Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson)
(1915 - 2001)
Peter H. Bergson was born
Hillel Kook in Lithuania in
was a nephew of Ashkenazi chief
Isaac Hacohen Kook. At the age of 10 immigrated
Israel with his family. In 1929, he
joined the Haganah and
when the Irgun (IZL)
was founded, he left the Haganah and
joined the new organization.
Graduated in Judaic Studies at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and was part of the Sohba (Comradeship) - a group of students whom later played
key roles in the Irgun, including David Raziel, Avraham Stern and others.
At the end of 1937,
Bergson was sent to Poland and
engaged in organizing illegal
War II broke out, he went to the
United States together with several other
commanders (including Aryeh Ben Eliezer and
Alexander Raphaeli). At first they promoted
the establishment of Jewish armed units
within the allied armed forces to take part
in the war effort against Nazi
When information came through about the mass
extermination of Jews, the group set
up the Committee for the Rescue of European
Jewry. In 1940, he accompanied Vladimir
(Ze'ev) Jabotinsky to the United States as a representative
of the IZL. After Jabotinsky died in August
1940, Bergson remained in the U.S. to continue
Bergson's primary assignment in the United
States was to mobilize support for the IZL
and for the creation of Jewish military units,
and, later to gather support for the creation
of a Jewish state in Palestine. Bergson set
out to accomplish these tasks by creating
a series of interlocking organizations, including
the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless
and Palestinian Jews, the American League
for a Free Palestine, the Emergency Committee
to Save the Jewish People of Europe, and
the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation.
Supporters of these organizations included Harry
Truman, Dorothy Parker, Herbert Hoover,
Will Rogers, Jr., Labor leader William Green,
U.S. Solicitor General Fowler Harper, and
U.S. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes.
The network of organizations issued a strong
challenge to the Jewish establishment in
the United States by working outside the
normally conservative and secret diplomatic
channels used by the leaders of such organizations
as the American Jewish Committee and the
American Jewish Congress. Bergson used direct
— and often bombastic
— appeals to the
American public and to members of Congress
to demand the creation of a Jewish army (between
1940 and 1942) and to rescue Jews from Nazi
terror by any means (between 1942 and 1944).
While it is difficult to assess the success
of Bergson's activities, they resulted in
a greater public awareness of the Holocaust,
and helped create an atmosphere conducive
to changes in American rescue policy. Thus,
at the least, Bergson's activities contributed
to the creation of the War
Refugee Board and the Oswego free port in 1944.
When the Revolt was proclaimed (1944), Bergson, together
with several comrades, established the
Hebrew Committee for National Liberation.
The Committee appealed to the American
public and its elected representatives,
and won considerable support for the Irgun's activities in Eretz Israel.
When Israel was established,
Bergson returned home and reverted to using
his Hebrew name. He was elected
to the First
Knesset on behalf of the Herut movement
and served from 1949 to 1951. Disillusioned
with his political experience, he left Israel
in 1951 with his wife Betty and daughter
Astra, and emigrated to the United States.
In 1968, four years after his wife's death,
he returned to Israel with his daughters
Astra and Rebecca. He remarried in 1975 and
lived near Tel
Aviv until his death in 2001.
Irgun Site; U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum