In February, 1980, Jack Eisner, Holocaust survivor, young fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto Jewish revolt (April-May 1943) and a businessman, told me about his plan to establish an American Jewish commission in order to research, expose and document the pattern of the American Jewish community during the Holocaust era. He discussed his idea with experts and historians. He even tried to ask Dr. Henry Kissinger to chair this commission.
Later he agreed to appoint the famous Arthur J. Goldberg as the chairman. He also involved Prof. Seymour Maxwell Finger of the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. as the commission's director. Eisner discussed the issue with the scholar Shmuel Merlin and was influenced by his suggestions. Eisner was the key personality in explaining the rise and fall of this commission. He was its grantor.
On September 20, 1981, Eisner's dream came true. The American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust was born. Arthur J. Goldberg was its chairman and his vice-chairmen were Hon. Jacob D. Javits, Hon. Abraham Ribicoff and Hon. Harrison J. Goldin. Many celebrities served on this commission. Each major American-Jewish organization or religious movement were represented. Many scholars were invited to participate in the discussions or were commissioned by the director, Seymour Finger, to conduct research or to prepare working papers. Later, by the way, Prof. Finger decided to publish documents and scholarly works in a blue paperback volume: "American Jewry During the Holocaust - A Report by the Research Director, his Staff and Independent Research Scholars - N.Y.C., March 1984." Among the members were Hon. Elizabeth Holtzman, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Hon. Philip Klutznick, Mrs. Charlotte Jacobson, Dr. Bruno Bettleheim, Dr. Martin Peretz, Judge Simon Rifkind, Rabbi Arthur Shneier, Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum and Mr. Sol Chaikin.
The American media and the New York Times reported on this new experiment.
Could anyone believe that the American Jewish establishment would face the terrible truth? Could they be moved to draw some conclusions beyond facing the reality of the Holocaust and the mushrooming of museums in the sacred name of "Remember! Do not Forget" or "Never Again!"?
The commission existed for only one year. It was a shameful failure. It was dead on arrival.
Officially it was dismantled on August 19, 1982 by a letter which was sent by Goldberg." It is with great regret that I must advise that the grantor has not made available the full grant which as promised...I see no alternative but to terminate the work of the commission," remarked Goldberg.
The commission was Eisner's (the grantor) brainchild. I saw him on October 26, 1982 in his Empire State Building office. Eisner, sadly, told me what happened inside the commission, behind the closed doors. "I hesitated about the time of this sort of commission, but Mr. Goldberg urged me to go ahead with this idea. He was sure that the American Jews had enough courage to assess their past and draw conclusions and guidelines for the future. So I agreed to finance the activities of this commission. But I am sure by now that American Jewry was not able to assess its past behavior. The timing was bad. I saw that the members of the commission were victimized by their egoistic-sensitive defense mechanism rather than by a deep wish to find the truth and draw conclusions. I will not give money so that they will whitewash the truth." Did someone really believe that in 1982 or the year 2000 Jews would publicly condemn themselves in front of a gentile society?
I also interviewed Prof. Finger, a noted U.N. history scholar in his C.U.N.Y. office in Manhattan. Finger told me: "We should expose the truth. We can learn from the past. Our goal was to issue a report based on purely academic research. We are not a court. We are not vindictive. In order to ease the tensions, we decided to include representatives of the Jewish organizations. Let them have a voice from within rather than from the outside. The commission had 35 members and an academic review board as well. There were hopes and illusions. In reality, the members turned out to be Trojan horses. Everyone was hyper-sensitive. Some people accused us of being Revisionist- Zabotinsky-Begin instruments looking toward blaming the Zionist-Labor establishment of the past for the silence of the American Jews during the Holocaust." The work of the commission was sabotaged from within. The commission simply disintegrated. The academic work has dragged on. Many Jewish archives have been closed to outsiders. The commission lost its direction and eclipsed. Cover up? Conspiracy of silence? Fear? From what? Finger told me: "I do not understand the fear of exposing the truth. People make mistakes. We are not God himself."
Since the 1980's we have faced a sudden Holocaust eruption - perhaps Holocaustism. For many years the Holocaust consciousness was only a marginal topic in the American Jewish life or education. Today the establishment is systematically responsible for a "Holocaust rush". Thanks to ex-presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, our Holocaust has become an American "Federal" National Memorial Day. We even have a new rich "Holocaust establishment" and "Holocaust industry". They say, "There is no show business like Shoa (Holocaust) business."
But we still have to answer the terrible questions. Let Arthur Goldberg explain as it was recorded in Prof. Finger's 1984 report. "American Jews were also victims of Nazism. Many lost mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters and other relatives. And all the Jews have suffered from the destruction of European Jewry. American Jewry, its leaders and organizations were not responsible for what occurred. The only relevant questions relating to American Jews at the time were: Did they have knowledge of what was happening and did they, or could they, have done something about it?"
Later Arthur J. Goldberg, before his death, published an article in "USA Today" in which he concluded that American Jews could have done something.
Arthur Goldberg, Prof. Finger and Shmuel Merlin believed (and Prof. Finger still believes) that Jews in America could have pressured as a "lobby" the F.D.R. administration. Indeed, one can define the record of America as the years of shame. This shame was detailed by the American scholar David S. Wyman in his masterpiece "The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945" (Pantheon Books, 1984) and also in his 1968 book, "Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938- 1941". Wyman's conclusion was that the U.S.A. could in reality have rescued millions o Jews. It simply refused and declined to do so. "The Nazis were the murderers but we were the too passive accomplices," wrote Wyman. It is easy for us to blame F.D.R.'s cruel administration, but there was one more side to the coin: the inaction of the American Jewish establishment. Furthermore, as we shall point out its conspiracy of silence in relation to those Jews who during the Holocaust era in America raised their voice or built a lobby and public opinion in order to rescue Jews or to try to limit the scope of the terrible genocide of the Jewish people.
The story of developing an opposition to the official silence and the inaction of the Jews, in general, is the story of a few Jews or "Palestinian Jews" who came to America in 1939 under the title of The Irgun's (Irgun Ztvai Leumi) delegation to the U.S.A., better known as "The Bergson Group" (because their commander was Peter Bergson or Hillel Kook who lives today in Kfar Smaraihu, Israel). The "boys" were Ariah Ben-Eliazer, Shmuel Merlin, Dr. Alexander Rafaeli (today living in Jerusalem), Itshaq Ben-Ami and Eri Jabotinsky. They were, of course, Revisionists and disciples of the famous Zionist leader Zeev Zabotinsky, who died in August, 1940 in New York. This political aspect of this "group" almost immediately conditioned opposition and hate coming from the establishment, the liberal Jews and, of course, from the socialist-Zionists who were influenced by leaders such as David Ben Gurion, Moshe Shertok or Golda Mayerson. Simply the "group" was excommunicated as a group of "untouchables".
The "group" was very active and effective. It based its popularity on gentiles. And its "secret weapon" was the famous writer Ben Hecht, who died in 1964. In short, the "group" used to establish "committees" as a public relations method of enlisting support: American Friends of Palestine (July, 1939), The Jewish Army Committee (December, 1941). It should be noted that Bergson was a wizard of organization and fund raising. Shmuel Merlin was the thinker. The "group" published a special weekly "The Answer". It had access to radio and television and it used all the means of the performing arts. In 1944, around 500,000 Americans, most of them gentiles, joined the "Bergson Group's" struggle for rescuing Jews and the establishment of a Jewish State in free Palestine. In May, 1944, the "group" established more tools: The Hebrew Committee of National Liberate with an "embassy" in Washington, D.C. (May, 1944) and The American League for Free Palestine (June, 1944). The "committees" were a strong powerful lobby for Jewish interests. Many famous Americans supported them, such as Senator Guy M. Gillete and Senator Edwin Jhonson. (See Appendix B - The Answer).
When the "group" learned about the Holocaust, it decided to focus only on the issue of rescue. It dedicated its power, money and energies to one goal: an outcry against the silence of America. A struggle against Roosevelt's passivity to the fate of the Jews, a struggle against the inaction of the Jewish establishment and developing what Ben Hecht defined as "the moral front". Hecht believed in a mobilization of the gentile public opinion. Americans should have pushed Congress and the White House to action. Hecht's slogan was "Action not Pity". The group launches two major steps: On March 9, 1943, Hecht (The Jewish Zola) produced in Madison Square Garden his pageant: "We Shall Never Die". 60,000 Americans saw in New York this outcry against the silence. This unique pageant later toured the country. The message of the "Bergson Group" reached all the corners of the country. The Jewish organizations could not stop this crusade because they did not develop their own alternative against the silence and for the rescue of Jews from Hell.
But the biggest contribution of this "Group to the struggle against the silence was the establishment in July, 1943, of The Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe. This committee turned into a council that managed to push Congress to pass an historical resolution on November 10, 1943: "Establishment of a commission to effectuate the rescue of the Jewish people of Europe" (H. Res. 350 and 352, 78th Con. 1st Sess).
On November 5, 1943, Hecht did manage to shock F.D.R. by publishing his smashing "My Uncle Abraham Reports..." By them, almost two million Jews were already murdered or gassed by the Nazis and their puppets. The public relations or "propaganda" of the "group" promoting, at least, an establishment of a Federal agency for rescuing Jews and refugees was so strong and effective that the White House gave in, although too late. On January 20, 1944, Roosevelt established, by an executive order, the agency called the War Refugee Board. It was a precedent. It did save tens of thousands of Jews. But it was only a little victory for the Bergson-Merlin-Hecht group. Six million perished. At least these people tried to save Jews. And they should be referred to as heroes. Sad to day, this "group" of "untouchables" has not yet received its full recognition by the Jewish people and the State of Israel. And they are still the step-children of the recent historiography. The full story, the full documentation of this Irgun's delegation still maintains the status of a missing chapter in the history of Jewish- Palestinian resistance to the silence of the bystanders in the free world during the Holocaust era. The tragedy of these fighters was the fact that they happened to be members of the Irgun. But it is a fact which they did demonstrate that Jews must always look for a new way to channel ideas for survival and never ever rely on others. Certainly, as Dr. Saul S. Friedman concluded in his superb article "The Power and- or Powerlessness of American Jews 1939-1945" that "American Jews were not powerless during the Holocaust, they were weak...They were a muscle, never fully flexed." And first of all: "...a shortage of self-sacrificing leadership," remarked Friedman.