Why We Didn’t Bomb Auschwitz: BBC/PBS Whitewash

An Interview with Dr. Rafael Medoff

by Jerry Gordon and Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant (March 2020)



Birkenau Train Tracks


The recent commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by Russian Forces on January 20, 1945 and the gathering of 50 world leaders at the World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem brought new focus on the question of why didn’t the allies Bomb Auschwitz? A BBC documentary, 1944: Should We Bomb Auschwitz?, that aired originally in September 2019 and in the US as Bombing Auschwitz, on January 21, 2020 on the PBS program Secrets of the Dead—was accused of being a “whitewash” of FDR’s betrayal of the six million European Jewish men, woman and children murdered in unspeakable ways during the Holocaust. Those accusations and more were the comments of a frequent guest on Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix, Dr. Rafael Medoff, executive director of the David S. Wyman, Institute of Holocaust Studies. Rod Bryant and Jerry Gordon discussed these issues with Dr. Medoff.


The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust. The title stems from conversations between President Roosevelt and Rabbi Wise, a leading American Jewish Leader of both the World and American Jewish Congresses to pressure American Jews not to pursue rescue of European Jews as a ‘diversion’ of the war against Nazi Germany. A major chapter in Medoff’s latest book deals with the bombing Auschwitz controversy.


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Medoff had been approached by the BBC production team for a possible interview. He balked at the opportunity after reviewing the re-enactments portrayed in the documentary which did not reflect the realities. Among these were the facts that American Jewish leaders had approached both FDR’ s Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Edwin Stimson with requests to bomb the rail network and bridges on the approaches to the Auschwitz—Birkenau killing center. The BBC production portray a false moral quandary confronting FDR and leading figures in his Administration that bombing the death complex would have killed innocent prisoners. Instead FDR adopted the theme rescue could only be achieved through victory against Hitler’s Nazi regime on the battlefield. His Administration refused opportunities to rescue Jews when it would not have constituted a “diversion” of the war effort as senior FDR cabinet officials alleged.


In this Israel New Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix interview, Medoff reveals a filmed interview was made by the David S. Wyman Institute in 2005 with 1972 Democrat Presidential candidate, the late US South Dakota Senator George McGovern. McGovern during WWII piloted B-24 Liberator missions with the USAAF 740th Bombardment Squadron over the IG Farben artificial rubber and synthetic oil complex, less than 5 miles from the killing center at Birkenau. The chimneys of the crematoria at Birkenau were used as waypoints on the final approaches to the targets at the Auschwitz industrial complex where later Nobel Laureates Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel worked as slave laborers.



Medoff noted that the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority had published an article during the recent World Holocaust Forum urging violent attacks at the gathering of World leaders at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. He authored a letter co-signed by more than 150 holocaust historians calling for the PA leaders to fire the author of the article. Among those who didn’t sign the letter were the historians of the staff of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum who created the controversial exhibit America and the Holocaust, seeking to absolve FDR and his Administration of failure to rescue Jews during the Shoah.


Medoff noted that it was Jewish activists who aroused Congress in late 1943 to pass a Resolution requesting the Roosevelt Administration to rescue European Jews. That pressure led to Roosevelt creating the War Refugee Board (WRB) with minimal staff and funding to accomplish this task. Nevertheless, with largely private Jewish organization funding, the WRB wrought “miracles”. Foremost among these was the magnificent effort by the valiant Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who spared the lives of over a hundred thousand Hungarian Jews in Budapest with the aid of Foreign neutral government consuls. Medoff estimates the WRB initiatives saved more than 200,000 Jewish lives.


What follows is the Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix interview with Dr. Rafael Medoff of the David S. Wyman Institute on Holocaust Studies.


The Jews Should Keep Quiet, has a large chapter on the failure of the Allies and particularly FDR to consider bombing Auschwitz, which was the subject of a recent BBC/PBS documentary. Medoff’s conclusion is that it was feasible to hit the rail network and the bridges leading to Auschwitz. Medoff discusses the stunning discovery that the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, was a B-24 Liberator pilot flying over Auschwitz-Birkenau on missions attacking the IG Farben plant less than five miles away. Moreover, McGovern testified that they certainly could have hit the bridges, the rail lines as well as the crematoria at the killing center of Auschwitz-Birkenau.


Rafael Medoff: Thank you for having me.


Rafael Medoff: They certainly were heroes for risking their lives, and often giving their lives, in World War II, in the fight against Nazi Germany and the Axis. However, it would be a mistake to refer to the liberation of the camps as an act of heroism in the sense that we normally use that word, because the Allies did not battle with the Germans to liberate the camps. In almost every case, the Nazis had fled from the camps before the arrival of the Allied armies. The “liberation of Auschwitz,” as we call it, consisted of the Russian forces, the Red Army, marching into an Auschwitz that was unprotected because the German guards and administrators had all fled, knowing that the Russians were approaching.


Rod Bryant: Rafael, obviously it does make sense what you said that the rank and file soldier did not know that this was even going on. Further, that military leadership in the Pentagon and the staff knew about these concentration camps. Why weren’t they prepared to do something about the situation?


Jerry Gordon: Dr. Medoff, one of the surprising things that the Russians uncovered when they entered the precinct of Auschwitz were several hundred children. Why were they there?


Rod Bryant: Why is it important for us to bring these kinds of details to light now that may have been suppressed for the last 75 years?


Jerry Gordon: Dr. Medoff, one of the surprise attendees at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem was the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates. At the same time, the Secretary General of the World Muslim League, from Saudi Arabia visited the Auschwitz museum in Poland. Do you think these steps by prominent Arab figures signal any kind of change in their mindset and their world?


Jerry Gordon: Who was the person in the Muslim world who basically recruited Muslims to be part of the Nazi Waffen SS who later became the enemy of the new Jewish state?


Rafael Medoff: You are referring to Haj Amin Al-Husseini, better known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He was the pre-eminent Palestinian-Arab leader of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. He was also a Nazi collaborator. He was indicted as a Nazi war criminal at the end of World War II in Yugoslavia for his efforts to recruit Muslims for the Bosnian Muslim division of the Waffen SS, which engaged in numerous atrocities in 1943 and 1944.


Jerry Gordon: Dr. Medoff, there was a very different reaction to the commemoration events [in Jerusalem] from the Palestinian Authority. The official PA newspaper published an article encouraging Palestinians to launch violent attacks on the World Holocaust Forum, which was held at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. You organized an open letter calling on the Palestinian leadership to disown the article and fire the author. More than 150 Holocaust scholars from around the world signed your statement. What kind of responses did the statement receive?


Jerry Gordon: We noticed that absent among the 150 signatories, were the historians from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Any idea why?


Rafael Medoff: That was a disappointing aspect of the response to the statement. I do not know why the staff historians at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum did not participate in this statement. Frankly, a threat against the lives of our colleagues at Yad Vashem should be something that strikes home. You would think would inspire every Holocaust scholar around the world to cry out in protest. The folks at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum turned a blind eye to this protest. I hope in the future they will take it a little more seriously.


Jerry Gordon: The other controversy was about the Allies’ refusal to bomb Auschwitz, which was back in the news with a release of a BBC production and PBS program on the subject. You wrote in an article for The History News Network, calling the film a “whitewash.” Why?


Rafael Medoff: The film produced by the BBC and aired by PBS in the US is titled Bombing Auschwitz. Instead of exploring the entire issue of why Auschwitz was not bombed, the film proceeded according to a false premise. The premise was that the reason the Allies did not bomb Auschwitz, the reason the Roosevelt administration rejected the many requests to bomb Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it, was that President Roosevelt and his aides were concerned that bombing the gas chambers might accidentally injure or kill some of the Jews who were imprisoned in Auschwitz. That was the premise of the film. However, the premise itself is false. The Roosevelt administration rejected the requests for bombing for a completely different reason.



Jerry Gordon: The BBC film gives the impression that the decision to reject the request to bomb Auschwitz was made by low-level officials in the War Department, not by the White House or other senior officials of the Roosevelt administration. Is that true?



Rafael Medoff: McGovern was one of the pilots in the American air force who bombed those oil factories. When, my colleagues and I at the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies learned that McGovern had played that role, we sent a camera crew, led by two noted filmmakers, out to South Dakota some years back to interview him about his experiences. The filmmakers who conducted the interview were Haim Hecht, a noted Israeli media figure, and Stuart Erdheim, who was the producer and director of an important documentary about the failure to bomb Auschwitz, called They Looked Away.


They interviewed McGovern and asked him about his recollections of flying over that area, and whether he thought it would have been feasible for pilots like himself to have attacked either the railways, bridges or the gas chambers themselves. McGovern said there was no doubt at all that from a military point of view, they could have attacked those targets that they were certainly within range of his and the other American bombers flying over that area. He said that although railways and bridges were not easy to hit, they are smaller targets. Nonetheless, he said, he and his fellow pilots were constantly being sent to bomb railways and bridges throughout Europe because that was an important part of the war effort. German troops and military supplies were using railway routes, so the allies were constantly hitting them even though the Germans tried to repair them. Bridges, however, took much longer to repair.


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Jerry Gordon: Dr. Medoff, you and another scholar, Thane Rosenbaum, recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Jewish Week titled, “Every Generation Needs to Bomb Auschwitz.” What did you mean by that title?


‘s film on bombing Auschwitz, which is extraordinary. Here you have one of the most prominent figures in American political culture in the last half century, who was directly involved in this question of America’s refusal to bomb Auschwitz. Yet the BBC decided it wasn’t even worth a few seconds in an hour-long documentary to mention McGovern or his perspective.




Jerry Gordon: In your book, you also discuss the establishment of the War Refugee Board, over the objections of FDR. What recourse did the War Refugee Board have to rescue Jews in Europe?


Rod Bryant: Rafael, where can our listeners find your book?


Rafael Medoff: The Jews Should Keep Quiet is available on Amazon. I look forward to your listeners’ comments after reading the book. I would be very interested to hear their feedback.


Listen to the Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix interview with Dr. Rafael Medoff.


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Jerome B Gordon is a Senior Vice President of the New English Review, author of The West Speaks, NER Press 2012, and co-author of Genocide in Sudan: Caliphate Threatens Africa and the World, JAD Publishing, 2017. Mr. Gordon is a former US Army intelligence officer who served during the Viet Nam era. He is producer and co-host of Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix. He was the co-host and co-producer of weekly The Lisa Benson Show for National Security that aired out of KKNT960 in Phoenix Arizona from 2013 to 2016 and co-host and co-producer of the Middle East Round Table periodic series on 1330amWEBY, Northwest Florida Talk Radio, Pensacola, Florida from 2007 to 2017.


Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant is creator and host of Israel News Talk Radio-Beyond the Matrix.

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