Department of State Memorandum of Conversation Confidential

 

Date: May 19, 1944

Subject: Attitude of Zionists Toward Peter Bergson

 

Participants: Dr. Nahum Goldmann, Chairman of the Administrative Committee of the World Jewish Congress; Mr. Murray, NEA; Mr. Alling, NEA; Mr. Merriam, NE; Mr. Wilson, NE

 

Copies to: Jerusalem, VD, WRB (Mr. Warren) and Justice (Mr. Nemzer)

 

In the course of a discussion today on Zionist affairs, Dr. Goldmann referred to the accounts appearing in the press of the establishment of a "Hebrew Embassy" by the "Hebrew Committee of National Liberation" under the aegis of Peter Bergson. Dr. Goldmann gave Mr. Murray a copy of the statement which the Zionists had issued to the press in this connection. He said that the activities of Bergson and his colleagues had been a matter of the greatest concern to the official Zionist leadership and that it distressed him to see Bergson received in high places and given facilities by this Government. The entire matter, he said, was a gigantic hoax which Bergson and his group were perpetrating on the more guileless members of the Jewish community, and he drew particular attention in this connection to the fact that Bergson's committees are especially active in Chicago and Los Angeles. In other words, Dr. Goldmann said, the chief support of this group came from persons who had a less close connection with or knowledge of international affairs or of the Palestine problem, and this was true of non-Jews as well as Jews. He asserted that Bergson's activities had not resulted in the rescue of one single Jew or in the saving of a single Jewish life, and he said that now that the War Refugee Board had been established and had absorbed a great deal of the rescue work, Bergson and his associates had developed this "fantastic notion" that they were a government-in-exile, representing the stateless Jews of occupied Europe and the Jews of Palestine, which latter they regarded as being under occupation by the "hostile" forces of Great Britain. Dr. Goldmann characterized this reasoning as complete nonsense, and he said furthermore that the group in question in no way were representative of Jewry either in Palestine or abroad. He pointed out also that the distinction which Bergson now drew between the "Hebrew nation" and the American or other assimilated Jews of the world was undoubtedly devised in order to attract the financial support both of non-Zionist Jews and of non-Jews. He continued that the Zionist leadership had had many discussions with Bergson and his associates during the time they had been evolving their present ideology and that he had finally broken completely with Bergson, whom he now regarded as no longer a Zionist in any sense of the word but as simply an adventurer.

 

The thing which concerned the responsible Jewish organizations, Dr. Goldmann declared, was the fact that Bergson and his colleagues were free to go about the country collecting large sums of money for which they did not make any accounting and giving the impression that they were engaged in a vast humanitarian work. He alluded to the fact that Bergson and his associates were in this country on temporary visitors' visas and he also mentioned their efforts to obtain draft deferments. He added that he could not see why this Government did not either deport Bergson or draft him.

 

Mr. Murray replied that these were matters which were handled by different Government departments, and he made it clear to Dr. Goldmann that there was no disposition on the part of the Executive branch to support or assist Bergson or his associates.

 

Dr. Goldmann recalled that Eri Jabotinsky, a member of the group, had recently departed for Palestine and Turkey by air with the ostensible purpose of engaging in rescue work on behalf of the War Refugee Board. He said that he did not see how this could contribute in any way to the rescue of Jews from the Balkans, since the Jewish Agency representative in Turkey, Mr. Barlas, was the only person in Turkey who had the right to allot certificates for entry into Palestine and in addition had facilities for engaging in clandestine activities in occupied Europe which Bergson's group did not possess.

 

A discussion then ensued as to various aspects of Bergson's activities, including the inquiry which the Foreign Agents Registration Section of the Department of Justice is conducting with a view to determining the liability of the various organizations involved to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Dr. Goldmann said that he was quite familiar with this Act as he himself had registered as the representative of the Jewish Agency, and he did not believe that Bergson's registering would in itself curtail his activities. What was needed, he asserted, was for persons in authority to have the facts laid before them and they would then see the light and desist from supporting Bergson or paying any attention to him. Dr. Goldmann mentioned the remaining members of Bergson's committee and declared that he had never heard of most of them, which he cited as showing that their claim to be representative of any element in Jewry was all the more ridiculous.

 

Dr. Goldmann said that Rabbi Wise while recently on the Pacific Coast had been present with Bergson at a large meeting and had questioned Bergson about his activities until the latter had admitted publicly that none of the funds which they had collected had been sent out of the country or had been employed for any purpose other than to finance the purchase of additional advertising space in the newspapers. In spite of this, however, many misguided persons continued to contribute being attracted by the prominent names appearing in the list of sponsors of the various committees and their avowedly humanitarian aims. With regard to the sponsorship of these committees by members of Congress, Dr. Goldmann said that he and other Zionists had often discussed the matter with various Senators and Representatives, with the result that almost all members of Congress, except Representative Will Rogers, Jr., had severed their connection with Bergson. This was true even of Senator Johnson of Colorado. He predicted that within the next few days Senator Wagner would issue a scathing denunciation of Bergson and that in additional several representatives, including Congressmen Celler and Dickstein, would make a public attack upon him. In so far as Representatives Rogers was concerned, he said that the Representative was a complete fanatic on the point and that he and Mrs. Rogers harbored a great admiration for Bergson which no amount of persuasion had been able to shake.

 

In so far as other branches of the Government were concerned, Dr. Goldmann said that today he had addressed a letter to Secretary Morgenthau pointing out that Bergson's committee intended to float a million-dollar bond issue to be redeemed in 10 years by the "Hebrew nation." He said that in addition he would try to arrange for a group of prominent Jews to call personally on Mr. Morgenthau to expose the background of Bergson's activities. He mentioned the support which Bergson had been receiving from the War Refugee Board, and he said that he had discussed this several times with Mr. Pehle, the Executive Director of the Board, who had taken the position that Bergson's Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe had inspired the introduction of the Gillette-Rogers Resolution, which in turn had led to the creation of the War Refugee Board. In one of their meetings with Mr. Pehle, Rabbi Wise had gone so far as to inform Mr. Pehle that he regarded Bergson as equally as great an enemy of the Jews as Hitler, for the reason that his activities could only lead to increased anti-Semitism. Dr. Goldmann said that only yesterday he had again seen Mr. Pehle and had told him that unless the War Refugee Board disavowed Bergson it would be necessary for the World Jewish Congress to denounce publicly the War Refugee Board. Mr. Pehle had agreed to break with Bergson, but Dr. Goldmann added that if this should not take place, it would be difficult for the Zionists to press the matter in view of their obvious interest in the board's activities.

 

Further on this point, Dr. Goldmann said that recently Mr. Ira Hirschmann, the War Refugee Board's representative at Ankara, who is now in this country, had appeared at a reception which Bergson's Emergency Committee had given in New York City and he ventured the opinion that this fact alone was worth $50,000 to $100,000 to the Committee in additional contributions.

 

Mr. Wilson inquired as to Bergson's purpose in all this activity, and Dr. Goldmann expressed the opinion that it was purely a question of personal ambition on the part of a group of irresponsible young men who had to leave Palestine because the British authorities were aware of the true nature of their activities, and he asserted that their connection with the Irgun Zvai Leumi was well known.

 

Mr. Murray assured Dr. Goldmann that there was no question of the Department's recognizing Bergson or any of his colleagues or urbanizations in any official capacity whatsoever.