In the early 1940’s, Hillel Kook read the first accounts of the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews in the Washington Post. He abandoned his role as US organiser of the Irgun, took the alias Peter Bergson, and launched a sweeping campaign to pressure the Roosevelt administration to save the Jews of Europe. Still only in his twenties, Bergson teamed up with writer Ben Hecht to splash full-page advertisements in the New York Times, persuaded a young Marlon Brando and Edward G Robinson to appear in his pageant “We Will Never Die”, which drew a crowd of 40,000 to Madison Square Garden, and organised a march of Orthodox rabbis on the White House. Bergson was attacked by the American Jewish leadership, who argued that such ‘special pleading’ risked stoking antisemitism.
Using outtakes from Claude Lanzmann’s interviews with Bergson for his landmark film Shoah, and rare wartime footage, the documentary maker Pierre Sauvage has produced a powerful film on Bergson’s rescue efforts.
Bergson’s legacy – his relentless determination to follow a moral imperative – will be the springboard for the discussion which follows the film, exploring historical choices, and the contemporary resonances in the ethical challenges posed by our response to rising antisemitism and xenophobia today.
Pierre Sauvage will be joined by The Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, who also presents BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View; former Jewish Chronicle editor Ned Temko, and by the historian Laurel Leff, Associate Professor of Journalism and Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University, and author of the prize-winning book: Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
A drinks reception will follow the film screening and discussion.