More than 100 Holocaust scholars and Jewish leaders--including top leaders of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism--have signed a petition urging the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to change its main exhibit so as to include acknowledgment of the 1940s Holocaust rescue activists known as the Bergson Group.
During the Holocaust years, some American Jewish leaders opposed the Bergson Group for being too forthright in its criticism of the Roosevelt administration's failure to rescue Jewish refugees. But in recent years, most Jewish leaders have come to recognize the Bergson Group's crucial contribution to the rescue effort.
The petition was organized by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and internationally-known Jewish leader Seymour Reich, who is president of the Israel Policy Forum and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The petition follows a recent public statement by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, at the Wyman Institute's national conference, urging the Museum to add the Bergson Group to its exhibits.
The 110 signatories on the Wyman petition include:
In recent months, there has been growing public interest in the work of the Bergson Group. U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a message to the Wyman Institute's recent national conference that she is "deeply proud" that her father, then-Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. "actively supported the Bergson Group in its campaigns to save Jews from the Holocaust and help establish the State of Israel."
The petition declares, in part:
"We urge the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to include the Bergson Group in its Permanent Exhibit. Doing so is important for the sake of historical accuracy. It is also important because the Bergson Group's work demonstrates the possibility of ordinary citizens taking action, through the democratic process, to bring about humanitarian action by the government. The American public, and especially young people, need to hear that message, which fits perfectly with the Museum's admirable focus on learning the lessons of the Holocaust and applying them today."
The Bergson Group, also known as the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, was a maverick activist group that raised public awareness of the Holocaust and campaigned for U.S. rescue action, through theatrical pageants, lobbying on Capitol Hill, placing more than two hundred full-page newspaper advertisements, and organizing a march in Washington by 400 rabbis (which was the only rally for rescue held in the nation's capitol during the Holocaust).
The Bergson Group also initiated a Congressional resolution in 1943, urging creation of a U.S. government rescue agency, which played an important role in bringing about the creation of the War Refugee Board. The Board helped rescue more than 200,000 Jews from the Holocaust in 1944-45, including future U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), current chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
The House of Representatives recently adopted a resolution, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), recognizing that the 1943 resolution helped bring about the creation of the War Refugee Board.