Fierce debates among scholars and opinion-makers decades after the fact have turned proposals for the bombing of Auschwitz into a cause célèbre. That was not the case at the time in the United States. Even American Jewish leaders knew little about Auschwitz, and most Americans would have agreed that the military's job was to win the war as quickly as possible.
A New York rally of 40,000 persons for saving Jewish lives sponsored by the umbrella American Jewish Conference on July 31 called for the military to work with underground forces to destroy Nazi facilities of mass execution. Speakers at this demonstration and another mass rally held later in Los Angeles, did not mention the bombing of Auschwitz or any other camps. American Jewish leaders did not approach the mainstream press on the bombing issue. Major Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the leading Zionist organizations did not publicly advocate bombing missions. Key Jewish figures such as Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Joseph Proskauer, and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver did not lobby the administration to bomb Auschwitz, either publicly or behind the scenes. Proposals to do so reached the War Refugee Board from the Orthodox rescue group, the New York office of the World Jewish Congress, and Bergson, although Bergson focused on his plan to threaten the Germans with retaliatory poison gas strikes ...
The destruction of gas chambers and crematoria would have made Nazi killing less efficient and more costly. But later, in October 1944, Hungarians and Germans killed an additional 98,000 Jews in Hungary without any recourse to Auschwitz. American sources in Europe reported the determination of the Germans to kill as many Jews as possible even if faced with imminent defeat. Studies estimate that after the closing of Auschwitz, from January 1945 until the collapse of their regime, the Nazis murdered as many as 250,000 additional Jews. These considerations again illustrate the difficulties of evaluating long after the fact decisions that reflect conflicting priorities and imperfect information.
Decades afterward, the nonbombing of Auschwitz has become a symbol of Roosevelt's alleged failure during the Holocaust. Clearly, the War Department had no interest in devoting resources to a nonmilitary mission for saving Jewish lives. However, there is no evidence beyond an elderly [Assistant Secretary of War John J.] McCloy's highly suspect "recollections" that FDR had any role in this decision-making.
From FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman. Copyright 2013 by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman. Excerpted by permission of Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.