Israeli Leader Cites Failure to Bomb Auschwitz

News Release
March 6, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week cited the Roosevelt administration’s failure to bomb Auschwitz as part of his explanation of Israeli policy regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

In his remarks to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 5, 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that some critics of Israel have claimed military action against Iran “might provoke an even more vindictive response.” The prime minister recalled that similar claims were advanced by Roosevelt administration officials in 1944, in rejecting requests to bomb Auschwitz. He then held up copies of correspondence between the World Jewish Congress and the War Department in 1944, and read excerpts from them.

The World Jewish Congress asked the Roosevelt administration to undertake the “destruction of gas chambers and crematoria in Oswiecim [Auschwitz] by bombing” and “bombing of railway [lines leading to Auschwitz].” In response, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy gave several excuses as to why bombing should not be carried out, including the claim that attacking Auschwitz “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.” Prime Minister Netanyahu then commented: “What could possibly have been more vindictive than Auschwitz?”

The prime minister’s father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, was a Zionist activist in New York City in 1944. In an editorial in the magazine Zionews in July 1944, the elder Netanyahu wrote: “We should not forget that whenever the question of rescuing [European Jews] came up for public discussion, the governments of America and Great Britain did their utmost to becloud and sidetrack the issue…The Jews of Hungary, like the Jews of Rumania and Bulgaria, could have been saved without the loss of a single military position or a single life to the [Allies]…The blood of those Jewish victims is on the hands of those who could have rescued them, but refused to do so.”

The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies notes that other American and Israeli leaders have publicly cited the failure of the Roosevelt administration and its allies to intervene against the Holocaust:

MENACHEM BEGIN: In his first act as prime minister, Menachem Begin announced Israel would provide haven to Vietnamese refugees. Begin said: “We never have forgotten the boat with 900 Jews, the St. Louis, having left Germany in the last weeks before the Second World War…traveling from harbor to harbor, from country to country, crying out for refuge. They were refused…Therefore it was natural [for us] to give those people a haven in the Land of Israel.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 20, 1977)

GOLDA MEIR: In her autobiography (My Life, 1975), Golda Meir wrote that the fact that in “the civilized world…not a finger was lifted to help the Jews in their torment” during the Holocaust demonstrated to her that “no foreign government could or would ever feel our agonies as we feel them, and no foreign government would ever put the same value on Jewish lives that we did.” (pp. 163-164)

CYRUS VANCE: U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, visiting Yad Vashem on Feb. 16, 1977, “showed particular interest in a letter written by a deputy U.S. defence secretary stating that he would not allow the bombing of Auschwitz which had been called for to save the concentration camp inmates. ‘Even my country didn’t act,’ Vance said with emotion.” [Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 1977]

WALTER MONDALE: In 1979, the Carter administration spearheaded an international conference at Lake Geneva, near Evian, on the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia. In an emotional keynote speech, Vice President Walter Mondale compared the gathering to the 1938 Evian conference on the Jewish refugee crisis, a U.S.-led conference which he said “failed the test of civilization.” He said the delegates at Evian in 1938 “hid in a cloak of legalisms.” Mondale pleaded with the delegates to join the U.S. in rescuing the Asian ‘boat people’. “Let us not re-enact their error [in 1938],” he said. “Let us not be the heirs to their shame.” The speech is widely credited with inspiring many countries to take part in the rescue of the refugees. “The nations stepped up to the crisis,” Mondale’s chief speechwriter, Martin Kaplan, later recalled. “It was one of those rare occasions when words may actually have saved lives.” (New York Times, July 28, 1979)

BILL CLINTON: President Bill Clinton, in his remarks at the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 1993, said: “For those of us here today representing the nations of the West, we must live forever with this knowledge–even as our fragmentary awareness of crimes grew into indisputable facts, far too little was done. Before the war even started, doors to liberty were shut and even after the United States and the Allies attacked Germany, rail lines to the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed.”

GEORGE W. BUSH: While visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, in Jerusalem, on Jan. 11, 2008, President George W. Bush “viewed aerial photos of the Auschwitz death camp and called [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice over to discuss why the American government had decided against bombing the site, [Yad Vashem director Avner] Shalev said. ‘We should have bombed it,’ Bush said, according to Shalev.” (Associated Press, Jan. 11, 2008)