bush at yad vashem.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The United States should have bombed Auschwitz during World War II to prevent the mass murder of Jews, US President George W. Bush said on Friday.
Bush spoke during a visit to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum as he viewed photos of the death camp taken by American planes during the war.
The US had detailed reports about Auschwitz toward the end of WWII from escaped prisoners, but chose not to bomb the camp or the rail lines leading to it, on the grounds that this would have required a diversion of military resources.
But Holocaust historians say the Allies' decision not to attack the facilities - even as they bombed German oil factories less than eight km. away - stemmed from indifference to the plight of Jews, and that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews gassed in 1944 could have been saved.
"The Roosevelt administration's refusal to bomb Auschwitz was an appalling moral failure," said Prof. David S. Wyman, a Holocaust historian and author of The Abandonment of the Jews, which details the US failure to save the Jews of Europe.
"President Bush is right - the United States should have, and could have, bombed the Auschwitz death camp and the railway lines leading to it," he said.
Bush spoke during an hourlong tour of Yad Vashem on the last day of a three-day visit to Israel.
"We should have bombed it," Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev quoted Bush as telling US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after asking her why Roosevelt hadn't bombed the camp, where between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people - mostly Jews - were killed by Nazi Germany.
After leaving Ben-Gurion Airport for Kuwait, Rice told reporters on Air Force One that Bush had been referring to the train tracks leading to Auschwitz, and not to the camp itself.
"We were talking about the often discussed 'could the United States have done more by bombing the train tracks.' And so we were just talking about the various explanations that had been given about why that might not have been done. That was all. It wasn't a major discussion," Rice said.
Bush's eyes welled with tears at least twice during his visit to Yad Vashem.
"I wish as many people as possible would come to this place. It is a sobering reminder that evil exists, and a call that when evil exists we must resist it," the US leader said after laying a wreath and lighting a torch in memory of the victims.
"I was most impressed that people in the face of horror and evil would not forsake their God," he said. "In the face of unspeakable crimes against humanity, brave souls - young and old - stood strong for what they believe."
The ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance included a cantor's recitation of the El Maleh Rachamim prayer for the dead and a girl's choir singing a Hebrew song written by Hannah Szenes, a poet who was killed by the Nazis after they caught her parachuting in to save Hungarian Jews.
After laying a red, white, and blue wreath on a stone slab that covers victims' ashes taken from six death camps and rekindling the eternal flame memorializing the victims, a visibly moved Bush shook hands with each of the teens in the choir.
Bush also visited Yad Vashem on his first trip to Israel, as governor of Texas in 1998, but his Friday tour of Yad Vashem included the new Holocaust Museum, which opened in 2005 and addresses the Holocaust through individuals' stories.
The president wrote in the Visitor's Book: "God bless Israel, George Bush."
In 1993, then-president Bill Clinton also suggested that the tracks to Nazi death camps should have been bombed.
"We must live forever with this knowledge - even as our fragmentary awareness of crimes grew into indisputable facts, far too little was done," Clinton said at the dedication of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. "Before the war even started, doors to liberty were shut, and even after the United States and the Allies attacked Germany, rail lines to the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed."
In one US raid on German oil factories, stray US bombs accidentally struck an SS barracks and part of the railway line leading into the death camp, filling inmates with joy. But the gas chambers and crematoria were never targeted.
Bush's spontaneous remarks Friday about bombing Auschwitz were praised by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington.
"The refusal to bomb Auschwitz was part of a broader policy by the Roosevelt administration to refrain from taking action to rescue or shelter Jewish refugees during the Holocaust," said Rafael Medoff, the institute's director.
"Tragically, the United States turned away from one of history's most compelling moral challenges," he said.
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