Today it is commonplace for women to serve in leadership roles in national Jewish organizations. But in the 1940s, that was a rarity (outside of women's organizations such as Hadassah). Stella Adler was one of the first, and the issue that brought her to the forefront of the Jewish political world was America’s failure to rescue Jews from Hitler.

Stella’s parents, Sara and Jacob Adler, were stars of the early twentieth-century Yiddish theater, and Stella was an acclaimed actress since childhood. In the 1930s, she brought the famous Stanislavski Method of acting to America and began working as an acting coach, in addition to her many roles in plays and movies. Eventually Stella would establish one of the most influential acting schools in the United States. 

In 1942, when news of the Holocaust was just beginning to reach America, Stella joined the Bergson Group. As a leading member of the group's Executive Committee, promoted the cause of rescue in three important ways.

First, she lent the cachet of her own fame to the cause. Her name appeared prominently as one of the signatories on many of the group's newspaper ads. That helped draw attention to the Bergsonites' message.

Second, Stella used her connections in Hollywood and on Broadway to recruit major figures from the world of entertainment to lend their support to the rescue campaign.  Bergson’s backers included comedians Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Groucho and Harpo Marx, actors Paul Robeson and Vincent Price, singers Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, band leader Count Basie, and many others. The involvement of celebrities was important because it helped get the American public to pay attention to the plight of the Jews in Europe--at a time when much of the public was unaware of the Jewish tragedy because leading newspapers often downplayed news about the Nazi mass killings.

Third, Stella used her dramatic talents to further the cause. To help make the American public aware of the Holocaust, Bergson’s group in early 1943 sponsored a dramatic pageant written by Ben Hecht, called “We Will Never Die.” The all-volunteer cast included Stella, her brother and fellow-actor Luther, and numerous other stars of stage and screen, such as Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni.  The pageant was performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City and then around the country. More than one hundred thousand Americans attended the performances.

“Our apartment hummed with political activity,” Stella’s daughter, Ellen Adler, recalled. “Mom and the Bergson boys would plan strategy. And she would introduce them to all sorts of people from Hollywood and Broadway and recruit them to support the group’s work.”

The major obstacle to U.S. intervention on behalf of Europe's Jews was the position of the Roosevelt administration, summarized in its motto, "Rescue through victory." The administration claimed there was no way to rescue Jews except by winning the war. 

To demonstrate that rescue was, in fact, possible, the Bergson Group decided to hold an Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe, in New York City in the summer of 1943. 

Stella's role in the conference was crucial. The lead story in the June 19, 1943 issue of the Bergson Group's newsletter reported:  "A great number of prominent writers, columnists, publishers and artists, whose names read like a 'Who's Who,' met at the home of Miss Stella Adler, the stage actress ... to discuss the participation of their professions in the forthcoming conference which is to concern itself with saving the Jews of Europe ... All those present became sponsors of the conference and joined its various panels.  There is no doubt that the interest shown by these prominent personalities, their talents, their contacts, and the force of their convictions, will be of great value for the success of the planned conference."

The conference was a crucial turning point in the campaign to bring about the rescue of Jews from the Holocaust. In addition to gaining national media coverage for the issue, the event constituted a major public rebuttal of the administration's case against rescue. The participation of the big-name entertainers whom Stella recruited made a strong impression on public opinion and demonstrated that there was broad public interest in the rescue of Jews from Hitler. This helped make it possible for the Bergson group to persuade Members of Congress, in 1943, to introduce a resolution calling for the creation of a federal government agency to rescue refugees. 

The Roosevelt administration objected to the resolution, but when it became clear that Congress was ready to pass it anyway, President Roosevelt announced the creation of the agency that the resolution demanded--the War Refugee Board. During the final fifteen months of World War II, the Board played a major role in the rescue of more than 200,000 Jews from Hitler. (Among other things, the War Refugee Board sponsored the work of rescue hero Raoul Wallenberg.) Stella Adler and her colleagues had played a key role in bringing about the only meaningful American intervention against the Holocaust.

After the Holocaust, the Bergson Group turned its attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors, or DPs (Displaced Persons), who were languishing in Europe and were prevented from entering British-controlled Mandatory Palestine.  It began a public protest campaign urging the creation of a Jewish state to which the refugees could immigrate.  To help publicize the plight of the DPs, Stella again collaborated with Ben Hecht, this time on his new play, “A Flag is Born.”  For two of the leading roles, Stella recruited her half-sister Celia (herself a prominent actress), and one of Stella’s most promising students, 22 year-old Marlon Brando.

When the Bergson group decided to send a delegation of its representatives to Mexico in 1946 to seek financial and political support, they chose Stella to head the group, knowing that her fame as an actress would attract immediate attention to the delegation’s visit. 

Stella gave the keynote address at a rally in Mexico City. “Stella spoke in Yiddish, a beautiful Yiddish, a beautiful woman with a beautiful soul,” her colleague Baruch Rabinowitz later recalled. “Tall, graceful, proud like a prophetess of old, her words rang out sharply and clearly as she read Ben Hecht’s ‘My Dark Prayer’ in a Yiddish translation ... Stella was a great actress, but it was no act she put on that night. The words were written by Ben Hecht, but they poured out of her soul like a furious fire. She felt what she spoke.”

Years later, reflecting on her experiences in the 1940s, Stella described the Bergson activists as “aristocrats of the mind, with social responsibility and the force to do something about it."  Working with them “was one of the most important experiences of my life.”