"The First Victims Would Be the Jews"
Why FDR Did Not Order the Bombing of Auschwitz
After the Normandy invasion in June 1944, the Allies were clearly winning the war, but the Jews of Europe were still in danger. The Anglo-Americans’ inability to rescue European Jewry, even as their armies rolled toward Paris, resulted from the unwavering commitment of Adolf Hitler and the agencies of the Nazi government to kill as many Jews as possible before Germany was defeated, and the Soviet refusal to help the Jews in any way.1
Five million European Jews were dead by the summer of 1944. Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzac, having finished their work, were closed and special SS units were charged with covering up the crimes. But seven hundred, fifty thousand Jews remained alive in Hungary. In March Hitler had occupied Hungary and replaced President Miklos Horthy with a pro-Nazi puppet government. In April the Nazis, led by Adolf Eichmann and aided by Hungarian collaborators, began to round up Hungarian Jews. “ Hungary’s Jewry has been struck,” the WJC noted in its “Report on Rescue Problems,” “with a suddenness, speed and ruthlessness of which there has been no parallel, even in our recent martyrology.”
As these events unfolded, the Allied bomber offensive against Germany, Operation Pointblank, destroyed German oil storage depots, synthetic oil plants and factories. In the spring of 1944 the Allies had secured the Italian air base at Foggia, Italy, which became home to hundreds of heavy bombers and fighter escorts. The USAAF finally was capable of bombing the Auschwitz ( Oswiecim) area in Silesia, Poland, six hundred and twenty miles from Foggia. As early as January 21, 1944, the Allies had targeted the nearby I. G. Farben chemical and rubber (“buna”) plant in their campaign to destroy German war-making industry. These efforts intensified in May in preparation for D-Day, just as news broke of the round-up of Hungarian Jews.2
The WRB had intensified its efforts at psychological warfare. It had broadcast Roosevelt’s statement promising punishment for those involved in genocide. Prominent Americans had issued stern warnings. American Protestant and Catholic clerics had beseeched the Hungarian people to protect the Jews. Nothing had worked. As the situation in Hungary grew more desperate, Isaac Sternbuch of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in Switzerland urged his organization exiled in New York to request air raids upon the towns that were railway junctions for trains deporting Hungarian Jews to Poland. In May Sternbuch realized that railway lines could be easily repaired and urged that “bombing should be repeated at short intervals to prevent rebuilding.”3
Operation Frantic began on June 2, four days before D-Day. American bombers flew from Britain and Italy to the Soviet air base at Poltava and from there to targets in Poland, Hungary, Romania and Germany. The operation continued for four months and flights passed over the rail lines to Auschwitz and over Auschwitz itself. But stern military necessity forced the Allies to prioritize their targets. In late June the Germans bombed the Poltava airport, destroying forty-three B-17s and damaging twenty-six, destroying fifteen Mustang fighter escorts and blowing up four hundred, fifty thousand gallons of aircraft fuel. Operation Frantic was suspended in July.4
On June 7, the day after D-Day, Yitzak Gruenbaum of the Jewish Agency met with L. C. Pinkerton, American consul in Palestine. Gruenbaum requested Americans to warn the Hungarian government against killing Jews, to bomb railway lines and “that the American air forces receive instructions to bomb the death camps in Poland.” Pinkerton agreed to report the first two requests but balked at the third. “Won’t bombing the camps also cause the death of many Jews?” he asked Gruenbaum. Gruenbaum replied that the Jews in the death camps were destined to die anyway and might be able to escape in the confusion. The camps’ destruction might disrupt the killing process. Apparently appalled at the idea of killing Jewish prisoners, Pinkerton advised Gruenbaum to present in writing his suggestion to bomb the death camps.5
On June 11 Gruenbaum handed his proposal to the Executive of the Jewish Agency at Jerusalem. The motion to bomb the camps was overwhelmingly rejected. “We do not know the truth concerning the entire situation in Poland, and it seems that we will be unable to propose anything concerning this matter,” David Ben-Gurion opined. “It is forbidden for us to take responsibility for a bombing that could very well cause the death of even one Jew,” another member, Dr. Emil Schmorak, noted. A third member opposed asking the Americans to bomb the camps “and thus cause the murder of Jews.” Yet another said “we cannot...cause the death of a single Jew.” Ben-Gurion summarized the vote: “The opinion of the Jewish Agency’s Executive Committee is not to propose to the Allies the bombing of sites in which Jews are located.”6
Gruenbaum was disappointed in his colleagues. “They do not want to take such responsibility upon themselves,” he lamented. Thus, the Jewish Agency never went on record in favor of the bombing and never asked FDR or the American government to bomb Auschwitz. Because Chaim Weizmann and Moshe Shertok (head of the Political Department of the JA) presented an aide-mémoire to the British government on July 6, 1944, suggesting the bombing of Birkenau and other places (it was seventh on a list of priorities), many historians concluded that the agency must have changed its mind after the June 11 vote. It may have, but there is no record of such a vote, and the JA never took an opportunity to lobby the U.S. government to act.7
On June 18, Jacob Rosenheim, president of the Orthodox Agudas Israel World Organization, wrote Henry Morgenthau, chairman of the WRB, imploring the United States to bomb the railroads between Hungary and Poland. “Every day of delay,” Rosenheim wrote, “means a very heavy responsibility for the human lives at stake.” Morgenthau sent Rosenheim’s letter to John Pehle, who contacted John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War. Pehle told McCloy that he had “several doubts” about the proposal, including (1) the propriety of using military airplanes for this purpose; (2) “whether it would be difficult to put the railroad line out of commission for a long enough period to do any good”; and (3) “even assuming that this railroad line were put out of commission for the same period of time, whether it would help the Jews in Hungary.” Pehle made it clear to McCloy 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.”8
Pehle kept McCloy apprised of the situation. In a June 29 memorandum, Pehle enclosed a copy of a cable from Leland Harrison, U.S. minister to Switzerland, describing the deportation of Jews from Hungary to Poland to be killed, but not requesting the War Department to bomb the camps or railway lines. On the same day, Benjamin Akzin, a young Jewish WRB staffer and Zionist activist, recommended that the camps be bombed. This “might appreciably slow down the systematic slaughter at least temporarily,” he wrote. In addition to destroying the camps, Akzin believed the action was a matter of principle “as the most tangible - and perhaps only tangible - evidence of the indignation aroused by the existence of these charnel-houses.” Akzin acknowledged that “a large number of Jews in these camps may be killed. …But such Jews are doomed to death anyhow.” Pehle never gave Akzin’s memo to McCloy, because he did not agree with it. Even Akzin felt that the strongest statement he could make was that bombing the installations might slow down the slaughter at least temporarily.9
Kubowitzki met with WRB representatives on June 28 and wrote to Pehle on July 1 asking him to consider the destruction of the Auschwitz gas chambers. But Kubowitzki and the WJC adamantly opposed the bombing of the camps and urged instead that the camps be destroyed by Soviet and Polish troops.
The destruction of the death inst allations cannot be done from 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 bombings.10
Kubowitzki, Nahum Goldmann and others proposed that the Soviets send paratroopers and that the Polish Home Army attack and dismantle Auschwitz. The Soviets were in a position to do something about Auschwitz. Their western offensive reached Poland in July, and the army captured Lublin one hundred, sixty miles from Auschwitz on July 24, 1944. But Pehle did not pass Kubowitzki’s request on to McCloy because he likely thought it impractical and a prelude to a request for American troops.
Pehle, Kubowitzki and Goldmann were in good company on the bombing issue. On June 27, Jacob Fishman, a Zionist leader and columnist, wrote in the New York Yiddish-language Morgen Journal of the pros and cons of bombing the camps. The victims would be Jews, but Jews had escaped from Treblinka after a revolt there. “I am still thinking about the idea,” he concluded. Thus, by the end of June 1944 most Jewish public and private opinion either opposed bombing Auschwitz or was divided on the issue.11
By this time there was no doubt in the minds of many in the American government that Hungarian Jews were being sent to Auschwitz. On May 10, the New York Times reported that the Hungarian government “is now preparing for the annihilation of Hungarian Jews.” On July 3, the Times carried a story on page 3 headlined “Inquiry Confirms Nazi Death Camps” and which stated that one million, seven hundred, fifteen thousand Jews had been killed at Auschwitz and Birkenau.12
Churchill responded favorably to Weizmann’s and Shertok’s request to bomb Auschwitz, but the RAF did not approve the operation. They knew that it was a difficult operation, of no military value, and that the war was far from over. Churchill never pressed the plan. On the July day Weizmann and Shertok met with Anthony Eden, Churchill informed the House of Commons that two thousand, seven hundred, fifty-two British civilians had been killed by German rockets in the preceding three weeks.13 To military men, risking valuable airplanes and pilots on hopeless civilian rescue operations would only delay victory. On the other hand, if Germany’s war-making capability was destroyed, the war would end and all civilians, including Jews, would be saved. The British Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, studied the bombing request and concluded that the distances were too great for British night bombers. Such an attack “might be carried out by the Americans by daylight,” he reported, but it would be dangerous and costly. He doubted that the victims would be helped, even if the plants were destroyed.14
This response was consistent with the bedrock American policy that the most effective relief for victims of enemy persecution - and indeed, American prisoners of war - was the speedy defeat of the Axis. Historians have debated the truthfulness of this and subsequent letters from McCloy. Martin Gilbert accepted the letter at face value: “The principal ‘decisive operations’ mentioned in this letter,” Gilbert noted, “remained the Allied attempt to destroy all of Germany’s war-making powers based upon the manufacture of synthetic oil.”15
In July 1944, the Germans held twenty-eight thousand, eight hundred sixty-seven American POWs - twelve thousand, two hundred, seventy four army soldiers and sixteen thousand, five hundred, ninety-three pilots, navigators and gunners - as well as more than two hundred thousand British and Commonwealth POWs. The POWs were scattered over fifty-seven different stalags (camps), but the vast majority of Americans were held in just eight main camps, all in eastern Germany, to deter escape through France. There was no plan to rescue these men, even though the War Department was aware that they were being deprived of food and medicine and that as the war progressed, they were in danger of being held as hostages by Hitler or murdered by the SS or the Gestapo. But the priority of Allied commanders was to win the war. There were decisive operations under way. Pleas by POW families and officers within the military were rejected in language similar to the president’s executive order creating the WRB and army group commanders were ordered to help POWs “provided that such actions are not at the expense of the main operations.” One British naval officer’s proposal to use gliders and paratroopers to rescue POWs at Marlag Nord, near Bremen, was summarily rejected as “not considered practical” and “not considered advisable.” The plan would be considered “if and when consistent with operations.”16
The Jewish Agency sent two telegrams to Roosevelt on July 11, 1944, on a related matter, the Brand mission, but did not request FDR to bomb the camps or the railway lines. The agency believed that direct negotiations with the Gestapo, which the Brand mission represented, were more likely to save Jews than bombing the camps.17 The Irgunist Emergency Committee urged the bombing of both railway lines and the extermination camps in a letter to FDR. Professor Johan J. Smertenko claimed that the bombing “would enable the Hebrew people gathered in these camps to escape” and join the resistance. Roosevelt’s secretary William D. Hassett sent the letter on to the WRB and the State Department. Preoccupied with the invasion of Europe, the president would not interfere with Eisenhower’s critical mission to liberate Europe. And the opinions of Bergson and the Irgun likely carried no weight with him.18
Events in Hungary overtook the discussion about bombing the camps. By June 7, two hundred, eighty-nine thousand, three hundred, fifty-seven Hungarian Jews had been deported, and by July 9, a total of four hundred, thirty-seven thousand, four hundred and two Jews had been sent to Auschwitz and murdered. The Hungarian government ceased the deportations on July 8, bowing to pressure from the Allies, Swedes, Swiss and the Vatican, and an Allied bomb attack on Budapest. The requests to bomb the railway lines and the camp were too little, too late for nearly five hundred thousand Hungarian Jews. The July 2 Allied raid on Budapest appeared to be, but was not, in retaliation against the Hungarians for deporting the Jews. The Hungarians had intercepted Allied telegrams requesting the bombing of collaborating Hungarian and German agencies, and they believed the bombings aimed to stop the Jewish massacre. In reality, the raids were part of the Allies’ systematic bombing campaign. Three hundred thousand Jews in and near Budapest still lived in July thanks to those Allied raids.
The cessation of Hungarian deportations became public on July 19. Auschwitz, however, continued to murder Jews from elsewhere in Europe until January 1945.19 The bombing of Germany was so effective that “Jewish labor was now judged essential if the munitions factories of the Reich were to be kept in operation.” In the summer of 1944, Jewish slave laborers were sent from Auschwitz to other camps and factories in Germany, thereby improving their chance to survive.
Anne Frank spent much of 1944 writing and revising her famous diary. On March 28, 1944, she heard a speech over the radio by an exiled Dutch leader calling on the Dutch people to document the crimes of the German occupying army. She also began writing short stories. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, exactly twenty-three months after the Franks had gone into hiding, the eight residents of the annex hugged one another and wept. But on August 4, the Gestapo arrived. Someone had betrayed the Franks. They were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp, and then to Auschwitz.20
In May, Adolf Eichmann dispatched Joel Brand, a Jewish-Hungarian businessman and civic leader, on a mission to learn if the Allies might trade the lives of a million Jews for ten thousand trucks and other supplies - the “blood for goods” deal. Both Roosevelt and McCloy evinced strong interest in the Brand mission and kept up with its progress. In fact Roosevelt person ally intervened in the affair. The British refused to negotiate with Brand, but according to Ira Hirschmann, the president was “alert to an opening through which lives might be saved,” and sent Hirschmann to intercede. Hirschmann met person ally with FDR, who admonished the young diplomat to “keep talking. Cable back everything you hear. While you talk, these people still have a chance to live.” Indeed, Hirschmann carried a letter from the president that conveyed his personal interest in Brand’s mission.21
The State Department telegraphed Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt in Turkey that “every effort should be made to convince the Germans that this government is sufficiently concerned with this problem that it is willing to consider genuine proposals for rescue and relief of the Jews and other victims.” Hirschmann advised Washington “to keep the pot boiling” and allow Brand to return to Hungary with some kind of proposal to gain time. He met with Brand in Cairo on June 22 and flew to London, where Eichmann’s offer was being debated.22
Churchill put the kibosh on Brand’s mission. “On no account,” he minuted Eden on July 7, “have the slightest negotiations, direct or indirect, with the Huns.” The Jewish Agency, which had invested all its rescue efforts in the Brand mission, sought help from Roosevelt. It wanted the WRB to aid Brand’s return to Budapest to tell Eichmann that the Allies were considering the deal. This telegram could have, but did not include, a request to bomb Auschwitz.23
Obviously, the Allies could never have seriously negotiated with the Nazis to supply the dying Reich with trucks for the Eastern Front. The key to victory was for the Allies to remain united at all costs. The WRB found these “fantastic” proposals for saving the Jews of Hungary “of dubious reliability,” which they clearly were. While the British worried that the WRB would cave in to Jewish-American political pressure, the United States government was not about to risk its alliance with the Soviets over such a far-fetched deal. Eventually, the Brand mission was found to be a Nazi ruse to keep the Jewish leadership pacified with “secret negotiations” or an attempt to negotiate a separate peace with the Anglo-Americans and divide the Allies. Patriotic American Jews, dedicated to their nation’s victory, had no intention of endorsing such an absurd plea. According to the WRB’s official history, “the Germans were attempting to use the Jews in their hands not only as pawns for possible economic and personal benefit but also as a means to create dissension between the United States and Great Britain.”24
Despite rejecting the Brand mission and requests to bomb the camps, the Allies agreed to broadcast public warnings to German and Hungarian officials and railwaymen and published a declaration expressing their readiness to admit Jewish escapees from Hungary. The British and American governments issued a joint declaration on August 17 agreeing to the Hungarians’ offer to release certain categories of Jews if the Allies would accept them. The British demanded that the United States take all the responsibility.25 On August 9 Kubowitzki again wrote to McCloy.
Contrary to its characterization by numerous historians and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a request by the World Jewish Congress to bomb Auschwitz, this letter did not endorse the bombing but merely passed on a message from another party without comment. Kubowitzki, in fact, was on record in July opposing the bombing. Indeed, Kubowitzki wrote Pehle a similar letter on August 8, 1944, containing the same quotation from Frischer, but specifically reminded Pehle of his earlier July 1 letter opposing the bombing. As Richard Levy observed, “the language suggests that he was taking care of an obligation in the most perfunctory way.” Kubowitzki wrote Frischer on August 2, 1944:
McCloy responded much as he had to Pehle in July:
When the Hungarians ceased deportations in July, the Allies were unsure if the requests to bomb Auschwitz were still on the table. On August 16, representatives of all the major American Jewish organizations met with Pehle in Washington. The organizations had united to expedite rescue measures in Hungary. Pehle was “extremely skeptical that any Jews would be permitted to leave Hungary.” The Nazis, he said, “might destroy them on the spot.” According to a memorandum of the meeting, Pehle “flatly rejected as unfeasible the proposal that the extermination installations in Oswieczym [ Auschwitz] and elsewhere should be destroyed by bombing or parachutists.” “A proposal to bomb the facilities,” Pehle noted, “had been objected to by Jewish organizations because it would result in the extermination of large numbers of Jews there.” The alternative was to send an underground detachment, but he expressed doubt “that the Poles could muster the strength for such engagements.”
After this meeting, these groups sent a memorandum outlining their requests for rescue. It did not include a request to bomb Auschwitz, nor did any of the representatives at the meeting request that Auschwitz be bombed. Pehle felt that public reaction would be unfavorable to a diversion of military forces “from present crucial military activities” for any reason. American Jewish leaders obviously agreed or had serious reservations about bombing the camps as well.29
Kubowitzki persisted in his plan to seek help from the Polish underground to destroy “the instruments of death” at Auschwitz. In late August, he transmitted to Pehle a letter from a member of the Polish National Council to the Polish Prime Minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, on the subject. On August 30, Kubowitzki wrote directly to McCloy. He told the assistant secretary, “We know how strongly this country and the Administration feel about the annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe.” He pointed out in no uncertain terms that the WJC “did not ask for the destruction of the death installations by bombing from the air. We asked that the destruction be done either by Soviet paratroopers or by the Polish Underground.”30
In this same letter, Kubowitzki informed McCloy that the WJC had suggested the use of volunteer Allied (presumably Anglo-American) paratroopers. McCloy replied on September 3 that a decision to use Allied paratroopers at Auschwitz must be made by the commanders in the area. “I am sure [the Allied Mediterranean commander] would do anything he felt he could to check these ghastly excesses of the Nazis. Perhaps an alteration in the tactical situation may make it possible for him to take some effective steps along the lines you propose.” Leaders of the WJC and its supporters continued to debate the bombing of Auschwitz. Ernest Frischer continued to favor bombing and believed the destruction of the extermination installations by Russian paratroopers or the Polish underground “absolutely impossible.”31
Rescue advocates were grasping at straws. The Soviets would not help. The Polish underground could not help. The United States Army refused to consider sending paratroopers to rescue American POWs who were in danger, it was thought at the time, of being murdered by the SS and the Gestapo. Kubowitzki noted in a confidential memorandum to the WJC office committee that WRB staffer Lawrence Lesser “did not expect much from the Russians who had written off their war prisoners in German camps.”32 Of course, Jewish leaders knew that help from the Poles was unlikely. The Poles were as antisemitic as the Germans. Members of the WJC believed in October 1944 that “the attitude of the Polish population was always bad against the Jews and that was why the Germans have chosen Poland to become the cemetery of Jews. They could do it in no other country.” Letters and telegrams from the WJC to the Soviets requesting the use of Russian paratroopers were ignored.33
On September 2, Benjamin Akzin tried again to convince Pehle to meet with Roosevelt and request that the camps be bombed. “I am certain,” Akzin urged Pehle, “that the President, once acquainted with the facts, would realize the values involved and, cutting through the inertia-motivated objections of the War Department, would order the immediate bombing of the objectives suggested.” Pehle disagreed. The WRB, according to the minutes of the WJC, “has no plan at all...” and are “showing a complete air of helplessness.”34
The limits of Allied airpower were dramatic ally illustrated in August and September, when Allied pilots, including Polish volunteers, flew a mission to drop supplies to the Polish resistance in Warsaw. The American Eighth Bomber Group flew the last Operation Frantic missions on September 18-20 and dropped one thousand, two hundred, eighty-four containers of arms and supplies over Warsaw. These efforts were futile and costly. Less than one hundred containers reached the Polish Home Army. The Germans captured the rest, and, on September 20, shot down five of twenty Allied aircraft. Two hundred Allied pilots were killed over Warsaw. The WJC continued to promote their alternative plan, a raid on Auschwitz by Soviet and Polish troops.35
Kubowitzki wrote Pehle again on October 1, 1944, letting Pehle know he had contacted Soviet authorities. On October 3, Pehle informed McCloy that the death camps were increasing their pace of murder and asked that consideration be given to bombing the camps. Again, Pehle was performing a perfunctory task. As the WJC office committee minutes noted on October 20, 1944, “Pehle had never felt very keen” on the subject of bombing the camps. McCloy’s executive assistant, Colonel Harrison A. Gerhardt, opposed the bombing because the region was within the sphere of Russian responsibility. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress and a representative of the Jewish Agency, claimed thirty-six years later that he visited McCloy to urge that the camps be bombed, even though this request was in conflict with WJC policy. “McCloy indicated to me,” Goldmann wrote Martin Gilbert, “that, although the Americans were reluctant about my proposal, they might agree to it, though any decision as to the target of bombardments in Europe was in the hands of the British.” Goldmann also went to see General John Dill, the senior British representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff, whose attitude was totally negative. Apparently the WJC, like the JA, both supported and opposed the bombing of Auschwitz.36
In September and October 1944, the War Department Operations Division and the Air Force Operational Plans Division reviewed the bombing request. General Frederick Anderson, General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz’s deputy for operations, recommended against it. (Spaatz was in command of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe.) His common sense telegram read:
Although Hungarian Jewry received a brief reprieve, the remnant of European Jewry did not. Tens of thousands of Jews were transported from all over Europe to Auschwitz from August to November 1944. The Jews of Lodz, Poland, the largest remaining Jewish ghetto in Europe, were murdered during September, October and November. On October 10, Jewish groups, the Polish government-in-exile, and others pressured the British and the Americans to warn the Germans that if their plans for “mass execution at Oswiecim and Brzezinky” were carried out, those responsible “from the highest to the lowest” would be brought to justice. The German Telegraph Service denied the truth of the reports even as the exterminations continued.
Anne Frank and her family were still alive in October 1944. Rumors spread at Auschwitz that the Russian army was only sixty miles away. In late October or early November, with the Russian army fast approaching, Anne and her sister, Margot, were sent from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. Their mother, Edith, lingered at Auschwitz and died on January 6, 1945, but Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived, freed by the Russians on January 27, 1945.38
The best-known episode in the War Refugee Board’s campaign to rescue European Jewry was under way at this time. From July 9, 1944, to January 17, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg worked frantically to save the Jews of Budapest. When Eichmann returned to Budapest on October 17, Wallenberg was still there. He was helpless to prevent the renewed deportations, killings and shootings even as the Red Army, massed in Poland and Romania, drew closer. With the help of the Hungarian Arrow Cross party (Nyilas) Fascists, the Nazis slaughtered thousands of Jews in Budapest. Yet, one hundred, twenty thousand Jews survived as late as December 1944. After waiting in vain for the Red Army, thirty thousand Jews were marched by Arrow Cross gangs in November toward the Austrian border. Thousands died. On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg was captured by the Soviet army and never seen again.39
It was clear that Jews remaining at Auschwitz would be killed before the Germans retreated. By November 8, 1944, Pehle read the report of two escapees from Auschwitz, Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, eyewitnesses to the Holocaust, and changed his mind on the bombing issue. He told Ira Hirschmann that this report was “convincing in a way in which other reports have not been, as you know it is not easy to believe that such things take place.” Pehle wrote McCloy that he was now convinced the camps ought to be bombed and enclosed copies of the Vrba-Wetzler report, which gave shocking details of conditions at Auschwitz. No previous report “has quite caught the gruesome brutality of what is taking place in these camps of horror.”40
But McCloy was unmoved. The General Staff Operations Division concluded that bombing was “not feasible from a military standpoint.” The camp was beyond the range of medium bombers, dive bombers and fighter-bombers. Heavy bombers must be used, but these aircraft were fully engaged in destroying industrial targets. They could not be diverted from that role. McCloy ignored the Allied air base at Foggia (round-trip, thirteen hundred miles) when he erroneously claimed that Auschwitz could only be attacked by American heavy bombers traveling two thousand miles over enemy territory from bases in Britain. But he accurately reflected the views of the army air force commanders. Major General J. E. Hull considered the plan “of very doubtful feasibility” and “unacceptable from a military standpoint at this time.” It was a diversion from the strategic bombing campaigns, and the results would not justify the cost in men and aircraft. McCloy likely never read the Vrba-Wetzler report and returned it to Pehle.41
In any event, it was too late. By early November, the Russian army was approaching Auschwitz, and the inmates were being shipped to Germany or marched to death. On November 25, 1944, Pehle released to the press the Vrba-Wetzler report on the death camps. “U.S. Board Bares Atrocity Details Told by Witnesses at Polish Camps,” the New York Times front-page headline read on November 26. “It is a fact beyond denial,” the WRB press release stated, “that the Germans have deliberately and systematically murdered millions of innocent civilians - Jews and Christians alike - all over Europe. ...So revolting and diabolical are the German atrocities that the minds of civilized people find it difficult to believe that they have actually taken place.”42
That same day, November 26, Heinrich Himmler ordered the crematoriums at Auschwitz dismantled. The machinery was sent to other killing facilities. Allied bombers attacked factories near Auschwitz and Monowitz on December 18 and 26. The plants and slave labor camps attached to the abandoned death camps remained in operation until January 8, 1945. Much of the physical evidence of industrialized murder at Auschwitz - corpses in mass graves, fences and guard towers - was removed during December and January. Only the approach of the Red Army in January 1945 caused the Nazis to close Auschwitz. On January 18 and 19, the Gestapo “evacuated” sixty-five thousand prisoners from Auschwitz into Upper Silesia by marching them in freezing weather. Thousands died. Soviet troops arrived at Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. They found seventy-six hundred survivors.43
In all likelihood, Roosevelt knew little or nothing of the requests to bomb Auschwitz. They were most actively pressed during the summer and fall of 1944, when the president was both ill and extremely busy. He focused his limited energy on D-Day, the progress of the war in Europe and the Pacific, the imminent collapse of Germany, conferences with Churchill and Stalin and the November election. These monumental tasks pressed on him. The president never received formal requests to bomb Auschwitz from any credible person or group he respected, and there was no convincing evidence that his close advisers - Morgenthau, Rosenman, Byrnes or Hopkins - approached him with such a request. Nor did notable or important Jewish leaders or organizations in America or Palestine request that American forces bomb Auschwitz at a time when bombing might have accomplished something.44
Until recently, skeptics had not contended that Roosevelt knew about the request to bomb Auschwitz. In 1983, Morton Mintz of the Washington Post interviewed John McCloy, then eighty-eight years old. McCloy told Mintz that he had never talked to Roosevelt about it but that he had spoken to Harry Hopkins, who said “the Boss was not disposed to” the bombing. McCloy stated to Mintz that he told Rosenman of Air Force General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold’s negative appraisal of the idea, gave it to Rosenman and “that was the end of that.” Even FDR critic David Wyman told Mintz that there was no documentary evidence “that the bombing question ever came to Roosevelt. FDR didn’t care enough about the whole issue of rescue to let that issue or any aspect of it become a deep concern.” Wyman doubted that Hopkins was involved either, given his poor health in the spring and summer of 1944. McCloy’s biographer, Kai Bird, flatly stated that “there is no evidence that Roosevelt was ever approached about the matter.” And, according to Bird, no records of discussions with Hap Arnold or Harry Hopkins could be found.45
In 1986, Henry Morgenthau III interviewed ninety-one-year-old McCloy. “They came to me and wanted to order the bombing of Auschwitz,” McCloy told Morgenthau. At first, he told Morgenthau that neither his father nor FDR was involved in that issue. Then he said the president opposed the bombing because it would have done no good. The president made it clear, McCloy said, that the United States “would have been accused of destroying Auschwitz, bombing these innocent people. This isn’t right...he took it out of my hands. We didn’t want to get involved in this diversion.” McCloy then said that FDR was irate at the idea of bombing Jews in the camps to make a gesture. “He said why the idea, they’ll say we bombed these people, and they’ll only move it down the road a little way and bomb them all the more. ...If it’s successful, it’ll be more provocative and I won’t have anything to do [with it]...we’ll be accused of participating in this horrible business.”46
The only first-hand evidence that Roosevelt was ever informed about the request to bomb Auschwitz was John McCloy’s interview at age ninety-one. This is hardly reliable evidence that FDR was told of the proposal. Prior to 1986 and for the previous forty years, McCloy claimed that Roosevelt never knew about the bombing request, nor did McCloy ever say that he had discussed it with FDR.
The debate whether FDR knew or did not know of the request to bomb Auschwitz, however, is a tempest in a teapot. He would likely have treated a decision about bombing Auschwitz as a military, not a political, matter. It was unlikely that Roosevelt knew about the request to bomb Auschwitz. But McCloy’s description of Roosevelt’s attitude rings true even if it were never expressed. His alleged reaction complements everything we know about Roosevelt’s mind-set, his keeping his eye on the speediest victory possible and his likely revulsion at bombing “places where there are Jews.” At this stage of the war, Roosevelt almost always deferred to military decision-makers and rarely considered political objectives more important than military ones. For example, he did not discipline General George S. Patton for his highly-publicized indiscretions or involve himself in the politics of selecting generals. “War,” as Louis Morton wrote of Roosevelt, “was an aberration, a nasty business to be got over with. …Beat the bully and bring the boys home - that was the American approach to war.”47
How does one judge the Roosevelt administration on the issue of bombing Auschwitz? To attempt a judgment it is important to put the question into both perspective and context. Even Roosevelt’s critics agree that the window of opportunity to bomb Auschwitz was both small and late in the war - about six months in the summer and fall of 1944. The first unequivocal request to bomb Auschwitz was on June 24, 1944, and addressed to the WRB in Bern, Switzerland. More than 5 million Jews were already dead. This window closed in November, when the Nazis ordered Auschwitz destroyed.48
The power and precision of World War II’s aerial bombardment were mythical, and the American military knew it. Only one in five bombers got within five miles of its designated target. In 1942 the British bombed German cities because they were large enough to locate from the air. “More USAAF bombs landed in fields and killed cows than hit German factories,” one Eisenhower biographer concluded. Aerial bombardment entailed ponderous moral consequences. At the beginning of the war, Americans insisted that they would not engage in the bombing of cities or civilians. The B-17 bomber and the Norden bombsight, many believed, made bombing quite precise and helped mitigate the consequences of these acts. Those beliefs were part of the myth.49
There was, however, no question that with the application of sufficient willpower and effort, the Allies could have bombed Auschwitz. The Fifteenth Air Force accidentally bombed the camp on September 13, 1944, in sorties against a plant at Monowitz. Bombing “the camps,” however, did not necessarily mean destroying the gas chambers, crematoriums and ditches used in the Final Solution. However, bombing the camps necessarily meant killing many Jewish inmates. The airplanes that struck the fuel and rubber plants around Auschwitz were heavy bombers dropping bombs over a wide area from a high altitude. Hundreds if not thousands of prisoners would have perished in a rain of steel, incendiaries and high explosives directed against the camp buildings. Low-altitude raids by large bombers guaranteed huge losses of aircraft and crew as well.50
The risk that could not be taken was that bombing would kill Jewish inmates but fail to halt the extermination process. As Rubinstein points out, Allied bombs could fall on barracks rather than on gas chambers. In 1944, there was strong likelihood that this would happen, given the inaccuracy of Allied bombing and the relatively small area occupied by the crematoria as compared to the many acres of barracks. “I am perfectly confident,” intelligence officer and later Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell recalled in 1985, “that General [Carl] Spaatz would have resisted any proposal that we kill Jewish inmates in order temporarily to put an Auschwitz out of operation.”51
Stubborn advocates of bombing Auschwitz wore blinders to the fact that World War II was at its crisis in June - November 1944 and seem to have imagined that airpower was readily available for any task that contemporaries or advocates might wish done. But an apocalyptic struggle was under way in Western Europe, and strategic bombing was a key to victory or defeat. In January 1943, at Casablanca, Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed to a bombing strategy: the USAAF would bomb industrial targets during the day, and the RAF would bomb the surrounding area at night. The real effectiveness of the air war was still uncertain. In 1943, the United States Eighth Air Force had, according to Williamson Murray, “flirted with absolute defeat in the skies over Germany.” It lost thirty percent of its crews almost every month. Not until May 1944 did American bomber losses begin to decline. The battle for air superiority was a close-run contest well into 1944, and the outcome was uncertain to the Allies. The British and American military were prepared to let their POWs die at the hands of the SS rather than divert men, matériel and airpower from the war effort.52
Allied air force commanders resented “diversionists,” who proposed shifting airplanes to other targets and meddled in their grand strategy of winning the war by strategic aerial bombardment. “There are a lot of people who say that bombing can never win a war,” Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, commander of RAF Bomber Command, said in 1943. “Well, my answer to that is that it has never been tried yet. And we shall see.”53 They believed the war could be won more quickly by concentrating on bombing Germany’s industrial and transportation infrastructure. Political authorities rarely injected themselves into targeting decisions because, in historian Tami Davis Biddle’s words, “such decisions were complex, dependent on contingent factors (like weather), and subject to special types of technical knowledge and expertise.” Roosevelt, whose philosophy this late in the war was to let the military brass make military decisions, was “noninterventionist.”54
The strategy of concentrating on industrial targets was modified somewhat as D-Day approached. An Allied failure to defeat the Lufwaffe might have proven fatal to the invasion. Thus the Allies made an all-out effort in the winter of 1943 and spring of 1944 to eliminate the German air force.55 As hard as it may be to believe, army air force commanders vigorously resisted even that diversion of airpower to aid in the preparation for D-Day. The air campaign preceding D-Day, called the “Transportation Plan,” became the focus of rancorous debate. Churchill fought Eisenhower, who was forced to turn to Roosevelt and Marshall for support. Eisenhower threatened to “pack up and go home” if he were not given temporary control of the air force from mid-April to mid-September to bomb continuously the German transportation and communication networks that served Normandy.56
Civilians’ and politicians’ wishes to bomb a concentration camp in Poland or even to rescue Allied POWs paled into insignificance when measured against the tasks of preparing the Normandy invasion; supporting Allied armies after the landings; ferrying supplies; paving the way for more landings in southern France; relieving the miserable, costly ground war in Italy; and destroying launch sites that hurled deadly V-1 and V-2 rockets into London. “This new form of attack,” Churchill wrote after the war, “imposed upon the people of London a burden perhaps even heavier than the air raids of 1940 and 1941.” According to Biddle, during July and August 1944, the Allied air forces sent 16,566 sorties and one-fourth of the two months’ bomb tonnage against V-weapon sites. The fear that German science could pull a rabbit out of a hat was not unfounded, as the late deployments of the jet plane and missiles demonstrated. “We shall not allow the battle operations in Normandy...to suffer” despite the “grievous suffering” of many people, Churchill told the House of Commons.57
Even if Allies could pinpoint bomb the killing operations at Auschwitz, the Nazis did not need that horrible facility to kill Jews and everyone knew it. Millions of Jews had been murdered by shootings, forced marches, exposure and starvation. An illustration of that truism is the extermination of Hungarian Jewry itself. In July 1944, Horthy ordered a halt to the deportations. The roundup of one hundred, fifty thousand Budapest Jews was suspended, and they were relatively safe until October 15, 1944, when Ferenc Szalasi’s pro-Nazi, antisemitic Arrow Cross movement took over the country. Eichmann and the SS returned to Budapest. Jews were mercilessly killed by roving bands of Arrow Cross soldiers in Budapest. Auschwitz ceased operations by November 21 but Ravensbruck and Mauthausen continued on, murdering thousands. A forced winter march to Austria killed thousands more. On December 22, 1944, as the Soviet army neared, Eichmann fled Budapest but the Arrow Cross was still killing hundreds of Jews in January 1945.58
According to Hitler’s close confidant, economic planner and minister for armaments and munitions, Albert Speer, if the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers were destroyed, “Hitler would have hit the roof...He would have ordered the return to mass shooting. And immediately, as a matter of top priority.” In a 1972 interview, Speer said that if the Allied bombing of German cities had been announced as retaliation for the Holocaust, Hitler would have diverted more of his dwindling manpower and resources to the murder of the Jews. Three hundred “little Auschwitzes” would have been created, or the SS would have reverted to shooting its victims, as the Einsatzgruppen had done in Russia. By 1944, Nazi murderers were both hardened and experienced. They were proud of their achievements and preferred killing civilians to being sent to the Eastern Front. “The idea,” Weinberg concluded, “that men who were dedicated to the killing program, and who saw their own careers and even their own lives tied to its continuation, were likely to be halted in their tracks by a few line-cuts on the railways or the blowing up of a gas chamber is preposterous.”59
With regard to the narrower issue of bombing the railroad lines, even Roosevelt’s critics agree that it was a chimera. To succeed would have been extremely difficult at the distances involved, and trains could divert to other routes, as numerous lines ran between Hungary and Auschwitz. Destroyed lines would require daily bombing to keep them out of service for any length of time. After the war “Bomber” Harris said that cutting the lines would have achieved no effective result, except for a few days “unless a totally impracticable (numerically) effort was applied virtually continuously to that end.” Even the Confederate Army could quickly repair railroad lines during the Civil War. That is why General William Tecumseh Sherman had his troops take pains to tear up, heat and bend railroad iron to prevent rebuilding damaged lines.60
Wyman, Roosevelt’s most sincere and indefatigable critic, is forced to acknowledge that cutting the railway lines would have necessitated “close observation of the severed lines and frequent rebombing, since repairs took only a few days.” But, even on this obvious point, Wyman cannot bring himself to concede that the United States military took the correct course. “In the case of railroad lines,” he claims, “the answer is not clear-cut.” But it was clear-cut to every air war expert then and now. One lesson of the Normandy invasion was that every transportation resource - from tracks to stations, yards and locomotives - had to be bombed continuously to be effective. Even Feingold concedes that “when the possibility of rescue through bombing is closely scrutinized, its possibility of saving lives seems remote.”61
Most importantly, in 1944 no American civilian, soldier, politician or organization with any clout or credibility was willing to take the moral responsibility of pushing Washington to bomb Auschwitz. Few prominent individuals and no American Jewish group of any consequence asked the Roosevelt administration to bomb Auschwitz. Even the Jewish Agency executive in Palestine voted against it in June 1944 and never took another vote. Yitzhak Gruenbaum never wrote to L. C. Pinkerton, as the American diplomat suggested, requesting the bombing of Auschwitz. Dr. Leon Kubowitzki, head of the Rescue Department of the World Jewish Congress, consistently and vociferously opposed the action and proposed a different idea, an attack by Soviet paratroopers. At the August 1944 meeting of Jewish representatives with John Pehle, there was no dissent on the decision not to bomb the camps. Pehle himself adamantly opposed it.62
Some Jewish leaders wanted Auschwitz bombed but fretted about the moral dilemma so much that they would not commit their organizations to it. According to David Ben-Gurion’s biographer Shabtai Teveth, “the dread of ever being charged with moral responsibility for massacre of Jews...continued to guide the JAE,” even as it closed its eyes to requests to bomb Auschwitz from its representatives in London, Weizmann and Sharett (later Shertok). The JAE like the World Jewish Congress transmitted requests by others to bomb but would not commit themselves publicly and officially to the request. Thus the JAE and the WJC had it both ways. They both did and did not request that Auschwitz be bombed. 63
The ethical dilemma posed by bombing Auschwitz and the likely consequent killing of thousands of innocent Jews was very real for those Jews who faced the actual decision in 1944. Indeed, the killing of an innocent person is strictly forbidden by Talmudic law. The Talmud commands a Jew to die himself rather than kill an innocent person. “Allow yourself to be killed rather than commit murder,” the Talmud teaches. “Who knows that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder,” the sages said. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, if a group of Jews is commanded to deliver under threat of death to all, one of its members to an enemy who intends to kill him, all must die rather than kill one innocent. This explains Dr. Emil Schmorak’s comment at the June 1944 meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive: “It is forbidden for us to take responsibility for a bombing that could very well cause the death of even one Jew.”64
It is easy in this moral quagmire to blame John McCloy for failing to authorize or even to investigate bombing Auschwitz. He certainly is a convenient target for the Roosevelt critics. As part of the Eastern WASP establishment, he lived in a world full of genteel antisemitism. But, as we have seen, the roundup of Hungarian Jews began in April 1944 and McCloy, who greatly respected Pehle, never received a request to bomb the camps from Pehle until it was too late, in November. And McCloy had every right to rely on Pehle. No one doubted Pehle’s commitment to saving Jews. Pehle first detected the duplicity of the State Department in sabotaging relief operations. Accompanying Morgenthau, he explained the situation to Roosevelt himself. 65
Most historians believe that Pehle’s hands were tied because the War Department insisted that the armed forces would not be employed for rescue operations unless in conjunction with operations whose objective was defeating the enemies’ armed forces. Pehle had agreed with this interpretation of the WRB’s authority based on the president’s executive order that the WRB’s efforts must be “consistent with the successful prosecution of the war.”66 However, the implication that Pehle believed he had no right to request military assistance is belied by both Pehle’s and Morgenthau’s actions. First, both men were committed to cutting red tape–military or otherwise–when it suited their purposes. For example, Morgenthau convinced FDR to countermand a military order that hindered Jewish refugees from crossing the Adriatic to escape from Yugoslavia into occupied Italy.67 Second, there is nothing in the correspondence between Pehle and McCloy to suggest that Pehle acted improperly or beyond the scope of the WRB’s jurisdiction when in November 1944 he suggested bombing Auschwitz. In its reply the military refused but did not tell Pehle that the request was not the legitimate business of the WRB. Third, Pehle did request the bombing when he was convinced it was the right thing to do. Finally, experience reveals that Morgenthau would have gone to FDR to insist on the bombing of Auschwitz had he strongly favored it.68
McCloy relied on Pehle and probably believed in August 1944 that the war would soon be over. Like his friend Felix Frankfurter and others in the government, McCloy harbored doubts about the accuracy of reports on the extermination of the Jews, which he thought grossly exaggerated. The official, unpublished WRB history notes that “because of the immensity of the catastrophe being visited upon the Jews of Hungary, the board gave serious consideration to all rescue proposals advanced. ...It was suggested that concentration and extermination centers be bombed in order that the resultant confusion might enable some of the persons held to escape and hide. ...These particular proposals were not referred to the War Department because the board did not feel justified in asking at that stage of the war that any measures be undertaken involving the diversion or sacrifice of American troops.” The board itself would not take on the moral responsibility of requesting bombing until November 1944. By then it was too late.69
In sum, for many weighty reasons the United States and its Allies refused to destroy Auschwitz by bombardment. The chief reason was the moral dilemma of deliberately killing hundreds or even thousands of innocent men, women and children in a futile effort to stop the killing of others marked for death. That is why there was little discussion of bombing Auschwitz at the time, and no credible American Jewish leader or organization asked Roosevelt to bomb the camps. The issue was essentially created by historians years after the actual events. Historian Richard Levy has pointed out a July 11, 1944, note in the Jewish Agency archives that represents “the most closely argued contemporary Jewish viewpoint available to us.” The bombing, it said, was “hardly likely to achieve the salvation of the victims to any appreciable extent.” While the plant and personnel would be destroyed and the “dislocation of the German machinery for systematic wholesale murder may possibly cause delay in the execution of those still in Hungary...it may not go very far, as other means of extermination can be quickly improvised.” The main purpose of the bombing, according to this contemporary record, “should be its many-sided and far-reaching moral effect,” namely the Allies waging direct war against the extermination of the Jews. It would give the lie to Nazi assertions that the Allies were indifferent to or not displeased with the murder of the Jews; it would dissipate the incredulity that persisted about reports of extermination; and it would demonstrate to the Germans that the Allies were serious about punishing the guilty. This note was never presented to the American government.70
1 / Weinberg, “The Allies and the Holocaust,” 487-88. With the exception of bombing the death camps, limits on rescue were, in Weinberg’s words, “largely the result of German insistence on the sorts of trades and concessions that were impossible - and that [the Germans] knew to be impossible - for the Allies to accept.”
2 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, viii; 6-7, 102; 240-42, 291-92, fn. 26; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 190, 207. “Report on Rescue Problems and Activities from July 22 to September 1, 1944,” (WJC, MSS Col. 361, A68/2, AJA).
3 / Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 211-12; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 45, 151, 181, 233; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 249-50; Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust 12:82-86.
4 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 220-38
5 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 250-53; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 237.
6 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 105, 252-53 (Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, translation supplied by USHMM and Richard H. Levy).
7 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 105; Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion Reverse His Position on Bombing Auschwitz?,” 89-96; Dinah Porat in The Blue and the Yellow Stars of David (1990), 216, and Shabtai Teveth in Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust (1996) 189-93, claimed Ben-Gurion and the JA changed their minds without direct or documentary evidence; Medoff, “New Perspectives...,” 254. The FDR critics accept these views uncritic ally. Levy believes the JA executive did not want to take the moral responsibility for endorsing the bombing proposal but was ambivalent about the issue and therefore allowed Weizmann and Shertok to make the bombing request. If Levy is correct, the JA would then have “deniability” if anything went wrong. Levy may not be correct, as he concedes, but his point - that the JA executive could have wired FDR to bomb the camps and did not - is persuasive. Newton, ed., FDR and the Holocaust (seventh on list), 15.
8 / Bird, The Chairman, 212-13; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 48, 254, Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust 12:103; Rosenheim to Morgenthau, 6-18-44, WRB, Box 42/3, FDRL (Rosenheim letter); 104 (Pehle memo); History of the WRB, 153, FDRL. Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 220, 237-38. “This was no ringing endorsement of the appeal to bomb the Hungarian railways,” Richard H. Levy points out, “a fact which Wyman fails to bring out.” Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 104. See Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 29. Pehle, a thoroughly pro-Jewish activist and head of the rescue effort, thought the proposal had no merit at this time. Wyman does not quote Pehle’s critical memorandum and downplays Pehle’s reaction. “Pehle,” Wyman writes, “discussed it with McCloy. Pehle himself expressed doubts about the proposal, but asked that the War Department explore the idea. McCloy agreed to look into it” (Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 291). This version left the reader with the impression that Pehle seriously promoted the proposal when in fact he did not. Wyman fails to quote Pehle’s memorandum in his footnotes. This is a serious failure to accurately depict a critical fact in the Auschwitz bombing scenario because McCloy was left with the impression that the proposal was not only not urgent, but that it was not serious.
9 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 257-58, 67; Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust 12:153-54. Pehle to McCloy, 6-29-44 (with Cable 404!), WRB, Box 42/3, FDRL; emphasis in the text added. See Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 295; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 104-5; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 246-47. Bird, The Chairman, 214-15 (“McCloy, however, was never shown Akzin’s memo, and Pehle’s own doubts and the halfhearted manner in which he conveyed the bombing proposal reinforced McCloy’s judgment that this was something the War Department should stay away from”). Wyman in Abandonment of the Jews changes Akzin’s “might” slow down the slaughter to “would” slow down the slaughter.
10 / Hilberg, Perpetrators Victims, Bystanders, 232. Kubowitzki to Pehle, July 1, 1944, WRB Box 35, No. 5, FDRL; WRB Box 42/3, FDRL; Copy in MSS Col. 361, D107/1 (emphasis in original); Akzin to Lesser, 6-29-44, WRB Box 42/3, FDRL; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 105, 259; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 256: Wyman omits Kubowitzki’s opposition to the bombing and leads the reader to believe he favored it. Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 295. This critical letter and several others are omitted from Wyman’s vol. 12 of America and the Holocaust, described as “a thirteen-volume set documenting the Editor’s Book, The Abandonment of the Jews.” The subtitle is technically correct because the Kubowitzki letter is omitted from Wyman’s book also. Martin Gilbert cites the Kubowitzki letter in his Auschwitz and the Allies (1981) 256. Bird, who relies heavily on Wyman, implies that Kubowitzki was going against the wishes of the inmates at Auschwitz, all of whom were happy to be killed if the camp could be destroyed.
Aryeh Leon Kubowitzki, a native of Lithuania who was raised in Belgium, immigrated to the United States in 1940. He became head of the World Jewish Congress European Department. Bird, The Chairman, 214.
The notion that the Germans would blame the Allies for the Holocaust is not far-fetched at all. In fact, Holocaust deniers have blamed the Allies for causing the deaths of concentration camp inmates by bombing transportation networks and medicine factories, which, in turn, led to outbreaks of typhus and other diseases in the concentration camps. Lipstadt, History on Trial, 208.
11 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 105-06; Nahum Goldmann to Jan Masaryk, 7-3-44, MSS Col. 361, D107/13, AJA. The AJ Congress and the World Jewish Congress were centrist organizations with a substantial membership and following among American Jews.
12 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 256-71; Bird, The Chairman, 211-13. Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 245-47; Wyman, America and the Holocaust 12:79.
13 / Gilbert, “The Contemporary Case for the Feasibility of Bombing Auschwitz,” 65-75; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 267-69, 273; Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion Reverse His Position on Bombing Auschwitz?,” 89-96.
14 / Bird, The Chairman, 204-05, 217; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 284; Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 267, 292-93, 407.
15 / Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion Reverse His Position on Bombing Auschwitz?,” 48, 107, 260; WRB Records, Box 35, Hungary no. 5, FDRL; WRB, Box 42/3, FDRL, also reproduced in Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust, 12:152; Bird, The Chairman, 213-14. German success at holding up the Allied advance was worrisome. With regard to a later McCloy letter, Gilbert agreed that Germany’s oil reserves were “still a grave danger to the Allied advance both from east and west. For this reason,” Gilbert concludes, “the Americans were at that very moment turning down the...request to bomb the railways” (Auschwitz and the Allies, 238, 255). Bird claims that the “single assertion of fact in [McCloy’s July 4] letter, that the Auschwitz rail lines could be bombed only by ‘diversion of considerable air support’ was not true” as American bombers in Italy had been flying over the camp since that spring (Bird, The Chairman, 213-14). But a successful bombing of the camps would have diverted more than minimal air support and, there were ongoing “decisive operations” (the Normandy invasion!). There is also no question of the “very doubtful efficacy” of bombing the railway lines. American Jewish leaders at the time understood that.
16 / Nichol and Rennell, The Last Escape, xiii, 31-37, 61, 196.
17 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 277-78; Jerusalem telegram no. 97, NA, 840.48, Refugees 17-1144; Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion Reverse His Position on Bombing Auschwitz?,” 89-96.
18 / Smertenko to Roosevelt, July 24, 1944 [from Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 271-73 (Source: National Archives, State Dept. 840.48 Refugees/7-2444, reproduced in Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust, 12:159-61)]; Rapoport, Shake Heaven and Earth, 57; Wyman, ed. America and the Holocaust, 12:159-61; Smertenko to FDR, 7-24-44, Hassett memos 7-28-44, 8-5-44, WRB Box 42, FDRL.
19 / It is not clear exactly what happened in regard to the telegrams and Hungarian knowledge of them. Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 258, 266, 275, 281, 286, 292; Levy, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Revisited,” 108-111; Rubinstein, The Myth of Rescue, 195.
20 / Müller, Anne Frank, 183-85, 217, 230-47.
21 / Hirschmann, Caution to the Winds, 172. It was remarkable that Hirschmann’s first-hand account of the firm and personal support he got from FDR, as well as from Cox, Lubin, Hopkins and others published in his memoir, Caution to the Winds in 1962, does not appear in the Roosevelt critics’ version of history. Neither Wyman nor Feingold mention it at all. Feingold is happy to quote Hirschmann’s negative assessment of the Évian Conference of 1938 but does not quote Hirschmann on FDR’s efforts to person ally save Jews. The most the reader gets from Feingold is that “ Roosevelt gave the [Brand] mission his personal endorsement.” All we learn from Wyman is that continued negotiations in the Brand affair had “the express concurrence of President Roosevelt.” Feingold, The Politics of Rescue, 33, 272, citing Caution to the Winds, 114-16; Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 244. Wyman’s footnote does not cite Hirschmann’s memoir when obviously he was aware of it, as it is cited elsewhere - in his notes, 353. Morse does not give the full picture of White House support for Hirschmann but he does quote the president telling Hirschmann to “cable back everything you hear” (While Six Million Died, 356-57). Lookstein and Friedman omitted it altogether. Penkower mentioned Lubin’s code word to contact “the Boss” and the Roosevelt letter (obtained, he says by Pehle via Lubin) but did not tell the reader the extent of Roosevelt’s involvement. Penkower omitted Roosevelt’s personal meeting with and direct instructions to Hirschmann on the Brand affair (The Jews Were Expendable, 164, 170, 188).
22 / Bird, The Chairman, 218; Hirschmann memo to Ambassador Steinhardt, 6-22-24, ASW 400.38 Jews, Box 44, RG 107, NA; Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 215; Elon, Timetable, 212; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 225, 242.
23 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 270, 278. According to Levy, “Apparently no appeal to bomb the death camps was transmitted from Jerusalem to Washington.” While Gruenbaum claimed in 1961 that he had sent telegrams to Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt to bomb Auschwitz, no such documentary evidence existed, nor did Gruenbaum have the authority of the JAE to do so. Levy, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Revisited,” 106; Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion reverse his position on bombing Auschwitz?”
24 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 280 (a ruse); Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 243-44 (a separate peace); Dwork and van Pelt, Holocaust, 322-23, 329-30; WRB History, 215, FDRL.
25 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 269, 300, 313-14.
26 / Kubowitzki to McCloy, August 9, 1944, reproduced in Neufeld and Berenbaum (eds), The Bombing of Auschwitz, 273-74. National Archives, RG 107, Assistant Secretary of War Files, 400.38 Countries C-D-E-F ( Box 151), also reproduced in Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust 12:164. Pehle’s letter of 8-3-1944 transmitting Frischer’s letter to Kubowitzki, and Kubowitzki to McCloy 8-9-44, MSS Col. 361, D107/13, AJA. A copy of this letter is on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, but without Kubowitzki’s first letter of July 1, 1944, opposing the bombing of Auschwitz or his later letter of August 30, 1944 reiterating his opposition, or indeed any of the true context of the letter. As a result, the display is misleading.
27 / Wyman, America and the Holocaust 12: 164; Levy, “The Bombing of Auschwitz Revisited,” 113; Kubowitzki to Pehle, July 1, 1944 (in Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 259-60; Kubowitzki to Pehle, August 9, 1944 (in Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 273-74; Kubowitzki to Pehle, 8-8-44, WRB Box 42/3, FDRL; Kubowitzki to Frischer, 8-2-44 MSS 361, D107/13, AJA. My thanks to Rabbi Anthony Holtz and Jerry Zucker for the meaning of hayei sha’ah.
28 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 274. National Archives, RG 107, Assistant Secretary of War Files, 400.38 Countries C-D-E-F (Box 151), also reproduced in Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust, XII:165, transcript supplied by USHMM; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 303. While many authors have ridiculed McCloy’s concern about “more vindictive action,” Feingold explained that the Germans could have begun killing American pilots and other POWs. Bearing Witness, 266.
29 / Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust 12:165; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., 122-23, 274-75; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 303-07; Medoff, The Deafening Silence, 158-59; “I. L. Kenen, “Report of Meeting with John W. Pehle, Executive Director, and Messrs. Lesser and Friedman of the War Refugee Board, August 16, 1944," and Memo, Eugene Hevesi to Dr. Slawson, August 17, 1944; YIVO Institute Archives, American Jewish Committee Collective, Record Group 347.1.29, Series EXO-29 (Waldman Papers). An excerpt was quoted in Letter to the Editor of AJH 86 (March 1996), 113-14. The representatives were from the American Jewish Committee, Vaad Ha-Hazalah, WJC, the Jewish Labor Committee and the American Jewish Conference which in turn represented over fifty well-known organizations, including B’nai B’rith, Hadassah, the Jewish War Veterans, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion Reverse His Position on Bombing Auschwitz?,” 94. Levy points out that Wyman omits any mention of this important meeting (96, fn. 11).
30 / Kubowitzki to I. M. Weinstein, 8-29-44; Kubowitzki to Pehle, 8-29-44; Kubowitzki to McCloy, 8-30-44, MSS 361, D107/13, AJA (emphasis in original).
31 / McCloy to Kubowitzki, 9-3-44, MSS 361, D107/13, AJA; Frischer to WJC, 9-15-44, MSS 361, D107/13, AJA.
32 / Kubowitzki to the WJC Office Committee, July 21, 1944, MSS Col. 361 (WJC), Box D107, Folder 3, AJA; Minutes of WJC office committee meeting, October 8, 1944, p. 1, MSS Col. 361, Box D107, Folder 3, AJA.
33 / Minutes of WJC office committee, October 8, 1944, p. 2, MSS Col. 361 (WJC), Box D107, Folder 3, AJA.
34 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 312; War Refugee Board, Box 34, “Measures Directed Towards Halting Persecutions,” F: Hungary, no. 5, FDRL, WRB Box 42/3, FDRL, Akzin to Pehle, 9-2-44; minutes of office committee (9-21-44), WJC MSS Col. 361, D114/5, AJA. Nichol and Rennell, The Last Escape, 37-38, 192-93, 350-51.
35 / Kubowitzki to Kapustin, 10-1-44; Kubowitzki to Soviet Ambassador, 10-8-44, MSS 361, D107/13, AJA.
36 / WJC minutes of office committee, 10-20-44, MSS Col. 361, D114/5, AJA; Kubowitzki to Pehle, 10-1-44, MSS Col. 361, D107/13, AJA; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 322; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 277, Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust, 12:169; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 320-21; Pehle to McCloy, 10-3-44, WRB Box 42/3, FDRL.
37 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 49; Wyman, ed., America and the Holocaust 12:174.
38 / Müller, Anne Frank, 251, 256-59.
39 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 325; Holocaust, 701-02, 752-54, 761-62, 767-68; Penkower, The Jews Were Expendable, 206.
40 / Pehle to Hirschmann, 11-28-44, WRB Box 7, Folder “German Extermination Camps”; Kubowitzki to McCloy, 10-16-44 (Germans will destroy camps and inmates), MSS 361, D107/13, AJA.
41 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 49-50, 278-80; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 328; Wyman, America and the Holocaust 12:175-76, 182-83; Bird, The Chairman, 220-21; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 328.
42 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 327-31; WRB press release, November, 1944, MSS Col. 361, D107/2, AJA.
43 / Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 331-37. The last gassings at Auschwitz occurred on November 28, 1944; Rubinstein, The Myth of Rescue, 164.
44 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 122, 318, N. 2; Wyman, 410, N. 78.
45 / Mintz, “Why Didn’t We Bomb Auschwitz? Can John McCloy’s memories be correct?” “An exhaustive search made in 1983 by Washington Post reporter Morton Mintz showed that the bombing proposals almost certainly did not reach Roosevelt...” Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, 410, fn. 78; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 122-24. Breitman and Kraut believed it was likely that FDR knew about the proposal through McCloy (American Refugee Policy, 247).
46 / Transcript of Interview of John J. McCloy by Henry Morgenthau III, 11-13, FDRL.
47 / Burns, The Soldier of Freedom, 490-95, 545. Roosevelt considered himself to be, in fact, the Commander-in-Chief, and he relished the role. According to Burns he had a close rapport with his military chieftains, was deferential to military leaders, reluctant to override them, and rarely interfered in military matters as the war went on. Henry Stimson said that his record “was unique in American war history for its scrupulous abstention from personal and political pressure.”
48 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 5-6, 103, 216.
49 / Ibid., 37, 41-42, 102, 211; D’Este, Eisenhower, 495. Because of poor weather and visibility, the USAAF relied on radar bombing. A survey by the military after the war showed that during 57 raids against three plants, only 12.9 percent of the bombs fell within the plant perimeter and only 2.2 percent actually hit buildings and equipment! The best evidence of the lack of genuine precision bombing is the numerous instances of American airplanes mistakenly killing American troops. In late July 1944, the Eighth Air Force killed one hundred, thirty-five Allied soldiers, including General Leslie McNair, while trying to hit nearby German defenses in Normandy.
50 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 7, 84-87, 91-93, 117-18, 120-26; Commentary 65 (July 1978), 10-11 (Groban letter).
51 / Rubinstein, The Myth of Rescue, 176-77; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 99.
52 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 39-40, 206-07; Nichol and Rennell, The Last Escape, 36-38, 350-51; Despite a plethora of readily available and reliable histories of the air war, Wyman claims that “From March 1944 on, the Allies controlled the skies of Europe” (The Abandonment of the Jews, 288, 298). As Brecher pointed out, Wyman’s own source does not substantiate this claim, and it is patently inaccurate (Brecher, “Western Allies,” 429).
53 / Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, quoted in The World at War, Reader’s Digest: From the Eventful 20 th Century. No. 12, “Whirlwind,” Syndicated TV Series, Thames.
54 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz , 37-41.
55 / Ibid., 41.
56 / Ibid., 43-4; D’Este, Eisenhower, 495-500; Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, 702-07.
57 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 45. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, chap. 3; Neufeld, The Rocket and the Reich, 137, 170, 230, 245-50, 263, 273.
58 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 113-16; Gilbert, The Righteous, 388-405. Wyman claimed that the four hundred, thirty-seven thousand Hungarian Jews killed prior to July 7 could have been saved if the “earliest pleas for bombing the gas chambers” had been heeded. As we have seen, this statement cannot possibly be true. Wyman’s claim is, in Levy’s words, “chronologically impossible by a wide margin.” In 1978, Wyman claimed that “bombing the gas chambers and crematories would have saved many lives.” After being criticized by Milton Groban, a Fifteenth Air Force radar navigator-bombardier who participated in the August 20, 1944, Monowitz raid, Wyman conceded that he “did not claim that mass killings would have been impossible without Auschwitz.” Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 1-2, 116, 301, fn. 79. Milton Groban, “Letter to the Editor,” and Wyman, “Reply to Letter to the Editor,” Commentary 66 (July 1978), 10, 12. But this concession to reality does not appear in The Abandonment of the Jews. Even in hindsight, it is not at all clear that bombing Auschwitz would have accomplished anything. Levy argues that the bombing proponents cannot agree on how many gas chambers and crematoriums there were at Auschwitz I (main camp) and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and that there was insufficient intelligence to successfully destroy all of the gas chambers and crematoriums. Some were unknown at the time. After July 7, the number of victims decreased. The destruction of the four main gas chambers and crematoriums at Auschwitz II (the main target) would have left other chambers and an incineration ditch capable of continuing the killing operations at the same speed .
59 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 8, 25, 115-16, 281, fn. 5; Dawidowicz, What Is the Use of Jewish History?, 173. “Who can state with assurance that the leveling of [Auschwitz] would have halted an insane policy supported by a demented ideology?” Richard G. Davis asked. Indeed, it may have “encouraged them to proceed in hopes of diverting yet more Allied air power from oil and armaments plants” (BA, 233).
60 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 8, 98, 107. There were, according to William D. Rubinstein, “no fewer than seven separate railway lines from Hungary to Auschwitz... [which] was a major railhead, indeed Auschwitz was chosen as the site of the most infamous death camp precisely because it was a major railroad junction for eastern and south-central Europe.” If one line was bombed, another would have been used. The Myth of Rescue, 162-63. Wyman’s counterfactual history extended to his fantasizing about the use of other aircraft than were actually used to bomb the Auschwitz area. As Neufeld, curator and historian at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution pointed out, “normally only U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers (with escorts) operated over Auschwitz, beginning in July 1944.” According to Neufeld, the use of other aircraft such as Royal Air Force (RAF) mosquitoes or USAAF P-385 or B-25 medium bombers suggested by Wyman was “hypothetical and problematic.” (7) The most eminent and objective military historians dismissed out of hand Wyman’s arguments about the use of other aircraft. Even Wyman acknowledged that it is unlikely to have saved any lives. (Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 2, 106-08; Wyman, “Auschwitz”, 42; The Abandonment of the Jews, 300.) Michael J. Neufeld pointed out that “this task would have been extremely difficult at the ranges involved,” that tactical airpower was not readily available, and repairs to the lines could easily have been done. More importantly, the pleas of those promoting the idea did not reach the appropriate officials until the Horthy government stopped the transportation of Hungarian Jews in July). (Neufeld, 8, 10) On Confederates and railroads, see Black, The Railroads of the Confederacy, 258-60. (My thanks to Ulysses S. Grant scholar Marvin Cohen for alerting me to this point.)
61 / Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews, 300; Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 107-08, 193.
62 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 112; Levy, “Did Ben-Gurion Reverse His Position on Bombing Auschwitz?,” 92, 94. Rafael Medoff, the executive director of the Wyman Institute, asserted that the JAE did in fact change its mind, but he failed to quote from any minutes or documents demonstrating that the JAE did so or that it voted to request the Allies to bomb Auschwitz. Presumably there was no such vote because no such request was ever made by the JAE to the U.S. government. Medoff, “New Perspectives on How America, and American Jewry, Responded to the Holocaust,” 253-54.
63 / Teveth, Ben-Gurion, 194-95; Rafael Medoff proves this point quite convincingly, even though that was not his intention, in “New Evidence concerning the Allies and Auschwitz.”
64 / Yesodei Hatorah 5:5; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a. My thanks to Rabbi Ari Sytner for educating me about these passages.
65 / Bird, The Chairman, 205-09, 222; Feingold, The Politics of Rescue, 245; Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 221 (McCloy not an anti-Semite). McCloy’s biographer, Bird, who was, if anything, overly critical of his subject, concluded that McCloy’s position was one of “benign obstruction” (207) and that he “bears substantial responsibility for this misjudgment,” meaning McCloy should have “pushed through a bombing order in mid-August.” Later Bird allowed that today we know that Hitler made the complete extermination of European Jewry a major war aim, but “not comprehending this fact, McCloy and others in the War Department failed to take any extraordinary measures to thwart this Nazi war aim.” The question arises: how can Bird blame McCloy for failing to take measures to thwart something he did not know was happening?
66 / Bird, The Chairman, 204-5; Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews, 209, 291; Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 219.
67 / Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews, 227-28.
68 / Pehle was described by Charles P. Taft, head of the War Relief Control Board, as “a bull in a china shop.” Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 193.
69 / WRB History, 153-54, FDRL.
70 / Neufeld and Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz, 111; Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies, 278-79. Porat, The Blue and the Yellow Stars of David, 219 (“There is no way to avoid the conclusion that the Allies did not bomb Auschwitz because they were simply indifferent to the fate of the Jews”); Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews, 307. See the exchange of letters between Wyman and Rubinstein, AJH 85 (September 1997), AJH 86 (March 1996), and Rafael Medoff, “New Evidence concerning the Allies and Auschwitz.”
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