'Allied leaders already knew extent of Holocaust by 1942'

New book by Prof. Dan Plesch reveals that Allies knew of Nazi atrocities and danger to European Jewry as early as 1942.

Yoel Domb ,

Auschwitz
Auschwitz
Thinkstock

A new book has revealed documents demonstrating that already in 1942, the Allies knew of the systematic murder of two million Jews and not two years later as was previously thought. Despite this knowledge, however, Allied leaders did nothing to prevent the further mass murder of Jews.

The new book was written by Dan Plesch, a professor at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London who succeeded in obtaining hitherto unpublished documents of the United Nations' War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) shedding light on the prosecution of Axis war crimes.

The main facts of the book, named Human Rights after Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes were published in the British Independent newspaper Tuesday. The most surprising revelation is that contrary to previous contentions that the Allies only learned of the extent of the Holocaust in 1944, documents now show that in December 1942 "The US, Britain and the Soviet administration knew that at least two million Jews had been murdered."

In an official classified statement, the Allies acknowledged that a "massacre of Jews" was taking place in Nazi-occupied Europe. At the same time, Allied sources estimated that five million more Jews were in danger. Yet despite this the Allies did very little to save those Jews in danger.

British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden said to the British parliament in December 1942 that "the German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule extends, the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people.”

Yet despite this the British showed no inclination to provide shelter for refugees.Viscount Cranborne, a minister in the war cabinet of Winston Churchill, said the Jews should not be considered a special case and that the British Empire was "already too full of refugees to offer a safe haven to any more."

Plesch stated that the major powers began drawing up war crimes charges based on witness testimony smuggled from the camps and from the resistance movements in various countries occupied by the Nazis. He also discovered Allied documents indicting Hitler for war crimes dating from 1944.

Plesch said that Allied ineffectiveness was partially due to anti-Semitic elements in the State Department which foiled efforts by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s envoy to the United Nations War Crimes Commission, Herbert Pell, to prosecute leading Nazis. These elements were concerned that America’s economic relationship with Germany after the war would be damaged if such prosecutions went ahead.

After Mr. Pell went public with the scandal, the State Department agreed to the prosecution of the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg, something which gained pace after the liberation of the concentration camps in the summer of 1945.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance memorial in Israel, responded to the new information by stating on its website that “information regarding mass murders of Jews began to reach the free world soon after these actions began in the Soviet Union in late June 1941, and the volume of such reports increased with time.

“Notwithstanding this, it remains unclear to what extent Allied and neutral leaders understood the full import of their information.The utter shock of senior Allied commanders who liberated camps at the end of the war may indicate that this understanding was not complete.”



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