The Holocaust and the Allies

Figure 1.--After Hitler and stalin launched World war II by invadiung Poland, reports began reaching the West of terrible attrocities being committed against civilians. Most if these reports reffered toNAZI-occupied countrites, although attrocities were also being committed by the NKVD in Soviet occupied countries. Unneknownst to the Western public is how the reports being published in the newspapers did not begin to reflect the enormity of the crimes being committed. And after the initial reporting during the campaign in Poland, as the NAZIs began to heard Jews into ghettoes, the crimes began to occur behind brick walls and barbed wire and were more difficult to report. Here is the entrance to an unidentified ghetto. One sign reads, Wohngebiet der Juden betreten verboten." (Rresidential neighborhood of the Jews. Entry forbidden .) We can not read the smaller sign. The heading is something like "Bekanntmach" which we do not know what it means.

A large number of countries eventually joined the crusdade againhst NAZI Germany and contributed to its defeat. Many countries were occupied in the eraly years of the War and thus their consribytions while in several cases were important, they were as a result of the occupation limited. The three principal countries were Britain, the Soviet Union (initially a virtual NAZI ally), and the United States. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand played important subordiate roles. The question has to be asked as to why the Allies did not do more to stop the Holocaust. Certainly there were limits as to what they could do given the German military dominance in the early years of the War. Much of the killing was done in 1941-43 when Allied military alternatives were limited. The deafening silence on the Holocaust from the Allied camp, however, seems hard to understand. In addition, by 1944 military capabilities were increasing to the point that some actions were possible. None were, however, ever employed.


The Great Depression during the 1930s caused many countries, including the United States, to limit immigration. NAZI policy at the beginning was not set out to murder millions of Jews. The NAZIs were intent on stripping Jews of all their assetts and driving them penniless out of the country. Few Jews wanted to laeve Germany when the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Gradually more Jews began attempting to leave, especially after the Nuremberg Race Laws were decreeed (September 1935). After Kristallnact, a panic set in among the Germany community (November 1938). Jews were essentially free to leave Germany as long as theu did not take any valuables and had a visa to enter another country. The problem for German and Austrian Jews was obtaining a visa. Anti-semitism in many countries, including the United States, made this very difficult and were trapped in Germany when in the months leading up to the War, the NAZIs stopped allowing Jews to emmigrate. Some of the last Jews to get out of Germany were the children broughtout through the Kindertransport.

Allied Nations

A large number of countries eventually joined the crusdade againhst NAZI Germany and contributed to its defeat. Many countries were occupied in the eraly years of the War and thus their consribytions while in several cases were important, they were as a result of the occupation limited. The three principal countries were Britain, the Soviet Union (initially a virtual NAZI ally), and the United States. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand played important subordiate roles. The question has to be asked as to why the Allies, especially the Big Three, did not make some effort to stop the Holocaust.

Public Knowledge

How much was know about the Holocaust is a difficult question. Certainly there were numerous reports. It is no possible to conclude, however, that beause so and so an individual reported killings that it was widely known and understood. This is beause in the fog of war, there are many inaccurate reports. It was of course impossible to confirm these reports of killings and attrocities as NAZIs armies swept over Europe. Pner factor which tragically acted to the detriment of the Jews was British World War I propaganda which played a lurid picture of the Germans, calling them Huns and accussing them of vile acts, especially in Belgium. It was widely felt by many Americans in the 1930s, that the British has tricked the United States into entering the War through this propaganda--fueling isolationist sentiment. Thus when the War behan, many in America discounted the reports that began leaking out of NAZI occupied Poland and later other countries as British propaganda again. Tragically most of these reports were all to true. There were press reports published throughout the War reporting NAZI attrocities, many speifying that Jews we being singled out. A perusal of New York Times would provide ample reports that huge numbers of Jews were being killed by the NAZIs, especially by 1941 and the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). Most of the reports, howver, were small articles buried in the back pages wherethey attracted little attention. There was no effort to paint a comprehaensive picture of the NAZI butchery. Give the fact that the owner of the Times was Jewish, this failire of editorial policy is especially difficult to understand.

Military Options

Certainly there were limits as to what they could do given the German military dominance in the early years of the War. Much of the killing was done in 1941-43 when Allied military alternatives were limited. Allied military capabilities by 1944, however, had increasing to the point that some actions were possible. None were, however, ever employed. What could be done other than winning the War as rapidly as possible is difficult to assess. The death camps could have been added to the air campaign. Many have argued that the American Air Corps should have bombed the gas chambers at Auschvitz and the other death camps and the railheads leading to the camps. Such attempts in 1943 would have resulted in enormous losses of air crews given the strength of the German air defenses. Such raids would have had to be conducted in day light to target the gas chambers, relatively small targets. It has to be understood that aerial bombing in World War II was a far cry from modern precession targetting. On even a well executed raid, only a small fraction of the bombs actually fell on the target. Thus any raid on, for example, the gas chambers at Birkenau would have meant large numbers of bombs falling throughout the work camps at Auschwitz killing large numbers of the slave laborers at the camp. Targetting the several NAZI death camps would not have been a small surgical operation. It would have required a major undertaking and given the distances and German defenses it would have been very costly. I do not know to what extent the miitary possessed the detailed knowledge of camp operaions that would have allowed them to make those assessments. Perhaps it should have been done, but it would not have been an easy decission. I am not sure, however, to what exyent the military actually assessed the possibility of such an operation. Bombing the rail heads was also not an easy matter. Given the forced labor available to the Germans, rail lines could have been rapidly reconmstructed forcing repaeted strikes and further exposing aircrews to German air defenses. Another factor to be considered was that in early 1944 the air campaign against Germany was sidelined so that the Americans and British could focus on the German Channel defenses. It was only after the D-Day landings and subsequent break out (June-July 1944) that the Allies were able to resume the strategic bombing campaign in force. By that time, the Red Army had entered Poland and the Himmler ordered the SS to begin closing down and evacuating the death camps.


The deafening silence on the Holocaust from the Allied camp during the War seems difficult today to understand. I am not possitive just what the Allies publicizing the Holocaust would had achieved. There was enough information available of NAZI brutality and war crimes that the populations in Allied countries were fully behind the War effort. In occupied countries people did not have to be convinced to hate the Germans. In Germany, Allied broadcasts about the Holocaust would not have been believed because of NAZI control of the media and the experience with British war propaganda in World War I. So many Germans were complicit in the NAZI persecution of the Jews that Allied propaganda might have even strenthened their resolve knowing that they had played a role. By complicit I do not mean just the SS killers or even enablers like railroad personnel, but the large numbers of people who played small roles, such as taking Jewish jobs, stealing Jewish property, reporting Jewish neighbors for some offense, making cruel comments, particiapting in boycotts, and much more. Even childre here were involved, taunting or physically asaulting Jewish classmates or throwing rocks through Jewish shop windows. While I am not sure just how much good it would have done to publize the Holocaust, surely it should have been done, if only to express moral outrage. It would have given heart to Jewish people in hiding. It would have also increased the awarness of what the NAZIs were doing so that at least some Jews could have more effectively resisted.

Big Three

Some information is available on Government response to the Holocaust in the Big Three Allied nations.


The British accepted small numbers of German Jewish children in the months preceeding World War II in an operation called the Kinder Transport. I am not sure just when Churchill became aware of the emensity of te NAZI operations against the Jews. Certainly he received reports from Poland after September 1939, both of killing Jews and Polish civilians, especially intellectuals. Of course it did not take a lot of convincing as he had been an early anti-NAZI in Britain. Just when he pieced together the enormity of the NAZI crimes, I am not sure. Certainly by July or August 1941 he must have been aware. The NAZI Einsatzgruppen were gleefully reporting back to Berlin on the number of Jews bering killed after Operation Barbarrosa--the invasion of the Soviet Union as launched. The messages were appearing in the Enigma intercets being decoded at Blechly Park. The Enigma secret had to be maintained. Even so Churchill delivered a speech with enough specifics to make the Germans worry about security and after the initial few weeks the Germans became much more criptic.

Soviet Union

We are not sure when Stalin learned about the Holocaust or what is reaction was. He would have been informed from a a fairly early point that the Germans were murdering civilians. Stalin was anti-semitic as well, although not as homicidely committed as Hitler. In addition, Stalin was not adverse to murdering millions of people himself, but less publically than the Germans. We do know that even during the War, the Soviet Government did not wbt the Jews identified as the primary target of the NAZIs. Soviet pronouncements from a early point reported German attrocities, but not that they were mostly Jews. A memorial erected at at Babi Yar outside Kiev, where Einsatzgruppen murdered thousands of Jews, did not even mention that most of the people killed were Jews. We akso do not know when Stalin learned of much more extensive German plans to kill Slavs in the millions as part of Generalplan Ost.

United States

President Roosevelt (FDR) was also an early opponent to Hitler, although the strong isolationist movement in America limited what he could do. He did provide, at considerable political risk, crucial help to Britain even before America entered the War. Hitler himself compiled a long list of American provocations and outright acts of war--in this case a fairly accurate statement. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] Amercan destroyers were fighting U-boats in the Atlantic well before war was declared. American armanents were flowing to Britain in large quantities through Lend Lease and the British were placing orders for war materials in America. One such order eventually led to the P51 Mustang. It was an American Catalina patrol boat including an Americam pilot that spotted Bismark leading to its sinking. Once America entered the War, FDR insisted on demanding unconditional surrender. He told aides in private, "This time the Germans are going to know that they were defeated," refering to the decission not to occupy Germany after World War I. [Beschloss] The insistance on unconditional surrender may have prolonged the War, although here historians disagree as to what extent it prolonged the War. [Davidson, p. 442.] Given the NAZI hold and the complicity of the Government and Wehrmacht in such enormous crimes, it may not have been a major factor in stiffening German resistance. FDR was an effective war leader, especially in mobilizing American public opinion and the economy. His absence of leadership on the Holocaust is clearly the major failure of his presidency--given the fact that the Holocaust was the great moral outrage of modern times. (Civil rights was the other notable failure, but here FDR may have been correct that his efforts have had a limited imapact and woud have jepordized achievements in other areas that were obtainable.) Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury, was perhaps FDR's closest confident in the Cabinent and the only Jew. (He was only the second Jew to serve in the Cabinent.) He was not a practicing Jew and did not raise issues with FDR that he thought would be precived as Jewish issues. He learned of the extent of the NAZI attrocities in 1943 and was deeply moved, changing his attitude toward Judiaism and caused him to raise the issue with FDR. Morgenthau became deeply involved with assissting refugees. FDR apparently knew a great deal about what was happening by 1942. [Beschloss] Few specifics, however, are vailable. I do not know of much information available as to the extent that the Government seriously considered military options to stop the Holocaust. One report suggests that John McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War, went to FDR in the Spring of 1944 and suggested bombing Auschwitz, but FDR turned him down flat without seeking any military advise on the matter. [Beschloss] I do not know where Marshall and Eisenhower stood on the issue. I am not sure why FDR took this attitude. We know by this time is health was failing. Also he was still senstive politically to the canard that Charles Lindburg and other isolationists raised that the War was a war to save Jews. He may have been afraid that raising the issue publically may have devisive and fueled anti-semitism in America. He seems to have looked on request from Jewish leaders to speak out as special pleading. [Beschloss]

Threats of War Crime Trials

The Allies at the end of World War I intended to hold the Kaiser and high military commanders responsible for war crimes. This never occurred because the Kaiser fled to the neutral Netherlands and proceution was largely left in the hands of the new Weimar Republic Germnan Government which was both unwilling and incapable of conducting war crime trials. After Hitler and Stalin launched World War II with the invasion of Poland (September 1939), reports of war crimes against civilians began to reach Allied capitals and the neutral United States. It was soon clear that the levl of attrocitoes against civilians was beyond the scope of what had occurred in World War I or for that matter, any other Europen war. Most of the reorts concerned the NAZIs and the countries they had invaded and occupied. Very little was reported on what was happening in Soviet-controlled areas of Eastern Europe, although we now know that heinous crimes were being commotted there by Stalin and the NKVD, although with out the Jewish racial component. As a result, from an early point, the Germans were warned that they would be hlp responsible for war crimes. Similar warnings were not issued to the Soviets. As the NAZI and Soviet aggressions expanded beyond Poland, governments-in-exile were set up, mostly in London. These governments both publicized thesr reports of actions against civilians and warned mostly the Germans that officils and military commanders would be held responsible. Notably these pronouncements did not identify the Jews as the primary target of NAZI brutlity. And this practice continued with rate exceptions throughout the War. Here anti-Semitism was a factor, but not the only factor. The Allied pronouncements and warnings had little or no impact on NAZI behavior. Unbeknownst to the Allies was the priority that Hitler assigned to the killing of Jews as well as Slavs and other targeted ethnic groups. And for more tha 2 years, the Germans were convinced they were goung to win the war. After the fall of France (June 1940), most Germans belieced they had won the War. It was not untill mid-1944 that most Germans began to realize that they were going to lose the War and lose it disasterouly. And most Germans were either convinced that what they were doing was acceotable behavior in war time or denined the Allied charges to the extent they were aware of them--seeing them as Allied war propaganda. After the War turned against Germany, the extent of NAZI crime were so emnse that NAZI officials saw nothing to be gained by changing policy. By this time most the Holocaust killing had been completed, but of course not the much larger plnned killing of Slavs and other targeted group. Almost incomprehendibly, major NAZIs and tip military commanders were surprised that they were goung to be held responsible for war crimes.


Beschloss, Michael. The Conquerors.

Churchill, Winston. Premier papers, 4/100/9.

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Domarus, Max. Hitler Reden und Proklamationen 1932-45 Vol. 1-2 (Neustadt a.d. Aisch: Velagsdruckerei Schmidt, 1962-63).


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Created: October 29, 2002
Last updated: 12:39 AM 10/6/2014