Confronting General Eisenhower Over Allies’ Refusal to Bomb Auschwitz
In a direct and sharp rebuke, the Klausenberger Rebbe said the Americans and England shared in the guilt along with Hitler.
“The Americans and England share in the guilt along with Hitler because they had the ability to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz or the gas chambers.”
That sharp rebuke was delivered by the Klausenberger Rebbe directly to General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945, according to the new Israeli documentary film, “Astir Panai.”
The Rebbe, his wife, and nine of their 11 children were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Various accounts describe him as often going hungry because of his refusal to eat non-kosher food in the camp. He was transferred to a slave labor brigade in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, and then survived several death marches to sub-camps of Dachau before the Allies liberated the region at the end of April 1945.
The Rebbe ended up in Feldafing, a Displaced Persons camp established by the American occupation forces near Munich. The Rebbetzin and ten of their children had been murdered months earlier by the Nazis. Unknown to the Rebbe, their eldest son survived the Holocaust but died soon afterwards, in another DP camp nearby.
On Yom Kippur, in 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe—and subsequently President of the United States—paid a visit to Feldafing. In the documentary, Reb Moshe Reich describes what happened that day, based on what he heard from his father-in-law, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak (Horowitz) Barminka, a Sanz-Klausenberger chasid who was with the Rebbe both in Auschwitz and in Feldafing.
The DPs were deeply divided as to who should have the honor of greeting General Eisenhower and speaking at the welcoming ceremony, according to Reich. “The Communists said they were entitled to the honor, because they [the Soviets] had liberated Auschwitz,” he recalled. “The Zionists said that they should have the honor, since they were building a state.” As a compromise, “they went to the Rebbe and said that he, as a holy man, should be the one to greet [Eisenhower]. But they said one thing to him—that he shouldn’t speak as if he were giving a sermon, and he shouldn’t recite the whole story of the Holocaust, but rather he should focus on revival.”
“A million Jews could have been saved… If the Americans had intervened just a little bit earlier, it wouldn’t have happened.”
In the film, Reich continues: “The Rebbe said nothing in response. Eisenhower arrived. As the Rebbe went to go up to the podium, he asked for a talis and he put it on. It was too late for anyone to do anything about that, because Eisenhower had already arrived. The Rebbe proceeded to speak about all the events of the Holocaust. The Rebbe said, ‘The Americans and England share in the guilt along with Hitler, because the Americans knew, for at least several years [what was happening in the death camps]. And they had the ability to bomb the railway lines [leading to Auschwitz] and they could have bombed the places [where Jews were being murdered]. A million Jews could have been saved—[including] all the Jews of Hungary. If the Americans had intervened just a little bit earlier, it wouldn’t have happened.”
The Rebbe spoke in Yiddish. A simultaneous translation into English was provided to General Eisenhower by Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum, a young Orthodox Jewish soldier from Brooklyn who had been assigned to the American forces governing the DP camps. “Lieutenant Birnbaum told me that Eisenhower had tears in his eyes when the Rebbe finished,” Moshe Reich told Ami in an exclusive interview.
“At the time, the Rebbe didn’t know the details about the requests that had been made to the Allies to bomb Auschwitz,” Reich noted to Ami. “He spoke in general about the obvious fact that they were bombing in the area and could have hit Auschwitz. But after the war, when the Rebbe remarried, he became close to Rav Michoel Dov Ber Weissmandl, who in fact made the shidduch, and both of them were now sons-in-law of Rav Shmuel David Ungar. Rav Weissmandl then told the Rebbe about the efforts to get the Americans to bomb Auschwitz, and the Rebbe mentioned the issue a number of times over the years to his chasidim.”
Rav Weissmandl was part of a group of rescue activists in Czechoslovakia and Hungary who, in 1944, received detailed maps of Auschwitz from two escapees. The rabbi then sent numerous messages to Jewish leaders abroad and Allied diplomats, urging the bombing of the railway lines leading to Auschwitz, as well as the gas chambers and crematoria. His pleas were sent to senior Roosevelt administration officials, but they were rejected.
General Eisenhower asked the Rebbe afterwards if there was anything in particular he needed. He had one request.
According to Reich, General Eisenhower asked the Rebbe afterwards if there was anything in particular he needed. “The Rebbe could have requested a visa to America, or all sorts of other things from him,” Reich said. “He had one request—Sukkot was coming in four days, and they didn’t have the arbaah minim (the four species). Eisenhower sent the arbaah minim for the Rebbe, and they arrived just before Yom Tov began.”
The website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum describes General Eisenhower’s visit to Feldafing, but does not report what the Rebbe said. Yad Vashem’s website quotes excerpts from what it calls “the Rebbe’s sermon on Yom Kippur,” although it is not clear if the words it quotes came from the Rebbe’s address to Eisenhower, or from another drashah he gave on Yom Kippur. In any event, Yad Vashem likewise makes no mention of the Rebbe’s remarks about bombing.
The release of “Astir Panai” coincides with a new controversy over a staff historian at the US Holocaust Museum, who has suggested that the Roosevelt administration had good reason to refuse to bomb Auschwitz.
The historian, Dr. Rebecca Erbelding, told the Times of Israel on April 15: “I’m extremely cautious about saying that bombing the gas chambers would have saved a lot of lives… [Bombing] would have killed a lot of people. There were about 100,000 people in Auschwitz [in 1944]. And so if the [US] had carpet-bombed the camp, most of the camp would have died.”
Erbelding set up a straw man. In fact, a number of Jewish organizations urged the US government to bomb Auschwitz in 1944, and asked not for “carpet bombing,” but for precision strikes either on the gas chambers and crematoria, or on the railroad lines over which hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to their deaths.
The Allies carried out a number of successful precision bombing raids in World War II, including an attack on a rocket factory in the Buchenwald concentration camp. The planes hit the factory, but avoided striking the prisoners’ barracks. In another famous precision raid, British planes swooped low over a German prison in Amiens, France, and bombed the guard tower and outer walls, so that hundreds of prisoners could escape.
Erbelding is the one of the curators of a controversial exhibit opening this week at the US Holocaust Museum, titled “American Responses to the Holocaust.” It presents a revisionist view of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Nazi genocide, claiming there was very little the Roosevelt administration could have done to rescue Jews.
But historians who have studied the question of bombing the camps or railways have pointed out that American planes flew over Auschwitz on a number of occasions in the summer and fall of 1944, when they were bombing German oil factories that were less than five miles from the gas chambers. Therefore, it would have been entirely feasible for them to strike the gas chambers or the railways. Since 12,000 Jews were being gassed daily, even a brief disruption of the mass-murder process would have saved many lives.
It seems the Klausenberger Rebbe agreed.