Dov Peretz Elkins has written an important book for young people. It is the heartbreaking story of a neglected Jewish hero, Peter Bergson (born Hillel Kook), and his desperate efforts to rally the United States government and people to make a significant attempt to save Jews from the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ exterminations program which engulfed European Jewry.
The apathy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Administration, and unwillingness to act is vividly portrayed. The shocking indifference of mainstream American Jewish organizations and the callous policies of not rocking the boat pursued by Rabbi Stephen Wise are exposed. The spiteful attacks on Bergson and his various organizations and their allies by do-nothing organizations are ever more devastating to read.
Elkins describes the one success of all the rescue efforts – the appointment of a War Refugee Board which saved as many as 200,000 Jewish lives. One could argue that Elkins gives all the credit to Bergson and that Secretary of Treasury Morgenthau and his team’s role is downplayed. But this would be nitpicking. All in all, this book is an important moral contribution. It pays a long overdue debt to Peter Bergson, to history and to memory. Tragically it makes clear that human failures enabled the Nazis to operate with little resistance from America (as from the Allies and bystanders in Europe.) This book deserves a wide readership.
Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg
Dr. Greenberg served as Executive Director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, which recommended the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and later as chairman of USHMM (2000-2002).
Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) was among the first Jews in America to internalize the idea that the Germans were implementing the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, murdering Jewish men, women and children throughout German-occupied Europe. He understood that this was not a time for business as usual and he raised a ruckus, pulling out all the stops to call attention to the plight of the Jews and to plead for rescue. He organized, he publicized, he cajoled, he yelled, he planned, and he tried idea after idea.
History has vindicated his radicalism, his activism, and his boldness. Dov Peretz Elkins has made an important contribution in bringing Bergson to life, portraying him for a new generation, where he can become a model, an inspiration.
Dr. Michael Berenbaum
Professor of Jewish Studies
Director of Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust.
American Jewish University, Los Angeles, CA