Israeli youth at Auschwitz
Seventy years ago today, the first gassing of prisoners was carried out in the Auschwitz death camp. Now researchers have found evidence that Golda Meir, future prime minister of Israel and an American citizen, tried to persuade the United States government to bomb the camp.
On September 3, 1941, the Nazis gassed to death 850 prisoners in Auschwitz. During the next three years, an estimated 1.75-million prisoners, most of them Jews, were murdered in the gas chambers there.
A number of Jewish leaders asked the Roosevelt administration to bomb the camp, or the railways leading to it, in 1944. What was not known until now is that one of those who sought the bombing was a young Zionist leader in Palestine who would later become Israel's most renowned prime minister: Golda Meir.
Researchers from The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, based in Washington, D.C., recently discovered documents in American and Israeli archives revealing the role of Mrs. Meir in the bombing controversy.
A report on the documents, "Golda Meir and the Campaign for an Allied Bombing of Auschwitz," has been posted on www.WymanInstitute.org.
The documents have been provided to the TALI Education Fund in Israel, for inclusion in its forthcoming curriculum on Israel-Diaspora relations, "Friends Across the Ocean." The curriculum will be used in 90 Israeli public schools, with 40,000 students, as part of a new educational track emphasizing the responsibility of Jews in Israel and abroad to help each other.
Prof. Henry Feingold, author of The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945, and president emeritus of the Labor Zionists of America, provided the following statement to the Wyman Institute: "These documents shed new light on efforts by Labor Zionists in Europe and Palestine to bring about the bombing of Auschwitz. This information needs to be included in accounts of the Jewish response to the Nazi genocide."
In the 1940s, Mrs. Meir, known as Goldie Myerson, was a senior official of the Histadrut, the powerful Jewish labor federation in British Mandatory Palestine. She and her colleagues received many harrowing messages from their Labor Zionist colleagues in Europe about Nazi atrocities. The authors of one such message located by the Wyman Institute described themselves as "separated from you by a sea of blood and continents heaped with corpses."
In an exchange of correspondence uncovered by the Wyman Institute, Mrs. Meir forwarded one of the European messages to the Histadrut's U.S. representative, Israel Mereminski, in July 1944 together with an appeal to ask U.S. officials to undertake "the bombing of Oswienzim [Auschwitz] and railway transporting Jews" to the death camp [Typographical error in the original telegram. "Oswiecim" was the Polish name for Auschwitz].
Meir's appeal was cosigned by another Histadrut official, Heschel Frumkin.
Mereminski replied that he contacted the U.S. government's War Refugee Board, which in turn submitted "to competent authorities" the Meir-Frumkin request for "destruction gas chambers, crematories, and so forth."
The August 1944 issue of Jewish Frontier, the U.S. Labor Zionist journal, featured an unsigned editorial calling for "Allied bombings of the death camps and the roads leading to them..." The editorial was highly unusual; almost all appeals for bombing the death camps were made through private channels. Although Mereminski is not known to have been involved in writing editorials for Jewish Frontier, he was a senior figure in Labor Zionist activity in America and was closely acquainted with its editors; it seems likely that his contacts with Meir, Frumkin, and the War Refugee Board on this issue played a role in bringing about the editorial.
Jewish leaders who requested the bombing of Auschwitz invariably received a stock reply from Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, claiming it was "impracticable" because it would require "diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations." Research by Prof. David S. Wyman later revealed that, in fact, U.S. planes in 1944 repeatedly bombed German oil targets adjacent to Auschwitz--some of them less than five miles from the gas chambers--so it would not have been a "diversion" to have them strike the mass murder facilities. (See Prof. Wyman's The Abandonment of the Jews , pp. 288-307.)
Dr. Rafael Medoff is Director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.