January 25, 2005
Former U.S. Senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, who as a World War II pilot bombed targets close to the Auschwitz death camp, has said that he could have bombed the gas chambers, if only the Roosevelt Administration had not made the “tragic mistake” of refusing to order such bombing raids.
McGovern made his comments in a filmed interview which was shown for the first time, at a briefing for Members of Congress and their staff, on January 25, 2005. The briefing was cosponsored by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the House International Relations Committee’s Task Force on Anti-Semitism. It was held in the Rayburn House Office Building, on Capitol Hill, before a standing-room-only audience.
The event was held in conjunction with other international events this week commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, including a United Nations session on January 24 and a gathering of world leaders at the Auschwitz site on January 27.
During the summer and autumn of 1944, U.S. bomber pilots, including McGovern, repeatedly bombed German oil factories that were part of the Auschwitz camp complex–but were never instructed to hit the gas chambers or the railways leading to them, even though the Allied leadership had detailed information about the mass-murder going on there. McGovern said that “entire crews,” including himself, “would certainly have volunteered” for a mission to bomb Auschwitz, if they had been asked.
“There is no question we should have attempted … to go after Auschwitz,” McGovern said in the interview, which was conducted at his home in South Dakota last month. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”
“Franklin Roosevelt was a great man and he was my political hero,” McGovern said. “But I think he made two great mistakes in World War Two.” One was the internment of Japanese-Americans; the other was the decision “not to go after Auschwitz … God forgive us for that tragic miscalculation.”
McGovern said that the Auschwitz experience should produce “a determination that never again will we fail to exercise the full capacity of our strength in that direction … we should have gone all out [against Auschwitz] and we must never again permit genocide.”
Former U.S. Congressman Stephen Solarz, a leading member of the Wyman Institute’s Advisory Committee, also spoke at the event. He described America’s response to the Nazi genocide as “one of the greatest moral failures in the history of U.S. foreign policy.” Noting the argument that Auschwitz should not have been bombed because some of the inmates might have been harmed, Solarz recalled a conversation he had with a survivor of Auschwitz, who said that an Allied bombing of the camp “would have been our finest hour,” despite the risk of civilian casualties, because it would have interrupted the mass-murder process. Solarz served in Congress for 18 years, and a was prominent member of the House International Relations Committee.
Also speaking at the Capitol Hill event were Dr. Kay King, senior staff member of the House International Relations Committee, Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff, and filmmaker Stuart Erdheim, a member of the Wyman Institute’s Arts & Letters Council, who was one of those who interviewed McGovern, and directed “They Looked Away,” a recent documentary about the Auschwitz bombing issue.