March 18, 2008

Hillel Kook (1915-2001)

HILLEL KOOK (1915-2001), a.k.a. Peter Bergson and nephew of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook was a disciple of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and an commander in the Irgun in Palestine.

Initially, Kook was sent to the United States at Jabotinsky's behest to lobby for the creation of a Jewish Army to fight in World War II. He did this and raised funds for the Irgun in Palestine. To do so he took on the more American name of Peter Bergson. He and his colleagues are therefore known as the Bergson Group.

Soon after Jabotinsky died, and the Revisionist movement was left leaderless, the German slaughter of European Jewry became public. Kook then focussed his activities on advocating for rescue of European Jewry.

Mainstream Jewish and Zionist leaders, particularly President of the Zionist Organization and Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise oppossed Kook. Weiss even testified against Kook's cause in Congressional hearings.

Kook found allies in Christian leaders, Orthodox Jews and the Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht.

The Bergson Group took out full page advertisements in The New York Times and other newspapers, calling on the U.S. to intervene, signed by Senators and Cognressmen and other leaders. Another notable tactic, was the Rabbis March in Washingon, which the Group organized.

When the Senate took up the issue based on the Bergson Group's agitation, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau used the oppurtunity to force President Roosevelt to take action.

Morgenthau threatened to release a report on the complicity of the U.S. government in the slaughter, during the Senate debates. Roosevelt relented and created the War Refugee Board which funded and organized operations which saved over 200,000 Jews from Europe.

After the establishment of the State Kook served in the first Knesset as a member of Herut.

Further Reading:
Knesset Profile on Hillel Kook
U.S. Holocaust Muesum: Holocaust Encyclopedia entry on Kook
Militant Zionism in America by Rafael Medoff
Race Against Death by David Wyman and Rafael Medoff