Why wasn’t Auschwitz bombed?

In fact, if they visit the museum at Yad Vashem they will find that very question posted in large letters on a wall at the entrance of Gallery Seven.

THE LIBERATION of Auschwitz is the opening image of 'Liberation-The First Moments.' (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE LIBERATION of Auschwitz is the opening image of 'Liberation-The First Moments.'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last week officials from all across the world arrived in Israel to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Since Yad Vashem has deemed all these countries worthy of representation at this event, I would like to ask all the delegates a very simple question: Why wasn’t Auschwitz bombed?
In fact, if they visit the museum at Yad Vashem they will find that very question posted in large letters on a wall at the entrance of Gallery Seven. If they were to pause and take the time to watch a short film a few feet away they might find the answer.
In the film, The Bravest of the Brave, the great Polish hero Jan Karski gives testimony about his meeting with president Franklin Delano Roosevelt on July 28, 1943. Karski, who would later be honored as a Righteous Among the Nations for his efforts to save Jews, had twice snuck into the Warsaw Ghetto to observe the horrid conditions in that place.
He disguised himself as an SS officer and snuck into Belzec and saw Jews being sent to the gas chambers. During their meeting Karski desperately tried to convince Roosevelt to bomb the gas chambers at Auschwitz, or the railroad tracks, or even the railroad bridges on the way to Auschwitz, but after an hour Roosevelt refused to commit to bombing Auschwitz. Instead, he brushed off Karski off by pompously telling him to inform his contacts the Allies would win the war and afterward they would punish the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
It is now known the Allies had the means to bomb Auschwitz as early as the Spring of 1944. During the months when hundreds of thousands of Jews were being gassed to death at Auschwitz, the Americans and British flew 100 missions from their air base in Foggia, Italy, over Warsaw to drop arms and food into Warsaw to help the Polish Home Army during the Polish revolt at that time. Auschwitz is 200 miles closer to Foggia.
On July 1, 1944, the Allies conducted a mission that after the war was so embarrassing it was kept secret until 1995. They tried bombing Auschwitz Three – an I.G. Farben factory manufacturing synthetic rubber to make tires for German military vehicles. They missed, but that wasn’t the embarrassing part. The embarrassment was that the gas chambers were just a few kilometers away. The Allied bombers never returned.
The Allies, of course, did win the war thanks to “the greatest generation,” Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and many heroes. There were attempts to punish some of the perpetrators but most escaped justice and many of those who murdered thousands spent only a few years in prison. Roosevelt was right that the Allies would win the war but he was wrong that the guilty would be punished.
However, he was also morally bankrupt. His “win the war first” policy led to the deaths of hundreds thousands at Auschwitz and other places. His lack of response to the solid information of the Holocaust he had as early as 1942, combined with the technological means to do something about it in 1944, betrayed a lack of moral clarity that will forever be a black mark on his presidency.
But what of the rest of the world? What could they have done? It’s very simple. Even in the 1930s, when Hitler and the Nazis started persecuting Jews and violated treaties to build up their military, the world did nothing. Instead of drawing a red line and stopping the rise of Hitler who promised genocide and later delivered, the world appeased Hitler with treaties, alliances (the Soviet Union), pieces of other countries, (the Sudetenland), and the belief that they could reason with the man. By failing to eliminate Hitler when they had the chance, millions of people died.
SURELY THE world has learned its lesson. Or has it? Fast forward to the 21st century and there is a new genocidal regime in the world: Iran. Did the world stop Iran from committing genocide when it had the chance? Not even close. The Europeans, yes, those same countries that acted so solemnly at Yad Vashem, signed treaties, engaged in all kinds of business with Iran, and appeased the ayatollahs while the Iranians were slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
The Europeans are right back in the appeasement game in the 21st century that failed them so miserably in the 20th. However, surely the Americans know better after their experiences in World War Two. Hardly. President Obama drew his red line and then used his eraser, teaching Iran the lesson that as long as the Iranians don’t kill Americans, the US government will view the Syrian genocide as “not our problem.” So Obama, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes and their cronies watched as a half a million Syrians were slaughtered under the direction of Iran, and more specifically, Qasem Soleimani.
But, you say, President Trump stepped up to the table by killing Soleimani. Yes, he did. Soleimani crossed the American red line – he killed Americans, he attacked the US Embassy and Trump proved he was not Jimmy Carter or Barak Obama. So Soleimani paid the price, but it was too little too late if you were a Syrian, because when America had a chance to step in and prevent genocide instead it said “not our problem.”
Any doubt about how many Americans feel about intervening to prevent tyrants form committing genocide was dispelled by leading American presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren this week in an interview on American television. In it she decried Trump’s assassination of Soleimani and the war waged to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein because both actions, according to her, were not in America’s interest. In other words, America was not interested in ending the suffering of Iraqis, Syrians, or Iranians.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe Trump did the right thing but the answer to the question why Auschwitz wasn’t bombed is not only contained in the Karski video in the Yad Vashem museum but also in the recent events in the Middle East. Auschwitz wasn’t bombed because Americans weren’t dying there, just as Iran wasn’t bombed because they weren’t killing Americans in Syria.
So the lesson for tyrants is a simple one: You can kill as many people as you want to kill anywhere in the world, and as long as you keep your hands off Americans the United States will not intervene.
So why wasn’t Auschwitz bombed? It wasn’t bombed because America was not willing to use its ample resources to intervene in a genocide where Americans were not being killed. And so for the United States of America, is history repeating itself?
The USA did nothing but appease Hitler until 1939. It did not declare war when Hitler invaded Poland, when he started bombing our cousins in England, when he invaded many countries in Europe in 1940 including France, and as a result America was forced to fight a world war beginning in 1941, after the world had suffered under the boots of Nazi German and Japan for more than two years!
Let us hope by failing to confront Iran until January 2020, America’s reluctance to confront evil does not lead to another world war. Let us also hope that today’s Jewish leaders absorbed the lesson that Jan Karski conveyed to the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann: The allies were not interested in what was happening to the Jews and they did not have to be interested because during World War Two the Jews did not have their own country. As we say at Yad Vashem, “never again.”
The writer has been a certified guide at Yad Vashem for nine years, and is a semi-retired criminal defense attorney from New Jersey who made aliyah in 2007. The opinions expressed are entirely his own.