Peter H. Bergson (1915–2001, born Hillel Kook) was a Revisionist Zionist emissary in the United States and an advocate for the rescue of European Jewry during the Holocaust. To facilitate his political work and to avoid embarrassment for his family, he adopted the pseudonym Peter H. Bergson.
Born in Lithuania, Bergson was a nephew of Ashkenazi chief rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook. In 1925 he moved with his family to Palestine. He joined the Revisionist Zionist movement and its military arm, the National Military Organization (Irgun Zvai Leumi; IZL) in the early 1930s. The declared goals of the Revisionist Zionist movement were to force Britain to grant Jewish statehood on both banks of the Jordan River, to establish a Jewish majority in Palestine, to reestablish Jewish military regiments, and to provide military training to youth. In 1938 and 1939, Bergson worked for IZL in Poland, attempting to organize the transfer of Polish Jews to Palestine. 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 US to continue his activities.
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, US Solicitor General Fowler Harper, and US 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), to rescue Jews from Nazi terror by any means (between 1942 and 1944), and finally for the creation of a Hebrew state (between 1944 and 1948).
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.
In May 1944 Bergson created the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation and established headquarters for the committee in Washington, DC. Both organizations ceased operation when the state of Israel was established, and Bergson later returned to Israel.
Bergson—who reverted to using his Hebrew name when he returned to Israel—was elected to the first Knesset as a member of the Herut party, serving 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.