“Make way for the rabbis.” It was probably the first time the station master at
's Union Station had shouted these words. But the crowd before him was unlike any ever seen in the nation's capital. Four hundred rabbis converged on Union Station two days before Yom Kippur, 1943, in a stirring display of unity to rescue Jews from Nazi extermination. Washington, D.C.
The march was the brainchild of 33-year-old Hillel Kook (b. 1910), a Jerusalem-born nephew of Abraham Isaac Kook, former chief rabbi ofJewish Virtual Library
Palestine, who arrived in the in 1940. For reasons known only to him, once here, Kook took the Americanized name Peter Bergson. Purchasing full-page ads in American newspapers criticizing British limitations on the number of Jews who could emigrate to United States Palestine, then under British rule, and pleading for Allied action to rescue European Jewry, Bergson and his associates known as the Bergson Group - used the mass media to rouse public interest and influence the Rooseveltadministration to intervene against Hitler. Most provocatively, Bergson called for the formation of an international Jewish army, which would fight under Allied auspices to liberate European Jewry
Gaining access to the Orthodox rabbinical leadership was no simple task for the uninitiated. The elders of the Orthodox community in the 1940s were mostly European-born Talmudic scholars who spoke little English and were generally unfamiliar with the political ways of the
New Worldto which they had emigrated. Few were accustomed to receiving national press coverage. But Bergson and his associates used their fluent Yiddish and Bergson's family connections to win the trust of rabbis in the Hasidic and general Orthodox communities.
It states that Peter Bergson did not reveal the reasons for his name change, and I have to wonder if it was a form of code switching a topic we're talking about now. It is notable that he sought support for his initiatives within the immigrant class of Jewry at the time in that there was a tension happening that is similar to what is going on in the greater conversation on race around Trayvon Martin. People among the more established portion of American Jews held great apprehension that the efforts to fight for increased Jewish immigration would ignite greater anti Semitism in
In his diary, presidential aide William D. Hassett noted that Rosenman "said the group behind this petition [is] not representative of the most thoughtful elements in Jewry. Judge Rosenman said he had tried--admittedly without success--to keep the horde from storming
Washington. Said the leading Jews of his acquaintance opposed this march on the Capitol." Rosenman reportedly characterized them as "a group of rabbis who just recently left the darkest period of the medieval world." Wise condemned "the orthodox rabbinical parade" as a "painful and even lamentable exhibition." He derided the organizers as "stuntists" and accused them of offending "the dignity of [the Jewish] people." Rooseveltdecided to leave the White House through a rear exit.
Wyman Institute Special on the Rabbi's March
The problem was not only the advice that prominent Jews gave FDR; it was also that the pleas for rescue clashed with the administration's entire approach to the plight of European Jewry. During the 1930s,
Roosevelthad barely said a word about Hitler's persecution of German Jews. He refused to consider taking any diplomatic or economic steps to pressure Germanyon the Jewish issue. Not only did he reject appeals to liberalize America's strict immigration quotas, but his administration implemented such cumbersome procedures for immigration visas --procedures described by David Wyman as "Paper Walls" in his book of that name-- that only a small portion of the quotas were used each year.
The march garnered much media attention, much of it focused on what was seen as the cold and insulting dismissal of many important community leaders, as well as the people inHow Times Reported Rabbis March
Europethey were fighting for. The headline in the Washington Times Herald was, "Rabbis Report 'Cold Welcome' at the White House." Editors of the Jewish Daily Forward commented, "Would a similar delegation of 500 Catholic priests have been thus treated?"
The embarrassing publicity from the hearings opened the door to Morgenthau's pressure on the president. With the rescue resolution already having passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Morgenthau bluntly told FDR that "you have either got to move very fast, or the Congress of the
United Stateswill do it for you." Ten months before election day, the last thing FDR wanted was an embarrassing public scandal over the refugee issue. Within days, Roosevelt did what the Congressional resolution sought--he issued an executive order creating the War Refugee Board, a U.S.government agency to rescue refugees from Hitler.
Wyman Institute Special on the Rabbi's March
During the final fifteen months of World War II, the Board played a crucial role in saving the lives of some 200,000 Jews. Approximately 15,000 were evacuated from Axis territory (as were more than 20,000 non-Jews). At least 10,000, and probably additional thousands, were protected within Axis Europe by Board-financed underground efforts and by the board's steps to safeguard holders of Latin American passports. The Board's diplomatic pressures, backed by its program of psychological warfare, were instrumental in bringing about the transfer of some 48,000 Jews in Transnistria to safe areas of
We as Black Americans are in no way facing an imminent genocide, and I feel kind of funny for having to say I don't find our plight the same as European Jews like it should go without saying, but I try to be as respectful as I possibly can when using other peoples experiences to illustrate mine. We are in need for others to see us however and I hoped to show how a minority even within a minority was able to become visible.