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Holocaust Encyclopedia

During the spring of 1944, the Allies received more explicit information about the process of mass murder by gassing carried out at Auschwitz-Birkenau. On some days as many as 10,000 people were murdered in its gas chambers. 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. Like some Allied officials, both sides feared the death toll or the German propaganda that might exploit any bombing of the camp's prisoners. No one was certain of the results.

Even after Anglo-American air forces developed the capacity to hit targets in Silesia (where the Auschwitz complex was located) in July 1944, US authorities decided not to bomb Auschwitz. American officials explained this decision in part with a 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.

Allied bombardment of Auschwitz-Birkenau in mid-July 1944 would not have saved the approximately 310,000 Hungarian Jews whom the Germans had killed upon arrival at the killing center between May 15 and July 11, 1944. Moreover, barracks located not far from the gas chambers at Birkenau housed 51,117 prisoners (31,406 of them women and children).

In the summer and fall of 1944, the World Jewish Congress and the War Refugee Board (WRB) forwarded requests to bomb Auschwitz to the US War Department. These requests were denied. On August 14, John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War, advised that “such an operation could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air support…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.” Yet within a week, the US Army Air Force carried out a heavy bombing of the I.G. Farben synthetic oil and rubber (Buna) works near Auschwitz III—less than five miles from the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.

For prisoners in the Auschwitz complex, the bombs dropping nearby gave hope. One survivor later recalled:

“We were no longer afraid of death; at any rate not of that death. Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life.”

In subsequent decades, the Allied decision not to bomb the gas chambers in or the rail lines leading to Auschwitz-Birkenau has been a source of sometimes bitter debate. Proponents of bombing continue to argue that such an action, while it might have killed some prisoners, could have slowed the killing operations and perhaps ultimately saved lives.

SHOAH Resource Center

In the spring and early summer of 1944, some 435,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. By that time, the Allied governments knew a lot about the mass annihilation going on at Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi extermination camps. In fact, in mid-April, two men had escaped Auschwitz and brought specific information about the camp, including detailed maps, to the leaders of the Working Group, a Jewish rescue organization in Slovakia (see also Auschwitz Protocols). In the wake of the Hungarian deportations, those Jewish leaders and others begged the Allies to bomb the camp, including the gas chambers and the railroad tracks leading up to it, but their requests were not fulfilled.

The first of the requests made to the United States War Department was turned down in June 1944. War Department officials claimed that they would not allow the bombing of Auschwitz because it could only be done by using air support that was needed elsewhere for the war effort. Their decision, however, was not based on war strategies or analyses. The department never thoroughly investigated the possibility of bombing the camp, and never even consulted their air force commanders based in Italy, who were in the best possible position to strike. Instead, when the War Department authorities were first asked to consider bombing Auschwitz, they fell back on the secret policy their department had established months before: a policy of noninvolvement in rescue actions. This policy was created in January 1944, after President Roosevelt had instituted the War Refugee Board. At the time, the President charged the US State, Treasury, and War departments with doing their utmost to further the rescue efforts. War Department officials feared this meant that military forces necessary elsewhere in the war would be taken away for the rescue effort. At a crucial point in the pursuit of victory, the War Department developed a blanket policy of noninvolvement, in direct defiance of the president's order—and when requests were made to bomb, the War Department kept rejecting them with the statement that it would "divert military power from essential war operations."

In Great Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill supported a proposal made by the Jewish Agency to bomb Auschwitz and the railroad tracks leading up to it. However, the British Air Ministry and the Foreign Office kept stalling in order to avoid bombing operations. The British government's official reply to the Jewish Agency employed the phrase that "technical difficulties" made carrying out the operations impossible, meaning perhaps, that Auschwitz was not in the range of Allied bombers.

In fact, by mid-1944, the Allied forces controlled European skies and definitely had the range to bomb Auschwitz and its railroad lines. The United States Air Force could even have carried out the operation in conjunction with other war operations. The Auschwitz complex, which included a major industrial zone and armaments factories, was itself a military target. A specific military goal was to destroy the synthetic oil refinery in Auschwitz. The Germans had seven other such plants in the area, all within 45 miles of Auschwitz. From July– November 1944, more than 2,800 American planes bombed the oil factories—on their way, flying right over or along the railways leading up to Auschwitz.

On August 20 and September 13, American bombers hit the industrial zone at Auschwitz itself, just five miles from the camp's four gas chambers. The killing installations at Birkenau, however, were never bombed. Post-war experts on bombing disagree as to how feasible it would have been to bomb only the gas chambers. Some also point to fears at the time that such a raid would have been accompanied by the killing of many persons. Real and imagined obstacles not withstanding, the fact that Auschwitz was not bombed to save Jewish lives shows that the Allies' desire to help Jews was not nearly as strong as the Nazis' desire to murder them.

Encyclopedia Britannica,  Michael Berenbaum
See Article History

The question “Why wasn’t Auschwitz bombed?” is not only historical. It is also a moral question emblematic of the Allied response to the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. Moreover, it is a question that has been posed to a series of presidents of the United States.

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. Click on each quadrant for enlargement. Upper left enlargement shows bombs intended for an IG Farben factory falling over gas chambers II and III.

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. Click on each quadrant for enlargement. Upper left enlargement shows bombs intended for an IG Farben factory falling over gas chambers II and III.

In their first meeting in 1979, President Jimmy Carter handed Elie Wiesel—a noted author and survivor of Auschwitz who was then chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust—a copy of the soon-to-be-released aerial photographs of the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II), taken by American intelligence forces during World War II. Wiesel was imprisoned in Buna-Monowitz (Auschwitz III), the slave-labour camp of Auschwitz, when in August 1944 Allied planes bombed the IG Farben plant there. Of that event he wrote, “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.”

Two months after his initial meeting with Carter, in an address at the first National Days of Remembrance ceremony at the Capitol rotunda on April 24, 1979, Wiesel responded to his gift by saying, “The evidence is before us: The world knew and kept silent. The documents that you, Mr. President, handed to the chairman of your Commission on the Holocaust, testify to that effect.” Wiesel was to repeat that accusation to Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. The failure to bomb Auschwitz during World War II also became part of the debate in 1999 over the Allied bombing of Kosovo.

First to the historical issues: 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. It could not have arisen earlier because not enough was known specifically about Auschwitz, and the camps were outside the range of Allied bombers. 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.

Before the summer of 1944, Auschwitz was not the most lethal of the six Nazi extermination camps. The Nazis had killed more Jews at Treblinka, where between 750,000 and 900,000 Jews were killed in the 17 months of its operation, and at Belzec, where 600,000 were killed in less than 10 months. In 1943 the Nazis closed both camps. Their mission, the destruction of Polish Jewry, had been completed. But during the summer of 1944 Auschwitz overtook the other death camps not only in the number of Jews killed but in the pace of destruction. The condition of the Jews was desperate.

In March 1944 Germany invaded Hungary. In April 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 newly arriving Hungarian Jews, the Nazis built a railroad spur directly into Auschwitz-Birkenau. Because the Nazis sent four of five arriving Jews directly to their death, the extermination camp was strained beyond capacity. The gas chambers were operating around the clock, and the crematoria were so overtaxed that bodies were burned in open fields with body fat fueling the flames. Any interruption in the killing process might have saved thousands of lives.

Yet bombing a concentration camp filled with innocent, unjustly imprisoned civilians also posed a moral dilemma for the Allies. To be willing to sacrifice innocent civilians, one would have had to perceive accurately conditions in the camp and to presume that interrupting the killing process would be worth the loss of life in Allied bombings. In short, one would have had to know that those in the camps were about to die. Such information was not available until the spring of 1944.

On April 10, 1944, two men escaped from Auschwitz: Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler. They made contact with Slovak resistance forces and produced a substantive report on the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In great detail, they documented the killing process. Their report, replete with maps and other specific details, was forwarded to Western intelligence officials along with an urgent request to bomb the camps. Part of the report, forwarded to the U.S. government’s War Refugee Board by Roswell McClelland, the board’s representative in Switzerland, arrived in Washington on July 8 and July 16, 1944. While the complete report, together with maps, did not arrive in the United States until October, U.S. officials could have received the complete report earlier if they had taken a more urgent interest in it.

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.

It would be a mistake to assume that anti-Semitism or indifference to the plight of the Jews—while present—was the primary cause of the refusal to support bombing. The issue is more complex. On June 11, 1944, the Jewish Agency executive committee meeting in Jerusalem refused to call for the bombing of Auschwitz. Jewish leadership in Palestine was clearly neither anti-Semitic nor indifferent to the situation of their brethren. David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the executive committee, 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.” Ben-Gurion and his colleagues were concerned that bombing the camps could kill many Jews—or even one Jew. Although no specific documentation reversing the decision of June 11 has been found, officials of the Jewish Agency were forcefully calling for the bombing by July.

What happened between the June 11 refusal to call for bombing and the subsequent action? After the Vrba-Wetzler report arrived in Palestine, the Jewish Agency executive committee had come to understand what was happening in Poland and was much more willing to risk Jewish lives in the camp rather than to permit the gassing to proceed unimpeded.

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.” Yet the British never carried through with the bombing.

Requests were also made to American officials to bomb Auschwitz. Similarly they were asked to come to the aid of the Poles 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 claim that Auschwitz was outside the range of the most effective American bombers.

In fact, 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.

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.

McCloy’s response remains controversial. There had been no study on bombing Auschwitz. Instead, 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.” No documents have been found in the records of the leaders of Army Air Forces considering the possibility of bombing Auschwitz.

For three decades the failure to bomb Auschwitz was a minor side issue to the war and the Holocaust. In May 1978 American historian David Wyman wrote an article in the magazine Commentary titled “Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed.” His article provoked much positive response and was reinforced by the startling photographs published by two leading Central Intelligence Agency photo interpreters, Dino Brugioni and Robert Poirier. Developed with technology available in 1978, but not in 1944, these photographs seemingly gave a vivid demonstration of what U.S. intelligence could have known about Auschwitz-Birkenau, if only they had been interested. One photograph 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. Another pictures Jews on the way to the gas chambers. Wyman’s claims gained considerable attention, and the failure to bomb became synonymous with American indifference.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, debate over the issue intensified. Military historians challenged Holocaust historians in an ineffectual debate characterized as the “Dialogue of the Deaf.” In 1993 both Holocaust scholars and military historians of divergent points of view addressed the issue in a symposium at the National Air and Space Museum that marked the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At issue was the nature of the aircraft that could have been used. 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 how many? At what cost to the Allies? But in addition to military considerations, political questions were at issue. Did the plight of the Jews matter? To whom and how deeply? 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 counterfactual speculation “What if…” But such is the debate over bombing Auschwitz.

We know that, in the end, the pessimists won. They argued that nothing could be done, and nothing was done. The proposals of the optimists, those who argued that something could be done, were not even considered. Given what happened at Auschwitz-Birkenau during the summer of 1944, many have seen the failure to bomb as a symbol of indifference. Inaction helped the Germans achieve their goals and left the victims with little power to defend themselves. The Allies did not even offer bombing as a gesture of protest.


In April 1944 two prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, managed to escape from Auschwitz. And the information they gave to the Allies – together with intelligence gained from two other prisoners who escaped shortly afterwards – formed the basis for a report on the workings of Auschwitz that became known as the Auschwitz Protocols.

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.

So the question now was simple – what were the Allies going to do about Auschwitz? In June 1944, the American War Refugee Board sent a plea to the US Assistant Secretary of War, John McCloy, asking that the Allies bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. This request had been originally received by the War Refugee Board from Jacob Rosenheim of the Agudas Israel World Organization.

On 26 June, McCloy rejected the idea. He claimed it was impractical and that, in any case, it would mean that bombers currently engaged in ‘decisive operations’ would have to be re-deployed.i

A second request now arrived, forwarded on to the American government by the War Refugee Board from the World Jewish Congress in Geneva. This one explicitly called for the bombing of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. This plea was also rejected by John McCloy on 4 July.

An insight into the thinking of the officials working within Mr McCloy’s office at this time can be gained from the wording of an inter-office memo written by Colonel Gerhardt, a member of the War Office Staff. Gerhardt wrote to McCloy, about the proposals to bomb Auschwitz, ‘I know you told me to ‘kill’ this…’ii  – words which suggest there was not much serious consideration given to the idea of attacking the camp.     

Around the same time the idea of bombing Auschwitz was also suggested to the British government. Churchill wanted the Royal Air Force to consider the idea, but the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, suggested that the Americans should be asked to look at the operation, primarily because they were the ones who specialized in daylight precision bombing.iii  When General Spaatz, of the United States Army Air Force, visited the British Air Ministry, he said that aerial reconnaissance of the camp might be an idea, but the suggestion came to nothing.

Thus the decision was taken not to bomb Auschwitz. Indeed, the evidence shows that the idea was never even seriously considered by either the British or the Americans. It’s this evidence that creates the impression that the Allied governments didn’t really ‘care’ about the fate of the Jews and that has helped make this such a controversial issue ever since.

Whole books have been written in recent years arguing about the practicalities of bombing Auschwitz. And whilst it seems that there is a general expert consensus that there would have been little point in bombing the railway lines to Auschwitz – the Nazis would just have diverted the transports to another track or found alternative means of getting the Jews to the camp – there is no such consensus on the practical question of whether the camp itself could have successfully been bombed or not.

Any bombing mission would have faced the twin problems of distance – Auschwitz was at the very limit of Allied bombing capacity – and accuracy. How could the gas chambers be bombed without also killing many of the Auschwitz prisoners who lived in prison barracks just yards away?

What can be said with some certainty, though, is that it is false to suggest that any bombing of the camp would have saved a significant number of lives. Even if the gas chambers could have been destroyed by pin point bombing (which would, in itself, have required an extraordinary feat of flying) the Germans had additional killing capacity at Auschwitz/Birkenau that the Allies knew nothing about. This was because whilst the Auschwitz Protocols had mentioned the existence of the large crematorium and gas chamber complexes at the camp, the authors did not know about the existence of two previous gas chambers – known as Bunker 1 and Bunker 2 – which pre-dated these larger killing factories and which were still available for use.

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 Jews into Auschwitz/Birkenau had ceased.

At the time, Sir Archibald Sinclair raised the possibility of dropping weapons into Auschwitz/Birkenau to spark a revolt – but such an operation would have had little chance of success since Auschwitz/Birkenau was protected by a network of electric fences and guard towers. Moreover, the camp was in the middle of a secure ‘Auschwitz Zone of Interest’ stretching for miles in each direction. So the idea that emaciated and disorientated prisoners could have somehow fought their way out seems unlikely in the extreme.    

But, of course, what the focus on the question ‘why didn’t the Allies bomb Auschwitz’ masks is the broader question of ‘why wasn’t more done to help the Jews?’ For the truth is that the Western Allies did not move with any enthusiasm to take in large numbers of persecuted Jews.

‘Roosevelt is very wary of the idea that he should push very hard on the question of rescuing Jews from the Nazis,’ says Professor Robert Dallek. ‘In fact, what you see during World War Two is that whenever Franklin Roosevelt has a photograph taken of him with a religious figure, that is a priest or a minister or a rabbi, the photograph always has all three. It’s ecumenical. He doesn’t want to be identified with one religion or the other, he wants to be seen as open, above the battle. Also what one has to keep in mind is that there was a significant degree of anti-Semitism in the United States during World War Two, and a number of leading Jews were very apprehensive about pushing too hard on this issue of rescuing Jews because they were afraid that it would intensify anti-Semitism.

‘What it speaks to is this whole question of judgment. People look back on this and they say, well, you know, they should have known. And, in a sense, there can be a certain acceptable criticism, that they didn’t look at it as intensely and with as much focus on it as they should have… There’s no question they could have rescued more Jews, there’s no question about it. How many more, who knows? Could they have stopped the Holocaust? Absolutely not.’

It’s this background that makes the focus on the question of bombing Auschwitz so understandable. Because even if any attempt to attack the camp would have been fraught with difficulties and might have saved no lives, what it would have demonstrated was the extent to which the Allies cared about the fate of Jews. As Professor Norbert Frei puts it, had such a mission taken place, it ‘might make us think about the Western Allies probably even more honourably than we do.’

Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum (eds.), The Bombing of Auschwitz, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2000, p. 67

ii Ibid., p. 68

iii See Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’, BBC Books, 2005, pp. 307-308


As Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked, two historians stake out passionate, opposite positions on the causes and consequences of inaction
Times of Israel  By MITCH GINSBURG 16 April 2015

The question of why the Allies didn’t bomb Auschwitz – central to the Zionist narrative and an issue that the Israeli Air Force has taken under its wing, posting in army bases across the country the photos of its silvery fighter planes flying over the grassy death camp in 2003 -– received radically different responses this year at a conference held ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked in Israel on Wednesday-Thursday.

Opposing positions, tracing the contours though not the full breadth of a swirling argument, were staked out by professor emeritus Alex Groth of UC Davis and professor emeritus Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University.

Groth contended that the absence of Allied action against the death camps was part of a larger body of circumstantial evidence indicating that Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were anti-Semites eager to “thin out” the Jews; Bauer asserted that not only was the bombing of the death camps militarily unfeasible during the crucial years of the Germans’ industrial annihilation, but that, even today, “we are all bystanders,” guilty of inaction in the face of genocide and, therefore, hardly in a position to point a finger at the Allies.

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The Times of Israel spoke with both scholars and listened to their addresses, given in March at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center and co-organized by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and the California-based InFaith Community Foundation.

Groth, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto who managed to live out the war years on Polish soil, made an assertion seldom heard in Israel, where Winston Churchill is perceived chiefly as a supporter of the Zionist cause and as the voice of morality in the face of Adolf Hitler’s initially unchecked evil. “There is circumstantial evidence for collusion in the Holocaust between Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on one side and Hitler on the other side,” he told the Times of Israel. “That is, that they were knowing accomplices to this, that they furthered this by policies, which they adopted and pursued throughout the war.”


The “smoking gun,” from his perspective, is the December 17, 1942 Joint Declaration delivered in the British House of Commons on behalf of 11 allied nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden took the floor and declared that “the German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended, the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.

“From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported, in conditions of appalling horror and brutality, to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughter-house, the ghettos established by the German invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again.”

That statement, accurately depicting the plight of the Jews, Groth said, “was preceded by silence and followed by silence,” leading him to the “inescapable conclusion that there was a willful, knowing collusion between these two great statesmen” and the Third Reich.

The silence was not complete. In September 1942, amid the deportation of the Jews of France, Churchill told the House of Commons that the Germans’ “brutal persecutions” in “every land into which their armies have broken” had been worsened by “the most bestial, the most squalid and the most senseless of all their offences, namely, the mass deportation of Jews from France, with the pitiful horrors attendant upon the calculated and final scattering of families,” according to Martin Gilbert’s account in “Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship.”

He added: “This tragedy fills me with astonishment as well as with indignation, and it illustrates as nothing else can the utter degradation of the Nazi nature and theme and the degradation of all who lend themselves to its unnatural and perverted passions.” He paused, Gilbert noted, and continued: “When the hour of liberation strikes in Europe, as strike it will, it will also be the hour of retribution.”

Churchill advocated for the November 1943 Moscow Declaration, which promised to pursue those who had perpetrated “atrocities, massacres and cold-blooded mass executions” to the “uttermost ends of the earth.” And in July 1944, as the last of Hungary’s Jews were being rushed to the gas chambers, he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury: “I fear we are the witnesses of one of the greatest and most horrible crimes ever committed in the whole history of the world.”

Groth, though, asserted that Churchill was malevolently fixated on Jews prior to the war and deliberately forgetful about their plight during and after the war.

In Churchill’s six-volume history of the war, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was written between 1948 and1953 – after the Nuremberg Trials – there was “not one word” about the Holocaust, Groth said; no mention at all, besides in the endnotes, of the extermination or annihilation of European Jewry. He called the omission “an unbelievable statement on the part of Churchill.”

The first sprouts of Churchill’s antipathy, Groth said, poked through the surface in February 1920. At the time, the 46-year-old secretary of war began a column in the Illustrated Sunday Herald with this pungent lede: “Some people like Jews and some do not; but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.”

After celebrating the Jewish gift of Scripture – “We owe to the Jews in the Christian revelation a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization” – Churchill proceeded to delineate the three species of Jew: national, international, and Zionist.

The national Jews, he wrote, “play an honorable and useful part in the national life” of a state, with “some rising to the command of armies, others winning the Victoria Cross for valour.”

The Zionist idea “presents to the Jew a national idea of a commanding character” and is “in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.”

But the international Jew – a sort best kept in check by Zionism – is part of a “sinister confederacy” of predominantly God-less Jews, engaged in a “world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality,” Churchill wrote.

Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt earmarked any money for the liberation of Jews — Prof. Alex Groth

“This band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America” – representing the root of every subversive movement during the 19th century and having played a detrimental role in the French Revolution, he wrote – “have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire.”

In short, Churchill suggested, “The gospel of Christ and the gospel of Antichrist” may have been “destined to originate among the same people; and that this mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both of the divine and the diabolical.”

He was, at the time, Gilbert wrote, influenced by the “Protocols of the Elder of Zion,” which had been sent to him several weeks prior.

Churchill’s chief biographer, however, wrote that throughout the war years, “amid all the pressing concerns of the war on land, at sea and in the air, and the desperate struggle to find the means to challenge the continuing Nazi domination of Europe, Churchill always made time to deal with Jewish issues.”

Gilbert cites the 793 illegal immigrants aboard the Darien, who were allowed to remain in Palestine in February 1942 thanks to Churchill’s direct intervention; his insistence that Vichy laws in Algeria be repealed once the Vichy authorities had been ejected; and the demand that Spain, in the spring of 1943, open the Franco-Spanish border along the Pyrenees to escaping Jews.

Sadly the Polish Government in Exile’s request that British bombers drop alongside the bombs leaflets stating that the air attacks on Germany were reprisals for the treatment of Poles and Jews was dismissed out of hand by Chief of the Air Staff Sir Charles Portal, who warned, according to Gilbert’s account, that any such raids “avowedly conducted on account of the Jews would be an asset to enemy propaganda.”

“Churchill,” Gilbert wrote, unconvincingly, “had no power to overrule his air chief on operational matters.”

Groth said that the gentlemanly Jew-hatred common to both Churchill and FDR led to a policy of “willful blindness.” Neither leader, he asserted, earmarked any money for the liberation of Jews; FDR spent some $50 billion of discretionary Land-Lease funds, equivalent to nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars in today’s money, on aid to 38 different countries, some of which, like Brazil, had not yet entered the war, but “for Jews there was not a dollar to be found.” And neither invested much effort in the pursuit of information or the encouragement of even the most simple sabotage, including, say, mines along the tracks or other plans to slow the industrial murder.

A February/March 1945 photo of the tracks leading to the  death camp (photo credit: AP Photo/ Stanislaw Mucha)

Groth, in fact, believes that Joseph Goebbels, a close associate of Hitler’s, accurately read the prevailing sentiment among Allied leaders. “The question of Jewish persecution in Europe is being given top news priority by the English and the Americans,” the Nazi propaganda minister wrote in his diary on December 13, 1942. “At bottom, however, I believe both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riff-raff.”

This sentiment, and not war priorities or aerial distances, is what prevented the bombing of Auschwitz, Groth said. The accepted notion, he added, is that Auschwitz came within Allied reach only upon conquest of the airbase in Foggia, Italy, in November 1943 and that concrete proof of the genocide was presented only toward summer 1944, as the feverish deportation and annihilation of Hungarian Jewry slowed to a halt. “That is one of the most major misstatements,” he said.

Instead, Groth contended that the distance from Lowestoft Air Base in southeast England to Auschwitz was well within Allied reach from November 1942, when the US delivered its first squadrons of B-24 bombers to British soil. And in fact, the B-24 range was 2,100 miles; the flight distance from Lowestoft to Auschwitz and back, according to, is 1,538 miles.

Bauer rejected this claim out of hand and sought to situate the genocide – a word not yet coined at the time – into the larger picture of a world war, in which the Allies prevailed, but not because victory was foretold.


His thesis – that thousands of Jews could have been saved late in the war but not millions – starts with knowledge. The process of knowing, he has written, comes in stages: first, the information has to be disseminated; then, it has to be believed; then, it has to be internalized; and finally, if it warrants action, it may be acted upon.

The United States in, say, November 1940, when the Warsaw Ghetto was shut to the world, was isolationist, unfriendly to Jews, and emerging from the worst economic crisis in its history, Bauer wrote in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. In the Oval Office, President Roosevelt, he wrote, “saw in all Jewish issues a side show” and would likely have subscribed to the notion “that antisemitism” – a word he insists on writing without the hyphen and the capital – “was to dislike Jews more than is normal.”

And FDR, in that respect, was “normal.” [So, too, was Richard Law, the senior British representative at the Anglo-American April 19, 1943, Bermuda Conference, convened in the wake of the December 1942 Allied Declaration. Law, Bauer noted, wrote to his boss, foreign secretary Anthony Eden, “Sorry to bother you about Jews. I know what a bore it is.”]

Yet even had FDR and Churchill fully grasped the unprecedented, industrial murder of the Jews – a Nazi goal that was “pre-figured by ideology, but not pre-planned” – there was almost nothing that could have been done, according to Bauer.

Yes, Bauer allowed in an interview, the B-17 and, later, the B-24, had the range to fly from southeast England to Poland, but the Allies didn’t yet have the long-distance fighter planes to accompany those bombers. Without the Mustang P-51, which was introduced in late 1943, “They would have been shot down like ducks,” he said.

In February 1943 the United States began bombing Germany. It did not bomb east of Berlin until October. By then, he noted, Treblinka, Bełżec, Sobibor, and Chełmno were no longer in operation. Birkenau, however, continued to operate.

The message that Israel, had it been founded, could have stopped the Nazi genocide with its aircraft is a total delusion — Prof. Yehuda Bauer

In November, after the Allied invasion of Sicily, US forces reached Foggia airfield and made it operational again. By that point, information from the Polish underground had reached the leaders of the Allied nations. Jan Karski, a Polish underground operative, who had been smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and seen what he believed was Belzec concentration camp, was given an audience with the president in July. During their 80-minute conversation, Karski later told Claude Lanzmann, the president did not ask a single question about the Jews, beyond Karski’s initial statement about having seen an extermination camp, but did inquire about the role of horses in Poland’s agrarian economy.

In the spring of 1944, concrete information was delivered from Auschwitz-Birkenau, depicting the murder machine. The Jewish escapees’ reports were taken down in April-May and delivered to Switzerland in June. From that point on, the Allies should have acted, Bauer said.

The tracks, had they been bombed, would likely have been fixed within 48 hours, he said. The bombers of that period could not zero in on the four gas chambers of Birkenau; to the best of his knowledge, there is not a single instance of successful pinpoint bombing in the entirety of the war. Instead, they would have had to carpet bomb. And in order to penetrate the gas chamber buildings, they would have had to deliver 500-pound bombs. On August 2, American Air Force Commander at Foggia, Carl J. Spaatz, an American of German heritage, sent a message to Washington asking to do just that.

The failure to authorize such a bombing, Bauer said, was “a moral failure of the first degree,” but not a military one. The fight against Nazi Germany was not simply over territory, he told the conference, but “for a world where this cannot happen,” and therefore striking the heart of the evil was a moral imperative.

And yet, even if the Allies would have bombed, he argued, it would not have saved the Jews.

By July 9, the deportations to Auschwitz had come to a halt. From then until November 1944, when the industrial murder was stopped, some 80,000 Jews were killed in the camp. But from that point on, till the end of the war, roughly 400,000 more were shot and ground to their deaths in forced marches. Throughout the Holocaust, Bauer said, half of the 5.6 million Jewish victims were killed without gas. They were starved, exposed to disease, shot. The killing of Jews was a Nazi priority, he said, and only military defeat could finally bring it to a halt.

For this reason, he said, the IAF display and the propagation of the message that Israel then, had it been founded, could have stopped the Nazi genocide with its aircraft, “is a stupid demonstration” and “a total delusion.”

Instead, Bauer suggested that the message should focus not on the alleged Jew-hatred of the Allies’ leaders and their inadequate response to the genocide of the Jews, but rather on the way we stand by in the face of genocides and genocidal events happening all over the place. “We click our tongues over tea and coffee with cake and get really excited,” he said, “but the idea that the world was silent is totally wrong.”

As Bauer told the German Bundestag in 1998, we should add three more commandments to the ten:

“Thou shalt never be a perpetrator.
Thou shalt never be a victim.
And thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.

And I said that because I know that we all are bystanders.”


Allied forces knew about Holocaust two years before discovery of concentration camps, secret documents reveal

Archive shows Adolf Hitler was indicted for war crimes in 1944
Independent, Andrew Buncombe 17 April 2017

Pope Francis: Why didn't allies bomb railway routes taking prisoners to …

The Pope has attacked the world's “great powers” for failing to do more to protect the victims of the Holocaust, asking why they did not bomb railway routes used to carry prisoners to Auschwitz.    Independent   22 Jun 2015

Why the allies didn't bomb Auschwitz

When the US war department was petitioned by Jewish representatives to bomb Auschwitz, it refused   The Guardian  9 Sept 2009


Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of SHOAH


Yad Vashem 2010 (17.00)
Dr. David Silberklang, Editor of Yad Vashem Studies, discusses the controversial decision of the Allies in regards to bombing the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944.
Aerial photos of Auschwitz-Birkenau-

The lecture is part of the series "Insights and Perspectives from Yad Vashem Historians." For more lectures, click here:

Prof Stephen Berk 2013 (10.08)
Professor Stephen Berk, (Union College), explains why the Allies did not bomb Auschwitz nor the
train lines leading to the
Nazi concentration camps.

Center for Online Judaic Studies
2016 (52.17)





The United States and
the Holocaust:
Why Auschwitz
was not


The United States
the Holocaust

Bombing of

Why Wasn't Auschwitz Bombed?

Should the Allies have Bombed Auschwitz?
A still-Incendiary Question