What took place in America between 1940 and 1944 as regards our response to Hitler’s “Final Solution” or the mass destruction of the Jews is a stain on our history. The government, including President Roosevelt, as well as prominent leaders in the Jewish community did virtually nothing but delay and obfuscate when it came to saving Jewish lives, and as a result millions died, many of whom might have been saved.
One brave man, Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook, became a thorn in the side of the government and American Jews in his attempts to save Jewish lives. With the help of Ben Hecht, Bergson organized public rallies, hard-hitting newspaper advertisements, and lobbying efforts to increase public awareness. He was able to get all parties to rethink their policies and allow Jews to immigrate to the U.S., saving some 10,000 lives. His bravery was, however, all but forgotten — save for the efforts of The Bergson Group, which has now managed to persuade the U.S. Holocaust Museum to put aside a special exhibit honoring his efforts.
Bergson's dealings with the government and American Jewish leaders are commemorated is a beautiful and powerful play by journalist Bernard Weinraub called The Accomplices, currently playing at the Odyssey Theatre. The production was sold out in its initial run at The Fountain Theatre, but with the aid of the Israeli Leadership Council it has been given a second life.
The set was redesigned very effectively by Scott Siedman, with simple tables and chairs and a desk against a backdrop of piles of newspapers. Deborah Devine has directed with a careful and exacting eye, making sure the production is taut and builds to a climax. The cast is the same, for the most part. Malachi Throne is exasperatingly unmoved as Rabbi Stephen Wise. Time Winters plays a very political and somewhat anti-Semitic Roosevelt. Brian Carpenter is deliciously evil as Breckinridge Long, a Southern bureaucrat more interested in golf than the fate of the Jews. Dennis Gersten is effective as both Ben Hecht and Henry Morgenthau. William Dennis Hurley recreates his sympathetic rendering of Merlin; his performance brought me to tears.
At the center of the play is Steven Schub's performance as Bergson. He is not afraid to show Bergson’s pestering, often obnoxious side along with his extreme devotion to the cause. We suffer along with him and feel his disappointments and struggles; Schub inhabits Bergson fully and deserves every accolade he gets.
The Accomplices will play at the Odyssey Theatre until June 14th. Go see it!