Saturday, June 30, 2012

‎“Why wasn't Auschwitz bombed?”‎


“It was easy for the Nazis to kill Jews, because they did it. The allies considered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn't do it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in PolandFranceBelgiumDenmark, Holland helped to save Jews. Now, every government and church says, "We tried to help the Jews", because they are ashamed, they want to keep their reputations. They didn't help, because six million Jews perished, but those in the government, in the churches they survived. No one did enough." 
Jan Karski during an interview with Hannah Rosen in 1995. 

In August 1944 when Allied planes bombed the IG Farben plant, Eli Wiesel, noted author and survivor of Auschwitz who was imprisoned in Buna-Monowitz (Auschwitz III), the slave-labor camp of Auschwitz. Wiesel later recalled the event by writing;
We were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death. Every bomb filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life.”
For nearly three decades the failure to bomb Auschwitz during the Second World War and the Holocaust was a minor side issue rarely discussed. It was not until American historian David Wyman wrote an article in the magazine Commentary of May 1978 titled “Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed” was the issue awoken. His article included the startling photographs published by two leading Central Intelligence Agency photographic interpreters, Dino Brugioni and Robert Poirier.
Allied aerial reconnaissance units under the command of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force took photos during missions dating between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945.  A typical sortie employed two cameras equipped with lenses of different focal lengths. The photos were used to plan bombing raids,  determine the accuracy of bombing sorties, or make damage assessment. These 1944 US Air Force photos were redeveloped with technology available in 1978 gave a vivid demonstration of what U.S. intelligence could have known about Auschwitz-Birkenau, if only they had been interested.

One of these photographs clearly shows bombs dropping over the camp—because the pilot released the bombs early, it appeared that bombs targeted for the Farben plant were dropped on Auschwitz-Birkenau. Other pictures reveal rows of Jews on the way to the gas chambers. Wyman's claims gained considerable attention, and the failure to bomb became synonymous with American indifference.

 Aerial reconnaissance photograph of Auschwitz II–Birkenau extermination camp in German-occupied Poland taken in September 1944 during one of four bombing missions conducted in the area. Enlargement shows bombs intended for an IG Farben factory falling over gas chambers II and III.


The often asked question; “Why wasn't Auschwitz bombed?” Is not only a historical question but it is also a extremely moralistic question symbolic of the lack of Allied military response to the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. 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.
 
The first time an American president had ever explicitly acknowledged the refusal of the U.S. to take military action to disrupt the mass murder process was at the delivery of the keynote address at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in WashingtonD.C., on April 22, 1993. President Bill Clinton said the construction of the museum would “redeem in some small measure the deaths of millions whom our nations did not, or would not, or could not save.” President Bill Clinton referred to America’s lethargic response to the Holocaust as constituting “complicity” in what happened. “For those of us here today representing the nations of the West, we must live forever with this knowledge--even as our fragmentary awareness of crimes grew into indisputable facts, far too little was done,” the president said. “Before the war even started, doors to liberty were shut and even after the United States and the Allies attacked Germany, rail lines in the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed."

The former Foreign Minister of Poland Władysław Bartoszewski in his speech at the ceremony of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 27 January 2005, said: "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."

Auschwitz-Birkenau “The Death Camp”

Auschwitz was the largest camp established by the Germans. It was a complex of camps, including a concentration, extermination, and forced-labor camp. It was located at the town of Oswiecim near the prewar German-Polish border in Eastern Upper Silesia, an area annexed to Germany in 1939. Auschwitz I was the main camp and the first camp established at Oswiecim. Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was the killing center at Auschwitz. Trains arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau almost daily with transports of Jews from virtually every German-occupied country of Europe. Auschwitz III, also called Buna or Monowitz, was established in Monowice to provide forced laborers for nearby factories, including the I.G. Farben works. At "least" 1.1 million Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Other victims included between 70,000 and 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, and about 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.


The capacity to hit targets in Silesia (where the Auschwitz complex was located) by the 12th Air force was possible as evidenced by the reconnaissance photos in July 1944. US and British officials decided not to bomb Auschwitz based on the technical argument that their aircraft did not have the capacity to conduct air raids on such targets with sufficient accuracy, and in part with a strategic argument that the Allies were committed to bombing exclusively military targets in order to win the war as quickly as possible.

As early as May 1944 the U.S. Army Air Forces had the capability to strike Auschwitz at will. The rail lines from Hungary were also well within range, though for rail-line bombing to be effective it had to be sustained. On July 7, 1944, American bombers flew over the rail lines to Auschwitz. On August 20, 127 B-17s, with an escort of 100 P-51 fighter craft, dropped 1,336 500-pound bombs on the IG Farben synthetic-oil factory that was less than 5 miles (8 km) east of Birkenau. German oil reserves were a priority American target, and the Farben plant ranked high on the target list. The death camp remained untouched. It should be noted that military conditions imposed some restrictions on any effort to bomb Auschwitz. For the bombing to be feasible, it had to be undertaken by day in good weather and between July and October 1944.

There are those who claim that the question of bombing Auschwitz first arose in the summer of 1944, more than two years after the gassing of Jews had begun and at a time when more than 90 percent of the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust were already dead. These detractors claim that it could not have arisen earlier because not enough was known specifically about Auschwitz, and the camps were outside the range of Allied bombers.

However the truth is, as I mentioned in the quote by the former Foreign Minister of Poland Władysław Bartoszewski in his speech,  that in 1942 a World War II Polish resistance movement fighter Jan Karski had reported to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the situation in Poland, especially on the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews. He had also carried out of Poland a microfilm with further information from the underground movement on the extermination of European Jews in German-occupied Poland. The Polish Foreign Minister Count Edward Raczynski provided the Allies on this basis one of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the Holocaust. A note by Foreign Minister Edward Raczynski entitled The mass extermination of Jews in German occupied Poland, addressed to the governments of the United Nations on 10 December 1942, would later be published along with other documents in a widely distributed leaflet

Karski 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, the Jewish Bund and Poalei Zion. He also spoke to the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, giving a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec He then traveled to the United States and reported to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In July 1943 Karski again personally reported to Roosevelt about the situation in Poland.

With the German invasion into Hungary in March 1944 the Nazis confined the Hungarian Jews to ghettos. Between May 15 and July 9, the Nazis deported some 438,000 Jews on 147 trains from Hungary to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. To accommodate the large quantity of newly arriving Hungarian Jews, the Nazis built a special railroad spur directly into Auschwitz-Birkenau.
At this time the Free Polish Underground sent the Allies more explicit information about the process of mass murder from eyewitness testimony that the Nazis were sending four of the five arriving Jews directly to their death. On some days as many as 10,000 people were murdered in its gas chambers as the extermination camp was strained beyond capacity. The Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers were now operating around the clock, and the crematoria were so overtaxed that bodies were being burned in pyres in open fields with body fat fueling the flames.

Given here below is US Air Force Recon photographic proof of a  huge transport of some 85 boxcars is present at the Birkenau rail-head. Details of the compound, including the expansion into Section III necessitated by the large influx of Hungarian Jews, were observed.
A large column of prisoners, estimated at some 1,500 in number, is seen marching on the camp's main north south road. There is activity at Gas Chamber and Crematorium IV, and its gate is open; this may be the final destination of the newly arrived prisoners. In Auschwitz I, we have the other part of the drama, those sent "to the right," being enacted at Birkenau.
In front of the Main Camp Registration Building, a long line of prisoners is visible. This was undoubtedly the group spared death in the gas chambers but condemned to a living death in an SS work detail. They stand frozen in time, awaiting their tattoos and work assignments.
The prisoners sent "to the left" were deceived into thinking they were going to be showered and disinfected. After undressing in an anteroom, they were herded into the shower/gas chamber and put to death by means of Zyklon-B gas crystals introduced into the chamber through exterior vents. The bodies were then moved to the crematoria or external burning pits for disposal.


Approximately 310,000 out of the 438,000 Hungarian Jews where murdered by the Germans immediately upon arrival at the killing center between May 15 and July 11, 1944 a period of only 57 days or 5400 Jews exterminated per day.

In desperation, Jewish organizations made various proposals to halt the extermination process and rescue Europe's remaining Jews. A few Jewish leaders called for the bombing of the Auschwitz gas chambers; others opposed it both sides feared the death toll or the German propaganda that might exploit any bombing of the camp's prisoners. 

It is important to note that before the summer of 1944, Auschwitz was not the most lethal of the six Nazi extermination camps.
In actuality at Treblinka the Nazis had exterminated 750,000 to 900,000 Jews in the 17 months of its operation, or some 1780+ Jews per day 
At Belzec 600,000 Jews were  exterminated in less than 10 months or some 2000 Jews per day. The Nazis closed both camps these camps with the completion of their mission, the destruction of Polish Jewry in 1943. It was during the summer of 1944 that Auschwitz overtook the other death camps not only in the sheer number of Jews murdered but in the pace of their extermination. The condition of the remaining Jews of Europe was desperate.

In April 1944 two prisoners, Rudolf Verba and AlfredWetzler, managed to escape from Auschwitz made contact with Slovak resistance forces and produced a substantive report made contact with Slovak resistance forces and produced a substantive report on the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in great detail. They had documented the extermination process, replete with maps and other specific details. This was forwarded to Western intelligence officials along with an urgent request to bomb the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Once more the Polish Underground had provided information that they gave to the Allies together with intelligence gained from two other prisoners who had managed to escape shortly afterwards. This information became known as the "Auschwitz Protocols".

The report, forwarded to the U.S. government's War Refugee Board by Roswell McClelland, the board's representative in Switzerland, arrived in Washington between July 8 and July 16, 1944. The complete report, together with maps, did not arrive in the United States until October, since U.S. State Department representatives “neglected” to  mark the material as urgent.(see President Clinton's statement of "Complicity")

This was the first absolute and conclusive proof the Allies received that mass murder was taking place at Auschwitz. Limited information about the camp had reached the West before this date, but the Auschwitz Protocols removed any reasonable doubt about the scale and nature of the crime, and the Western media were quick to report the news. On 18 June the BBC broadcast a radio story about Auschwitz, and on 20 June the New York Times carried a report which explicitly mentioned the ‘gas chambers’ at Auschwitz/ Birkenau.

With the disclosures from Karski, Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr. together with his subordinate officials, demanded in late 1943 to remove responsibility for the refugee and rescue issues from the State Department- (Why was this done?)- in favor of an independent agency. At the same time, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, one of the major Jewish rescue organizations, persuaded a dozen influential Congress members to support such a move. Additional support and public interest consequently accumulated, and legislation seemed imminent.

Until early 1944, the Roosevelt administration declared policy was "rescue through victory," that is, rescue of Jews could only be accomplished through a military victory over the Germans on the battlefield.

Suddenly with these disclosures FDR issued an Executive Order on January 22, 1944 creating a War Refugee Board officially headed by the Secretaries of Treasury, State and War. Avoiding direct mentioning of “Jews”, the presidential Executive Order creating the WRB authorized it “to take all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death and otherwise to afford such victims all possible relief and assistance consistent with the successful prosecution of the war.” The order directed all government agencies, and in particular the State, Treasury and War Departments, to provide the Board with whatever help it needed in fulfilling its mission. The Treasury Department housed the WRB and provided most of its staff, including its executive director, John W. Pehle.

In the War Department, because Secretary of War H.L.Stimson could spare almost no time out of his regular wartime duties, the responsibility in respect of the Board was relegated to his assistant, John J. McCloy, who in private was skeptical that the military should play a role in rescue efforts.

The Vrba-Wetzler report provided a clear picture of life and death at Auschwitz. As a result, Jewish leaders in Slovakia, some American Jewish organizations, and the War Refugee Board all urged the Allies to intervene. However, the request was far from unanimous. Jewish leadership was divided. As a general rule, the established Jewish leadership was reluctant to press for organized military action directed specifically to save the Jews. They feared being too overt and encouraging the perception that World War II was a “Jewish war.” Zionists, recent immigrants, and Orthodox Jews were more willing to press for specific efforts to save the Jews. Their voices, however, were more marginal than those of the established Jewish leadership, and their attempts were even less effective.

 By June 1944 information concerning the camps and their function was available—or could have been made available—to those undertaking the mission. German air defenses were weakened, and the accuracy of Allied bombing was increasing. All that was required was the political will to order the bombing.

In 1944 the World Jewish Congress implored the American government to bomb Auschwitz. In August, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy wrote to Leon Kubowitzki of the World Jewish Congress, noting that the War Refugee Board had asked if it was possible to bomb Auschwitz. McCloy responded:

After a study it became apparent that such an operation could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations elsewhere and would in any case be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources. There has been considerable opinion to the effect that such an effort, even if practicable, might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.

The War Department had decided in January that army units would not be “employed for the purpose of rescuing victims of enemy oppression” unless a rescue opportunity arose in the course of routine military operations. In February an internal U.S. War Department memo stated, “We must constantly bear in mind, however, that the most effective relief which can be given victims of enemy persecution is to insure the speedy defeat of the Axis.” This was the internal policy of the Roosevelt administration to reject all the requests because it was opposed to diverting any military resources for humanitarian objectives from victory in the war effort.

There are those who assume that anti-Semitism or indifference to the plight of the Jews—was the primary cause of the refusal to support bombing, this may have been however the issue is much more complex. In a meeting of the Jewish leadership in Palestine embodied in the Jewish Agency executive committee, met on June 11, 1944 in Jerusalem and refused to call for the bombing of Auschwitz. Chairman of the executive committee David Ben-Gurion, said, “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.”

Once the Vrba-Wetzler report arrived in Palestine, along with new information from the Zionistic Partisans and members of the Socialist Bund movement over the pace and extent of extermination. Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Agency executive committee had come to understand what was happening in Poland and they were forcefully calling for the bombing by July.

Jewish Agency officials appealed to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who told his foreign secretary Anthony Eden on July 7, “Get anything out of the Air Force you can and invoke me if necessary.” Similar requests were also made to American officials to bomb Auschwitz.

At the same time that the Jews were asking for the bombing of Auschwitz the Free Polish Army and underground were begging for aid in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 by bombing the city.

Yet the Americans denied the requests to bomb Auschwitz, citing several reasons: military resources could not be diverted from the war effort (as they were to support the non-Jewish Poles); bombing Auschwitz might prove ineffective; and bombing might provoke even more vindictive German action. On the other hand, the Americans did not evoke the claim that Auschwitz was outside the range of the most effective American bombers.

Military historians have challenged Holocaust historians in an ineffectual debate whole books have been written in recent years arguing about the practicalities of bombing Auschwitz. There is a general expert consensus that there would have been little point in bombing the railway lines to Auschwitz  since the Nazis would have simply diverted the transports to another track or found alternative means of getting the Jews to the camp.

So "What IF" if the gas chambers II and III would have been destroyed? 

The Germans had two previous gas chambers – known as Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 – which pre-dated these larger killing factories  which were still available for use at Auschwitz/Birkenau  that the Auschwitz Protocols had not mentioned
Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 would therefore not have been destroyed by any Allied bombing attempt, and they offered all the killing capacity the Germans needed from the summer of 1944 onwards, since by then the massive influx of the Hungarian Jewry had already been exterminated at Auschwitz/Birkenau.

So the debate rages on.
"Was bombing feasible, and when?" 
From what air fields would the bombers take off, and where would they land? 
What airplanes would be used?
What escorts would be required, and at what cost in men and material?
Could lives have been saved and if so how many?
And at what cost to the Allies?
But in addition to military considerations, political questions were at issue.
To whom and how deeply did the plight of the Jews matter?
Were Jews effective or ineffective in advancing the cause of their brethren abroad?
Did they comprehend their plight?
Were they compromised by their fears of anti-Semitism or by the fears they shared with American political leaders that the World War would be perceived as a Jewish war? 

Historians are uncomfortable with the counter-factual speculation “What if…” but we still bow our heads in shame and whisper "What if."



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