by Mickey Z.
June 2, 2003
Top Gun Dubya is at it again. In a visit to Poland, President (sic) Bush compared the Nazi invasion of Poland and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to 9/11...and managed to use these examples to bolster his case for "pre-emptive strikes." He said: "Aggression and evil intent must not be ignored or appeased. They must be opposed early and decisively."
Speechwriters for the Fuhrer and Emperor are surely consulting copyright lawyers.
Predictably, Bush also used his trip to invoke images of WWII, calling the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Birkenau a "reminder of the power of evil and the need for people to resist evil."
There is no more effective way to sell his war on (non-U.S.-sponsored) terror than to exploit the Good War vibe...and there is no better way to neutralize this spurious effort than to expose the truth about America and the Holocaust.
If there was ever a litmus test for discerning a good war from a bad war, history provided it during WWII. Indeed, the most frequently evoke after-the-fact rationale for the deadliest war in history being labeled a moral battle was the Allies' supposed aim to stop the Nazi Holocaust.
Hitler's "final solution" took the lives of roughly six million Jews along with millions more Slavs, Eastern Europeans, Roma, homosexuals, labor leaders, and suspected communists. If decency played any role, the U.S. would have taken action against Germany some time during the 1930s. Howard Zinn explains that simply, "the plight of Jews in German-occupied Europe, which many people thought was at the heart of the war against the Axis, was not a concern to Roosevelt...[who] failed to take steps that might have saved thousands of lives. He did not see it as a high priority."
As Benjamin V. Cohen, an advisor to FDR, later commented, "When you are in a dirty war, some will suffer more than others... Things ought to have been different, but war is different, and we live in an imperfect world."
Swirling around the subject of the Holocaust in our "imperfect world" are many questions. Who knew about Hitler's plan and when? What was done to stop it? Were there complicit roles played by factions within the United States? While volumes have been written to correctly challenge those contemptible historical criminals who deny the Nazi death camps ever existed, one of the more subtle forms of denial is rarely questioned or even mentioned. This particular negation involves the deep-seated belief that the West was simply not aware of the extent of Nazi Germany's atrocities until the war was nearly over and once they knew the truth, they acted expediently to save lives. To accept this fiction is to enable oneself to believe that the inaction of the Allies was due merely to lack of information.
Apologists can pretend that the details of the Holocaust were not known and if they had been, the U.S. would have intervened, but as Kenneth C. Davis explains, "Prior to the American entry into the war, the Nazi treatment of Jews evoked little more than a weak diplomatic condemnation. It is clear that Roosevelt knew about the treatment of the Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and about the methodical, systematic destruction of the Jews during the Holocaust. Clearly, saving the Jews and other groups that Hitler was destroying en masse was not a critical issue for American war planners."
Indeed, when a resolution was introduced in January 1934 asking the Senate and the President to express "surprise and pain" at the German treatment of the Jews, the resolution never got out of committee. Such inaction was not reversed even as more specific details began to reach the average American. On October 30, 1939, the New York Times wrote of "freight cars...full of people" heading eastward and broached the subject of the "complete elimination of the Jews from European life" which, according to the Times, appeared to be "a fixed German policy."
As for the particulars on the Nazi final solution, as early as July 1941, the New York Yiddish dailies offered stories of Jews massacred by Germans in Russia. Three months later, the New York Times wrote of eyewitness accounts of ten to fifteen thousand Jews slaughtered in Galicia. On December 7, 1942, the London Times joined the chorus with this observation: "The question now arises whether the Allied Governments, even now, can do anything to prevent Hitler's threat of extermination from being literally carried out."
The German persecution and mass murder of Eastern European Jews was indeed a poorly kept secret and the United States and its Allies cannot honestly or realistically hide behind the excuse of ignorance. Even when the Nazis themselves initiated proposals to ship Jews from both Germany and Czechoslovakia to Western countries or even Palestine, the Allied nations could never get beyond negotiations and the rescue plans never materialized.
One particularly egregious example was the 1939 journey of the St. Louis. Carrying 1,128 German Jewish refugees from Europe, the ocean liner was turned back by U.S. officials because the German immigration quota had been met. The St. Louis then returned to Europe where the refugees found temporary sanctuary in France, Great Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Most were eventually captured by the Nazis and shipped to death camps.
Haskel Lookstein, author of Were We Our Brothers' Keepers?, has speculated on the indifference displayed by both FDR and Churchill in the face of the Nazi Holocaust. Lookstein cites scholars who may dispute the use of the word "indifference" while pointing out that "Roosevelt's State Department actively opposed a large-scale rescue effort and that the British Foreign Office was actually fearful that a serious effort might be successful." Apparently, a successful rescue would have presented a touchy new problem: what to do with all those rescued Jews? Assistant Secretary of State for Special Problems Breckingridge Long went as far as charging the rescue advocates as subverting the war effort by acting as Berlin's agents. "In the meantime," Lookstein adds, "Hitler's death camps were efficiently ensuring that fewer and fewer Jews would remain to be rescued."
"The rescue of European Jewry," writes Henry L. Feingold in The Politics of Rescue, "especially after the failure to act during the refugee phase (1939 to October 1941), was so severely circumscribed by Nazi determination that it would have required an inordinate passion to save lives and a huge reservoir of good will toward Jews to achieve it. Such passion to save Jewish lives did not exist in the potential receiving nations."
With a lack of public acknowledgement from the Roosevelt Administration, U.S. public opinion was not aroused. This, Feingold believes, convinced "men like Goebbels that the Allies approved or were at least indifferent to the fate of the Jews."
Goebbels's line of thinking was not too far from the truth. Even when eyewitness accounts from Auschwitz reached the U.S. Department of War and some in the Roosevelt Administration were pushing for the bombing of the death camp or at least the railways leading to it, the word came down that air power could not be diverted from vital "industrial target system." It was claimed by American military planners, according to Feingold, that Auschwitz was "beyond the maximum range of medium bombardment, diver bombers an fighter bombers located in [the] United Kingdom, France or Italy."
After the war, it was common knowledge that Allied bombers passed within five miles of Auschwitz in August 1944.
In March of 1943-a year in which the U.S. admitted only 23,775 immigrants into the country, the lowest figure in eighty years-Frida Kirchway, editor of The Nation, summed up the situation succinctly: "In this country, you and I, the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler's guilt. If we behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent cowardly ones, the two million lying today in the earth of Poland . . . would be alive and safe. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and yet we did not lift a hand to do it."
When attempting to calculate the inherent goodness of the Allies in terms of their response to the Nazi Holocaust, one cannot ignore the post-war behavior of the Allied nations-in particular, the United States. For example, three months after V-E Day, radical journalist I.F. Stone reported that "many of the Jews and former slave laborers of the Nazis [were] living in the same concentration camps, fed a diet 'composed principally of bread and coffee,' still clothed in hideous concentration-camp garb or, even more ignominiously, in S.S. uniforms left behind by their oppressors."
Dubya is right when he talks about "the need for people to resist evil." But he's wrong to cite the Holocaust as an example and he is only able to do so thanks to half a century of historical cleansing and social conditioning.
In April 1943, an editorial in the London New Statesman and Nation contemplated the legacy of Allied indifference to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, predicting "when historians relate this story of extermination, they will find it, from first to last, all but incredible."
That editorial writer was far too optimistic.
Mickey Z. is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good War", soon to be re-released in paper by Soft Skull Press (www.softskull.com) on which this article is based. He can be reached at: email@example.com.