(photo credit: Courtesy)
On September 2, 1942, a horrified Rabbi Stephen Wise passed on a message to the US State Department: The Nazi regime is planning to kill all European Jews. Astonishingly, not until December 17 did the Allies issue a statement condemning the "extermination.” Unknown to Wise, the State Department had received a similar message a month earlier, yet chose to disregard it, tagging it as a "fantastic" war rumor.
Jewish deportation from Nazi-conquered lands started in 1939 with the goal of being "free of Jews,” or “Judenrein.” Soon after, the mass executions started; by 1942, over a million Jews had been executed. Yet, it wasn’t until the Wannsee conference In January 1942 that Heinrich Himmler put in place the ”final solution to the Jewish problem.”
Even though the Nazis went to great lengths to keep their atrocities a
secret, some news of it got out. In June 1942 the World Jewish Congress
announced that Nazis have already killed over a million Jews, and that
camps aimed at killing Jews are erected in east Europe.
On August 8, 1942, Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress
representative in Switzerland, received news of the Nazi plan and
quickly alerted the US Consulate in Geneva, which then informed the
State Department two days later.
The shocking information was meant for Rabbi Wise. However, the State
Department deemed the information as unreliable and so the telegram
never made it to American Jewish leaders’ attention.
Luckily, Riegner had also informed the British consulate, which cabled
the information to the Foreign Office in London, where it was passed on
to a Member of Parliament, Samuel Sydney Silverman. Finally, on August
28, Silverman sent it to Rabbi Wise.
Wise, who had close ties with President Roosevelt, was able to inform
the State Department on September 2. Not realizing the State Department
had already received the message, he passed it on to Undersecretary of
State Sumner Welles, who asked Wise not to release the message to the
press until it could be confirmed. The "confirmation process" took more
than two months when finally, on November 4, Rabbi Wise held a press
By the spring of 1944, the Allies had concrete information about mass
murdering by gas in Auschwitz. Although the US was already capable of
aerially raiding targets in that area, US officials claimed otherwise.
It is now estimated that over half a million people died at Auschwitz
during these seven months.