July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Should/Could the Allies Have Bombed Auschwitz?

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Part III of III

The first two installments identified the subject, opinions of authors who had written about the subject earlier, technical subjects such as types of aircraft available, and negotiations with Eichmann. Also discussed were possibilities, military as well as technical, of planes being able to reach Auschwitz, and costs and collateral damage if bombing had taken place.

Some argue that many of the prisoners that would have been killed by bombing would have been killed anyhow by the Nazis, sooner or later. That brings up the question in halacha, whether one is allowed to kill one person in order to save another.

On June 11, 1944 the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem voted against requesting that Auschwitz be bombed, reasoning that “it is forbidden for us to take responsibility for a bombing that could very well cause the death of even one Jew.” Leon Kubowitz, head of the Rescue Department of the World Jewish Congress, warned the War Refugee Board that “the destruction of the death installations cannot be done from the air, as the first victims would be the Jews in the camp.”

On that question I consulted with Rabbi Genack, who thought it was a very difficult question to answer after 70 years had passed. Rabbi Genack referred me to Mr. Dovid Lichtenstein, living in Monsey, New York. Mr. Lichtenstein last year published a book, “Headlines, Halachic Debates of Current Events.” One of the chapters is “Shooting Down a Hijacked Plane: Killing a Few to Save the Lives of Many,” which discusses the tragedy of 9/11—specifically, whether a hijacked plane may be blown up to save the civilians in the targeted building. The conclusion in that chapter seems to be that you are permitted to shoot down the plane since the passengers would be killed anyhow.

I got into contact with Mr. Lichtenstein and spoke with him a few weeks ago. During the conversation it became clear that I was not going to receive an answer right then, but Mr. Lichtenstein needed to think and consult about this complicated question. I expressed to him my gut feeling, based on what he had written in his book, that one would not be permitted to bomb Auschwitz.

I received his reply just a little over a week ago. He replied that you would not be permitted to bomb Auschwitz. But then he qualified his reply, that possibly during a time of war, the laws of killing are somewhat mitigated. He quoted the Netziv, who was of the opinion that at time of war “all that was necessary to achieve victory, under the reasonably defined terms of warfare are allowed.”

I expressed my uninformed opinion to Mr. Lichtenstein, that I did not feel that the Netziv’s mitigation would apply here, since Auschwitz was never a military target and, even if Auschwitz had been completely destroyed, it would not have resulted in a quicker victory in the war.

What could have been the number of lives saved through bombing? If the bombing could have taken place before May/June ‘44, a significant number of lives would likely have been saved, since during these two months, 400,000 Jews, primarily from Hungary, were murdered at Auschwitz. A raid during these two months could possibly still have saved many of them. Deportations from Hungary stopped July 8, 1944. In other words, the window for effective bombing closed May/June. No doubt the Nazis would have found other ways of killing after May/June, if the bombing had been successful. One of these ways could have been the use of the old crematoria installation known as Bunker 2 (later renamed Bunker V) that had not appeared on the Vrba-Wetzler report at all, and was located away from the other installations. Since its existence was unknown it would most likely not have been destroyed.

Conclusion: If American Leaders had seriously been able to investigate the possibility of bombing upon receipt of the Vrba-Wetzler report in mid-July ‘44, they would have found it to be possible, but not likely, to be carried out. On the other hand, by the time the bombings could have taken place, the window to save a large number of lives anyhow had already closed.

Finally, it is also important to note that we today cannot judge whether Western Allied leaders acted properly by retrospective analysis. We must evaluate the actions of these individuals on the basis of what they knew then, and when they knew it, and not on the basis of what we now know, 70 years later.

This concludes the third installment under this heading. At the time of my presentation on the subject of Auschwitz in 2015, a question was raised in the audience regarding Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt’s alleged anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism having been the cause of a lack of action against Auschwitz. My next article, therefore, will be “Churchill Was an Anti-Semite! Really?” President Roosevelt will be the subject at a later time.

By Norbert Strauss

 Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has been a volunteer at Englewood Hospital for the past 30 years. He was General Traffic Manager and Group VP at Philipp Brothers Inc., retiring in 1985. Prior to Englewood Hospital he was also a volunteer at the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Hospital for over 30 years, serving as treasurer and director. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941. He has eight grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.


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