WWII Allied Planes Reached Auschwitz, But Didn't Bomb the Camp

New testimony has come forth suggesting that American bombers struck targets close enough to the Auschwitz concentration camp to shatter windows.

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Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

US World War II-era B24 bomber
US World War II-era B24 bomber
photo: US Army

New testimony has come forth suggesting that, contrary to the view promoted by apologists for U.S. inaction against the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust, American bombers struck targets close enough to the Auschwitz concentration camp to shatter windows.

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C., reported
"That would have stopped the mass murders." -- Lidia Vago
this week that statements by Lidia Vago of Tel Aviv shed additional light on a U.S. air raid on German factories adjacent to Auschwitz 64 years ago this weekend. Vago is the widow of prominent historian Bela Vago, who passed away in 2007.

"Mrs. Vago’s testimony adds a new layer to the ongoing debate over the Allies’ failure to bomb the Nazi death camps or the railway lines leading to them," Dr. Medoff explained. "Defenders of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt have maintained that Auschwitz was too far away for American planes to reach, and too heavily protected by the Germans to attack from the air. But the testimony of Mrs. Vago and other survivors suggests otherwise."

"I heard the American planes flying overhead and saw the windows in the factory shatter - those planes were so close to the gas chambers, but they never bombed them," Vago said. During a particularly lengthy and damaging raid, on September 13, 1944, "the windows and the glass part of the ceiling shattered from the force of the explosions nearby. Of course we were scared, but we were also very, very happy. Even though we knew that we or other prisoners might be killed by the bombings, we knew that we were all going to be killed by the Germans anyway, so we hoped and prayed that the Allies would bomb the gas chambers and the crematoria. That would have stopped the mass murders."

Vago, a native of Romania, was deported with her family to Auschwitz in 1944. She was 19 years old when she became part of a slave labor unit that worked in a German hand grenade factory next to Auschwitz. Beginning in late August 1944, American planes bombed Nazi industrial sites in the region.

"Each time the Americans bombed the area, the air-raid sirens would sound," Vago recalled in an interview. "The SS men all ran to shelters, but of course the Jews were left unprotected." She added that "some Polish Jewish girls" told her "that in the bombing of September 13, part of the railway line leading into the camp was damaged, and also that an SS barracks was hit and some of the SS men were killed."

According to Medoff, those bombs had been dropped accidentally by U.S. planes targeting the oil factories nearby. However, he notes, the American airmen "were never told by their commanders that they were flying over a mass-murder camp."

Former U.S. Senator George S. McGovern, who was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, said in a recent interview that if his commanders had asked for volunteers to bomb the death camp, "whole crews would have volunteered."  McGovern told filmmaker Stuart Erdheim of the Wyman Institute, director of "They Looked Away,” a documentary on the Auschwitz bombing issue, that the pilots and crewmen would have recognized the importance of trying to save the lives of Hitler's Jewish captives, even if it meant risking their own lives.