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It has long been argued that the Allies did little or nothing to rescue Europe's Jews. Arguing that this has been consistently misinterpreted, The Myth of Rescue states that few Jews who perished could have been saved by any action of the Allies. In his new introduction to the paperback edition, Willliam Rubinstein responds to the controversy caused by his challenging views, and considers further the question of bombing Auschwitz, which remains perhaps the most widely discussed alleged lost opportunity for saving Jews available to the Allies.
The key issues involve closed-door immigration policies that turned central and eastern European Jewish refugee movements into one long Voyage of the Damned; discussed but never executed attempts to bomb the railway lines to such concentration camps as Auschwitz; and aborted financial negotiations to ransom Jewish lives. Rubinstein's major thesis is that Hitler was too committed to genocide to be distracted by such efforts, but the author should have presented more documentation to prove that the Allies did what they could once they confirmed the reality of the Final Solution. His thesis is further weakened by many diversionary tactics, such as the presentation of Gallup polls showing that 80 percent of wartime Americans opposed anti-Semitism (but nearly 68 percent opposed immigration). The data in no way relieve the US State Department, Great Britain, and organizations like the Red Cross of culpability in not minimizing the number of Holocaust victims. Such serious charges as those in in Lucy Dawidowicz's work, that German extermination trains and railways were repeatedly spared by Allied bombers, are not addressed. There is too much here on what we already knew, such as that "the Jews were the central obsession of Hitler's life," and too little on the paucity of efforts to save Jews in Europe during the war.
Some valuable historical modifications may be lost due to a tone and strategy that make the author sound too much like an apologist for the Allies' inaction.
THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF RESCUE
There can be few subjects in the whole range of modern history on which contemporary opinion differed so sharply from the views of later historians and authors than the topic of the rescue of Jews by the democracies during the Nazi Holocaust. During the Second World War, Jews (and non-Jewish anti-Nazis) looked upon the celebrated leaders of the great democracies at war with Nazi Germany—Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt—as the heads of the armies of liberation which would free the whole world, and the Jewish people in particular, from the Nazi scourge. In December 1944, Joseph Hertz, the British Chief Rabbi, issued a birthday message to Winston Churchill which read:
But for your wisdom and courage there would have been a Vichy England lying prostrate before an all-powerful Satanism that spelled slavery to the western peoples, death to Israel, and night to the sacred heritage of man. May Heaven grant you many more years of brilliant leadership in the rebuilding of a ruined world.
American Jews constituted `the most loyal and loving' of Franklin D. Roosevelt's constituencies; to American anti-semites, Roosevelt's policies were so philosemitic and influenced by `Jewish power' as to constitute the `Jew Deal'. A Jewish Republican Congressman of the 1930s, Jonah J. Goldstein, concluded that `the Jews have three velten [worlds]: die velt [this world], yene velt [the next world], and Roosevelt'. Yet recently much has changed. Commenting upon `the strange turn in the attitude of American Jews towards Franklin D. Roosevelt in the recent past', the famoushistorian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr noted that:
For a long time [Roosevelt] was a hero. No president had appointed so many Jews to public office. No president had surrounded himself with so many Jewish advisers. No president had condemned anti-Semitism with such eloquence and persistence. Jews were mostly liberals in those faraway days, and a vast majority voted four times for FDR.
This great and profound change in the perception of the Allies and their leaders arose fairly abruptly between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s, wholly as a result of a near-universal perception that the Allies did virtually nothing to rescue Europe's Jews during the Holocaust. By the late 1980s, every examination of the Allied response to the Holocaust was compelled to take into account the belief, by then virtually universal, that the democracies `did nothing' during Hitler's `Final Solution', and were—to many—guilty of being virtual accomplices in the Holocaust. The list of alleged Allied failures is long, ranging from closing their doors to Jewish refugee emigration prior to and during the Holocaust, forestalling the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine when this was most necessary as a place of refuge, failing to bomb Auschwitz or any other death camp, failing to engage in negotiations with the Nazis with the aim of bartering for Jewish life and failing, until early 1944, to create any specialised government agency to save Jewish lives, oblivious to the fact that Hitler was engaged in a `war against the Jews'. The alleged reasons for these failings were also manifold, including strong and pervasive anti-semitism and anti-Zionism among both the American and British opinion-makers and masses, ignorance of Nazi intentions, bureaucratic inertia and an inability to internalise the unbelievable horrors of the Holocaust during the war itself. As well, it is widely suggested that the Jewish communities of the democracies were, by later standards, extraordinarily supine during Jewry's hour of greatest need, deeply divided and afraid to become overly visible or demonstrative during a world war.
These are seemingly powerful arguments, repeatedly reiterated by expert historians and by now entrenched in the popular imagination. Yet all of these arguments in my opinion are wrong and lacking in merit; the rest of this work will show why they are grossly misleading and inaccurate. It is first worth examining how the historiography of rescue emerged, in its contemporary form, and how the Jewish and anti-Nazi view of Churchill and Roosevelt as supreme heroes and liberators changed so radically.
For the first twenty years or so after the end of the Second World War, probably no historical work on the Holocaust criticised the actions of the Allies or suggested that much more could have been done which was not done. All of these early works on the Holocaust, not surprisingly, focused upon the guilt of the Nazis and their allies. Perhaps the first considered work to attack the Allies for their failures in rescuing Jews was a little-noted article by Reuben Ainsztein, a Holocaust survivor who was well known as a historian of Jewish revolt in the ghettos and concentration camps, entitled `How Many More Could Have Been Saved?' Ainsztein's article, which appeared in the British periodical Jewish Quarterly in 1967, contained a surprisingly large component of the critique of Allied policy which has since become standard, years before other historians made the same point. For instance, it offered an accurate examination of when news of the `Final Solution' first became known in the West, more than a decade before this question was examined in detail by other historians. Ainsztein's claim (p. 17) that
the racist and antisemitic elements in the United States, allied with the still powerful isolationist forces, were strong enough even in 1943 to provide President Roosevelt and his State Department with excuses for not doing anything that might be interpreted as making the rescue of Jews one of America's war aims
has been echoed in dozens of subsequent examinations of this question. Yet it must also be said that, remarkably early, Ainsztein managed to make virtually every historical and logical error one could possibly make in examining this question, including the fons et origio mali, the conviction that the limited number of refugees accepted by the United States after the war began was due to its restrictive immigration laws, rather than to the fact that Hitler prevented these Jews from emigrating, prior to genocide. Perhaps only the alleged failure to bomb Auschwitz—not mentioned by Ainsztein—is absent from the now-standard bill of indictment.
Ainsztein's unnoticed article appeared shortly before the first books to take the failure of the Allies as their themes: Arthur Morse's While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York, 1968) and David S. Wyman's Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938—1941 (Boston, 1968). The 1970s saw yet more books on this theme, among them the balanced and scholarly monograph by Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938—1945 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1970), a work which is, nonetheless, critical of American policy and already aware of the new, negative interpretation of this topic, and also such works as Saul Friedman's No Haven For the Oppressed: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1938—1945 (Detroit, 1973) and Herbert Druks' The Failure to Rescue (New York, 1977), whose titles accurately indicate their perspective.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s there appeared the writings which probably had the most significant impact upon the notion that the Allies failed to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. They were by David S. Wyman, a non-Jewish historian at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst. In `Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed', published in the influential and widely read American Jewish monthly Commentary in May 1978, Wyman did two significant things: he almost single-handedly originated the notion that the Allies could have easily bombed and destroyed the Auschwitz extermination camp in 1944 but, for a variety of thoroughly inadequate reasons, chose not to do so; and he made the alleged Allied failure to bomb Auschwitz into Indictment Number One in the list of American and British failures during the Holocaust. Dramatic and easy for non-historians to comprehend, the bombing of Auschwitz quickly seized the imagination of Jews and non-Jews alike, just at the time when the Holocaust was becoming accepted by almost everyone of good will as perhaps the lowest point ever touched by the human race, as incomprehensible as it was evil, and at a time when the Holocaust came virtually to dominate contemporary Jewish thought.
Six years later, in 1984, Wyman published his considered work on alleged American failure during the Holocaust, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941—1945 (New York, 1984), offering a detailed account of America's manifold failings during the `Final Solution', superficially as disturbing as it was convincing. The villain of the book was clearly President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and some of its popularity was obviously due to its seemingly persuasive evidence that the former god of American liberalism and of the American Jewish community had—to say the least—feet of clay. Wyman also accepted the notion that Revisionist Zionists, Strictly Orthodox Jews and other `outsiders' within the American Jewish community offered realistic and radical plans for the rescue of Europe's Jews which were rejected by the conservative and unctuous American Jewish `Establishment'. He repeated, with more details, his suggestion that Auschwitz could successfully have been bombed by the American military in 1944, and offered a seemingly considered and detailed list of points of `what might have been done'. His book—taken in conjunction with the others which appeared at around the same time— has been tremendously influential, greatly shaping our interpretation of Allied action and inaction during the Holocaust.
On every significant point he makes, it is my considered opinion that Wyman is not merely wrong, but egregiously and ahistorically inaccurate: in a sense, this book is a response to Wyman's work, although it also covers areas such as Britain's role in rescue, not discussed in The Abandonment of the Jews. Wyman's book strikes me as wrong-headed in three separate ways, apart from any matter of specific detail. First, the evidence Wyman amasses, when interpreted correctly, in virtually every case goes to show the precise opposite of the interpretation he places upon it. The reason for this consistent inaccuracy is that the situation facing European Jewry after the war began is virtually the opposite of that which underlies his interpretation: the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe were prisoners, not refugees—the prisoners of a psychopath who was going to kill all of them if he could. Second, many of Wyman's suggestions as to what might have been done to rescue Jews were simply not proposed by anyone at the time. In this work, we will consider in detail the ways to rescue Jews that were actually proposed in the democracies, and it will become consistently plain that these proposals were futile and useless. Third, Wyman seems in the final analysis to understand this perfectly well. He therefore argues that even schemes whose success was unlikely `should have been tried ... If that had been done, even if few or no lives had been saved, the moral obligation would have been fulfilled', mindless of the fact that no government, in wartime, will direct scarce and valuable resources from successfully pursuing a war of liberation into projects whose success was dubious. He is also heedless of the fact that most of his proposals which `should have been tried' were not proposed at the time.
Wyman's work, together with the previous body of scholarship in this field and the increasing visibility of this question, themselves generated further books and articles with remarkably similar themes and premises: Monty N. Penkower's The Jews Were Expendable: Free World Diplomacy and the Holocaust (Chicago, 1983), and his `In Dramatic Dissent: The Bergson Boys' (American Jewish History, 69, 1981); Haskel Lookstein's, Were We Our Brothers' Keepers? The Public Response of American Jews to the Holocaust, 1938—1944 (New York, 1985); and Aaron Berman's Nazism, the Jews and American Zionism, 1933—1948 (Detroit, 1990), as well as a spate of similar works on Britain and the Commonwealth.
The notion that American Jewry `did nothing' during the Holocaust, acquiescing in the mass murder of their kinsmen in Europe, became something of an obsession among many American Jews at this time. American Jews contrasted the ever-vigorous, ever-vigilant and often highly successful activities in Washington, DC of the legendary post-war `Jewish lobby' over such issues as American support for the State of Israel, with the complete lack of success of American Jewry in deterring the Nazi Holocaust, and — with the evidence apparently provided by such works as those by Wyman—drew the understandable but completely erroneous conclusion that it was the American Jewish community and the Roosevelt administration which had failed European Jewry in their hour of greatest need, rather than the more accurate inference that stopping Hitler's genocide was impossible without destroying Nazi Germany. There were curious manifestations of this conviction, such as the so-called `Goldberg Report' of 1984, an attempt by a commission of American Jewish politicians and academics, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, to address the question of `why were so many American Jews passive or relatively unconcerned about the plight of European Jews?' (thus prejudging the very question the commission was presumably supposed to examine), which arrived at the conclusion that, in effect, if American Jewry had acted in the 1940s as its progeny acted in the 1980s, more Jews could have been saved a dubious finding on several grounds. The `Goldberg Report' includes statements endorsing its findings by several Jewish politicians of the day, including New York City Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin and Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, surely the first occasion since the death of Stalin when a controversial historical interpretation was deemed to be true because some political office-holders said it was true. A number of renowned historians of the Holocaust such as Yehuda Bauer and Lucy S. Dawidowicz pointedly declined to join the `Goldberg Commission'; both Bauer and Dawidowicz wrote scathingly of this commission and its findings.
The thesis that America and American Jewry `did nothing' during the Holocaust has since been further expounded in a variety of other media forums, including a 1994 American Public Broadcasting System documentary, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Deception, and a `public trial' held in Jerusalem in 1990: `Why Auschwitz Was Not Bombed.' Many Holocaust museums, including the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, contain exhibits or publications on this subject. Most recent histories and general accounts of the Holocaust now contain a chapter on the passivity and indifference (if not far worse) of the `bystanders' who knew what was going on but chose to `do nothing'. To cite one very typical example, the excellent work by Michael R. Marrus on the historical questions raised by the Holocaust and discussed by historians, The Holocaust in History, contains a section on the `Bystanders' (pp. 157-83) which, while clearly noting that `to many it will ... seem that these exercises are profoundly unhistorical', nevertheless concludes that `clearly more could have been done—by Jews as well as by non-Jews'.
As well, beyond Wyman and his school there has emerged since the 1980s a semi-scholarly, semi-popular group of writings which accuse America and the Western Allies of complicity in carrying out the Holocaust, assigning them a share in the guilt which seems to exceed that of the Nazis themselves. It often seems that some of these authors would frankly have been happier if the bullet-proof glass cage in Jerusalem in 1961 had not held Adolf Eichmann, but Winston Churchill or (if he were still alive) Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1989 William Perl, an Austrian refugee who holds a doctorate in law from the University of Vienna, published The Holocaust Conspiracy: An International Policy of Genocide (Shapolsky Publishers, New York, 1989), whose aim, according to the book's dust-jacket, is to show
that it was not apathetic inaction of the world's powers which made the Holocaust... so tragically effective ... [but] deliberate action on the part of many nations [i.e., the Western Allies] that kept millions of those destined for murder, prisoners in a hostile Europe. Those deliberate actions are conclusively shown to result from conspiracies within individual governments as well as between governments.
The tenor of this work may be gauged by the author's reference (p. 80) to Anthony Eden as `a Jew-hater'—this of a man who, next to Churchill, was the foremost opponent of Appeasement during the 1930s; the man who officially announced on behalf of the British Government in the House of Commons that the Holocaust was taking place; in 1956 a military ally of Israel.
Two years before, in 1987, Shapolsky Publishers had also produced Rafael Medoff's The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust. This is, in some respects, a valuable and well-researched work, but one whose basic thesis is quite untenable: that American Jewry's mainstream leaders deliberately failed to assist European Jewry during the Holocaust (often, according to Medoff, lobbying against changes which might have aided Europe's Jews), because of their `immigrant psychology' and their fear of `lifting the lid off a simmering American anti-Jewish backlash'. Not surprisingly, Medoff's heroes are Peter Bergson and his Zionist Revisionist group. (Bergson and his group had no practical plans of any kind to rescue Europe's Jews, as will become clear in Chapter 3 of this work.) What is the bottom line of Medoff's work? What should American Jewry have done? Needless to say, Medoff is here at his absolute weakest, and his answer to this most fundamental of questions is ludicrously inadequate. Medoff compares American Jewry's allegedly inadequate political response with that of American blacks during the war in 1943-4, whose pressures on Roosevelt led to an Executive Order banning discrimination in government defence industries, and with Polish-American lobbying groups which `skilfully' influenced Roosevelt's `policy toward Poland at the same time'. Ignoring the fact that Jim Crow continued in America for another twenty years, and that Poland fell into the hands of the Communists (because, it is often suggested, of Roosevelt's inept performance at Yalta), Medoff never addresses the question of what American Jewry should have lobbied Roosevelt to do, or how anything Roosevelt could realistically have done in 1943-4—apart from win the war more quickly—could have saved Europe's Jews.
Another source of extremist claims about the guilt of the Allies and of the Jewish communities of the democracies is the Strictly Orthodox world in the United States. David Kranzler's Thy Brother's Blood: The Orthodox Jewish Response During the Holocaust (published by Mesorah Publications in Brooklyn, New York, in 1987), has as its theme the claim that Orthodox Jews `demanded action now, to correspond virtually minute-by-minute with the deepening mire in Europe'. Thy Brother's Blood opens with a lengthy denunciation of Jewish `secularists', secular Zionists and `assimilationists', and continues with a long account of the role of Strictly Orthodox leaders (according to the author) in effecting rescue. There is, superficially, a case to be made: Rabbi Michael Dov Ber Weissmandel of Slovakia, praised throughout the book, was probably the first person to call for Allied bombing of the Kosice-Preskov railway line leading to Auschwitz in order to prevent the deportation of Hungarian Jewry, and Strictly Orthodox Jews used mainly unofficial means, especially bribery, to save lives where they could. Their story should, certainly, be told. Still more, however, it should be told accurately, and it was regrettably the case that Strictly Orthodox Jews probably perished in greater numbers during the Holocaust than adherents of any other Jewish ideology. Their leaders could no more protect them from Hitler's genocide than could the Zionists, assimilationists and secularists whom Kranzler denounces. The Strictly Orthodox specialist presses in the United States have produced a steady stream of similar works, whose aim is to show that the Strictly Orthodox effected rescue more vigorously than other Jews, and more successfully. Both claims—alas—are simply untrue.
Many historians have been deeply disturbed by these extreme tendencies, even historians who accept that in some respects the Allied governments did little or nothing. Yehuda Bauer has made the point that:
The wrath and frustration of the Jewish people finally turned against itself. Ever since the Holocaust, an increasing number of books and articles have accused the Jewish wartime leadership of failing to rescue, of negotiating with the enemy, of pandering to hostile `Allies.' The Nazis murdered the Jews—everyone knows that. The Allies did little to help. But who was really responsible? In accordance with `good' Jewish tradition, many Jewish historians, writers, and journalists blamed Chaim Weizmann, Stephen Wise, David Ben-Gurion, Nahum Goldmann, Yitzhak Grunbaum, Moshe Shertok, and all the rest of the Jews who tried to rescue their fellows. They were responsible because they had failed. This suicidal tendency in historiography is typical of a frustrated public refusing to recognize its essential helplessness in the face of overwhelming force. This tendency is especially pronounced because the situation has changed since the war with the establishment of the State of Israel; now, paradoxically, a much smaller number of Jews wield more, though still not very impressive, power, just like so many other small nations or peoples. Why did Joel Brand fail? We can almost hear the argument that the Israeli Air Force should have dropped him behind German lines. Anachronistic solutions are offered to the problem of rescuing millions of people being murdered by an implacable enemy.
Because of the untenability of the charges levelled against the Allies, and notwithstanding either the ubiquity of the notion that the Allies `did nothing' or the growth of an extremist fringe which virtually lumps together the Allies and the Jewish communities of the democracies with the Nazis, it is probably also fair to say that, during the past fifteen years or so, something of a reaction to the extreme views of Allied guilt, voiced by Wyman and others, has taken place. Some of this research has built upon an older tradition, dating from the 1970s, of scholarship which emphasised the positive aspects of Allied efforts on behalf of Europe's Jews. This reaction has been limited among academics and scholars to a number of particular facets of the Allied response, and exclusively to the American rather than the British reaction to the Holocaust.
Four areas might be noted where recent historians have offered a more favourable view of the Allied response. The alleged supineness and inaction of the American Jewish community has been much more realistically contextualised by historians like Yehuda Bauer and Henry L. Feingold, who argue that the constraints of the American political system during the 1930s and 1940s, prior to the legitimacy of ethnic groups lobbying on their own behalf, severely limited the response of both the Roosevelt administration and the Jewish community, making impossible the kind of bold action which American Jewry would surely have undertaken a generation later. This view is especially associated with Professor Feingold, probably the most eminent historian of the recent American Jewish community, in works like The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938—1945 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1970), his contribution to a magisterial five-volume history of American Jewry, A Time For Searching: Entering the Mainstream, 1920—1945 (Baltimore, 1992), and especially in a recent book of his essays, Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust (Syracuse, NY, 1995). It will be seen from the relevant chapters in the present book that Feingold's viewpoint, although much more reasonable than those who claim that American Jewry `did nothing' is, in my opinion, also inaccurate, and it differs essentially from the argument of this work. American Jewry produced committee after committee and plan after plan to rescue the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe; they had a surprising degree of immediate access to the President and to congressmen and government officials. What they lacked, alas, was a plan which could actually rescue the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe, the millions who were prisoners of a murderous lunatic and who were unreachable by any means. Professor Yehuda Bauer's American Jewry and the Holocaust (Detroit, 1981), a detailed account of the activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (a leading relief body, founded in 1914, which had long been involved in efforts to ameliorate the conditions of oppressed Jewry) during the Holocaust, emphasised its many-faceted efforts on behalf of European Jewry, stymied not by any lack of will but by the relentless nature of Nazi genocide. Bauer's positive view of American rescue efforts has carried over to other writings on this subject, for instance his A History of the Holocaust (New York, 1982).
The second area where the notion of American indifference has been usefully challenged is in the debate about the failure to bomb Auschwitz. The alleged failure by the Allies to destroy that extermination camp in 1944, despite the fact that (it is often suggested) this was both logistically possible and widely urged, is perhaps the best-known single component of David Wyman's critique of American policy during the war, and is likely to be known—and accepted—by lay persons with little or no specialist knowledge of this field. Yet, despite the ubiquity with which this criticism is voiced, recent analysis by expert military historians, vastly better informed about the technical aspects of this question than Professor Wyman, have emphasised the near-impossibility of a successful American bombing raid on Auschwitz in 1944. This expert revisionist opinion has been put most cogently by Dr James H. Kitchens III, an Archivist of the United States Air Force Historical Research Centre, in a 1994 article in The Journal of Military History and in articles by him and by Dr Richard H. Levy, a nuclear engineer who has closely researched this topic, in FDR and the Holocaust (Newton, ed.). There can simply be no doubt that the criticisms raised by Kitchens, Levy and others have undermined the case made by Wyman that the bombing of Auschwitz was a realistic possibility in 1944; there are also a host of other reasons, which I examine in Chapter 4, why recent criticism of the Allied `failure' to bomb Auschwitz is profoundly unrealistic and ahistorical.
Yet—as with so much about this topic—acceptance of the more favourable view is a painfully slow uphill struggle, even among historians who do not engage in a general indictment of the Allies. For instance, Professor Feingold, in his 1995 book of essays Bearing Witness, reprinted his 1979 article `Who Shall Bear Guilt for the Holocaust?' which contains the statement, unaltered since its original appearance, that `An article in Commentary by Professor David Wyman and another by Roger M. Williams in Commonweal demonstrate beyond doubt that, by the spring of 1944, the bombing of Auschwitz was feasible'. (In light of the research by Kitchens and others, this statement is simply untrue, especially if made in the bald form of Feingold's wording.) That the Allies could have bombed Auschwitz if they wished, and that this action could have certainly saved the lives of thousands of Jews, has by now been disseminated in every conceivable medium—books and articles, television documentaries, museum exhibits, academic and non-academic lectures—and it will probably take decades before this piece of folk disinformation loses its popular hold.
Some recent research has also looked more positively at American refugee policy before the war, a subject which had hitherto received comparatively little revisionist attention. The most useful corrective work here has been Richard Breitman and Alan Kraut's American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933—1945 (Bloomington, Ind., 1987), a very detailed examination of the actual operation of America's policies towards German Jewish refugees, especially prior to the war. Yet it seems indisputable that the pre-war phase of this question has not received the searching, critical examination which it obviously needs; for this reason, The Myth of Rescue opens with an account of international refugee policy towards Germany's Jews during the 1930s which will show that, far from being restrictive and harsh, it was one of the more liberal, generous and, most of all, successful attempts to rescue oppressed refugees in modern history.
The fourth area of critical scholarly attention has been an analysis of the various attempts at `ransoming' Jews (the so-called `blood-for-trucks' deal, proposed by Eichmann in 1944, being the best-known) apparently advanced by senior Nazis, especially Heinrich Himmler, in the closing phases of the war, although possibly suggested as well on a smaller scale before that, for instance in Slovakia in 1942-4. Historians have been sharply divided between those who view `ransom' as a genuine lost opportunity and those who believe that these proposals were thoroughly disingenuous. Recently, Yehuda Bauer's Jews For Sale?: Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945 has examined these proposals in detail. While Professor Bauer apparently believes that the Nazis were in part sincere in their offers, he is forced to admit that such proposals could not have succeeded; nevertheless, many Jews (and non-Jews) deserve credit for attempting to `ransom' Jews and succeeding on a limited scale. In this work, I offer an original but fundamental reason for believing that no significant attempts at `ransom' could possibly have succeeded.
All these revisionist views, it should be carefully noted, are partial and specific: historians have argued that one or another aspect of rescue was impossible (or very difficult), in contrast to Wyman and others who argue that America did little or nothing, too little and too late. Even someone like Professor Feingold has claimed that `tens of thousands' of Jews who perished in the Holocaust could have been saved by more direct Allied action (Wyman puts the figure at 200,000 or more). So far as I am aware, no historian has argued—as I do here—that American efforts at rescue during the Holocaust were ipso facto impossible, given the Nazi policy of genocide and what was actually proposed at the time. Perhaps the two historians who most closely approach the interpretation offered in this book are Frank W. Brecher and Lucy S. Dawidowicz. Brecher's article `David Wyman and the Historiography of America's Response to the Holocaust: Counter-Considerations' is an important critique of Wyman's views, emphasising the lack of `factual evidence' and the `dubious validity' for many of his attacks on American Jewry, in some key respects paralleling the points made in this book. Nevertheless, it is far narrower, failing to discuss (for instance) the question of bombing Auschwitz or British rescue efforts, and apparently accepting that `the difficult problem of finding ... suitable places of refuge' for the Jews of Hungary and elsewhere was an important factor in the failure of the Allies to rescue Jews, rather than a non sequitur.
The historian whose viewpoint perhaps came closest to that advanced here was the late Lucy S. Dawidowicz, whose essays on the possibility of rescue by America during the Holocaust (collected in her posthumous anthology What Is The Use of Jewish History?) are models of sanity and clarity. Unlike most American historians of the Holocaust, Dawidowicz had actually lived among eastern European Jewry, spending a year at the famous YIVO Institute in Vilna as a young woman in 1938-9 just as Hitler was about to strike; her 1989 account of these experiences, From that Time and Place, is as valuable as it is moving. For Dawidowicz, the Second World War was literally Hitler's `war against the Jews', its traditional territorial and strategic dimensions secondary to the Fuhrer's central aim to rid Europe of Jewry. The Nazis bore complete responsibility for planning and executing the Holocaust; Hitler was bent on exterminating European Jewry and could not be moved from his goal by any means; the only role of America (and the other Western Allies) in the Holocaust was to liberate Europe from the Nazi scourge.
These conclusions seem self-evident and unarguable; as with so many unarguable truths, however, many intelligent people refuse to believe them. It was Lucy Dawidowicz's gift to see the facts of the matter clearly. Nevertheless, in this work I would go much further even than she did: I disagree with her on many secondary points and also about the possible role of a Jewish state, if it had existed during the war, in saving European Jews.
The evolution of recent British historiography on the question of rescue during the Holocaust has exhibited all the worst features of American writing on this subject, with little in the way of a dissenting view. The British pattern of negative commentary was set in 1979 by Bernard Wasserstein, in his Britain and the Jews of Europe (Oxford, 1979), the first work to use newly declassified Foreign Office and other government documents. Wasserstein found what he took to be a persistent pattern of British government reluctance—often obstruction to allow more German Jewish refugees to flee to British territory, especially, of course, Palestine. Most of his evidence—necessarily—related to the first two years of the war, before the Nazi policy of genocide had begun (or was known in the West); from that time it was virtually impossible to flee, and the British always accepted fleeing Jewish refugees, offering them safety in a territory outside the reach of the Nazi death machine, if not in Palestine. Many of Wasserstein's examples date from the period 1940-1, when Britain rightly feared that a Nazi invasion was imminent, and normal British standards of liberalism and tolerance—for instance, towards interned refugees—temporarily disappeared. By focusing on this period (in particular) Wasserstein enhanced the sense that Britain's refugee policy was hallmarked by rigid obstructionism, if not anti-semitism, diminishing its generous record in the settlement of refugees before the war (especially after Kristallnacht) and the extraordinary degree of sensitivity towards Jewish suffering shown by Britain's elites during the war. As in so many other accounts of rescue during the Holocaust, Wasserstein assumes that many more Jews could have been rescued and that the failure to rescue was caused by high entry barriers put up by Britain and the democracies, rather than by insurmountable exit barriers erected, after mid-1940, by Nazi Germany.
Wasserstein's book predated the growth of a powerful school in recent Anglo-Jewish historiography which views Britain as an illiberal society, Anglo-Jewish history as marked by high levels of intolerance and anti-semitism and the typical response of the British Jewish community as one of supine acquiescence in its subordinate role. This school of younger Anglo-Jewish historians thus differed almost totally from the prevalent opinion of the previous generation, for whom Britain was a liberal society par excellence and the course of Anglo-Jewish history an archetypal example of Whig progress towards universal toleration. To this school, the attitude of both British society as a whole and the Anglo-Jewish community during the Holocaust is ripe for reevaluation. The younger school has been unsparingly critical of both, perhaps more critical than critics of American policy during the Holocaust. Possibly the most extreme work on this subject is Richard Bolchover's British Jewry and the Holocaust (Cambridge, 1993), which contrasts `the politics of fear' of the Jewish mainstream, the `assimilationists' of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the mainstream Zionist movement with `the exceptions'—defined by Bolchover as `socialists, Strictly Orthodox Jews, academics, and Revisionist Zionists', whose active and positive plans to rescue European Jewry were thwarted by the Jewish mainstream. (The parallels of this to much recent American writing on the American Jewish community during the Holocaust is, of course, clear.) Strangely, however, Bolchover neglects to state what these plans for rescue by the `exceptions' actually comprised. In Chapter 3 we will explore their plans in some detail, reaching the inescapable conclusion that the plans were totally without merit and incapable of rescuing anyone; we shall also find that their plans were virtually identical with those offered by the Anglo-Jewish mainstream.
Bolchover's view of the reaction of both Britain and of Anglo-Jewry to the Holocaust is closely reflected in such works as Geoffrey Alderman's Modern British Jewry (Oxford, 1992), and, less directly, in the various writings on this topic by Tony Kushner, such as The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination (Oxford, 1994). Alderman's work, though deeply learned and often incisive, may be read as an extended attack upon the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the United Synagogue, the two pillars of the Anglo-Jewish mainstream. According to Alderman `on the most delicate [sic] question of possible attempts by the allies to halt the planned destruction of European Jewry, British Jewry was decidedly ambivalent', claiming that `by 1944 Auschwitz and other death camps were within easy range of allied bomber aircraft ... [yet] no pressure of any significance was ever exerted upon the British government on this question'. This statement, typical of Alderman's discussion, is deeply misleading, as will be seen in Chapter 4. Kushner's essays, though more balanced and nuanced, compare Britain adversely with America, praising the creation of the American War Refugee Board in contrast with British inaction. Britain's tradition of `liberalism' made it unable to comprehend the necessity to create bodies to respond to the `particularistic' needs of oppressed Jewry.
There has been very little in the way of an opposing opinion, especially in the recent past. In the first years after the war, a number of books appeared, such as Norman Bentwich's The Rescue and Achievement of Refugee Scholars (The Hague, 1953) and his They Found Refuge (London, 1956), dealing sympathetically with British efforts at admitting German Jewish refugees during the 1930s. The essential scholarly work on this question, A.J. Sherman's Island Refuge: Britain and Refugees From the Third Reich (Berkeley, 1973), presents a largely favourable view of this subject, while many other accounts of German Jewish migration to Britain are probably more favourable than their American equivalents. For the war itself, Martin Gilbert's well-known Auschwitz and the Allies (London, 1981), often seen as highly critical of the Allies' failure to bomb Auschwitz (and regularly cited by historians for that purpose) is actually a sympathetic and well-balanced explanation of the reasons why the Allies `did nothing', as befits Churchill's official biographer. New evidence (presented in Chapter 4 of this work), available since Gilbert wrote, makes clear the insurmountable technical difficulties inherent in any plan to bomb Auschwitz, even in 1944. Gilbert's book has probably been as central to the debate on this question in Britain as have Wyman's writings in America, albeit in a way which has misconstrued the author's aim. My recent book, A History of the Jews in The English-Speaking World: Great Britain (London, 1996) contains a chapter entitled `Anglo-Jewry and the Holocaust' which augments the arguments made in the present work.
Elsewhere in the English-speaking democracies the picture is mixed. Scholarship on Canada—most notably Irving Abella and Harold Troper's None is Too Many (Toronto, 1982) is unrelievedly negative. In Australia, however, a lively debate has emerged about the generosity of Australian refugee policy. (Obviously, neither country could possibly have had the slightest direct effect upon Nazi policy as such.) Recent Israeli scholarship available in English has been marked by an unusual degree of intelligence, especially two fine works, Dalia Ofer's Escaping the Holocaust: Illegal Immigration to the Land of Israel, 1939-1944 (Oxford, 1990) and Dina Porat's The Blue and Yellow Stars of David (London, 1992). Both works show that, beyond doubt, the failure of the Yishuv to `do more' was chiefly if not entirely due to the impossibility of rescuing Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe, and not to any lack of intention.
The Myth of Rescue differs from all previous works on this subject in that it rejects as impossible any further rescue efforts on behalf of Europe's Jews entailing more than the most minor and insignificant numbers. The reasons why this is so have never been made clearly (or, indeed, at all) by previous historians, while the arguments used by historians to indict the Allied governments, or the Jewish communities of the democracies, are—invariably—specious, ahistorical and egregious. There is, in other words, no case to answer.
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|1||The Historiography of Rescue||1|
|2||The Myth of Closed Doors, 1933-9||15|
|3||The Myth of Plans for Rescue||63|
|4||The Myth of Bombing Auschwitz||157|
|5||The Myth of the War Refugee Board||182|
|6||The Myth of Negotiations With the Nazis||198|
|7||The Myth of Rescue||206|