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Anger amid the tears - did the allies do enough to save Jews? - Anniversary stirs claims of betrayal (GUARDIAN UK) Owen Bowcott 01/28/05)Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/secondworldwar/story/0,14058,1400575,00.html GUARDIAN UK GUARDIAN UK Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Accusations that the allies should have done more to destroy the Auschwitz gas chambers were given fresh political impetus yesterday as world leaders gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the camp´s liberation.

Rekindled outrage over the murder of more than 1.5 million Jews and other prisoners prompted Israel´s president, Moshe Katsav, to express grief and appreciation - but also betrayal.

"The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity," he said in Krakow in Poland before the ceremony. "The allies concentrated a huge force in the fight against the Germans and we are very grateful.

"But the allies did not do enough to stop ... the destruction of the Jewish people." Bombing Auschwitz from the air "could have saved many hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers", he said.

"Hundreds of missions of fighting aircraft passed next to ... Auschwitz and Birkenau. But [the camp] was not bombed ... Bombing the railways which led to the concentration camps ... could have stopped the destruction of the Jews."

Earlier this week Israel´s president, Ariel Sharon, was even harsher: "The allies knew of the annihilation of the Jews. They knew and did nothing. On April 19 1943, the Bermuda conference gathered, with the participation of representatives from Britain and the United States, in order to discuss saving the Jews of Europe. In fact, the participants did everything in their power to avoid dealing with the problem."

That failure, Mr Sharon said, taught Jews a lesson, which had shaped the modern state of Israel, that they could rely on no one but themselves for their survival.

The British historian Sir Martin Gilbert yesterday offered a detailed re-examination of the controversy. In an article in the Times he wrote that Auschwitz´s location was kept secret until the spring of 1944. It was in south-eastern Poland, beyond the range of allied bombers for most of the war, and first overflown by a reconnaissance aircraft in April that year.

Four Jewish prisoners escaped and their account of the daily massacres reached the War Refugee Board, the agency set up to rescue Jews, in June 1944. The board, in Washington, urged the US to bomb railway lines leading to Auschwitz.

But the request was turned down on the grounds it would have been a diversion of resources needed elsewhere. "Thirty-five years later [the US official] told me," Sir Martin wrote, "his worry was that once a request from the Jews was accepted ... other captive peoples would ask for similar diversion of air resources."

Other British historians acknowledged the failure, but cautioned against relying entirely on hindsight. Sir Ian Kershaw, a professor of modern history at Sheffield university and the author of a two- volume biography of Adolf Hitler, told the Guardian it was also a question of timing.

"After the US declined to act, it was passed to the British," he said. "There was a report back from the air ministry in mid-July 1944. The last trains carrying Jews left Budapest on July 9. The killings went on until the end but the vast majority of Jews had already been killed.

"There were doubts about the level of precision needed to put the gas chambers out of action. They were probably fairly justified... The allies at the time decided the key priority was the fighting in France, after the D-day landings. The military needs were given precedence. From the vantage point of the time ... that was not an unreasonable proposition."

The historian and author Andrew Roberts said that the Foreign Office had been slow to accept the intelligence reports sent in about the Nazi policy of genocide. "They couldn´t believe the sheer scale of the thing," he said yesterday.

"The Foreign Office was also very nervous about releasing the information because they feared it would devalue their reputation for veracity. They had publicised German atrocities in Belgium in 1914 and by the mid-1920s it was regarded as having been made up. The latest research, ironically, suggests it was actually true.

"What appears dreadful now is the dreadful, self-censorship in newspapers such as the New York Times. The first mention of killings appears in 1942... on page 20. One of the more heroic newspapers on that score was the Manchester Guardian."

Tony Kushner, a professor at Southampton University, said bombing the camps had not been a military priority. "The Bermuda conference in 1943 wasn´t a total failure," he said, " but very little came out of it. They wanted to keep a lid on things although popular opinion in Britain was for [intervention].

"The indictment of the allies is that they didn´t consider all these possibilities." Lord Janner, the spokesman for the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust, who was in Auschwitz yesterday, said the real failure had occurred before the war when Jewish refugees were prevented from fleeing persecution in Germany. (Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004 01/28/05)


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