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One of a series of aerial reconnaissance photographs of the Auschwitz concentration camp taken between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945, but not examined until the 1970s.

The issue of why Auschwitz concentration camp was not bombed by the Allies during World War II continues to be explored by historians and Holocaust survivors.

Michael Berenbaum has argued that it is not only a historical question, but "a moral question emblematic of the Allied response to the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust."[1] David Wyman has asked: "How could it be that the governments of the two great Western democracies knew that a place existed where 2,000 helpless human beings could be killed every 30 minutes, knew that such killings actually did occur over and over again, and yet did not feel driven to search for some way to wipe such a scourge from the earth?"[2] During his second visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush said "We should have bombed it."[3][4]

Other scholars, such as William Rubinstein, James H. Kitchens, and Richard H. Levy have noted that this argument has no basis and that the idea of bombing Auschwitz or the rail lines leading to it is to a very large extent a post-war invention.[citation needed] The issue was launched in the late 1970s when aerial reconnaissance films, which had never been developed or seen by anybody during the war, were found by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysts to show that U.S. bombers had flown over Auschwitz-Birkenau on their way to and from bombing other targets.[citation needed]

Background[]

File:The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied.pdf

At the beginning of Operation Reinhard, the principal source of intelligence for the Western Allies about the existence of Auschwitz was the Pilecki's Report, forwarded via the Polish resistance to the British government in London. It was written by the Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki who spent a total of 945 days at the camp – the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at Auschwitz. He forwarded his report about the camp to Polish resistance headquarters in Warsaw through the underground network known as Związek Organizacji Wojskowej which he organized inside Auschwitz.[5] Pilecki hoped that either the Allies would drop weapons for the Armia Krajowa (AK) to organize an assault on the camp from the outside, or bring in the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade troops to liberate it. A spectacular escape took place on 20 June 1942, when Kazimierz Piechowski (prisoner no. 918) organized a daring passing through the camp's gate along with three friends and co-conspirators, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart and Eugeniusz Bendera.[6] The escapees were dressed in stolen uniforms as members of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, fully armed and in an SS staff car. They drove out the main gate in a stolen Steyr 220 with a smuggled first report from Witold Pilecki to Polish resistance. The Germans never recaptured any of them.[7] By 1943 however, Pilecki realized that no rescue plans existed in the West. He escaped from the camp on the night of April 26–27, 1943.[8]

The inteligence was coming from other sources as well. In 1942 Jan Karski reported to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. He met with Polish politicians in exile including the prime minister, as well as members of political parties such as the Socialist Party, National Party, Labor Party, People's Party, Jewish Bund and Poalei Zion. He also spoke to Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, and included a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 in London he met the then much known journalist Arthur Koestler. He then traveled to the United States and reported to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His report was a major factor in informing the West.

In July 1943, Karski again personally reported to Roosevelt about the situation in Poland. During their meeting Roosevelt suddenly interrupted his report and asked about the condition of horses in occupied Poland.[9][10][11] Karski met also with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan, and Stephen Wise. Karski also presented his report to media, bishops of various denominations (including Cardinal Samuel Stritch), members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without success. Many of those he spoke to did not believe him, or supposed that his testimony was much exaggerated or was propaganda from the Polish government in exile.

On April 7, 1944, two young Jewish inmates, Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, had escaped from the camp with detailed information about the camp's geography, the gas chambers, and the numbers being killed. The information, later called the Vrba-Wetzler report, is believed to have reached the Jewish community in Budapest by April 27. Roswell McClelland, the U.S. War Refugee Board representative in Switzerland, is known to have received a copy by mid-June, and sent it to the board's executive director on June 16, according to Raul Hilberg.[12] Information based on the report was broadcast on June 15 by the BBC and on June 20 by The New York Times. The full report was first published on November 25, 1944, by the U.S. War Refugee Board, the same day that the last 13 prisoners, all women, were killed in Auschwitz (the women were "unmittelbar getötet"—killed immediately—leaving open whether they were gassed or otherwise killed).[13]

At the ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, held on January 27, 2005, the Foreign Minister of Poland Władysław Bartoszewski, himself a former Auschwitz inmate (camp number 4427), said in his speech: "The Polish resistance movement kept informing and alerting the free world to the situation. In the last quarter of 1942, thanks to the Polish emissary Jan Karski and his mission, and also by other means, the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the United States were well informed about what was going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau." [14]

Why bombing was not considered[]

"No proposals to bomb either Auschwitz or the rail lines were made by anyone until May or June 1944" – wrote historian William Rubinstein, former President of the Jewish Historical Society of England.[15] The first such proposal was made by a Slovak rabbi, Michael Dov Ber Weissmandel, to the Jewish Agency on May 16, 1944. At about the same time, two officials of the Jewish Agency in Palestine separately made similar suggestions. Yitzhak Gruenbaum made his to the U.S. Consul-General in Jerusalem, Lowell C. Pinkerton, and Moshe Shertok made his to George Hall, the British under secretary of state for foreign affairs. However, the idea was promptly squashed by the Executive Board of the Jewish Agency. On June 11, 1944, the Executive, with David Ben-Gurion in the chair, overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to ask the Allies to bomb the railroad lines and the death camps, with Ben-Gurion summing up: "The view of the board is that we should not ask the Allies to bomb places where there are Jews."

Shortly thereafter, Benjamin Akzin, a junior official on the War Refugee Board staff made a similar recommendation. It was put in writing in an inter-office memorandum dated June 29 to his superior, a senior staff member, Lawrence S. Lesser. These recommendations were totally rejected by leading Jewish organizations. On June 28, Lesser met with A. Leon Kubowitzki, the head of the Rescue Department of the World Jewish Congress, who flatly opposed the idea. On July 1, Kubowitzki followed up with a letter to War Refugee Board Director John W. Pehle, recalling his conversation with Lesser and stating:

"The destruction of the death installations can not be done by bombing from the air, as the first victims would be the Jews who are gathered in these camps, and such a bombing would be a welcome pretext for the Germans to assert that their Jewish victims have been massacred not by their killers, but by the Allied bombers."

When Pehle first discussed the idea with the War Department's John J. McCloy that June, he specifically told McCloy that he was transmitting an idea proposed by others, that he had “several doubts about the matter,” and that he was not “at this point at least, requesting the War Department to take any action on this proposal other than to appropriately explore it.” Several times thereafter, in the summer and early autumn of 1944, the War Refugee Board relayed to the War Department suggestions by others that Auschwitz and/or the rail lines be bombed. It repeatedly noted that it was not endorsing any of them.

Finally, on November 8, 1944, Pehle half-heartedly changed sides and asked McCloy to bomb the camp. He said it could help some of the inmates to escape and would be good for the “morale of underground groups.” According to Kai Bird, Nahum Goldman, apparently also changed his mind. Sometime that autumn [1944], Goldmann went to see McCloy in his Pentagon office and personally raised the bombing issue with him. However, by November 1944, Auschwitz was more or less completely shut down.

Since the controversy exploded in the 1970s, a number of military experts have looked at the problems involved in bombing Auschwitz and the rail lines and have concluded that it would have been extremely difficult and risky and that the chances of achieving significant results would have been small. It appears reasonable to assume that McCloy was accurate in his early statements that the idea was never discussed with President Roosevelt. In his dotage McCloy may have found it expedient to share with FDR the blame heaped on him by Monday-morning quarterbacks and by those who seek to blame somebody in addition to, or even instead of, the Germans for the holocaust.

[15][16][17][18]

Allied reconnaissance missions[]

Picture of the Birkenau (Auschwitz II) extermination camp taken by an American surveillance plane on August 25, 1944. Crematoria II and III and the holes used to throw cyanide into the gas chambers are visible.

From March 1944 onwards, the Allies were in control of the skies over Europe, according to David Wyman. He writes that the 15th U.S. Army Air Force, which was based in Italy, had the range and capability to strike Auschwitz from early May 1944.

Auschwitz was first overflown by an Allied reconnaissance aircraft on April 4, 1944, in a mission to photograph the synthetic oil plant at Monowitz forced labor camp (Auschwitz III). [19]

On July 7, shortly after the U.S. War Department refused requests from Jewish leaders to bomb the railway lines leading to the camps, a force of 452 Fifteenth Air Force bombers flew along and across the five deportation railway lines on their way to bomb oil refineries nearby.[20] Several nearby military targets were also bombed, and one bomb fell into the camp grounds.

Buna-Werke, the I.G. Farben industrial complex located adjacent to the Monowitz forced labor camp (Auschwitz III) located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from the Auschwitz I camp was bombed four times.[citation needed] On December 26, 1944, the U.S. 455th Bomb Group bombed Monowitz and targets near Birkenau (Auschwitz II); an SS military hospital was hit and five SS personnel were killed.[21]

The Auschwitz complex was photographed accidentally several times during missions aimed at nearby military targets.[22] However, the photo-analysts knew nothing of Auschwitz and the political and military hierarchy didn't know that photos of Auschwitz existed.[23] For this reason, the photos played no part in the decision whether or not to bomb Auschwitz.[23] Photo-interpretation expert Dino Brugioni believes that analysts could have easily identified the important buildings in the complex if they had been asked to look.[23]

On August 24, 1944, the U.S. Army Air Forces carried out a bombing operation against a factory adjacent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Despite perfect conditions, 315 prisoners were killed, 525 seriously harmed, and 900 lightly wounded.[24]

The Allies' considerations[]

In June 1944, John Pehle of the War Refugee Board and Benjamin Akzin, a Zionist activist in America, urged the U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy to bomb the camps. McCloy is said to have told his assistant to "kill" the request, as the U.S. Army Air Forces had decided in February 1944 not to bomb anything "for the purposes of rescuing victims of enemy oppression", but to concentrate on military targets.[25] However, Rubinstein says that Akzin was not involved in discussions between Pehle and McCloy, and that Pehle specifically told McCloy that he was transmitting an idea proposed by others, that he had “several doubts about the matter,” and that he was not “at this point at least, requesting the War Department to take any action on this proposal other than to appropriately explore it.”.[15] On October 4, 1944, the War Department sent (and only this time) a rescue-oriented bombing proposal to General Spaatz air force in England for consideration. Although Spaatz’s officers had read Mann’s message reporting acceleration of extermination activities in the camps in Poland, they could perceive no advantage to the victims in smashing the killing machinery, and decided not to bomb Auschwitz. Nor did they seem to understand, despite Mann’s Statement that “the Germans are increasing their extermination activities,” that wholesale massacres had already been perpetrated.[26]

The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, did not see bombing as a solution, given that bombers were inaccurate and would also kill prisoners on the ground. The land war would have to be won first. Bombers were used against German cities and to carpet-bomb the front lines.[citation needed] But according to Martin Gilbert [19] Winston Churchill pushed for bombing. Concerning the concentration camps, he wrote to his Foreign Secretary on July 11, 1944: "... all concerned in this crime who may fall into our hands, including the people who only obeyed orders by carrying out these butcheries, should be put to death...."[27] The British Air Ministry was asked to examine the feasibility of bombing the camps and decided not to for "operational reasons", which were not specified in wartime. In August 1944, 60 tons of supplies were flown to assist the uprising in Warsaw and, considering the dropping accuracy at that time, were to be dropped "into the south-west quarter of Warsaw". For various reasons, only seven aircraft reached the city.[28]

A 2004 documentary, Auschwitz; the forgotten evidence included interviews with historians William Rubinstein and Richard Overy.[29] It mentioned the Jewish Agency's request to the Allies on 6 July to bomb Auschwitz and showed the aerial reconnaissance photographs. It then examined the operational and technical feasibility aspects, in two categories: precision bombing by Mosquito-type aircraft, and area bombing by larger aircraft. It considered that precision bombing of railway lines was so common by 1944 that the Germans had specialist teams that could repair damage within hours or days. The inmates' food supplies were assumed to come by rail, and so an unrepaired railway would cause them hardship. Area bombing risked killing too many prisoners.

However, Rubinstein says that on 11 June 1944, the Executive of the Jewish Agency considered the proposal, with David Ben Gurion in the chair, and it specifically opposed the bombing of Auschwitz. Ben Gurion summed up the results of the discussion: "The view of the board is that we should not ask the Allies to bomb places where there are Jews."[15]

See also[]

References[]

  1. Berenbaum, Michael. "Why wasn't Auschwitz bombed?" Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. Wyman, David S. "Why Auschwitz wasn't bombed," in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Indiana University Press, 1998, p. 583.
  3. "Bush Pushes Peace in Kuwait, Says U.S. Should Have Bombed WWII Death Camp". Fox News. January 11, 2008. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,321932,00.html. 
  4. Media Blog on National Review Online
  5. Jozef Garlinski, Fighting Auschwitz: the Resistance Movement in the Concentration Camp, Fawcett, 1975, ISBN 0-449-22599-2, reprinted by Time Life Education, 1993. ISBN 0-8094-8925-2
  6. Kazimierz Piechowski, Eugenia Bozena Kodecka-Kaczynska, Michal Ziokowski, Byłem Numerem: swiadectwa Z Auschwitz Wydawn. Siostr Loretanek, hardcover, ISBN 83-7257-122-8[page needed]
  7. Gabriela Nikliborc (13 January 2009). "Auschwitz-Birkenau - The Film about the Amazing Escape from Auschwitz – Now Available on DVD". En.auschwitz.org.pl. http://web.archive.org/web/20110522044837/http://en.auschwitz.org.pl/m/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=578&Itemid=8. Retrieved 16 September 2013. "Uciekinier [The Escapee] directed and written by Marek Tomasz Pawłowski for Telewizja Polska; 56 minutes. Poland 2007." 
  8. Adam Cyra; Witold Pilecki (2000). "II". Ochotnik do Auschwitz; Witold Pilecki (1901-1948). Oświęcim: Chrześcijańskie Stowarzyszenie Rodzin Oświęcimskich. ISBN 83-912000-3-5. http://www.powstanie-warszawskie-1944.ac.pl/raport_witolda.htm. 
  9. http://fzp.net.pl/spot33.html
  10. http://www.uml.lodz.pl/_plik.php?id=2064[dead link]
  11. http://www.polishdailynews.com/ppa.php?mode=archiwum&id=6979
  12. Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 1215.
  13. Czech, Danuta (ed) Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939-1945, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1989, pp.920 and 933, using information from a series called Hefte von Auschwitz, and cited in Karny, Miroslav. "The Vrba and Wetzler report," in Berenbaum, Michael & Gutman, Yisrael (eds). Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, p. 564, Indiana University Press and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1994.
  14. Address by the former Foreign Minister of Poland Wladysław Bartoszewski at the ceremony of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 27 January 2005 see pp. 156-157
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 William Rubinstein, The Myth of Rescue (Google Books preview), Routledge 1997; see: Chapter 4, “The Myth of Bombing Auschwitz”. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "myth" defined multiple times with different content
  16. Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, New York, Holt, Rinehart, 1981, especially Part Three, “Auschwitz Revealed.”
  17. James H. Kitchens, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Re-examined”, in The Journal of Military History, LVIII, April 1994, pp.233-266.
  18. Richard H. Levy, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Revisited: A Critical Analysis”, in The Bombing of Auschwitz, St. Martins Press, 2000, p. 101, et seq.)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Could Britain have done more to stop the horrors of Auschwitz? January 27, 2005; [1].
  20. Wyman, David S. "Why Auschwitz wasn't bombed," in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Indiana University Press, 1998, p. 577.
  21. Auschwitz through the lens of the SS: Photos of Nazi leadership at the camp
  22. Dino Brugioni and Robert Poirier, The Holocaust revisited: A retrospective analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination complex; CIA report 1978.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Dino Brugioni, Auschwitz and Birkenau: Why the World War II photo interpreters failed to Identify the extermination complex, Military Intelligence, vol. 9, no. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1983): pages 50-55. Republished here.
  24. Kitchens III, James H. "The Bombing of Auschwitz Reexamined," Newton. FDR and the Holocaust. St. Martin's Press, 1996, p. 197.
  25. Jerusalem Post article 2004
  26. K. G. Saur Verlag GmbH & Company (1 January 1989). The End of the Holocaust. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 316–320. ISBN 978-3-11-097651-9. http://books.google.com/books?id=wBHAaRhXDUEC&pg=PA317. "Anderson put an end to the proposal: "I do not consider that the unfortunate Poles herded in these concentration camps would have their status improved by the destruction of the extermination chambers. There is also the possibility of some of the bombs landing on the prisoners as well, and in that event, the Germans would be provided with a fine alibi for any wholesale massacre that they might perpetrate. I therefore recommend that no encouragement be given to this project." Although Spaatz’s officers had read Mann’s message reporting acceleration of extermination activities in the camps in Poland, they could perceive no advantage to the victims, in smashing the killing machinery." 
  27. Churchill, Winston. Triumph and Tragedy. Penguin 2005, p.597.
  28. Churchill, Winston. op cit. p. 115-117.
  29. 2004 documentary details
  • Berenbaum, Michael. "Why wasn't Auschwitz bombed?" Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Churchill, Winston. Triumph and Tragedy. Penguin 2005.
  • Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews, Yale University Press, 2003.
  • Wyman, David S. "Why Auschwitz wasn't bombed," in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Indiana University Press, first published 1994; this edition 1998. ISBN 0-253-20884-X.

Further reading[]

  • Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
  • William D. Rubinstein, The Myth of Rescue, London, Routledge 1997, especially Chapter 4, “The Myth of Bombing Auschwitz”.
  • Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, New York, Holt, Rinehart, 1981, especially Part Three, “Auschwitz Revealed.”
  • James H. Kitchens, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Re-examined”, in The Journal of Military History, LVIII, April 1994, pp. 233–266.
  • Richard H. Levy, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Revisited: A Critical Analysis”, in: The Bombing of Auschwitz, St. Martins Press, 2000, p. 101, et seq.)
  • Alexander J. Groth, "'The Holocaust. America, and American Jewry' Revisited", in: Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 6, No, 2 (2012)

External links[]

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