Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
On a hot August morning in 1944, the Jews imprisoned in the Nazi slave labor camp known as Hasag Pelcery, less than fifty miles from Auschwitz, suddenly heard a roaring sound in the sky above.
“I looked up and saw something unbelievable,” Sigmund Rolat, 79, recalled last week. “American planes, right above us. It seemed like a miracle.” Rolat and his fellow prisoners cheered.
But for the prisoners of Hasag Pelcery, and for the Jews in the nearby Auschwitz death camp, no miracle was at hand. The American planes were on their way to bomb German oil factories, some of them less than five miles from the gas chambers and crematoria – yet they were never sent to strike the mass murder-machinery or the railways leading into Auschwitz.
The reasons behind the Allies’ refusal to attack the death camps will be discussed at “The Failure to Bomb Auschwitz: History, Politics, Controversy,” a one-day conference sponsored by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, to be held Sunday, September 13, at Fordham University Law School, 140 West 62 St., Manhattan.
(Editor’s note: readers interested in attending can call 202-434-8994 to register.)
Rolat today is a prominent businessman and philanthropist in Manhattan who is the moving force behind the forthcoming Museum of the History of the Jews of Poland and leader of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews.
In 1943, at age 13, he and other Jewish children were about to be taken to the Czestochowa cemetery to be executed by the Nazis, when the Polish director of a local munitions factory singled them for work in the plant. One of the other children was a little girl named Marysia Kozak; today her son, David Miliband, is England’s foreign secretary.
Rolat, Kozak and the others were taken to Hasag Pelcery, the largest of three Czestochowa factories used by the Germans. Yisrael Meir Lau, later Israel’s chief rabbi and today the chairman of Yad Vashem, was a prisoner in the nearby Hasag Warta, which manufactured steel products for the German war effort.
Rolat and the other slave laborers lived in crude barracks guarded by Ukrainians.
“If you didn’t move fast enough, they beat you,” he recalled. “If you said the wrong thing, they beat you. If they had any excuse at all, they beat you.”
Every day was a nightmare of violence and degradation. The last thing the prisoners expected to see were American planes overheard.
The next morning, 4,000 miles away, a front-page article in The New York Times matter-of-factly reported that a major Allied air offensive against German oil factories was underway, with the latest targets including “the former Vacuum Oil Company refinery at Czestochowa and the I.G. Farbenindustrie synthetic oil and rubber plant at Oswiecim.…” Oswiecim is the Polish name for Auschwitz.
Five years ago, Rolat tried to shed some light on the Allies’ failure to bomb Auschwitz – with the help of former U.S. senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern. When the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies learned that McGovern had been one of the pilots in the American planes that flew near Auschwitz in 1944, Rolat, a member of the Institute’s board, traveled to South Dakota to speak with him in person about it.
He was accompanied by Stuart Erdheim, director of “They Looked Away,” a documentary about the U.S. failure to bomb Auschwitz, and Chaim Hecht, an Israel Television producer and radio talk show host who was working on a TV segment called “One Flight for Us,” about the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
In World War II, McGovern flew a B-24 “Liberator” plane as part of the 455th Bomb Group. Their targets included the oil plants at Monowitz, an industrial section of Auschwitz.
“There is no question we should have attempted…to go after Auschwitz,” McGovern told Rolat. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”
McGovern was an ardent admirer of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but in his meeting with Rolat, he did not mince words about FDR’s response to the Holocaust.
“Franklin Roosevelt was a great man and he was my political hero,” he said. “But I think he made two great mistakes in World War Two.” One was the internment of Japanese-Americans; the other was the decision “not to go after Auschwitz…. God forgive us for that tragic miscalculation.”
George McGovern and Sigmund Rolat come from different worlds, but they were both eyewitnesses – one in the skies above, one on the ground below – to the tragic reality of American planes coming within striking distance of Auschwitz, yet never receiving the orders to attack it.
About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 14 books about the Holocaust, Zionism, and American Jewish history. His latest book is 'FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,' available from Amazon.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
ISIS poses a great threat to the entire civilized world in general and liberal democracies in particular.
Kerry is preoccupied with pressuring Israel, notwithstanding the transformation of the Arab Spring .
With no shortage of leftist media that seek to distort the news, what should our Torah response be?
The Gazans are now paying for the choices they have made.
As Peres retires, Israel fights sour legacy: Insistence on setting policy in line with hopes, rather than with reality.
Our capital was not arbitrarily chosen, as capitals of some other nations were.
UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay accuses the IDF of possible war crimes in Gaza again, cutting slack to Hamas.
There is much I can write you about what is going here, but I am wondering what I should not write. I will start by imagining that I am you, sitting at home in the Los Angeles area and flipping back and forth between the weather, traffic reports, the Ukraine, Mexican illegals and Gaza. No […]
Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?
It is time for a total military siege on Gaza; Nothing should enter the Gaza Strip.
Germany’s The Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”
The truth is we seldom explore with kids what prayer is supposed to be about.
While grateful not to be returned to Germany, the passengers understood they were still in the middle of a danger zone.
Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.
Sulzberger, one of the most famous “religious Jews” who opposed Zionism did not change his mind even after the Holocaust.
Meryl Streep condemned Disney for associating with extremists while doing the very same thing.
In 1943, just before Yom Kippur, some 400 rabbis marched to the White House.
When Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September to make the case for U.S. intervention in Syria, he offered a historical analogy.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/i-saw-the-american-planes-flying-near-auschwitz/2009/08/26/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: