HolocaustProject Witness

Do not ignore lessons of the Holocaust

As the winds of Europe carried the stench of burning flesh, where was the world’s conscience? The ovens of Auschwitz no longer burn, yet several burning questions about the Holocaust or World War II still remain.

Who was responsible for the death of six million Jews during the Holocaust? The obvious answer is the one you and I have learned from our social studies teachers and from our history books.

We say it was Hitler and his Nazi regime. Our history books and our teachers were not totally incorrect when they explained this to us, but perhaps they were not totally correct in their explanation either.

We were told that, for the greater part of the war, the United States and the Allied powers remained neutral. Our teachers used words like ‘isolationist policy’ and talked with us about the importance of keeping the United States out of the war. I want you to think about a more difficult question. Are not the bystanders as guilty as the perpetrators of this mass murder? Questions like this one and six million unanswered cries reveal the shocking realities of allied neutrality. But more importantly, it reveals how the governments of the United States and the allied powers must share the blame for the largest genocide in human history.

I am going to give you the rest of the story. The part your history books and social studies teachers left out ,about how the United States and the Allied governments were accomplices to Hitler in the crimes committed against the Jewish people during World War II.

Let us first look at the U.S. immigration policy. During the Holocaust the United States had the most stringent immigration laws in the world. In fact, the laws were so strict, the United States did not even fill its own quotas. In the 10 years between 1933 and 1943, the United States could have admitted more than a million-and-a-half refugees, but chose only to admit a small percentage of this quota.

The United States denied entrance even to those refugees who held U.S. immigration numbers. In May 1939, a ship called the St. Louis sailed from Nazi Germany to Cuba. After Cuba changed its mind and decided not to take in these refugees they previously promised to accept, the 734 refugees who held U.S. immigration numbers had thought that the United States might take them in ahead of their projected time. The United States sent the ship and all the refugees back to Nazi Germany. Do you think that the United States apathy and insensitivity went unnoticed?

What is worse is that U.S. apathy served as a justification of Nazi policy. You may be wondering why the United States did not want to admit refugees. I’ll share with you some of the most popular excuses.

-The Allies agreed that the dumping of large numbers of refugees would be dangerous, as some of these refugees might be spies in disguise.

Tell me, how many of the thousands of small children who died in mass graves and gas chambers, just how many do you think were spies?

-Some opponents of immigration said that in the aftermath of the Great Depression, refugees would be stealing jobs that rightfully belonged to unemployed American workers. Did any of these people ever stop to consider that these refugees would be consumers as well as workers and thus would provide as many jobs as they would take?

Even so, is money more sacred that human life? How many dollars is one life worth anyway? What abut 6 million lives?

Did the U.S. government rally have a clear picture of what was happening in Europe? By August 1942, Hitler had killed over one-and-a-half million Jews. That month. Dr. Stephen Wise brought detailed reports to the U.S. State Department describing Hitler’s final solution. The reports were not verified and accepted as true until the following November. In December the Allies issues a declaration stating that AFTER the war, the Nazis would be punished for the crimes they have committed against the Jews. In other words, the Allies were going to watch Hitler kill all the Jews and then when he was finished, THEN they were going to punish Germany.

Here is another interesting fact. The Allies knew exactly where the concentration camps and extermination camps were. Still, in 1944 the U.S. War Department rejected appeals to bomb the Auschwitz gas chambers and the railroads leading to Auschwitz. The reasons that they gave were that such an operation would divert essential airpower from decisive operations elsewhere. They claimed that they would only bomb military targets. Yet while these excuses were being made, the Americans were bombing areas not 50 miles from Auschwitz, and industrial targets within Auschwitz, not 5 miles from the gas chambers.

How could the American public allow their government to carry on this way? For some, a major reason was due to poor media coverage. Without adequate press, it became difficult to arouse public interest and indignation. This handicapped efforts to build grassroots pressure for government action to aid the Jews.

Stringent immigration policies (how it hurts to see the mass illegal uncontested immigration today) ignored rescue proposals and lack of public information have made the United States and the allied powers accomplices to Hitler in the crimes committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust of World War II.

So what is left for us to do? We cannot resurrect six million lives. We cannot reunite millions of destroyed families. And, try as we might, we cannot turn back the hands of time. But there are a few things we can do. We can face the world with our eyes open, and never allow ourselves or our country's government to become accomplices by apathy again. Let us vow to understand what is happening in the world around us, but more importantly, let us make it our duty, our moral responsibility to watch over our fellow man.

Rabbi Bernard Rosenberg is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth-El, Edison, N.J. and received his ordination and Doctorate of Education from Yeshiva University in New York. He is a prolific author and has received many awards, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.