Rethinking the Dilemma of Bombing Auschwitz: Support, Opposition, and Reservation

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The first two transports of Hungarian Jews arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944. The extermination camp was located within range of the Allies' bomber aircraft, leading to demands to bomb the site. The fact that the extermination camp was never bombed, along with the dramatic impact of the murder of Hungary's Jews during the final stages of World War II, has turned the failure to bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau into a symbol of the powerlessness of the free world and of Jewish leadership to rescue the Jews of Europe. This essay presents a new approach to this episode, based on documents in the archives of American Jewish activists involved in the issue of the bombing of the camp—above all, Leon Kubowitzki, who headed the World Jewish Congress's Rescue Department. From the documents, we learn that leading figures in the Jewish and Zionist leadership asked that the U.S. administration not bomb Auschwitz, preferring other forms of military action by partisans or paratroopers against the camp. While a number of scholars have noted this position of the WJC, most treat it as peripheral. Contrary to the commonly accepted scholarly belief, the course of action taken by U.S. Jewish leaders was a significant strategic political step designed to damage the capability of the extermination camp by means other than bombing.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)265-288
Number of pages24
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • History


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