Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, American and the Holocaust

Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, American and the Holocaust

by David S. Wyman, Rafael Medoff
     
 

In his landmark bestseller, The Abandonment of the Jews, David Wyman exhaustively detailed America’s failure to help rescue the victims of Nazi genocide. But one man, Peter Bergson, led a tireless battle against that tide of indifference, making it impossible for American leaders to plead ignorance of the German atrocities. Now, Wyman, along with

Overview


In his landmark bestseller, The Abandonment of the Jews, David Wyman exhaustively detailed America’s failure to help rescue the victims of Nazi genocide. But one man, Peter Bergson, led a tireless battle against that tide of indifference, making it impossible for American leaders to plead ignorance of the German atrocities. Now, Wyman, along with Rafael Medoff, tells for the first time the story of the man who led America’s most effective campaign to rescue victims of the Holocaust.

A Race Against Death utilizes extensive firsthand interviews to present Peter Bergson’s own account of his remarkable life and struggles. Facing deportation from America and threats on his life, Bergson employed every conceivable method to influence policy and public opinion: he personally hounded Congressmen to support a rescue; placed controversial full-page ads in major newspapers demanding action; and drew a record crowd of 40,000 to a rally and memorial pageant at Madison Square Garden.

Award-winning historian David Wyman is the definitive authority on America’s action—and inaction—during the Holocaust. In A Race Against Death, he and Rafael Medoff return to this tragic era in American history and chronicle one of its few heroes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is a chilling account of U.S. indifference to the plight of European Jews during WWII, of how government officials not only failed to act but thwarted the efforts of those who tried. Had Peter Bergson, representing Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionists in America, received government support for his plans to rescue Hitler's Jewish victims, many more might have been saved and his name might have been as well known as those of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg. But as Wyman (The Destruction of the Jews) and Medoff (The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust) make clear in this simple but potent volume, Bergson's dogged efforts-advertisements in the New York Times, lobbying in Washington, a star-studded pageant called "We Will Never Die" that toured the country-were crippled in large part not only by Roosevelt's administration but by the leaders of the established American Jewish community. The latter were threatened by the Lithuanian-born, Palestine-raised Bergson's tactics and by his ties to what was considered a radical wing of the Zionist movement. What makes this book an ideal companion to Wyman's seminal Abandonment of the Jews (1984) is a transcript of a 12-hour interview he conducted with Bergson as part of his research for that volume. Much-needed context is added by interviews with other players, as well as fascinating letters and papers, including a scathing indictment of the Roosevelt administration's inaction by a Treasury Department official. (Nov. 7) Forecast: Readers interested in America's response to the Holocaust will find this an indispensable addition to their collection. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Throughout WWII, it seems, the last thing the US government wanted to hear about was the plight of Europe's Jews. That we were made to listen, this study suggests, owes much to the tireless efforts of one man who is little remembered today. In 1940, a Lithuania-born Palestinian Jew named Hillel Kook, an organizer for the nationalist Irgun organization, arrived in New York and immediately set about lobbying the American government and Jewish leadership to take up the Zionist cause as their own. Changing his name to Peter Bergson, he first confined his activities to raising funds and public awareness for a project to relocate European Jews to Palestine, which met with considerable resistance in this country in part because the government did not wish to alienate the Arab nations and threaten supplies of oil essential to the war effort. He eventually found powerful backers in Eleanor Roosevelt, Florida congressman Claude Pepper, and Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Wyman (History Emeritus/Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; The Abandonment of the Jews, not reviewed) and Medoff (associate editor of the journal American Jewish History) offer a thoughtful essay discussing Bergson's work and its fruition in turning an indifferent government's attention toward Jewish affairs (though not without cost, as they write, for more than one beleaguered official threatened Bergson with deportation). The authors, however, focus mostly on transcripts from interviews that Wyman conducted with Bergson in 1973. In them, Bergson talks unguardedly about the opposition he met from officials and anti-Zionist American Jews-and about some of the unlikely allies he found, such as the reputedly anti-Semitic publisherWilliam Randolph Hearst. ("I mean, Nixon isn't as hated as Hearst was then. What right did we have to decide who would save the Jews? For God's sake, we would go to anybody.") Though highly partial, these interviews will be of much interest to scholars with a background in the period, although general readers may find themselves lost in the absence of annotation. Nonetheless, a useful addition to the literature of the Holocaust.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565847613
Publisher:
New Press, The
Publication date:
11/07/2002
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.44(h) x 1.14(d)

Meet the Author


Author of the bestselling Abandonment of the Jews, David Wyman is a special adviser to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Rafael Medoff is a visiting scholar in the Jewish Studies program at the State University of New York at Purchase and author of The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust.

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