June 30, 2004
A prominent street in Chicago was officially designated “Ben Hecht Way” on June 29, in recognition of Hecht’s efforts to promote the rescue of Jews from the Holocaust.
About one hundred people gathered for the outdoor street naming ceremony in downtown Chicago. The event was organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which focuses on America’s response to the Holocaust and those who spoke out against the Nazi genocide. It was co-sponsored by Chicago’s Newberry Library, where Hecht’s papers are housed.
Hecht, who grew up in Chicago and was one of the foremost Hollywood screenwriters during the 1930s, campaigned tirelessly for U.S. government action to save Jewish refugees. He authored a series of hard-hitting full-page newspaper ads urging rescue, created a dramatic pageant about the plight of European Jewry which was seen by over 40,000 at Madison Square Garden, and lobbied Congress for U.S. intervention against the Nazi genocide.
The new “Ben Hecht Way” is located directly in front of the Newberry Library, as a result of a resolution passed recently by the Chicago City Council. It was initiated by Alderman Burton F. Natarus (42nd Ward).
In his remarks at the ceremony, Alderman Natarus called Hecht an “unsung hero,” and said that public recognition of Hecht’s humanitarian activism was “long overdue.”
Newberry Library president Dr. Charles T. Cullen, who also spoke, described the growing scholarly interest in Hecht and the steady increase in the number of people doing research in the Hecht papers. He said the Newberry is “proud to have Ben Hecht’s name on the street in front of the library, a visible reminder of Hecht’s life-saving efforts.”
Another speaker was Wyman Institute activist Frank Sullivan, former spokesman for the Mayor of Chicago, who played a major role in the effort to have a street named after Hecht. He described Hecht as “a great Chicagoan and a great American, who did more than anyone else to reveal what Hitler was doing to the Jews.”
Hecht was not the only Chicagoan involved in promoting rescue from the Holocaust. Also speaking at the ceremony was Audrey Cantor, niece of boxing legend Barney Ross, who recounted how her uncle was active alongside Hecht in the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, better known as the Bergson group.
Another speaker was Dr. David Gutmann, one of the last surviving crew members of the S.S. Ben Hecht, a ship that brought Holocaust survivors from Europe to Palestine, in defiance of British restrictions, in 1947. Guttman and the rest of the crew were imprisoned by the British for their efforts.
Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff said that the street-naming initiative is part of the Institute’s ongoing effort “to raise public awareness of the handful of courageous men and women who spoke out, when most of the world was silent.”