the power and self-confidence we acquired later.

But let's start by being candid about the American response—and the American Jewish response—to the massacre of the Jews of Europe: we here all have skin in the game. We are talking, after all, about what our families did and didn’t do during that long crisis. The widespread and persistent eagerness to assert that “we didn’t know” and “we couldn’t have done anything even if we had known” is one measure of how powerful the taboo continues to be about the unacknowledged American experience of the Holocaust. J. J. Goldberg's trivializing of the Bergson Group's amazing determination to get the word out and to do something about it strikes me as merely a new attempt to keep the taboos in place.

As Peter Bergson puts it my documentary Not Idly By—Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust, "We couldn't have stopped the Holocaust, we could have slowed the Holocaust, we could have made it an inefficient Holocaust. The people who made it efficient were the Allies who didn't interfere. And the people who didn't urge them to interfere were the Jews."

The fact is that we will never never know what might have been accomplished to rescue Jews in Europe since so little was attempted or even considered. For my part, I was born and sheltered in a tiny Christian area of France that defied the Nazis and turned itself into the very haven of refuge that America refused to be. My own life has thus taught me that collective will and action can be startlingly imaginative and dynamic even under the most trying circumstances: that where there's a will there is indeed often a way.

What the article also completely misses is that at this point, the discussion should be as much about us as it is about them. So many years later, are we at last willing to probe not only what happened here then, but our many evasions today about that experience? If we do not fully and forthrightly and without smugness acknowledge and dissect our share in past failures, are we not limiting our ability to act effectively in meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow?

       Belatedly Recognizing Heroes of the Holocaust, The New York Times, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011 (on the Bergson Group)

       Bergson Group Activists Recognized At Yad Vashem-Wyman Conference, The Jewish Press, July 27, 2011

       Historians Debate: Could More Jews Have Been Saved?, Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2011, on the Bergson Group conference at Yad Vashem on July 15 (excerpts from Not Idly By were shown)

US Holocaust Museum Launches Bergson Exhibit (Jerusalem Post, July 16, 2008)

    Peter Bergson (U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website)

    Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) at Wikipedia

    The Bergson Group vs. The Holocaust by Dr. Rafael Medoff (The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)

    The Bergson Group: A History in Photographs (The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies)   

    Michael Oren review of A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust

    Israeli petition to Yad Vashem (The David S. Wyman Institute)

    Peter Bergson obituary in the New York Times

    America and the HolocaustA Few Additional Suggestions

    Ten Propositions About America and the Holocaust by Pierre Sauvage (pending)


Essential books
A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust by David S. Wyman and Rafael Medoff (2002)
Millions of Jews To Rescue: A Bergson Group Leader's Account of the Campaign To Save Jews From the Holocaust
by Samuel Merlin, edited and annotated by Rafael Medoff
The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945
by David S. Wyman (1984)

Essential films
Not Idly ByPeter Bergson, America and the Holocaust by Pierre Sauvage (2017), Varian Fry Institute
Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?  by Laurence Jarvik (1982), available from Kino International

America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference  by Martin Ostrow (1994), available from PBS

Essential play
The Accomplices  by Bernard Weinraub, most recently produced in Los Angeles in 2008, Fountain Theatre

panel after The Accomplices, Aug 3, 2008: left to right, documentary filmmaker Pierre Sauvage, play director Deborah LaVine, playwright Bernard Weinraub,
Dr. Rebecca Kook (daughter of Peter Bergson), Nili Kook (widow of Peter Bergson), Steven Schub (actor, played Peter Bergson)

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