Essays by military and Holocaust historians (whose answers to the question in the subtitle vary widely), supplemented with relevant primary documents.
Editors Neufeld (The Rocket and the Reich, 1994) and Berenbaum (CEO/Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation) have assembled a myriad of replies to “one of the most basic questions that students of the Holocaust ask” and are faithful to their goal of presenting all sides of the debate. Some, like Neufeld himself, argue that bombing would have been “a failure under any circumstances” (or, in the words of contributor James H. Kitchens, “a chimera”). Contrariwise, Richard G. Davis (among others) submits that attacking the death camp would have sent “the strongest possible message to the Nazis” and “would not have seriously delayed the accomplishment of other goals.” In between these two positions lies the essence of the debate, and an impressive assortment of authorities’ attempts to answer its various questions. Did the Allies know what was going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau? (Yes, but the Nazis had already killed five million Jews by the time the Allies invaded Normandy.) Did Allied bombers have the range to reach the camp deep in Poland? (Yes, but not until early in 1944 when the US established an air base in southern Italy.) Would a raid have been effective? (Virtually everyone acknowledges that bombing in 1944 was highly inaccurate, that multiple attacks would have been necessary, and that innocent inmates—perhaps hundreds or thousands—would have been killed.) Other writers examine the moral issues. Walter Laqueur observes that “saving Jewish lives” was not a high priority; Henry L. Feingold attributes the inaction to “mere indifference or moral obtuseness”; and Deborah E. Lipstadt condemns the bystanders, noting that a person “who takes no action becomes a facilitator.” Wisely, the editors include much of the documentary evidence.
The definitive resource for understanding this deeply troubling episode in the 20th century’s greatest horror. (8 pages b&w photos, 4 maps)