Preparations for the play's six-weekrun coincide with a burgeoning public interest in Bergson, and his small band of collaborators known as the Bergson Group. In addition to Mr. Weinraub's play, the group's wartime efforts will be the focus of a first-of-its-kind conference at Fordham Law School in June.
Mr. Weinraub's own fascination with Bergson, who was born "Hillel Kook" into a family of rabbinic scholars, goes back a quarter century. At that time, the playwright was reporting for the Times on a controversial television documentary about America's tepid response to the Holocaust. "Through the story, I became interested in the whole issue of American complicity — of what America did, and didn't do, and what Jews here did and did not do," Mr. Weinraub told The New York Sun.
He added: "People obviously didn't know the full scale of what was happening, but there was also a lot of shutting your eyes to the realities."
The Bergson Group did not flinch. It tirelessly pleaded its cause — lobbying Congress, taking out advertisements in the New York Times, organizing a rabbis march on Washington, and, with playwright Ben Hecht, producing a Madison Square Garden pageant dedicated to the Jews who were being murdered overseas.
Indeed, the group's work was an impetus for the Roosevelt administration to establish the War Refugee Board in January 1944. That board ultimately rescued 200,000 Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe. But with a Jewish body count of 6 million, the activists regarded their efforts as failed. "They never thought they accomplished much, and that their efforts were insignificant given the scale of what happened," Mr. Weinraub, who has interviewed some of the activists and their family members, said.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Bernard Weinraub's play about Peter Bergson, Ben Hecht and their work during WWII is profiled in today's New York Sun by Gabrielle Birkner, who neglects to mention the title of the controversial documentary in question (FYI, it's Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?):