Letter to the Washington Post “Bombing Auschwitz”


Letter to the Editor

February 7, 2005

Bombing Auschwitz, What Would Have happened?

McGovern is unfortunately misinformed about what the bombing could have done. The marshalling yards were hit often and trains rarely moved in daylight in Western Europe, but in Eastern Europe other conditions prevailed. But the idea of destroying individual rail lines in the middle of Poland with high altitude heavy bombers? Very questionable! Also Auschwitz would have had to been destroyed, to eliminate the gas chambers, and that would have been an incredible effort that would have cost the lives of thousands of Jews. That decision would have been criticized for all of history. Also the Jewish Agency, which was chaired and polled by David Ben-Gurion, in June of 1944, was against that action and voted 11-1 not to recommend that Auschwitz be bombed. By the time that effort  could have been made, most of the 1.5 million Jews had alread been murdered.

Remember it was only in the spring of 1944 when Auschwitz was identified as the ultimate terminus. And, of course there is no evidence that FDR was ever approached no less asked to make that decision. Even in Michael Beshloss's patchwork sloppy book. “The Conquerors” where he “sort of” quotes John McCloy and Henry Morgenthau Jr., he provides no evidence of that request. His assertion that McCloy really informed FDR, and confessed tothat action while in his late 80's is hard to believe. The facts and his ownvoluminous testimony, over decades, belies that claim by Beschloss. A thorough reading of Beshloss's interview with Henry Morgenthau III, about his father's statements never supports that specious claim. The destruction of the rails, if possible, would have slowed down the deportation of Hungarian Jews and may have saved many. But the Germans/Nazis may have resorted to other tactics.But, there is no doubt that even with all of the anti-Semitic rhetoric theNazis articulated, they were greatly afraid of eventual exposure and complicity in this ongoing crime. They certainly wanted to try to cover up the evidence in the end. Therefore would they have been leery to take a more public action against the Hungarian Jews? In other words, would they go ahead and murder them with an unlimited number of witnesses being available. That is hard to tell. There is no doubt that FDR's repeated warnings about swift harsh justice, that would be meted out against these war criminals, started to have an impact on the Nazis. FDR certainly supported a draconian peace towards Germany and was the lone author of the doctrine of “Unconditional Surrender.” It was FDR who supported the “Morgenthau Plan,” at the Quebec Conference,  to divide and a create a group of small agrarian mini-states in post war Germany

It was only when Truman succeeded to the Presidency that the real de-nazification  started to lose steam in the wake of the emerging Cold War. Truman was never enthusiastic over War Crime Tribunals, but supported the Nurenberg Trials and actions against lower level criminals. Of the 8000 SS and others who served at Auschwitzonly 800, I believe, received official justice. But there was some instant justice served on SS guards that were locally captured and identified. All in all, there was never the type of full ranging effort at rooting out Nazis in post war Germany. Probably there was really too many and the Soviets seemed to be a much bigger concern.

Richard J. Garfunkel

McGovern's New Heading Over Auschwitz As world leaders gathered at Auschwitz last week to mark the 60th anniversary of its liberation, a former U.S. pilot reopened a decades-old debate over whether the Allies should have bombed the death camp to shut down Nazi gas chambers. The pilot: George McGovern, now 82, who for the first time is publicly telling the story of his mission over occupied Poland in a B-24 Liberator in December 1944. “There is no question we should have attempted . . . to go after Auschwitz,” the former Democratic senator and presidential nominee says in a taped interview shown at a forum on Capitol Hill. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the Earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.” McGovern, whose squadron bombed Nazi oil facilities less than five miles from Auschwitz, spoke on camera with interviewers from Israel Television and the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. “He was a rare eyewitness to the fact that the Allies could have bombed the camps,” the institute's director, Rafael Medoff, told us. Medoff and former congressman Steve Solarz wrote an op-ed article that appeared in several newspapers Thursday quoting McGovern and questioning U.S. rationale for not bombing Auschwitz in the summer, fall and winter of 1944. The issue of Allied capability and willingness to take out the rail lines to Auschwitz and its death chambers remains contentious. “Given the way we ook at it now, with eyes of 2005, it would have been a gesture to have bombed,” Peter Black, a senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, told us. But had the rail lines been destroyed, he points out, the Nazis might simply have resorted to shooting Jews slated for deportation. As for the gas chambers, “at that time we just couldn't pinpoint individual buildings with strong success,” Black says. “In order to bomb and make sure of knocking them out, we would have had to carpet-bomb the place, like Hamburg or Dresden” — thus killing thousands of prisoners. “If bombing would have killed the people who are alive today, it's almost a nonsensical question. It's really an issue of how many people would we have saved.” But McGovern argues “it was certainly worth the effort, despite all therisks” and notes that prisoners were already “doomed to death.” While calling President Roosevelt “my political hero,” McGovern faults him for the decision “not to go after Auschwitz. . . . God forgive us for that tragic miscalculation.”(Note: We tried to reach the former South Dakota senator, but his office said he was driving cross-country last week to Florida with his wife and dog

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