The author describes a continuing “debate over bombing Auschwitz.” But there really wasn’t one in 1944. McCloy and the military had made their decision and saw no need seriously to re-examine it. Most American Jewish leaders knew little of Auschwitz and did not call for it to be bombed. Most Americans agreed that bringing the war to an early end should be the military’s top priority.
Mr. Winik writes that “there is little doubt that the refusal to directly bomb Auschwitz was the president’s decision or at least reflected his wishes.” But there is no contemporaneous evidence that the proposal ever reached FDR’s desk. Nearly four decades after the war and after the 91-year-old John McCloy had been repeatedly denounced by critical historians as complicit in Nazi war crimes, because he had failed to send the bombing proposals on to the White House, he did suddenly “remember” having once discussed the idea with the president, who, he claimed, had rejected the notion out of hand: “They’ll only move it down the road a little way. . . . I won’t have anything to do [with it]. . . . We’ll be accused of participating in this horrible business.”
Whether or not those words were ever spoken, they were echoed after the war by Albert Speer, who had been the Nazi minister of armaments and war production. If the Allies had destroyed the gas chambers, he told a historian, “Hitler would have hit the roof. . . . He would have ordered the return to mass shooting. And immediately, as a matter of top priority.” Indeed, after the SS abandoned Auschwitz in January 1945, the ever-resourceful Nazis found ways to murder another quarter of a million Jews before the victory Roosevelt did not live to see finally came that May.