This week in history: The 'final solution' reaches US

Four months passed between the horrifying news reaching the US and their public acknowledgment by the Allies. What took so long?

September 5, 2010 12:20
2 minute read.
Rabbi Stephen Wise

stephen wise311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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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.

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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 conference.

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.

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