by Hillel Fendel

The family of Hillel Kook – known in the United States as Peter Bergson – has asked Yad Vashem to recognize his public actions and campaign against the Nazis during World War II. These include a Rabbis’ March on the White House demanding action to save Europe’s Jews.

Nearly a year ago, the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. agreed to recognize the activities of the Bergson group, also known as the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe.

Kook’s family presented Yad Vashem with a petition signed by 100 public figures, including MKs Ophir Paz-Pines and Yossi Beilin, as well as former Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar. Yad Vashem, however, has responded coldly thus far, saying, “The work of the group headed by Hillel Kook is well-known, but Yad Vashem does not plan its museum exhibits based on pressure and petitions.”
The march was the only protest demonstration calling for Holocaust rescue activities ever held in Washington during World War II.

A book published in 2002 by David S. Wyman and Rafael Medoff entitled “A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust,” showed that it was Bergson and his colleagues who goaded and shamed the Roosevelt administration into finally establishing the War Refugee Board – which helped save more than 200,000 lives during the final 18 months of World War II.

Background

Kook, son of Afula’s first Chief Rabbi, Dov Kook, and a nephew of the famed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, was a Knesset Member in the 1st Knesset, in Menachem Begin’s Herut party.
Among his prominent activities designed to raise real-time awareness of the Holocaust massacres was a massive march by 400 Orthodox rabbis on the White House in 1943, demanding U.S. Government action to save Jews from Hitler. The march was the only protest demonstration calling for Holocaust rescue activities ever held in Washington during World War II.
In pre-Israel Palestine in the 1930’s and 40’s, Kook was one of the young commanders of the Etzel organization, which conducted a policy of actively reacting to Arab attacks, as opposed to the Haganah-led restraint that was prevalent in that period. When the Holocaust started, Kook went to the U.S. on behalf of Etzel in an attempt to save Jews. His efforts to convince the Jewish and governmental establishments that the tragedy in Europe was much greater than was being reported began to bear fruit only around 1944.

Hillel Kook died in 2001 at the age of 86.