Making "Peter Bergson:" Historical Memory and a Forgotten Holocaust Hero Open Access
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The work of Revisionist Zionist Hillel Kook, alias Peter Bergson, and his followers, known as the Bergsonites, was instrumental in alerting American public awareness to the horrors of the Holocaust. By the end of 1943 the Bergsonites generated enough congressional support for a resolution to create a government agency to rescue European Jews. Not wanting to appear forced into saving the persecuted, President Franklin Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board (WRB) in January 1944 to pre-empt the congressional resolution. The WRB was subsequently credited with saving as many as 200,000 European Jews. It is therefore possible to trace the creation of the WRB to the Bergonsites and to give them credit for rescuing these Jews. Given this remarkable feat, how is it that the legacy of the Bergsonites has until recently remained largely unknown? It is the contention of this thesis that there are four related closely factors that have influenced historical memory and scholarship on Peter Bergson and his followers. The first and most important factor is the work of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which since its creation in 2003 has sought to insert memory of Peter Bergson into a broader narrative of Holocaust history. The second factor is the contentious relations between the Bergsonites and the American Jewish establishment, mirroring a lasting split between Zionists and Revisionist Zionists that carried on independently of and well beyond the Holocaust. The third factor is that in refocusing their efforts in Israel the Bergsonites neglected to preserve their work for posterity, while their opponents were able to create both a competing narrative and a paper trail to support it. Finally, the fourth factor is a generational shift amongst historians and in American Judaism from victim/outsider to activist/insider status that parallels a rise in scholarship of Peter Bergson.