Jewish, Jewish, Everywhere, & not a drop to drink
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Remembering the mission of a 'nuisance diplomat'
BY SHOSHANA KORDOVA
Friday, August 28, 2003
November, 1942: The New York Times reported on page 10 that Adolf
Hitler had begun a campaign to systematically annihilate all the Jews of
Europe, and that two million Jews had already been killed.
November, 1942: Hillel Kook, known in the United States as Peter
Bergson, began pounding on the doors of U.S. legislators, putting
advertisements in major newspapers and organizing a rabbis' march on
Washington to save the Jews of Europe -- despite the opposition of Jewish
leaders in America and mandatory Palestine.
January, 1944: U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave into
pressure to establish the War Refugee Board, responsible (according to the
Simon Wiesenthal Center).
First half of 1944: 500,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped to Auschwitz.
"The only activity of significance in attempts to save what could
still be saved of Europe's Jews was taken by Hillel Kook and his group",
said former foreign and defense minister Moshe Arens (Likud), who spoke on
Wednesday [August 27, 2003] at a memorial conference in Jerusalem sponsored
by the O.U. Israel Center and the Root & Branch Association. Kook, whose
yahrzeit [anniversary of his death] was this week, died in Israel on August
18, 2001, at the age of 86.
But Kook's success in saving European Jews was mitigated by the
failure of Jewish and non-Jewish leaders to respond to his pleas early
enough to have saved even more. The antagonism between Kook and Jewish
leaders in America and in the yishuv [the pre-state Jewish community in
Palestine] was partly due to American fear of calling too much attention to
the Jews and partly due to his close association with Ze'ev Jabotinsky and
the underground Etzel movement [Irgun Zvai Leumi, "the National Military
"Too much in awe of President Franklin Roosevelt, in fear of being
accused of interfering with the war effort, twoo hesitant and hidebound,
[American Jewish leaders'] feeble efforts to get the Allies to take action
to stop the murder of Europe's Jews was completely ineffective", said Arens.
Kook himself, who was the nephew of the first chief rabbi of
pre-state Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook, had much difficulty understanding the
Jewish communal fear of linking Jews with the war.
"Who will say it's the 'Jewish war? Hitler?" Kook responded to an
interview question in a 1978 movie called "Who will live and who will die"
that was screened at the commemoration conference. "The people who were
afraid of the 'Jewish war' were the Jews, then and today. Wasn't it one
war, or was Hitler's war against the Jews something outside the pale of
Kook, was was born in Lithuania in 1915 and immigrated to
Palestine with his family at the age of 10, worked as an Etzel emissary
bringing Jews from Europe to Palestine before moving to the United States
in 1940. Once in the U.S., Kook agitated for the creation of a Jewish army
to fight the Germans, hoping that the military training would later serve
the Jews in fighting for their own state. But when Kook found out about
Hitler's extermination plans, his Committee for a Jewish Army became a
committee to rescue the Jews of Europe, and he lobbied legislators to
ultimately convince the Roosevelt administration to create the War Refugee
Kook appeared dissatisfied with the extent of his accomplishments,
thinking instead of all he could have done if Jewish and American leaders
had been willing to act earlier.
"The Jews [as a whole] couldn't have been saved", even if Jewish
leaders took up Kook's call to aid their release as soon as he found out
about the extermination plan, Kook said in the movie. "But could many,
maybe even most of the surviving Jews of Europe of November 1942 have been
saved? In my opinion, definitely yes".
"It haunts me", said Kook. "This is my conviction, and I wish I
didn't have it".
An article published in the New York Jewish weekly The Forward
reviewing a book called "A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America and
the Holocaust", by David S. Wyman and Rafael Medoff, indicated that Kook's
affiliation with Jabotinsky had an effect on Jewish leaders' disenchantment
with him: "The campaign aroused intense hostility among the mainstream
Jewish leaders of the day, headed by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who regarded
Bergson as a hothead likely to provoke a public and governmentel
backlash. In important way the hostility was an extension of the
often-violent feud between Wise's allies in the world Zionist movement,
Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, and Bergson's mentor, the right-wing
Zionist opposition leader Vladimir [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky".
Indeed, Hillel Kook's daughter Becky, 44, said at Wednesday's
conference that her father has yet to be sufficiently recognized by Israel,
and that she never studied her father's role in the Holocaust while taking
history classes in Israeli schools. In her father's case, "politics and
pettiness triumphed over courage and truth", said Becky Kook, a political
science professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Nonetheless, history's silence in the face of Hillel Kook's
activism was "not really a source of bitterness" for him, his daughter said.
"For my father, the past was only as important as the lessons we
learned from it for the present or for the future", Beck Kook said. From
the stories Hillel Kook told about his life, his daughter learned that it
is necessary to speak up and protest wrongdoing. "Being a 'nuisance
diplomat', as my father was often called, is always the moral option".
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