It has been estimated that in March 1942
, 75 - 80% of the victims of the Shoah were alive,
whilst 20 - 25% were dead. By February 1943
, the percentages had been exactly reversed.
Put another way, in that eleven-month period, a minimum of 3 million Jews had perished.
was the year of the "shechita" (the slaughter), and the majority of that slaughter had
occurred under the umbrella of Aktion Reinhard
. Most of the Jews had died in the camps,
, but many thousands had been shot on
the outskirts of the
towns in which they had been ghettoised, during the round ups which were an intrinsic part
of the Aktionen
, or in transit to the extermination centres. Thousands more had died in the
ghettos themselves and in labour and concentration camps from starvation, disease,
over-work and summary execution. On a single typical day, 19 August 1942
Police Battalion 101
annihilated the Jewish population of
. At the same time,
deportation trains were en-route to Belzec
this one day, in excess of 25,000 people were murdered – and there were many such days during those terrible months.
The essence of Aktion Reinhard
could be summarised in two words – speed and secrecy. No
one can doubt the efficiency of Nazi planning once the decision to murder the Jews had been taken,
as the above illustrates. The intense killing phase was short and brutal. But what of secrecy? How
was it possible to prevent knowledge of murder on such a scale becoming widespread? And if what
was happening to the Jews of Europe was known, what could have been done? Indeed, what was done?
The history of "Ultra" and the "Enigma Machine" are now sufficiently well known not to require
recounting. The British Code and Cypher School had been intercepting and deciphering coded German
military and police reports with varying degrees of success since the early days of the war. By the
summer of 1941
, and Operation Barbarossa, decrypts of Order Police shootings in
the Soviet Union were commonplace. For example, an SS Cavalry Brigade reported 7,819 executions in the
area on 17 August 1941
Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski
, the "HSSPF
Central Russia", submitted a report on the same day, noting 30,000 shootings. Between 23
and 31 August 1941
, 17 reports provided details of the shooting of Jews in the southern sector in groups
ranging in size from 61 to 4,200. Police Regiment South reported on 12 September 1941
on the shooting of 1,255 Jews at Ovruch
These intercepts were regularly sent to British Military Intelligence, who presented weekly summaries to the
Prime Minister. The activities of the Einsatzgruppen
in the former Soviet Union were therefore known
at the highest levels of British Government. On 24 August 1941
, in a radio broadcast,
"Whole districts are being exterminated.
Scores of thousands – literally scores of thousands – of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German
police-troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions
of Europe in the sixteenth century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such
a scale, or approaching such a scale.
went on to say, "we are in the presence of
a crime without a name.
No specific mention was made of the Jews. The British
were in a difficult position; to disclose too many details might have alerted the Germans to the possibility
that their codes were being broken. In fact, there is some evidence that the Germans were suspicious of exactly
that, for on 13 September 1941 Kurt Daluege
head of the Ordnungspolizei
, instructed field commanders to make their reports by courier and not by radio.
By November 1941
was less reticent
about the fate of the Jews. In a message to the Jewish Chronicle on 14 November 1941
"None has suffered more cruelly than the
Jew, the unspeakable evils wrought on the bodies and spirits of men by Hitler
and his vile regime.
A week earlier, the Jewish Chronicle
had publicized the deportation of German Jews to Poland.
On 16 January 1942
, the same newspaper published a Soviet report that
52,000 Jews had been killed in Kiev
In February 1942
, the newspaper contained news of the rumour that
18,000 Jews had died in Poltava
and reported that 15,000 Jews
had been killed at Borisov
. On 10 April
an article appeared stating that 1,200 Jews had been deported to KZ
and killed by “poison gas”.
There had been newspaper reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland since the early days of
the war, but now the information emerging was of a more sinister nature. Under the heading "Extinction Feared by
Jews in Poland", Dr Henry Shoskes
presented details of the mortality rate in
the ghettos of Poland to The New York Times
on 1 March 1942
. The monthly
average of those dying was 10,000.
Confirmation of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen
was also soon forthcoming. A report
sent to the Polish Government in Exile in London
by the Jewish Labour Bund in
was the first document about the killings to reach the West. Containing an accurate
description of the methods used, the report set out details of the murder of Jews. 30,000
had been killed in Lwow
, 15,000 in Stanislawow
5,000 in Tarnopol
, 2,000 in Zloczow
4,000 in Brzezany
, where the pre-war Jewish population of 18,000 now numbered
1,700. The same had happened in Zborow, Kolomyja, Stryj, Sambor, Drohobycz, Zbaraz, Przemslany,
Kuty, Sniatyn, Zaleszczyki
and other places in Galicia as well
as in the Baltic States. By 19 June
, the Jewish Chronicle
commenting that “News is filtering through of recent ghastly massacres
of Jews in Nazi Europe. Some 85,000 men women and children are mentioned in reports to hand.
The United States Office of Strategic Services received a report dated 20 June 1942
, that began with the words, "Germany is no longer
persecuting the Jews. It is systematically exterminating them.
The information came from a British officer who had escaped from captivity and had hidden for a time in the
before reaching Portugal.
The officer reported that Heinrich Himmler
in April 1942
to inform him that the
Jews were not disappearing
fast enough to please the Führer
. The Jews were to be "virtually exterminated" by a specified
date. A trial speeding up had been ordered at Lublin
, "where for a time trainloads
were taken daily to Sobibor
station in the suburbs, thence to an isolated
area where they are machine-gunned". Peasants had left nearby farms because of the stench of unburied corpses.
On 25 June 1942
, the London Daily Telegraph
reported having received
information from the exiled Polish government that the Germans were planning to murder all Jews. The newspaper
carried details of the murders committed in eastern Poland. 50,000 Jews had been slaughtered in
, terror ruled the Warsaw
mobile gas chambers
were in use.
The disclosures were difficult to comprehend. The Jewish Chronicle
“The hideous details … read like tales from the imagination of some
drug maddened creature seeking to portray a nightmare of hell. The average mind simply cannot
believe the reality of such sickening revelations, or that men, even the vilest and most bestial,
could be found to perpetrate such disgusting orgies of sadistic mania.
The Times of London
carried a report on 10 July 1942
to the effect
that Polish Vice-Premier S. Mikolajczyk
had received information from the
Home Army (AK – one of the two main groups of underground forces in Poland itself) about the liquidation of
Poles and the most terrible
situation of the Jews, who had been murdered en masse, or transported to unknown destinations.
magazine commented in its issue of 10 August 1942
that trainloads of
Jews were vanishing into a "black limbo". On
20 August 1942
, The New York Times
previous day's edition of the French Paris Soir
, stated that Jews from France were being
deported to "Polish Silesia".
Information was also available in the summer of 1942
from more direct sources.
In Switzerland, quite independently of each other, three Germans provided the details.
, a journalist, spoke of gas chambers, both stationary and mobile,
but he was not considered reliable. An economist, Artur Sommer
, passed a note
to Edgar Salin
, a professor at the University of
. In it, Sommer
stated that camps
were being prepared in the East for gassing. The BBC
should broadcast daily warnings. The message passed unheeded.
The third informant was a businessman, Eduard Schulte
. His report of
30 July 1942
eventually reached the chief of the Geneva
office of the World Jewish Congress,
, who cabled via diplomatic channels to Rabbi Dr
in the United States and to British
Member of Parliament Sidney Silverman
reported that a plan had been discussed
and was under consideration in the Führer
's headquarters for the deportation of the European Jews
to the East, where they were to be "exterminated at one blow". Among methods under discussion
was the use of prussic acid. Silverman
received the cable; mysteriously,
did not, until Silverman
sent him a copy. No public pronouncement was made in the United States concerning the contents
of the telegram until November 1942
. By that time, a report had already appeared on
5 October 1942
from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
concerning the systematic
deportation of Jews from the
, who, the agency said, "are poisoned by gas." The New
York magazine Jewish Frontier
carried a report in its issue of November 1942
the killing of Jews in
, complete with information about gas vans.
A train carrying Jews from Poland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands arrived in Palestine
on 14 November 1942
. Most of those arriving were Palestinian citizens who
had been caught in Poland at the outbreak of war. The Nazis had agreed to exchange them for German detainees in the
West. The refugees had witnessed countless atrocities. The Jewish Agency
in Palestine made
public details of the Nazi extermination policy obtained from these witnesses on
23 November 1942
. The following day, Wise
press conference to release the Riegner
25 November 1942
, The New York Times
information received from the Polish Government in Exile that mentioned Belzec,
Sobibor and Treblinka
the same edition, the newspaper carried an item providing details of concrete buildings on the former
Russian frontier used as gas chambers and of crematoria at
, as well as an estimate
that the Jewish dead already numbered 2 million. The next day,
The New York Times
quoted Dr Ignacy Szwarcbart (Schwartzbart)
, a Jewish
member of the Polish National Council in London
"Jews were being gassed and in Belzec they were being
killed by electrical current.
Reports of the genocide were not limited to the United States in the autumn and winter
. Szmul Zygelbojm
, another Jewish member of the
Polish National Council in London
, released the text of a speech he had made on
1 September 1942
, the third anniversary of the outbreak of war.
700,000 Jews had been murdered by May 1942
. Some had been shot, some starved, some
gassed. 7,000 Jews were being deported daily from Warsaw
appealed for immediate help,
before Europe became a cemetery. In another speech broadcast by the BBC
earlier that year, he had said:
"It will be a disgrace to go on living, to belong to the human race, unless immediate
steps are taken to put a stop to this crime, the greatest that history has known.
spoke again on the BBC
"If Polish Jewry's call for help goes unheeded, Hitler
will have achieved one of his war aims – to destroy the Jews of Europe irrespective of the final military
outcome of the war.
On 7 December 1942
, The Times of London
Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Polish Government, had passed the latest information from Poland to
, the British Foreign Secretary, including proof of the mass
murder of Jews. The report continued that the German plan of extermination was continuing. It was intended to
clear the Netherlands
and Denmark of Jews by June 1943
and Rumania before the end of the same year. On the selfsame day, Eden
advised the British Ambassador in Washington
that he now
had "little doubt that a policy of gradual extermination of all Jews, except for
highly skilled workers, is being carried out by the German authorities. The Polish Government has recently
received reports tending to confirm this view. They regard these reports as reliable and they read convincingly.
In a reply in the House of Commons on 17 December 1942
, to a question put by
listed the barbarities
committed by the Nazis against the Jews and denounced "this bestial policy of cold-blooded
" Those responsible would not escape retribution. At the conclusion of
's speech, the House rose to stand in silence.
If further evidence was required that crimes of an unprecedented nature were being perpetrated in the
East, it had become available that winter. Jan Karski (Kozielewski)
Polish Gentile. He was a member of the Polish underground and acted as a courier for the Polish government in Exile.
In late August 1942
was twice smuggled
into the Warsaw Ghetto
in order to be able to provide eyewitness testimony
of what was happening there. He met with Menahem Kirschenbaum
"General Zionists" and Leon Feiner
of the Jewish "Bund". At their first meeting,
the two Jewish leaders were in a state of complete despair, pacing back and forth as they recounted the dreadful
fate of Polish Jewry. Karski
was to relay much of what was said verbatim when
he reached London
Nothing and nobody in Poland could prevent the murder of Jews. Therefore, the responsibility for making at least
some effort to save them lay with the Allies. "Let not a single leader of the United Nations
be able to say that they did not know that we were being murdered in Poland,
History would hold the Allies responsible if they failed to act. The Allies must publicly declare that prevention
of the extermination of the Jews would be among the Allied war aims. Allied propaganda should inform the German
nation of Hitler
's crimes through radio, air dropped leaflets and any other
available means. The names of those Germans responsible for the annihilation and the methods used should be
publicised, so that no German could claim ignorance of what was being done in his or her name. Appeals should be made
to the German people to bring pressure to bear on the Nazi regime to stop the genocide. If they did
not publicly protest, the German nation would be considered collectively responsible for the crimes.
Finally, if none of these measures were successful, the Allies were to carry out reprisal measures.
Selected sites of cultural importance should be bombed and Germans in Allied hands still professing
loyalty to Hitler
after learning of his crimes should be executed. In vain,
protested that such a demand was impossible. It was against international
law. The final stipulation was unrealistic and weakened the Jewish case. "No,
, "say it. We don't know what is realistic or
unrealistic. We are dying here. Say it!
Many other matters were discussed at that first meeting, including an appeal by the two leaders for
material aid for the hapless Jews. Finally, it was decided that if Karski
merely repeated their conversation when he reached London
, he would not be
believed. Messages had been sent to England before, without result. In order to be credible,
must become a witness. He must be able to swear that he had seen the
butchery with his own eyes. Karski
agreed to be smuggled into the
Sometime between 20–25 August 1942
, accompanied by
entered the ghetto via a
tunnel at 6 Muranowska Street
on the "Aryan" side.
More than thirty years later, he graphically described what he saw that day in
's film "Shoah":
"It was not a world. There was not humanity.
Streets full, full….Selling. Begging. Crying and hungry…It wasn't humanity. It was some…some hell…
Stench, stench, dirt, stench everywhere, suffocating. Dirty streets, nervousness, tension. Bedlam.
Over and over again, Feiner
would relentlessly point out some new horror to
. "Remember this,
would say, "remember this.
returned to the ghetto on another day for further verification of the
ghastly conditions, but left after only a short time. "Frankly, I couldn't take it any more...
I was sick.
" But Feiner
was not satisfied. The courier would have
to see even more if he was to be an effective witness. Karski
see "The Final Solution" in practice. Dressed as a Ukrainian guard, he entered the transit camp of
, where Jews were held until
was ready to receive them. What he saw there
defies description. Shattered by the experience, Karski
to prepare for the long, tortuous journey to
, where he arrived on 25 November 1942
Until he had reached Paris
he had carried with him a microfilm,
placed into a hollowed key, which was then welded shut. The key and its contents were immediately sent
, arriving there before Karski
and formed the basis of a press release issued by the Polish Government in Exile on
24 November 1942
. This press release was the source of the material contained in The New
report of 25 November 1942
and The Times of London
7 December 1942
, referred to above.
had hoped to meet Churchill
, but had to
be satisfied with an interview with Eden
. The audience was polite but unproductive, except to the extent that
provided a report of the meeting to the War Cabinet (which included
) on 17 February 1943
remained in England for several months, meeting a variety of supposedly
influential people. But nothing of consequence occurred, and throughout that time the killing centres continued
with their deadly work. The Polish government decided to send Karski
United States, where he arrived on 16 June 1943
. It was not until
of that year, eleven months after he had ventured into the Warsaw
Ghetto (which no longer existed) and been smuggled into Izbica
finally met with the one person who could have significantly influenced
Allied policy, United States President Franklin D Roosevelt
pulled no punches in making his report to the President:
"There is a difference between the German orchestrated systems of terror against the
Poles and the Jews.
The Germans want to ruin the Polish state as a state - with regard to the Jews, they want to
devastate the biological substance of the Jewish nation - . If the Germans do not change their
method of dealing with the Jewish population, if there is no effort at Allied intervention, whether
through reprisals or other action, barring some unforeseen circumstance, within a year and a half
of the time I left the Homeland, the Jewish people of Poland will cease to exist.
's impassioned plea on behalf of the Jews possibly influenced
in his decision to set up the War Refugee
Board on 22 January 1944
, a move that was to have a beneficial effect, for by the
war's end the board had played an important role in saving approximately 200,000 Jews, mainly in Hungary and Rumania.
If it had stimulated Roosevelt
into action, it was the only tangible consequence of
's brave effort to stop the killing. By 1944
of course, the Aktion Reinhard
camps had long since been dismantled and most of the victims of the
Shoah were dead. Karski
's mission had been undermined by a combination
of political hypocrisy, uncaring bureaucracy, national self-interest and indifference. The Jews, it appeared,
cabled confirmation of Karski
testimony to the Jewish World Congress in New York
4 December 1942
. Because of wartime censorship regulations, a
copy of the telegram
, which was passed to the Foreign Office, has survived
in the British Public Records Office. Even more extraordinary is the cable sent the preceding day to the Jewish World
Congress from Abraham Stupp
of the Jewish Agency in
Since Palestine was then a British Mandate,
was subject to the same wartime censorship regulations and a copy
duly made its way to the Foreign Office. The refugees from occupied Europe who had arrived in Palestine on
14 November 1942
had by now been thoroughly de-briefed. The cable contained comprehensive
information regarding the Nazi extermination policy, of which the refugees had first hand knowledge. 70,000 Jews
had been deported from
. 7,000 had been sent to
. No trace remained of the remaining
63,000, who had presumably been murdered. In May 1942
, only 6,000 Jews remained in
. All other Jewish inhabitants of the city had been
deported in an unknown direction and were assumed to have been killed. 10,000 Jews had been deported from
, with another 7,000 shot at the railway station.
Deportations from Warsaw
had commenced on 22 June 1942
(actually 22 July
) at the rate of 7,000 daily.
By October 1942
, only 36,000 remained of the city's Jewish population. The deportees
had been sent to Treblinka
, where the "Jews (were) taken
(to a) so-called bath-house which (was) hermetically closed. (The) chamber air (was) pumped away (so that) the
people suffocate. Other reports say (that the) Jews (are) killed by poison gas.
The fact was that, whatever the method used, no one left the "bath-house"
alive. Corpses were being continually cremated. Commencing in January 1942
, Jews from the
had been deported to the village of
Chelmno (Chelmno Nad Nerem)
and murdered in gas vans. The
cable went on to describe other atrocities, and concluded with a demand that the governments of the
civilized world put an end to these crimes. A copy of the cable was being sent to the heads of democratic
nations. It was signed by Anselm Reiss
as the representative of Polish Jewry.
By now, the Allies had an almost embarrassing amount of detailed information concerning the extermination
of the Jews. Much more was to follow in 1943 and 1944
, particularly concerning
From there, a comprehensive report was received by the London
office of the
United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS – the forerunner of the CIA). The two-part report had been
compiled on 10 and 12 August 1943
and was received in
on 28 January 1944
. It contained comprehensive
information on the murders committed at Auschwitz
. Amongst other details, the report
stated that 468,000 non-registered Jews had been gassed at the camp by September 1942
Between September 1942 and the beginning of June 1943
, the camp received approximately
60,000 Jews from Greece, 50,000 from Slovakia and the Protectorate, 60,000 from the Netherlands, Belgium and
and 16,000 from Polish towns. At the
beginning of August 1943
, 15,000 Jews had arrived from
. Of all of these people,
about 2 percent were still alive. Of more than 14,000 Gypsies, 90% had been gassed. The report went
on to describe the crematoria at Birkenau
, and listed the names of the principal
perpetrators: Höss, Schwarz, Aumeier, Mandel, Grabner
, amongst others. "History knows no parallel
of such destruction of human life,
" the report said.
There were other reports in the OSS files. On 25 September 1943
, the International Red
Cross Committee had reported on ghetto clearances in Galicia, including a massacre of the Jewish population
of Rawa Ruska
in December 1942
. There was a statement
by an escapee from Treblinka
, David Milgrom
dated 30 August 1943
and a report on shootings at
dated 24 February 1944
On 10 April 1944
, two Slovak Jews, Rudolf Vrba (Walter
and Alfred Wetzler
. Eventually reaching Slovakia, they made
long, detailed statements to the Jewish Council in Zilina
19 March 1944
, the German army had occupied Hungary.
In the same month, the construction of the unloading ramp leading directly to the crematoria in
completed. SS men were heard around the camp speaking of Hungarian "salami". It was apparent that the next victims
would be the Jews of Hungary, the largest Jewish population remaining in territory under Nazi control.
knew that they had to warn
the Hungarian Jews of their impending fate. Their report was sent to the Hungarian Foreign Office by the
first week of May 1944
. A copy was passed to the War Refugee Board on
16 June 1944
. The transports of Hungarian Jews to
began on 15 May 1944
until 9 July 1944
. By that time, 437,000 had been deported, most of whom were gassed
As can be seen, these reports often contained errors. Viewed individually, they might be questioned.
But taken together, they provided incontrovertible evidence that the Germans were committing a crime of
enormous dimensions in Europe. Only those who did not want to see could deny that a systematic, highly
organized and efficient machinery of mass murder was in operation.
Questions of principle rarely provide a "casus belli". Wars are fought, in the main, for geopolitical reasons.
's war against the Jews was an exception, even if the concept
involved was entirely malignant.
The disappearance of the Jews, and eventually their destruction, was not ancillary to some other purpose.
Although theft on a grand scale played no small part, the eradication of the Jews was, in itself, the objective.
If it was Germany's ambition to eliminate of the Jews, the Allies were not fighting the war to rescue them.
Inasmuch as it featured at all, saving the Jews of Europe did not appear high on the agenda of Allied war
aims. The Allies could find many reasons for their inaction, some valid, some more questionable. Shipping
was not available to transport the Jews to safety. There might have been foreign agents among the refugees,
which could have undermined the war effort. There was fear in both Britain and the United States of a
rise in anti-Semitism in the event of an influx of large numbers of Jews. The British were concerned at the
possibility of problems in Palestine, were the Jews to be admitted there. Nothing should be allowed to
deflect the Allies from the military priority of defeating Germany. Finally, and most importantly, the Jews
were not perceived as either a nationality or an ally. In the face of this kind of reasoning, the Jewish
position was hopeless.
There was a good deal of cynicism in the Allied attitude. It was not considered necessary to grant the
Jews any kind of priority in their desperate plight. In fact, precisely the opposite attitude prevailed in
Allied circles. Faced with the alternative, the Jews held by the Nazis and their co-religionists not in Nazi
captivity would always support the Allies whatever the circumstances. The Allies were fearful of treating
the Jews as a "special case". Over 100,000 Poles, Greeks and Yugoslavs were evacuated after
The Allies supplied much of the food requirements of the Greek population between
1942 and 1945
. Yet a senior American official, Assistant Secretary of State for Special Problems
felt able to confide in his private diary in
, that any commitment to aid the Jews on behalf of the Allies might
"lend colour to the charges of Hitler that we are
fighting this war on account of and at the instigation and direction of our Jewish citizens.
, the Allies possessed neither the means, nor, more importantly the will to
attempt to provide significant assistance to European Jewry. By 1944
, the resources
were available to save those who were left - but the will remained absent. In 1942
the Allies were losing the war on all fronts.
Military intervention of any kind in eastern Poland or the western Soviet Union was impossible, which
is not to say that nothing could have been done. If direct military action was unfeasible in
, that was certainly not the case by 1944
. To repeated
requests from Jewish leaders that the crematoria in Birkenau
and the railway lines
leading to them be bombed, the standard response was that any
diversion of men and materiel would delay the Allied victory. Only by defeating the Nazis could the
Jews be saved. That was a self-evident truth, but the argument was specious. The simple fact
was that the Nazis were killing Jews faster than the Allies were winning the war. What would be
the point of liberating 6 million corpses? The Allies were unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge this
dilemma. William J Casey
, a member of the OSS stationed in
, wrote in his memoirs:
"I'll never understand how, with all we knew about Germany and its military machine, we knew
so little about the concentration camps and the magnitude of the Holocaust. We knew in a general
way that Jews were being persecuted, that they were being rounded up in occupied countries
and deported to Germany, that they were brought to camps, and that brutality and murder took
place at these camps. But few if any comprehended the appalling magnitude of it. It wasn't
sufficiently real to stand out from the general brutality and slaughter which is war. There was little
talk in London about the concentration camps except as places to which captured
agents and resistants were deported if they were not executed on the spot. And such reports as we did receive
were shunted aside because of the official policy in Washington and
London to concentrate exclusively on the defeat of the enemy.
Bombing railway lines would certainly have been ineffectual, since they could rapidly be
repaired. In the event, Auschwitz
was bombed by the USAAF on four occasions
between August and December 1944
. But the target was not the gas chambers of
, which were still functioning in August
, but the industrial complex at Monowitz
It must be said
that even destroying Birkenau
's gas chambers would not necessarily have saved the
Jews. The Nazis were sufficiently dedicated to their extermination programme to have resorted to
other methods of murder. In two days of
in November 1943
42,000 Jews had been shot. In the summer of 1944
, the gas vans at
became operational again for a
short period. The intent to annihilate was so single-minded that alternatives might have been sought.
But some kind of positive response would have sent a clear message to the Nazis that their
crimes had been acknowledged – and perhaps lives would have been saved.
There was another factor involved in the Allies apathetic approach to the problem of rescuing the
Jews. The attitude of many British and American politicians, civil servants, diplomats and military
personnel was far from favourable. Their reaction varied from disbelief to apathy, from expedience
to prejudice. According to his private secretary, Eden
expressed a definite
dislike for Jews on at least two occasions. In this he was merely in tune with the attitude of others in the
British Foreign Office, as well as some of those in the United States State Department. It is often forgotten just
how commonplace, indeed almost fashionable it was to have pronounced anti-Semitic views
in the pre-Shoah world. The aforementioned Breckinridge Long
's book "Mein Kampf
" 'eloquent in opposition to Jewry and to Jews
as exponents of Communism and Chaos'.
In August 1943
, Roger Allen
, an official in the
British Foreign Office, wrote to William Cavendish-Bentinck
chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, commenting on formal British observations (which themselves
made no mention of Jews) on a report emanating from Polish underground sources about Nazi extermination
policy in eastern Poland. Allen
commented, inter alia
"It is true that there have been references to the use of gas chambers in other
reports; but these references have usually, if not always, been equally vague, and since they have
concerned the extermination of Jews, have usually emanated from Jewish sources. Personally,
I have never really understood the advantage of the gas chamber over the simpler machine gun, or the
equally simple starvation method. These stories may or may not be true, but in any event I submit we
are putting out a statement on evidence which is far from conclusive, and which we have no means
added his own comments:
"In my opinion it is incorrect to describe Polish Information regarding German atrocities as
"trustworthy". The Poles, and to a far greater extent the Jews, tend to exaggerate German
atrocities in order to stoke us up. They seem to have succeeded. Mr.
Allen and myself have both followed German atrocities quite closely.
I do not believe that there is any evidence which would be accepted in a Law Court that Polish
children have been killed on the spot by Germans when their parents were being deported to
work in Germany, nor that Polish children have been sold to German settlers. As regards putting
Poles to death in gas chambers, I do not believe that there is any evidence that this has been done.
When the United States Treasury Department attempted to license the
transfer of money from Jewish charities to fund a programme for the relief and rescue of Jews, it was blocked by
the State Department for months. The British were no less callous. In December 1943
a cable was sent from London
opposing such relief programmes because "of the difficulties in
disposing of any considerable number of Jews should they be rescued.
internal investigation into the
State Department's handling of the question of rescue was entitled "Report to the Secretary on
the Acquiescence of this Government in the murder of the Jews." Nor were anti-Semitic opinions
limited to those who wielded power. In a poll taken on the eve of war, 75 - 85% of Americans were
opposed to a relaxation of immigration quotas, which would unquestionably have aided Jewish refugees.
Opinion polls taken throughout the war in America indicated that only Japanese and Germans were
considered a greater menace to American society than the Jews. If anti-Semitism was expressed
less publicly in wartime Britain, it was certainly present in all classes of society.
Pressurised by the accumulating evidence, the British and American governments arranged a conference, ostensibly
to find a solution to the problem of wartime refugees. It opened in Bermuda on
19 April 1943
, coincidentally the first day of the Warsaw
uprising. The two delegations categorically ruled out any approach to
to release Jews in Nazi–occupied territory, any exchange of German
prisoners of war and internees for Jews, or the sending of food to the Jews of Europe. The Jewish character of
the problem was suppressed. The British insisted that the Jews were merely one of many victimized groups. The
State Department insisted on using the term "political refugees", thus concealing the true nature of the problem.
A tacit agreement was reached; the Americans would not press the British over Palestine, the British would remain
similarly discrete about Jewish immigration to the United States. The conference was a disaster for the
Jews. In the
and camps of Europe, the Jews had felt abandoned. Now
they were abandoned.
Some aid was provided to Jews in different parts of Europe throughout the war, particularly by the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the "Joint"), and in the last year of the war, by the
War Refugee Board. By and large, it was both too little and too late.
There are those who would argue, with some justification, that criticism of the Allies enjoys the
benefit of hindsight. The world of 1942
was very different from the world of today.
Only those who
are personally familiar with wartime conditions can appreciate the difficulties the Allies faced.
All of this is true; many of the propositions put to the Allies were impractical, if not illegal under
international law. But other, less direct action could have been taken. Temporary refugee camps
in neutral countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland and Sweden could have been
funded and encouraged. Life as a Displaced Person, to use the bureaucratic post-war term,
would undoubtedly have been far from pleasant, but was infinitely preferable to the alternative.
At the very least, wartime visa quotas for entry to Palestine and the United States could have
been filled (which they were not). Breckinridge Long
in charge of U.S. refugee policy, commented in an internal State Department memorandum in
"We can delay and effectively stop for a period of indefinite length the
number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to
put every obstacle in the way and - to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone
and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.
By July 1941
, only 25% of the available U.S. quotas were being taken up.
Moreover, there was a simple measure that could have been taken which would have placed negligible demands
on Allied resources and might have saved countless lives.
Disseminating details of the fate of the Jews in occupied Europe more consistently and in greater depth by the
use of radio broadcasts may have caused some to heed the warning and stimulated resistance.
"Would anyone have got me alive to Auschwitz if I
had had this information? Would thousands and thousands of able-bodied Jewish men have sent their children,
wives, mothers to Auschwitz from all over Europe,
if they knew?
Perhaps it was too late to save the Jews of Poland. Maybe none of these proposals
would have saved any of Europe's Jews. But by a positive response, the Allies would at
least have occupied the moral high ground and avoided the accusation that they did not care.
To do nothing was not an option. Words of sympathy and promises of retribution were of little
comfort to the victims. Meaningful action was required. Above all else, it was a failure of imagination,
an inability, for whatever reasons, to appreciate the true nature of the evil they were fighting,
coupled with a fundamental lack of compassion, for which the Allies were answerable. Unwittingly,
their inertia dovetailed neatly with the Nazi genocidal policy to produce a lethal result.
Even after the capture of KZ Majdanek
by the Soviets
in July 1944
, following which Western reporters were permitted
to inspect the camp, and newsreels and photographs of the crematoria appeared in cinemas and
newspapers, many still sought to evade the reality of events. The Times of London
questioned whether showing the horrors of Majdanek
was in good taste. The BBC
informed its correspondent with the Red Army that his broadcast
was “a propaganda stunt”. It was not transmitted.
In truth, the fate of European Jewry was sealed long before the
murderous passage across Poland and the Soviet Union, years before the trains began
rolling towards Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka
. The Jews had been condemned by
a pre-war combination of narrow self-interest, xenophobia and bigotry. If there had ever been any doubt
about the likely consequence for the Jews of an Eastward thrust by Germany, the events of the
in November 1938
should have dispersed all illusions.
If nobody could have predicted the Shoah, a sense of common humanity should have compelled the civilized
nations of the world to open their doors. Instead of which, on the whole, those doors remained firmly shut.
Perhaps the final reflection on this tragic chapter of modern history should be reserved for
, who had fought so desperately for some recognition of the
plight of Poland's Jews. In despair on receiving news of the liquidation of the last Jews of
, including his wife, Manya, and his 16 year-old son, Tuvia,
committed suicide in London
12 May 1943
, aged 48. His final
s, addressed to members of the Polish government in exile included
"Responsibility for the murder of the entire Jewish population lies primarily with the murderers
themselves, but indirectly humanity as a whole is responsible – all of the Allied nations and
their Governments, who to date have done nothing to stop the crime - . I cannot keep quiet,
I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland, who sent me here, are being
destroyed. My comrades in the Warsaw Ghetto have died a hero's death in the
final battle, with a weapon in their hands. I did not have the honour to fall like them. But I belong to them
and to their grave – their mass grave. May my death be a resounding cry of protest against
the indifference with which the world looks at the destruction of the Jewish world, looks on and
does nothing to stop it.
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© ARC 2005