Where the world went wrong

With 15 years of research and newly released archival material, Shlomo Aronson reveals how the Allies failed the Jews.

hitlerbook 88 298 (photo credit: )
hitlerbook 88 298
(photo credit: )
With 15 years of research and newly released archival material, Shlomo Aronson reveals how the Allies failed the Jews. Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews By Shlomo Aronson Cambridge University Press 382pp., $85 Analyzing the course of World War II in terms of its impact on the Jews of Europe is in and of itself a difficult task, but evaluating the roles played by those in the West as well as in British-controlled Palestine is even more daunting. With his prowess as a brilliant historian and experience as an outstanding foreign correspondent to guide him, Hebrew University's Shlomo Aronson succeeded in encompassing the topic thoroughly and incisively. His main conclusion is that the Nazi Holocaust was a "multiple trap" forged by diabolical fanatics, led by Hitler, abetted by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, and facilitated in many ways by callous British and American diplomats and intelligence agents. In short, the Jews had no way out. One of the most unusual outcomes of the 15 years of research which Aronson devoted to this agonizing subject is the discovery that the Zionist leadership - including Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion - were tardy and ineffective in their efforts to stop the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. Even the heroic parachute mission undertaken by Hanna Szenes, Enzo Sereni and Yoel Palgi among others - with British consent and support - came too late to save Jews or organize armed anti-Nazi operations in Hungary and Romania. Rescue efforts headquartered in Istanbul and Geneva, Aronson concludes, were largely inept. They often resorted to bribing cynical SS officers willing to make deals to release beleaguered Jews to Palestine, England or the few other havens partially open to them. Previously, they proved incapable of organizing armed resistance by infiltrating militarily-competent Jews from Palestine or aiding the fledgling Jewish resistance activity in the ghettos and death camps. Lack of information cannot be used as an excuse. The protracted genocide was well known by 1941, two years after the German conquest of Poland when "Einzatzgruppen" engaged in wholesale shootings of Jewish civilians in Russia. Winston Churchill, who espoused sympathy for the Jews' plight and for Zionism, could not overcome the indifference of British bureaucracy. Churchill even said "Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the 16th century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale. We are in the presence of a crime without a name." Aronson astutely observes that Churchill, who was Hitler's nemesis from the outset, did not identify the victims of this bloodletting. To do so, he maintains, might have been construed by his country's anti-Semites and their counterparts in the United States and Canada as proof that the conflict with Nazi Germany was "a Jews' war." Military initiatives which might have reduced the number of Jews transported to Auschwitz and other killing centers or might have incapacitated them altogether - such as the aborted idea of bombing the railroad tracks that converged on Auschwitz from the east, south and west or bombing the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex - were kept on the tactical back burner by the British and American air forces, lest their respective forces fall for the calumny that they were risking their lives to save Jews. Aronson contends that the 15th US Air Force, based in Italy, had the capability of fulfilling this mission, but never did. GREAT BRITAIN'S rationale for its contempt of the Jews is epitomized in a letter sent to Weizmann, March 4, 1943, by the British minister in Washington, Ronald I. Campbell. Referring to the Zionist leader's bid to let 70,000 Romanian Jews emigrate immediately, it said: "His Majesty's Government has no evidence to show whether the Rumanian proposal was meant to be taken seriously. But if it was, it was already a piece of blackmail which if successful would open up the endless prospect on the part of Germany and her satellites in southeastern Europe of unloading at a given price all their unwanted multitudes on overseas countries." Aronson cites numerous other documents, protocols and official correspondence to verify this attitude. His documentation is overwhelming because much of it was obtained from newly released archival material hitherto inaccessible to journalists, authors and scholars. One of the reasons it took him 15 years to finish this book is that he considered it essential to wait until the tell-all documents were made public. He is now in the process of translating his original English text into Hebrew for publication in Israel. Of course, his text is not perfect. At times the English syntax is a bit dense, especially with complex matters such as the British deciphering of German secret codes and the extent to which the Germans could monitor secret cable traffic within the Allied camp. Despite the Allies' attempts to minimize the relevance of the Jews' predicament to their military operations, Hitler persisted to the end in blaming almost every setback sustained by his Wehrmacht on them. He promptly ordered his underlings to accelerate the pace and extent of the Holocaust. One of the most pernicious trains of thought fostered by Nazi propaganda and lapped up by American anti-Semites was the Jews' alleged responsibility for the war of which they were "the alleged cause." According to Aronson, FDR may have thought that by avoiding the mention of the catastrophic plight of the Jews in public, and not intervening in an impractical and dangerous fashion in their favor, he actually was serving their cause. "He might have believed that if he had spoken about their plight in public, it would have ignited Nazi wrath and thereby not have helped the Jews while also giving Hitler some hope that his home front would become even more aware of the war as being fought by the Allies 'for the Jews,'" Aronson writes. (One need only read Philip Roth's latest novel, The Plot Against America, to appreciate the validity of this assumption.) Hitler, the Allies and the Jews earned Aronson the Israel Political Science Association's award for the most outstanding book in English in 2005 and the international German Studies Association's bi-annual and prestigious Sybil Halpern Milton Memorial book prize for 2004 and 2005.