Letter to the Editor: U.S. Could Have Done More to Save the Jews

U.S. Could Have Done More to Save the Jews
Letters to the Editor, Wall Street Journal
1 October 2015
There was no conflict between ending the war and helping the Jews.

Geoffrey Ward’s review of Jay Winik’s “1944” (Books, Sept. 19) defends the claim by Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy in 1944 that a U.S. bombing raid on Auschwitz or the railways leading to it would have been “impracticable” and “could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations.” But Mr. Ward omits two crucial facts.

First, McCloy falsely asserted that the War Department reached those conclusions after conducting “a study” of the feasibility of the bombing proposal; in fact, no evidence has ever been found that such a study was undertaken. Second, McCloy’s claim about having to “divert” planes from elsewhere in Europe was also false. No planes would have had to be diverted, because U.S. planes repeatedly flew over Auschwitz throughout the summer of 1944 as they bombed German oil facilities which in some cases were just a few miles from the gas chambers. Roosevelt administration officials (including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Henry Stimson) rejected the bombing requests not because of any feasibility study and not because it would have diverted from the war effort, but because U.S. policy in general was to refrain from expending even minimal resources to assist Jewish refugees, whom it considered, in the words of one senior State Department official, “a curse and a burden.”

Mr. Ward’s claim that “most” Jewish leaders “did not call for it to be bombed” is profoundly misleading. At least 29 Jewish leaders urged the Allies to bomb Auschwitz, including the heads of the World Jewish Congress, Zionist groups such as the Labor Zionists of America and the Jewish Agency for Palestine (chaired by Chaim Weizmann), U.S. Orthodox groups such as Agudath Israel and the Va’ad HaHatzala, and future Israeli prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett.

The U.S. didn’t admit “more Jewish refugees than all the rest of the world combined”; the U.S. admitted approximately 200,000 Jewish refugees from 1933 to 1945, while the rest of the world combined admitted about 365,000. Mr. Ward mocks the notion that “FDR could have persuaded Congress to lower immigration barriers to provide a haven for refugees.” But that’s a red herring. The president didn’t have to approach Congress on the issue; all he had to do was permit the existing quotas to be filled. During Roosevelt’s 12 years in office, the quota for immigration from Germany was filled in only one year; and in most of those years, it was less than 25% filled. Nearly 190,000 quota places from Germany and Axis-controlled countries sat unused—190,000 lives that could have been saved within the existing immigration laws.

Finally, Mr. Ward declares: “Most Americans agreed that bringing the war to an early end should be the military’s top priority.” There was no conflict between ending the war and helping the Jews. Allowing refugees to use unfilled quota places, or dropping a few bombs on Auschwitz—from planes that were already bombing the adjacent oil sites—wouldn’t have interfered with the war effort.

Rafael Medoff, Ph.D.
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies

Prof. Zsuzsanna Ozsvath
Ackerman Center for
Holocaust Studies
The University of Texas at Dallas

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