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Memory, History, and Reconsideration: The Bombing of Auschwitz in Light of New Documents

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 1 Complex

Abstract

The deportation of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau began in May 1944. Approximately 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered. The extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, to which Hungarian Jews were deported, was located within the range of the Allies’ bomber aircraft. This led to demands being made to bomb the site, which intensified when it transpired that other attempts to prevent the murder of Hungary’s Jews had failed. Supporters of the idea believed that the bombing of the camp and destruction of its facilities would at least bring about a temporary halt to the murders or curtail them. One cannot, furthermore, ignore the symbolic significance of a concerted effort on the part of the Allies to neutralize the machinery of extermination. The failure to bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau became a symbol of the powerlessness of the free world and of the Jewish leadership to rescue the Jews of Europe.

In this paper, I wish to reveal new information found in the personal archives of American Jewish activists who were involved in the question of the bombing of the camp. From the documents, we learn that leading figures in the Jewish and Zionist leadership requested the US administration not to bomb Auschwitz and sought to examine other forms of military action.

A perusal of the studies devoted to the issue of the bombing of Auschwitz shows that while a number of scholars took note of this request, they present it as a peripheral initiative that did not amount to a significant strategic step on the part of the US Jewish leadership. Contrary to the commonly accepted belief among scholars, the course of action taken by US Jewish leaders was indeed a significant strategic political step designed to damage the capability of the extermination camp by means other than bombing it.

American Jewish activists were involved in complicated military issues that were strange and unknown to them. They promoted an operation of Special Forces and paratroopers, and suggested military operations to underground forces and partisans. In conjunction, they tried to convince military officers of the practicability of ground operations against the death camp.

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