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1944: Desperate Acts
 pg. 507 
  On August 20 Elie Wiesel witnessed the American bombardment of the I.G. Farben chemical plant near Monowitz-Buna, the part of the Auschwitz complex to which he and his father, Shlomo, had been sent to do slave labor. Accompanied by Mustang fighters, 127 American bombers dropped 1336 500-pound bombs on the factory. Less than five miles away, the killing center at Auschwitz-Birkenau was untouched. Postwar analysis of aerial photographs from a September 13 raid on I.G. Farben indicates that 65 cars stood on the Birkenau railroad track while a line of people--perhaps 1500 of them--appeared to be moving toward gas chambers.

Controversy still swirls about whether the Allies should have bombed Auschwitz or the railroads leading to that killing center. Holocaust scholar David Wyman has argued that, as early as May 1944, the U.S. Army air forces could have bombed Auschwitz and the approaching rail lines. Pleas for such raids were made throughout 1944. The U.S. War Department's spokesman, Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, stated on August 14 that "after a study it became apparent that such an operation could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations elsewhere and would in any case be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources. There has been considerable opinion to the effect that such an effort, even if practicable, might provoke more vindictive action by the Germans."

Auschwitz-Birkenau was not bombed. Less than two weeks after McCloy's statement, the Allies liberated Paris, but not before the Nazis raided Jewish children's homes in the Paris area and deported 250 Jewish girls and boys to Auschwitz. On September 3-4 the Allies freed the Belgian cities of Brussels and Antwerp. By then the Franks were on their way to Auschwitz.

While the transport carrying the Frank family traveled east, about 200,000 Hungarian Jews remained in Budapest. On October 15, shortly after the SS quelled an October 7 prisoner uprising in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Arrow Cross, a fanatically antisemitic Hungarian Fascist party that enjoyed German backing, launched a reign of terror against Budapest's Jews. Gassing operations at Auschwitz were winding down, but in the autumn of 1944 forced labor, death marches, and wanton shootings took the lives of tens of thousands of Budapest's Jews. Thousands more were murdered along the banks of the Danube by the Arrow Cross, who then threw the bodies into the river. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg used "protective passports" and protected houses to rescue thousands of Budapest's Jews. When Soviet forces liberated the city in early 1945, 120,000 Jews remained alive.

In her now-famous diary entry for July 15, 1944, Anne Frank said that she felt "the suffering of millions." Yet, she continued, "when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more." The end of the Holocaust was indeed at hand, but would not come in 1944. The death toll of European Jewry that year exceeded 600,000.

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The Allies bombed numerous targets in Occupied Europe, but were criticized for not bombing Auschwitz.
Photo: SuddeYtscher Verlag Bilderdienst

André Trocmé, pastor in the French village of Le Chambon, provided refuge to hundreds of Jews seeking safety.
Photo: Memorie Juive De Paris/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

1944: Desperate Acts
 pg. 507 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.