Fine article on the Jerusalem Post on this question asked by the Pope today. The Pope’s actual question was:
Why didn’t the allies bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz?
I wrote a response on the Jerusalem Post:
It’s a good question, and one that should be asked. The answer, not simple, has been buried in some of the dust of history even though we are only 70 or so years removed from the events. Much was known of the activities at Auschwitz, but there was widespread disbelief, and even worse, probably some antisemitism in the attitudes of the leaders of the Allied powers. Both the U.S. and Great Britain knew of the atrocities, and yet refused to allow more Jewish immigration, or to allow more Jewish refugees to emigrate to Palestine (then under British control).
There were daring escapes from Auschwitz, tremendous stories of heroism and sacrifice, and yet, it appears the Allied powers simply ignored most of it as being a “Non-military” issue. The war leaders appear to simply have resolved themselves to the problems of winning the war against the NAZI’s – at all costs. Being removed from that time and having few voices to speak for them any longer, we are apt to forget that the war against the NAZI’s was a “World War’ meaning the total resources of the Allies were committed to prosecution of the war. There was little time, apparently, for worrying about what would have been termed “Civil” or “Refugee” issues.
It is possible, and even likely that the stories and evidence of massacres in the camps were simply intelligence that did not fall neatly into any of the allied intelligence gathering apparatuses. The OSS had only been in existence for a couple years, the British counterpart was mainly only concerned with breaking German codes, and the problem of getting resources across the Atlantic from the US to Great Britain was really only solved near the end of 1943. Following that came the total buildup for Operation Overlord (D-Day, or the liberation of France). The bombers were available, true, but they were tasked by men who only received orders from above.
Looking back, with our “20/20” hindsight, it’s a simple matter to say the rail lines should have been destroyed. However, we forget that the Germans became experts in repairing rail lines during the war, as we did spend a great deal of time destroying rail lines all over Germany, France, Italy and so forth. We blew up their lines during the day, they merely repaired them at night. It would have been great if we had tried, but it also appears (due to the fact that we had pictures of Auschwitz but didn’t know what they were) that we didn’t really have the locations pinpointed as “Targets” for any of our forces.
The fact that Auschwitz was in Poland, in the “Russian” sector (decided early in the war) may have had influence on the allied decisions (or lack of) as well. The true extent of the Holocaust was never known – during the war. The scope of the killing was simply unimaginable to the average person, including the allied leaders. The level of disbelief, the logistical and technological issues, and the general antisemitism of the times all combined in my opinion to the failure to act on the information provided about Auschwitz.
There are many fine resources. Start on Wikipedia: