Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted it?

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Did we "know" the gas chambers were there? Could we have destroyed them? Why didn't we bomb?For decades, debate has raged over whether the Allies should have bombed the gas chambers at Auschwitz and the railroads leading to the camp, thereby saving thousands of lives and disrupting Nazi efforts to exterminate European Jews. Was it truly feasible to do so? Did failure to do so simply reflect a callous indifference to the plight of the Jews or was it a realistic assessment of a plan that could not succeed? In this ...
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Overview

Did we "know" the gas chambers were there? Could we have destroyed them? Why didn't we bomb?For decades, debate has raged over whether the Allies should have bombed the gas chambers at Auschwitz and the railroads leading to the camp, thereby saving thousands of lives and disrupting Nazi efforts to exterminate European Jews. Was it truly feasible to do so? Did failure to do so simply reflect a callous indifference to the plight of the Jews or was it a realistic assessment of a plan that could not succeed? In this volume, a number of eminent historians address and debate those very questions. Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, this is the first paperback edition of a book that has been widely hailed by critics and cited by Kirkus Reviews as "the definitive resource for understanding this deeply troubling episode in the twentieth century's greatest horror." Prominent scholars such as Sir Martin Gilbert, Walter Laqueur, Michael Berenbaum, Gerhard Weinberg, and Williamson Murray offer a diverse array of mutually supporting and competing perspectives on the subject. In the process, they shed important light on how much knowledge of Auschwitz Allied intelligence actually had and on what measures the Allies might have taken to halt the killing. The book is also rich in documentary evidence—including the correspondence of Churchill, Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden, and John McCloy—that reveals just how much these men knew about the situation and what they thought about its potential resolution. It also includes a selection of the most important documents and aerial reconnaissance photos from 1944 exploring the feasibility of an air strike. Ultimately, these contributions show that the dilemma over Auschwitz was far more complex than criticisms of inaction would suggest. The Bombing of Auschwitz is an unusual volume that confronts life-and-death questions and addresses a matter of enduring interest for all readers of World War II and Holocaust history.

Author Biography: Michael J. Neufeld, author of The Rocket and the Reich, is a curator and historian at the National Air and Space Museum. Michael Berenbaum, author of The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust, is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He served as director of the Research Institute of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This book argues the feasibility of whether the Allies could and should have bombed the Auschwitz concentration camp out of commission in 1944. Editors Neufeld and Berenbaum, both Holocaust scholars, have collected essays and book excerpts from 15 contributors who present the military, political, and moral questions. The editors' own views are clear: The majority of the arguments are weighted toward the conclusion that the American and British military had the capability but lacked the political will to bomb Auschwitz or do anything else militarily to stop the Holocaust. The moral and emotional arguments naturally favor bombing in Auschwitz or do anything else militarily to stop the Holocaust. The moral and emotional arguments naturally favor bombing Auschwitz, but the strategic arguments against bombing remain convincing, recognizing that the all-consuming Allied goal at the time was defeating Hitler and that the Allied effort did not have unlimited resources to divert from what were then considered to be its vital, war-winning military targets (to say nothing of the further tragedy that might have been inflicted on the prisoners by a less-than-perfect bombing). Best are the pro and con essays by James H. Kitchens and Stuart G. Erdheim, as well as the discussions of intelligence collection. Accompanying documents are enlightening. However, as the editors acknowledge, it is always risky to apply today's standards of judgment and emotion to horrific events half a century ago, which is one problem in the book's overall presentation of should vs. could. Recommended for academic libraries.-Col. William D. Bushnell, USMC (ret), Sebascodegan Island, ME
Kirkus Reviews
Essays by military and Holocaust historians (whose answers to the question in the subtitle vary widely), supplemented with relevant primary documents. Editors Neufeld (The Rocket and the Reich, 1994) and Berenbaum (CEO/Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation) have assembled a myriad of replies to "one of the most basic questions that students of the Holocaust ask" and are faithful to their goal of presenting all sides of the debate. Some, like Neufeld himself, argue that bombing would have been "a failure under any circumstances" (or, in the words of contributor James H. Kitchens, "a chimera"). Contrariwise, Richard G. Davis (among others) submits that attacking the death camp would have sent "the strongest possible message to the Nazis" and "would not have seriously delayed the accomplishment of other goals." In between these two positions lies the essence of the debate, and an impressive assortment of authorities' attempts to answer its various questions. Did the Allies know what was going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau? (Yes, but the Nazis had already killed five million Jews by the time the Allies invaded Normandy.) Did Allied bombers have the range to reach the camp deep in Poland? (Yes, but not until early in 1944 when the US established an air base in southern Italy.) Would a raid have been effective? (Virtually everyone acknowledges that bombing in 1944 was highly inaccurate, that multiple attacks would have been necessary, and that innocent inmates—perhaps hundreds or thousands—would have been killed.) Other writers examine the moral issues. Walter Laqueur observes that "saving Jewish lives" was notahigh priority; Henry L. Feingold attributes the inaction to "mere indifference or moral obtuseness"; and Deborah E. Lipstadt condemns the bystanders, noting that a person "who takes no action becomes a facilitator." Wisely, the editors include much of the documentary evidence. The definitive resource for understanding this deeply troubling episode in the 20th century's greatest horror. (8 pages b&w photos, 4 maps)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312198381
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/12/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.19 (d)

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