Exchange with Yehuda Bauer

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Isi Replies

Isi Replies

Editor’s note: On July 8th Isi wrote in the Jerusalem Post in support of a petition that he and 100 leading Israeli intellectual and public figures signed urging Yad Vashem to exhibit works relating to Hillel Kook’s efforts in the United States during WW2 to rescue Jews from Auschwitz.

Yehuda Bauer wrote a reply in the same newspaper defending his and Yad Vashem’s decision not to cover Hillel Kook, and concluding that “Isi Leibler’s heart is in the right place. It is his analysis that is wrong.”

Below then is Isi’s reply to Yehuda Bauer


I feel privileged to know Yehuda Bauer personally. He is the greatest living scholar on the Holocaust and his works were the formative influence enabling me to gain an understanding of the horror of the Black Years and the factors which created them.

I stand corrected that it was State Secretary Sumner Welles rather than President Roosevelt who pressured Rabbi Stephen Wise not to disclose the content of the Riegner telegram alerting the world to the Nazi genocidal campaign. Yet the acquiescence by Wise to suppress the information under these circumstances places him in an even worse light than had he done so under pressure from the President.

Besides, there is no disputing that Wise regarded himself as a close friend of Roosevelt who did tell him later that, �The only way to stop the slaughter is to win the war. Tell your Jewish associates to keep quite�.

Yes, there was much anti-Semitism and yes, American Jewish leaders were pressured and frightened. But having a personal appreciation of such leadership situations, I stand by my belief that the passivity and silence of the American Jewish establishment during those terrible years displayed a combined breakdown of courage and judgment and represented the most shameful failure of Jewish leadership in the 20th century. Worse, Wise and his associates tried to muzzle and demonize Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson) and went to the lengths of attempting to have him deported for his efforts to make Americans aware of the horrors European Jews were undergoing.

Whereas I concede Bauer�s assertion that the change of climate by the US government in 1944 was not exclusively due to any single individual, it is undeniable that the belated last minute interventions to save Jews were heavily influenced the extraordinarily effective public campaigns Kook had initiated..

I respectfully disagree with Bauer who feels that there is no space in Yad Vashem for reference to Kook. Surely if the US Holocaust Museum could find space, Yad Vashem can do likewise. I feel that those visiting Yad Vashem should be made aware that in times of crisis there is an obligation on Jews in free countries to follow the example of Hillel Kook rather than the failed Jewish establishment who feared to rock the boat and placed their faith in princes.

But even if the request is problematic, it is outrageous for Yad Vashem spokesmen to dismiss a petition from over 100 distinguished Jewish scholars and public figures ranging over the entire political spectrum saying that �we might review the situation in ten years time�.Yad Vashem is not a personal fiefdom and in lieu of such arrogance they should at least be willing to constructively discuss and review situations especially when raised by responsible and concerned citizens.

Isi Leibler

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