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(Editors Note   We need to ask why there was there no response to the Holocaust during World War 2?  For example why were no steps taken against Auschwitz and what was the reaction after Allied troops had taken over concentration camps making the Holocaust a central topic?    The international response to the widespread publicity given to the Holocaust and the detail of what happened in the USA is given as this was the leading Allied power)   


In the decades since the Holocaust, some national governments, international bodies and world leaders have been criticized for their failure to take appropriate action to save the millions of European Jews, Roma, and other victims of the Holocaust. Critics say that such intervention, particularly by the Allied governments, might have saved substantial numbers of people and could have been accomplished without the diversion of significant resources from the war effort.

Other researchers have challenged such criticism. Some have argued that the idea that the Allies took no action is a myth—that the Allies accepted as many German Jewish immigrants as the Nazis would allow—and that theoretical military action by the Allies, such as bombing the Auschwitz concentration camp, would have saved the lives of very few people. Others have said that the limited intelligence available to the Allies—who, as late as October 1944, did not know the locations of many of the Nazi death camps or the purposes of the various buildings within those camps they had identified—made precision bombing impossible.

In three cases, entire countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population during the Holocaust. In other countries, notable individuals or communities created resistance during the Holocaust

Hitler's became the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. In the weeks after the Nazis came to power, The SA (Sturmabteilungen; commonly known as Storm Troopers), the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons—the elite guard of the Nazi party), the police, and local civilian authorities organized numerous detention camps to incarcerate real and perceived political opponents of Nazi policy.

German authorities established camps all over Germany on an ad hoc basis to handle the masses of people arrested as alleged subversives.  After December 1934, the SS became the only agency authorized to establish and manage facilities that were formally called concentration camps. Unlike prisons they were independent of any judicial review and had three main purposes:

Concentration Camps after the Outbreak of World War II in September 1939, vast new territorial conquests and larger groups of potential prisoners led to the rapid expansion of the concentration camp system to the east. Despite the need for forced labor, the SS authorities continued to deliberately undernourish and mistreat prisoners incarcerated in the concentration camps resulting in high mortality rates.

During the last year of the war, as the Germans retreated into the Reich itself, the concentration camp population (Jewish and non-Jewish) suffered catastrophic losses due to starvation, exposure, disease, and mistreatment. In addition, the SS forcibly evacuated concentration camp prisoners as the front approached because the Nazis did not want the prisoners to be liberated. Under SS guard, prisoners had to march on foot during brutal winter weather without adequate food, shelter, or clothing. SS guards had orders to shoot those who could not keep up. Other prisoners were evacuated by open freight car in the dead of winter.

n 1944–1945, the Allied armies liberated the concentration camps. Tragically, deaths in the camps continued for several weeks after liberation. Some prisoners had already become too weak to survive.

According to SS reports, there were more than 700,000 prisoners left in the camps in January 1945. It has been estimated that nearly half of the total number of concentration camp deaths between 1933 and 1945 occurred during the last year of the war.


Nuremberg Trials

The international response to the war crimes of World War II and the Holocaust was to establish the Nuremberg international tribunal. Three major wartime powers, the US, USSR and Great Britain, agreed to punish those responsible. The trials brought human rights into the domain of global politics, redefined morality at the global level, and gave political currency to the concept of crimes against humanity, where individuals rather than governments were held accountable for war crimes.


Towards the end of World War II, Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent, aggressively pursued within the halls of the United Nations and the United States government the recognition of genocide as a crime. Largely due to his efforts and the support of his lobby, the United Nations was propelled into action. In response to Lemkin's arguments, the United Nations adopted the term in 1948 when it passed the "Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide".[64]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Many believe that the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust inspired the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. This view has been challenged by recent historical scholarship. One study has shown that the Nazi slaughter of Jews went entirely unmentioned during the drafting of the Universal Declaration at the United Nations, though those involved in the negotiations did not hesitate to name many other examples of Nazi human rights violations.[65] Other historians have countered that the human rights activism of the delegate René Cassin of France, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968 for his work on the Universal Declaration, was motivated in part by the death of many Jewish relatives in the Holocaust and his involvement in Jewish organisations providing aid to Holocaust survivors.[66]

Yad Vashem

By the summer of 1942, the Allies had accurate information about the murder of European Jewry, but priority was given to winning the war without diverting resources by bombing Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers and train tracks.

In May 1942, the BBC in London broadcast information about the killing of Polish Jews. It did so again on June 26. The information that reached the Free World was accurate and readily available. In December 1942 US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill gave the Germans a public warning about the responsibility that would be laid at their feet for the murder of the Jews of Europe. However, the political concept that became dominant among the politicians and generals was that winning the war came first; this would, by proxy, also stop the murder of the European Jews.

Those who begged the Allies to bomb the extermination facilities at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the tracks leading to the camp were answered with similar rationales. The Americans and the British rebuffed such requests by arguing that bombing the gas chambers would entail the diversion of massive resources (essential air cover for forces that were busy with crucial operations) and that an effective bombardment might have the opposite effect of that desired, i.e., Germany might treat the Jews even worse. In June 1944, American aircraft produced a set of aerial photographs over Auschwitz in which the death facilities were clearly visible. In an air raid that took place on August 20, the bombs landed on a factory not far from the gas chambers, yet the gas chambers remained intact.

Reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican by late 1941. In March 1942, the Pope Pius XII was asked to intervene in order to thwart the deportation of Slovakian Jews to Auschwitz. Apparently, his pressure upon the Slovakian clergy influenced the decision to temporarily delay the deportation of the Jews. The Allies, out of political and military considerations, begged the Pope to make a statement condemning Nazi Germany’s actions. The Vatican limited itself to a general, laconic statement that decried the “horrors of the war.”

Yad vashem

In the later stages of the war, as the Germans were retreating on all fronts, they murdered some of the Jewish forced laborers who remained in the ghettos that had been converted into labor camps. The Germans deported the rest to the extermination centers that were still functioning, such as Chelmno and Auschwitz, or to labor and concentration camps in the Reich on death marches during which many of the inmates were either murdered or died of starvation and exhaustion.

After the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews who somehow managed to survive, either in the camps, in hiding, or in the Soviet Union, returned to their homes, only to be met with anger and animosity by their neighbors. Antisemitic gangs murdered approximately 1,500 Jewish survivors in Poland alone, in the first months after the liberation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled westwards and gathered in camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy.

After the war many Holocaust survivors tried to reach Eretz Israel but the British authorities deported them to detention camps in Cyprus. With the establishment of the State of Israel the gates for mass immigration were opened for the survivors of the Holocaust. Approximately 100,000 Jewish displaced persons immigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia and the Latin American countries.

In trials against Nazi war criminals tens of thousands of Germans and their collaborators were tried and sentenced. However, most of the individuals who carried out the atrocities were never brought to justice, even until this very day. In the years 1945-1949, only 31,651 Nazi war criminals out of the hundreds of thousands active during the war were brought to trial.

A new exhibition looks at the motives, pressures and fears that shaped America’s response to the murder of Jews in Europe in the 1930s and 40s

The Guardian David Smith in Washington  2018

 ‘We want visitors to ask why rescue of Jews didn’t become a priority,’ said exhibition curator Daniel Greene.

What did they know and when did they know it? And why didn’t they do more to stop it?

The motives, pressures and fears that shaped America’s response to the murder of 6 million Jews in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s are the subject of a provocative new exhibition at the  in Washington DC.

Americans and the Holocaust debunks the myth that Americans lacked access to information about the persecution of Jews as it was happening, demonstrates that they had little appetite to take in refugees from Europe and illustrates that President Franklin Roosevelt’s primary focus was on winning a war, not ending a genocide.

“We show how Americans’ isolationism after world war one, our own xenophobia, racism and antisemitism, and then the catastrophe of the Great Depression, an economic crisis, shape Americans’ responses to nazism,” said exhibition curator Daniel Greene. “Americans had a lot of information about the threat of nazism in real time including, after 1942, murder of Jews across Europe, and we want visitors to ask why rescue of Jews didn’t become a priority.”

 ‘Right across all this media we see that Americans could have had access to information about the threat of Nazis if they were paying close attention,’ said exhibition curator Daniel Greene.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest  ‘Right across all this media we see that Americans could have had access to information about the threat of Nazis if they were paying close attention,’ said exhibition curator Daniel Greene. Photograph: Joel Mason-Gaines/United States Holocaust Memorial

The warning signs were there. In the 1930s, the exhibition recounts, popular US news magazines reported almost weekly on Hitler and Nazi Germany, including the targeting of Jews, communists and other political opponents. One striking display includes Time magazine covers featuring Hitler and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, a Newsweek cover dominated by Hitler at a Nazi rally and a Vanity Fair cover with a caricature of Hitler superimposed on a giant swastika.

No less fascinating is a Cosmopolitan magazine from March 1932 in which American journalist Dorothy Thompson interviews Hitler. The article begins: “When I walked into Adolf Hitler’s salon, I was convinced that I was meeting the future dictator of Germany. In less than 50 seconds I was sure I was not. It took just that time to measure the startling insignificance of this man who has set the world agog.”

But Thompson also observed: “Antisemitism is the life and soul of Hitler’s movement. The Nazis lose no opportunity to insult the Jews.”

A digital touchscreen display of a US map allows visitors to tap any state and see how regional newspapers of the time were also sounding the alarm. On 29 March 1933, for example, the Dallas Morning News carried a front page headline: “Nazi Chiefs Order Jewish Boycott; Even School Children Are Included.”

 A visa application for Alice Stern from 1940 on display at the Americans and the Holocaust exhibition.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest  A visa application for Alice Stern from 1940 on display at the Americans and the Holocaust exhibition. Photograph: United States Holocaust Memorial

Greene said: “The media landscape of the 1930s and 40s includes newspapers, magazines, newsreels, radio, and right across all this media we see that Americans could have had access to information about the threat of Nazis if they were paying close attention. One of the things we really want people to understand is it’s not a story that you only had if you were on the coast or in a big metropolitan city. Across the country Americans could read about the threat of nazism.”

In the spring of 1933, the exhibition records, tens of thousands of Americans signed petitions protesting the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, but the US made no official statement against the German regime. In June that year, Roosevelt said: “The German authorities are treating the Jews shamefully and the Jews in this country are greatly excited. But this is also not a government affair.”

In 1938 Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, which saw coordinated attacks on thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses across Germany, made banner headlines on front pages from Atlanta to Philadelphia to San Francisco. Roosevelt, who told a press conference that it had “deeply shocked” the American public, was asked by a reporter: “Would you recommend a relaxation of our immigration restrictions so that Jewish refugees could be received in this country?” The president replied: “This is not in contemplation; we have the quota system.”

Roosevelt’s legacy in relation to refugees has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, but the exhibition is even-handed. Greene said: “One of the things I’ve thought about here is when does a president try to lead public opinion and when does he follow it. So public opinion is against entering into the war but Roosevelt tries to lead it towards intervention. Public opinion is very much against letting in refugees and he decides that’s not what he’s going to spend his political capital on.

“Roosevelt is a political animal and he’s always making decisions based on politics. Part of politics is thinking about popularity and what do the American people think, and the American people at this time are clear about what they think about admitting refugees.”

Opinion polls several weeks after Kristallnacht found that 94% of Americans disapproved of the Nazi treatment of Jews, but 71% did not want more Jewish refugees to come to the US.

 ‘Public opinion is very much against letting in refugees and he decides that’s not what he’s going to spend his political capital on,’ said exhibition curator Daniel Greene.

 ‘Public opinion is very much against letting in refugees and he decides that’s not what he’s going to spend his political capital on,’ said exhibition curator Daniel Greene. Photograph: United States Holocaust Memorial

Americans and the Holocaust has stories of heroic individuals who went against the grain to rescue Jews from Europe, but also of Yale University students who founded the  to oppose US intervention in the second world war. They won the support of aviator Charles Lindbergh, who in a speech in Iowa in 1941 accused Jews of being “war agitators”. Lindbergh’s 1941 diary and an insignia given to him on Hitler’s behalf for services to world aviation are on display.

America entered the war and Hollywood got on board. But popular films of the era emphasised the fight for democracy rather than nazism’s victims. Even Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, depicted stranded refugees without mentioning Jews explicitly, though director Michael Curtiz and several supporting players were Jewish. An exception was  with Charlie Chaplin, one of whose costumes is on show.

The killing continued on an industrial scale and by December 1942, radio broadcaster Edward Murrow was clear: “What is happening is this: millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered.” But the US government’s priority was the defeat of nazism. It rejected pleas to bomb rail lines that  its gas chambers or the entire camp as “impracticable” and a “diversion” from winning the war.

By 1945, as the Nazis collapsed, American magazines ran some of the first widely circulated photographs from concentration camps. On 7 May, Life stated: “For 12 years since the Nazis seized power, Americans have heard charges of German brutality … Last week Americans could no longer doubt stories of Nazi cruelty. For the first time there was irrefutable evidence.”

Greene said: “What you’re seeing in a lot of the media in the 30s and 40s is information, but words. It’s really April and May 1945 that you start to see, in our mass media, visual evidence of the atrocities. And it does make me wonder if, in the 1940s, we can say seeing is believing and so Americans have of a lot of information but they don’t fully believe.”

Even then, the needle barely moved. In a December 1945 poll, 69% of people said the US should admit the same or fewer people from Europe each year than it did before the war. Only 5% said it should admit more.


The systematic persecution of German Jewry began with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Facing economic, social, and political oppression, thousands of German Jews wanted to flee the Third Reich but found few countries willing to accept them. Eventually, under Hitler’s leadership, some 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II.


America’s traditional policy of open immigration had ended when Congress enacted restrictive immigration quotas in 1921 and 1924. The quota system allowed only 25,957 Germans to enter the country every year. After the stock market crash of 1929, rising unemployment caused restrictionist sentiment to grow, and President Herbert Hoover ordered vigorous enforcement of visa regulations. The new policy significantly reduced immigration; in 1932 the United States issued only 35,576 immigration visas.

Did you know? One War Refugee Board operative, Raoul Wallenberg, technically a Swedish diplomat in Budapest, provided at least 20,000 Jews with Swedish passports and protection.

State Department officials continued their restrictive measures after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933. Although some Americans sincerely believed that the country lacked the resources to accommodate newcomers, the nativism of many others reflected the growing problem of anti-Semitism.

Of course, American anti-Semitism never approached the intensity of Jew-hatred in Nazi Germany, but pollsters found that many Americans looked upon Jews unfavorably. A much more threatening sign was the presence of anti-Semitic leaders and movements on the fringes of American politics, including Father Charles E. Coughlin, the charismatic radio priest, and William Dudley Pelley’s Silver Shirts.

Although the quota walls seemed unassailable, some Americans took steps to alleviate the suffering of German Jews. American Jewish leaders organized a boycott of German goods, hoping that economic pressure might force Hitler to end his anti-Semitic policies, and prominent American Jews, including Louis D. Brandeis, interceded with the Roosevelt administration on the refugees’ behalf. In response, the Roosevelt administration agreed to ease visa regulations, and in 1939, following the Nazi annexation of Austria, State Department officials issued all the visas available under the combined German-Austrian quota.

Responding to the increasingly difficult situation of German Jewry, Roosevelt organized the international Evian Conference on the refugee crisis in 1938. Although thirty-two nations attended, very little was accomplished because no country was willing to accept a large number of Jewish refugees. The conference did establish an Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, but it failed to devise any practical solutions.


The extermination of European Jewry began when the German army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. The Nazis attempted to keep the Holocaust a secret, but in August 1942, Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, Switzerland, learned what was going on from a German source. Riegner asked American diplomats in Switzerland to inform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, one of America’s most prominent Jewish leaders, of the mass murder plan. But the State Department, characteristically insensitive and influenced by anti-Semitism, decided not to inform Wise.

The rabbi nevertheless learned of Riegner’s terrible message from Jewish leaders in Great Britain. He immediately approached Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who asked Wise to keep the information confidential until the government had time to verify it. Wise agreed and it was not until November 1942 that Welles authorized the release of Riegner’s message.

Wise held a press conference on the evening of November 24, 1942. The next day’s New York Times reported his news on its tenth page. Throughout the rest of the war, the Times and most other newspapers failed to give prominent and extensive coverage to the Holocaust. During World War I, the American press had published reports of German atrocities that subsequently turned out to be false. As a result, journalists during World War II tended to approach atrocity reports with caution.


Although most Americans, preoccupied with the war itself, remained unaware of the terrible plight of European Jewry, the American Jewish community responded with alarm to Wise’s news. American and British Jewish organizations pressured their governments to take action. As a result, Great Britain and the United States announced that they would hold an emergency conference in Bermuda to develop a plan to rescue the victims of Nazi atrocities.

Ironically, the Bermuda Conference opened in April 1943, the same month the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were staging their revolt. The American and British delegates at Bermuda proved to be far less heroic than the Jews of Warsaw. Rather than discussing strategies, they worried about what to do with any Jews they successfully rescued. Britain refused to consider admitting more Jews into Palestine, which it administered at the time, and the United States was equally determined not to alter its immigration quotas. The conference produced no practical plan to aid European Jewry, although the press was informed that “significant progress” had been made.

Following the futile Bermuda Conference, American Jewish leaders became increasingly involved in a debate over Zionism. But the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, led by Peter Bergson and a small group of emissaries from the Irgun, a right-wing Palestinian Jewish resistance group, turned to pageants, rallies, and newspaper advertisements to force Roosevelt to create a government agency to devise ways to rescue European Jewry. The Emergency Committee and its supporters in Congress helped publicize the Holocaust and the need for the United States to react.


President Roosevelt also found himself under pressure from another source. Treasury Department officials, working on projects to provide aid to European Jews, discovered that their colleagues in the State Department were actually undermining rescue efforts. They brought their concerns to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who was Jewish and a long-time supporter of Roosevelt. Under Morgenthau’s direction, Treasury officials prepared a “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” Morgenthau presented the report to Roosevelt and requested that he establish a rescue agency. Finally, on January 22, 1944, the president issued Executive Order 9417, creating the War Refugee Board (WRB). John Pehle of the Treasury Department served as the board’s first executive director.

The establishment of the board did not resolve all the problems blocking American rescue efforts. For example, the War Department repeatedly refused to bomb Nazi concentration camps or the railroads leading to them. But the WRB did successfully develop a number of rescue projects. Estimates indicate that the WRB may have saved as many as 200,000 Jews. One can only speculate how many more might have been saved had the WRB been established in August 1942, when Gerhart Riegner’s message reached the United States.

The American public discovered the full extent of the Holocaust only when the Allied armies liberated the extermination and concentration camps at the end of World War II. And as historians struggled to understand what had happened, attention increasingly focused on the inadequate American response and what lay behind it. It remains today the subject of great debate.

Aaron Berman, Nazism, the Jews and American Zionism, 1933-1948 (1990); David S. Wyman, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941 (1968) and The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (1984).


Justice and Judgment after the Holocaust     Facing History and Ourselves

Unit Essential Question: What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

2015 (1.08.30)

International Response
 to the


US Holocaust Museum Exhibition Examines America's Response to Nazism Abroad

to the


Go to  Why Didn’t the Allies Bomb Auschwitz?

Arutz Sheva TV  2015 (7.05)

Polish Embassy UK   2015 (6.04)

TED 2017 (16.30)

"There are facts, there are opinions, and there are lies," says historian Deborah Lipstadt, telling the remarkable story of her research into Holocaust deniers -- and their deliberate distortion of history. Lipstadt encourages us all to go on the offensive against those who assault the truth and facts. "Truth is not relative," she says.
Note: Comments are disabled for this video. You are welcome and invited to comment on the talk on,

WorldJewish Congress 2015 (1.21.03)

What can we learn today from American action and inaction in the face of the refugee crisis in spring 1939 and the deportation of Hungarian Jews five years later?