From A World to Win News Service

Looking Back at Auschwitz, Peering into the Future

Revolutionary Worker #1267, February 13, 2005, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

January 31, 2005. A World to Win News Service. A thick stench of hypocrisy and lies filled the air as world leaders gathered at Auschwitz-Birkenau to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi death camp. The truth is that the U.S. and UK failed to lift a finger to stop the genocide, covered it up while it was happening, and after the war protected the men who did it. The question is, why, and what does that mean for today?

When the Nazis came to power in the German elections of 1933, their hatred of the Jews was well known. Germany had about half a million Jews, less than one percent of the population. The Nazis started by repressing the communists. Many of the tens of thousands of German Jews who emigrated in the first wave were leftists. This was followed by the secret murder of the mentally ill, handicapped and other "misfits" in what turned out to be a pilot project for the death camps inaugurated eight years later. Homosexuals were also targeted.

Street violence and murder against the Jews aimed to drive them out of Germany. In 1936, the Nuremberg laws deprived them of civil rights and made marriage between Jews and non-Jews illegal. Yet once they were swept out of all positions of authority, there was a pause that some people took to mean that the worst was over. This illusion was shattered by the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in 1938, when the Nazis led mobs in attacking Jewish businesses and homes. With that event and the German annexation of Austria that year, more and more Jews were trying to leave.

But few countries let them in. In fact, only one welcomed them in unlimited numbers: the then socialist USSR. In 1938, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened the Evian Conference, a meeting of 32 countries held in France, to decide what to do about Jewish refugees. Although the U.S. and UK were admitting tens of thousands of refugees a year, ten times more were applying for visas. The two main powers asked other countries to take them instead. France refused. The only country in attendance that agreed to increase its quotas was the Dominican Republic. The Nazi press saluted the conference as a sign that the world was coming around to its racial policies.

The SS Saint Louis departed Hamburg, Germany in May 1939, bound for Cuba with 937 desperate refugees aboard, nearly all German Jews. Most had applied for visas to the U.S. Cuba had given them permission to land there while they waited for an answer. Just before they arrived, the U.S. pushed Cuba to change its mind and forbid the refugees to leave the ship. No other Latin American country would take them either. The ship sailed so close to American shores that passengers could see the lit streets of Miami at night. It waited offshore for a response to a cable sent to Roosevelt asking for humanitarian refuge. The U.S. government had already decided against them, but sent no reply. In June, the ship was forced to return to Europe, where many of its passengers ended up in Nazi death camps.


By 1941, when the Nazis officially forbade Jewish emigration, more than 80 percent of German Jews had already left. But the German invasion of Poland had brought Europe’s main concentration of Jews under the control of the Third Reich. As the Nazi armies moved through Eastern Europe and into the Soviet Union, rampaging through heavily Jewish areas in Belorussia and Ukraine, many millions of Jews came under their boot. In January 1942, at a conference in a leafy green suburb of Berlin called Wansee, they adopted a plan for "the final solution": all Jews would be sent to camps in the east. Those too weak to work would be exterminated. The rest would be worked and starved to death. Those who survived would also be exterminated.

The Western allies knew about this, but kept it secret. When the World Jewish Council in Geneva sent the U.S. State Department a cable detailing the Wansee plans, the government not only ignored it but told a leading American rabbi who had also received the report to keep his mouth shut. The Vatican knew the full story from the beginning through Catholic sources, but despite requests from below, Pope Pius XII refused to make a public statement against killing Jews, whom the Church still officially considered "Christ killers." Today, the Vatican is trying to have that pope declared a saint.

In the Warsaw ghetto, a Jewish fighting organization led by communists and other resistance forces sent scouts through the sewers and beyond the walls where the Nazis had locked them in. They followed the trains that were taking families away by the thousands to an unknown destination. At the end of the line was Auschwitz, where eventually more than a million Jews, 75,000 non-Jewish Poles, 18,000 Roma (Gypsies) and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war were to perish, killed by poison gas, with their bodies burned in ovens.

A representative of the pro-British Polish government overthrown by the Nazis was brought into the ghetto to hear their story. They described the camp and told him that the trains were carrying 10,000 Jews a day to their deaths from Warsaw alone. Although not particularly inclined toward Jews, he agreed to slip out of Poland and tell the British and American authorities, thinking that as a political ally they would listen to him. He was the kind of man who expected to meet with Churchill, and he had a long talk with Roosevelt. Nothing happened.


Auschwitz, like the other concentration camps, was fed its constant intake of Jewish lives and coal by rail starting in 1942. Without those railroad tracks, the death factory would have ground to a halt and the gas ovens grown cold. Why didn’t the Allies bomb them? After all, they were pounding German-occupied European ports into ruins to wreak economic havoc, and they bombed the city of Dresden into an all-consuming firestorm for the same reason. What held them back?

It has been argued that Auschwitz lay too far to the southeast to be within range of UK-based bombers. But if that was ever true, by April 1944, at least, it was no longer. This was publicly proven recently when an RAF aerial surveillance photo of the camp taken back then came to light. Such photos were made to prepare bombing runs. The photo clearly shows the prisoner barracks, the gas chambers and the crematoriums. It is known that Allied intelligence received reports from two escapees from Auschwitz that month, and two more the following month.

Auschwitz was approaching its infernal climax. Poland was emptied of Jews. The trains brought 440,000 Hungarians, half of the country’s Jewish population, to their deaths over the course of only a few weeks in May and June. The U.S. and Britain merely watched.

In August and September of that year, the U.S. Air Force staged bombing runs on an industrial complex less than five minutes by air away from the Birkenau gas chambers. An Auschwitz survivor speaking in a recent BBC documentary bitterly recalls how she and other prisoners watched hundreds of warplanes pass over their heads. They said to each other, Why don’t they bomb this place? Even if they kill lots of us, that’s the only chance any of us have to live.

October 1944 saw one of the known prisoner revolts at Auschwitz. Hundreds of prisoners attacked the guards with axes and rocks. They used smuggled explosives to blow up a gas chamber and set a crematorium on fire. The Allies were considering air-dropping guns on the camp. They never did.

In fact, the camps continued running without outside interference until January 27, 1945, when the Soviet Red Army arrived at its gates. They found about 7,000 survivors, all too weak to walk. The Nazis had taken another 58,000 with them on a death march as they fled to the west. They were determined that even if they were defeated, no Jews would remain alive.


The crimes of the U.S., however, did not stop on that date. Very few Nazi leaders and executioners were ever brought to justice for the simple reason that the U.S. protected them. Shortly after the war, the U.S. recruited many former leading Nazis as allies against the Soviet Union.

The Allies identified three million Germans as having committed crimes during the war. A million were tried. Eleven were sentenced to death. A few received short prison sentences. Most of the rest had to pay a fine or were briefly ineligible to hold public office. In 1951, almost all of them were amnestied. Big capitalists like Krupp whose factories had used concentration camp labor were given their fortunes back.

The Nazi commandant at Auschwitz was hung. But of the 10,000 members of the elite Nazi SS who administered the murders there, only about 750 suffered even the slightest punishment.

As recently reaffirmed by the book U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis by Norman J. W. Goda, based on official American archives, thousands of Nazis and SS officers were brought to the U.S. where "they could be useful in countering communist leanings in immigrant communities," as an Associated Press article put it. The Catholic Church and American military intelligence worked together to smuggle some of the most notorious Nazis out of Germany. In fact, Goda says, the CIA took a group of German officers who had been responsible for intelligence on the Eastern Front and used them as the core around which to build West Germany’s future intelligence service, still at work today.


In our time, historians who defend Roosevelt and Churchill’s conduct make two contradictory arguments. One is that the two men were fearful that if the war became identified with saving Europe’s Jews, anti-Jewish "public opinion" in their own countries might hurt the war effort. In other words, this account blames the people of the Western countries, who were kept in ignorance of what the Nazis were doing. This is putting the truth upside down.

The other, more commonly made by military experts, is that if the truth about the extermination camps became known, public pressure to do something about it would have interfered with their freedom to set military priorities according to their overall war aims.

If you want to know what the U.S.’s aims were, look at what came out of it when they won: America became the chief imperialist power, able to fatten on exploitation around the world. The UK, although taken down a peg from its former position, survived as a major power and became the U.S.’s chief partner. Germany and Japan, which had tried and failed to achieve the kind of global dominance the U.S. did achieve, had no choice but to become associate members in the U.S.-led crime syndicate. The U.S. and UK could not spare a single bomb to save Jewish lives because they had other aims. They protected Nazis after the war for the same kind of imperialist reasons.


The clearer it is that all the world’s top reactionaries allowed the Nazi genocide, the clearer it is that today’s rulers are trying to use this experience once again to further their present aims. Many of them are, for example, trying to use that experience to excuse or even justify Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. But opposing this is not enough. The question of why such a crime happened also needs to be addressed. Was it because there is "evil" in the hearts of men, as Bush’s "most trusted confidant," U.S. Vice President Cheney, said at the Auschwitz commemoration, or instead because of real political, economic and ideological forces at work in the world? It was an evil that took a particular form in a particular global context. It was a world configured differently than the one we live in today, but one in which the imperialist powers were driven no more and no less by the same motives as now: the quest for empire in a capitalist system whose inevitable product is the constant division and redivision of the globe.

Bush was the only major head of state absent from the Auschwitz ceremony. Though the U.S. is the puppet master behind Israel, and Bush and his Christian fascist followers are firmly pro-Zionist, they nonetheless believe that when their "messiah" returns the Jews will burn in hell, and many of them are eager for those flames. More basically, Bush and his circle have world-conquering plans that go beyond what the Nazis sought and even beyond what the U.S. won through World War 2. We can’t know how the future will unfold, but we do know that these imperialists are capable of unimaginable horrors. While Bush’s America has not—yet—replicated the same form of crimes for which the world hated the Nazis, is there any reason we should wait until then before we decide to stop them?