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An American Response: Should Auschwitz-Birkenau Have Been
A Case Study of the Role of Military in a Humanitarian Crisis.
Authors: Jenny Buchanan, Kirsten Forkin, and Sandy Renken
Schools: Lee’s Summit North High School, Lee’s Summit, MO; Vantage Point High School,
Northglenn, CO; Freeman Public Schools, Adams, NE
Grades: High School/Honors Middle School
Subject: English/Social Studies
Rationale for Lesson:
The contentious debate around whether Auschwitz should have been bombed in 19441945 brings to light the difficulty of decisions in war- especially when the suffering and
brutal murder of innocent civilians seems distinct from the war itself. With this lesson,
students thoughtfully and analytically discuss the various parties involved, the primary
source information available at the time, and survivor testimony. Students engage in
examining and debating the same questions historians grapple with- "Should Auschwitz
have been bombed?" and "What was America's responsibility in this decision?" This
lesson also allows students to address the current issues of genocide today.
Student Learning Goals:
 Students will synthesize information after analyzing various primary source
 Students will gather more historical knowledge of the Holocaust by placing events in
the context of World War II.
 Students will discuss what they believe the role of military should be in a
humanitarian crisis.
 Students will evaluate the complexities of decisions made during war.
The Lesson:
Preparing for the lesson.
 Prior to the lesson, students must have experience in how to analyze a primary source
document and it would be helpful for them to have previously participated in a jigsaw
 Prepare a copy of the homework assignment "Background Information" for each
student. (Handout #1) This should be handed out before the lesson is taught.
 Prepare a copy of each primary source document for each student group (Handout #'s
2-8). You may want to enlarge the photos in handout #4 to be 8 x 10" photos with one
on each page. Please note there is a handout #5 and an alternate #5. Choose which
reading you would like to use with your students and only copy that reading.
 Organize your students into two different types of groups. We have found that a grid
written on the chalkboard works well for this. Across the top of the grid, list the four
primary source documents (aerial photographs; Elie Wiesel's Night or Levi Primo's,
Survival At Auschwitz, depending on which source you use; World Jewish Congress
letter, and the McCloy letter) Down the side, list the group numbers 1-5 depending on
how many groups you will use. Now fill in the chart with student names.
 Prepare a copy of the graphic organizer "Should the United States Have Bombed
Auschwitz-Birkenau?" for each student (Handout #2). You might consider copying
the “Timeline of World War II and the Holocaust” (Handout #3) to the back, as an
additional resource.
 Prepare a copy of the writing assignment and the rubric for grading for each student.
(Handout #9-10)
 Prepare a copy of "Questions to think about while reading the arguments" to be
handed out at the conclusion of the lesson. (Handout #11)
The Lesson
list step-by-step
 Write Student Learning Goals where students can see their expectations during this
 Prior to class, students should read "Background Information" (Handout #1) You may
assign the Check for Understanding prompts as a written homework assignment or
you may tell the students you expect them to be able to answer the questions orally
when they return to class.
 At the start of class, as an introduction to the lesson, review the Check for
Understanding Prompts from the homework assignment. If you have additional time
and technical capability you may also choose to show the students the Animated Map
of Auschwitz from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum web site.
 Engage students in a very brief discussion, posing the question, what is a military’s
role during war?
 Hand out the primary source documents packet (Handout #’s 2-8) Show the students
the chart on the chalkboard and explain that everyone under the heading aerial
photographs will be in a group with all of them analyzing the photographs, everyone
under the heading World Jewish Congress letter, will be analyzing the World Jewish
Congress letter. The same holds true for the other two groups.
 Hand out the graphic organizer "Should the United States Have Bombed AuschwitzBirkenau?" (Handout #2) Explain the following directions: In each group one student
will be assigned the role of "reader" The reader will read the text and the questions
that accompany it. Each group will also chose a "summarizer" After all students
have given their comments, the summarizer will summarize the information and as a
group they will decide what to put on their graphic organizer. Each student's
organizer should contain the same information. Caution all groups to put
information on their graphic organizer that will actually help the rest of the class
make a decision about whether Auschwitz-Birkenau should be bombed. This is
very important or the rest of the lesson will not work. Now have students move to
their groups and begin working. Tell them they will have approximately ten minutes
to complete this task.
 Once all groups have completed their reading and analysis of the primary document,
explain to the students that they will be moving to new groups where they will be the
"expert" on their document. Students should look at the chart on the chalkboard and
read across the chart where you have labeled groups 1-4. These are the students in
their new group. Each group should have four students and each student should have
a different primary source document. In these groups, students should
a. Show and explain their document to the other group members
b. Teach their classmates what the main idea and function of the document was.
What did it reveal about what was occurring in Poland in 1944? Who's
talking? What did they know or want?
c. All students should take notes in the corresponding areas of the graphic
organizer, about each document's intent, information, and function. Again,
caution students to place information on the graphic organizer that will
help them analyze if they think Auschwitz should be bombed.
d. If their group finishes early, they should begin discussing the pros and cons of
bombing Auschwitz. Inform students they will have approximately 20 minutes
to complete this task and they may move into their groups.
Once all groups are finished, bring the entire class back for a closing discussion. We
found it helpful to point at a particular group and then a member from that group was
responsible for answering question number one. For question number two, you
would point at a different group. You may wish to use the following questions to
guide your closing discussion:
a. According to the reconnaissance photos, not labeled or enlarged until 30 years
later, what solid evidence did the Allies have about what was occurring at
b. What would bombing the rail lines accomplish?
c. The War Department says bombing Auschwitz-Birkenau can only be
accomplished with use of the “diversion of considerable air support” and they
are not sure how efficient the mission would be. How do you respond?
d. What were the possible consequences of bombing the camps?
e. What were the military objectives for the war?
f. What action was the World Jewish Congress requesting of the America
military and what reasons do you think fueled this request?
g. How could a bombing by the Allies fuel a German propaganda campaign?
h. Could bombing Auschwitz-Birkenau be considered a humanitarian aid effort?
Post-Lesson (list step-by-step)
At the conclusion of the lesson, give each student a copy of the handout "Questions to
think about while reading the arguments” (Handout #11), along with the RAFT writing
assignment and accompanying rubric (Handouts #9-10). Explain to the students that they will be
using what they have learned to write a response to the question "Should the U.S. Have Bombed
Auschwitz-Birkenau?” In order to complete the RAFT writing assignment, they will need to
choose a role, an audience, the format they will use for the writing assignment, and the topic or
their opinion on the role the Allies should take in this situation. Encourage students to refer back
to their homework reading, their graphic organizers and primary source documents, the class and
group discussions as well as the handout "Questions to think about while reading the arguments".
Also, instruct students as to if the assignment should be typed, what are the length requirements,
and when will it be due.
It is imperative that students realize by the time the lesson is completed and before
they begin their homework assignment that it was the I.G. Farben or Buna plant that was
bombed by the Allies, not Auschwitz-Birkenau. Yet it is known that bombs did fall on
Auschwitz unintentionally.
Handout #1
Background information
An American Response: Should Auschwitz-Birkenau Have Been Bombed?
The Situation
During the spring and summer of 1944, the Germans and their Hungarian collaborators deported
nearly 440,000 Jews-on more than 140 trains- from Hungary to the killing center AuschwitzBirkenau in occupied Poland. From May-July 1944, the gas chambers of Birkenau worked
beyond capacity; at least 10,000 people a day perished. In less than three months (May-July,
1944) the largest remaining Jewish community in Europe had been completely decimated.
The United States government knew about the killing center at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the
scope and scale of the Nazi assault on European Jewry. American-Jewish organizations and the
newly formed U.S. War Refugee Board, which had been created to organize and coordinate
rescue efforts, repeatedly asked the U.S. War Department to bomb Auschwitz.
Check for understanding: From spring to summer of 1944, while the Allies (including
Americans) were debating whether or not to bomb Auschwitz, what was taking place?
The Complex
• Auschwitz IAuschwitz I, the main camp, was the first camp established near Oswiecim, Poland. The first
prisoners at Auschwitz included German prisoners who had been incarcerated as repeat criminal
offenders, as well as Polish political prisoners. Like most other concentration camps, Auschwitz
I had a gas chamber and crematorium. At Auschwitz I, SS physicians carried out medical
experiments in the hospital. They conducted pseudoscientific research on infants, twins, and
dwarfs, and performed forced sterilizations, castrations, and hypothermia experiments on adults.
• Auschwitz IIOf the three camps established near Oswiecim, the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp had the largest
total prisoner population. It was 4 km from Auschwitz I and was formed of 3 blocks covering an
area 1,600m x 850m. It was divided into more than a dozen sections separated by electrified
barbed-wire fences and, like Auschwitz I, was patrolled by SS guards. Auschwitz-Birkenau also
contained the facilities for a killing center. It played a central role in the German plan to kill the
Jews of Europe. The camp included sections for women, men, a family camp for Roma
(Gypsies). In total, approximately 1.1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz.
• Auschwitz IIIAuschwitz III, also called Buna or Monowitz, was established to house prisoners assigned to
work at the Buna synthetic rubber works, located on the outskirts of a nearby Polish town. In the
spring of 1941, the German conglomerate I.G. Farben established a factory in which its
executives intended to exploit concentration camp labor for their plans to manufacture synthetic
rubber and fuels. The SS had transported prisoners from Auschwitz I to the “Buna Detachment,”
at first on foot and later by rail. With the construction of Auschwitz III in the autumn of 1942,
prisoners deployed at Buna lived in Auschwitz III. Because of its importance to the German war
effort, Auschwitz III was bombed multiple times by the Allies in late 1944. Auschwitz-Birkenau
was not a target.
Check for understanding: In 25 words or less, describe the primary differences between
Auschwitz I, II, and III.
The Railways
The European rail network played a crucial role in the implementation of the “Final
Solution.” Jews from Germany and German-occupied Europe were deported by rail to the
extermination camps in occupied Poland, where they were killed. A railroad spur had been built
directly into the Birkenau camp and more than half of the Jews were gassed immediately upon
their arrival. This spur was connected to cities and towns across Europe, allowing the Nazis and
their collaborators to efficiently transport prisoners and those selected for death upon arrival.
Bombing Accuracy
In the book, The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?, the following
statistics are reported- “The U.S Stragetic Bombing Survey (USSBS), an extensive investigation
of American World War II bombing, revealed” the difficulty of precise and accurate bombing.
“During 57 American raids against three German synthetic-oil plans, only 12.9 percent of the
bombs dropped, fell within the plant perimeter (no less than 87.1% fell over the surrounding
countryside). Of these, only 2.2% actually hit damageable buildings and equipment.”
(Berenbaum and Neufeld 43).
Check for understanding: How important were the railways to the systematic murder
occurring in Auschwitz- Birkenau?
Information Available to the Allies
What did the Allies know and when? In order to analyze the Allies decision not to bomb
Auschwitz, one must first look at what information was available to the Allies and when did they
have this information. This may seem like a simple question, but as you begin researching, you
find many different answers to the questions “What did the Allies know and when did they know
it?” Some sources will argue that the Allies had information about the Nazi plan to exterminate
the Jews as early as 1942. Most sources will argue that it was not until early 1944 that the level
of knowledge about Auschwitz and its role as an extermination camp was growing among the
Allies. So how did the Allies acquire this information? Between April 7th and April 10th, 1944,
Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz and made contact with the Slovak
resistance forces. Vrba and Wetzler were able to give great detail about the killing process at
Auschwitz and created a report that included sketches of how Auschwitz and Birkenau were
organized. This report was forwarded to Western intelligence officials, along with requests to
bomb the camps. Part of the Vrba-Wetzler report was forwarded to the American War Refugee
Board by Roswell McClelland, the board’s representative in Switzerland, and it arrived in
Washington on July 8th and July 16th, 1944. The complete report did not arrive until November
1944. Another source of information, regarding Auschwitz, was aerial reconnaissance
photographs that were taken by the Allies. Allied reconnaissance units under the command of the
15th U.S. Army Air Force flew several missions between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945.
The photos were used to plan bombing raids, determine the accuracy of bombing sorties, or
make damage assessments.
Check for understanding: What information about Auschwitz was available to the Allies
by 1944?
Handout #2
Should the United States Have Bombed Auschwitz-Birkenau?
Groups with the Same Reading:
Steps1. Read/Analyze your documents. Discuss questions to consider.
2. Before writing below, decide as a group the important information in order to
summarize the documents’ key points.
3. Write the details in the corresponding box.
4. Be prepared to share this information with the members of the other groups.
You’ll be teaching them about your document’s information.
Combined Group Discussion:
Steps1. Begin with Group #1. Be sure to show your documents to the other
group members.
2. Listen to their summarization and write the key information in the
corresponding boxes.
3. If you finish before our class discussion, as a group, start considering
your opinion regarding whether or not the U.S. should have bombed
#1: Photographs
#2: excerpt from Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
or excerpt from Night by Elie Wiesel
#3: World Jewish Congress Letter
#4: McCloy Letter
NOTE: The McCloy letter was a response to the World Jewish Congress Letter.
Handout # 3
Optional resource
Timeline of World War II and the Holocaust
July 29, 1921
Jan. 30, 1933
Sept. 1, 1939
Sept. 3, 1939
Sept. 17, 1939
Nov. 30, 1939
Jan. 25, 1940
Feb. 12, 1940
May 1, 1940
June 14, 1940
July 10, 1940
Nov. 15, 1940
March 1, 1941
March 7, 1941
April 17, 1941
June 22, 1941
Sept. 3, 1941
Oct. 23, 1941
Dec. 8, 1941
Jan. 20, 1942
March 1942
June 30, 1942
July 17, 1942
Aug. 1942
Nov. 8, 1942
Dec. 10, 1942
March 22 & 31, 1941
April 4, 1943
May 16, 1943
May 1943
June 11, 1943
July 9, 1943
March 19, 1944
April 7, 1944
May 15, 1944
June 6, 1944
Aug. 20, 1944
Aug. 25, 1944
Oct. 2, 1944
Oct. 14, 1944
Oct. 30, 1944
Nov. 25, 1944
Dec. 27, 1944
Jan. 18, 1945
Jan. 27, 1945
Adolf Hitler becomes leader of the National Socialist "Nazi Party
Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany
Nazis invade Poland
Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declare war on Germany
Soviets invade Poland
Soviets attack Finland
Town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) chosen for concentration camp
First deportation of German Jews in occupied Poland
Rudolf Hoss chosen as Kommandant of Auschwitz
Hitler enters Paris
Battle of Britain begins
Warsaw ghetto is sealed off
Himmler makes first visit to Auschwitz & orders building of Birkenau
British forces arrive in Greece
Yugoslavia surrenders to Nazis
Germany attacks the Soviet Union
First test use of Zyklon B at Auschwitz
Nazis forbid emigration of Jews from the Reich
U.S. enters World War II
Wansee Conference to coordinate the "Final Solution"
deportation of Slovak and French Jews to Auschwitz
A second gas chamber, Bunker II, is made operational at Birkenau
Himmler visits Auschwitz and Kommandant Hess is promoted
Deportation of Coatian Jews to Auschwitz
U.S. invasion of North Africa
First transport of Jews from Germany arrives in Auschwitz
Crematoria IV and II open at Auschwitz
Crematoria V opens at Auschwitz
Jewish resistance in Warsaw ghetto ends
Dr. Joseph Mengele arrives at Auschwitz
Himmler orders liquidation of all Jewish ghettos in Poland
Allies land in Sicily
Allies occupy Hungary
Vrba & Wetzler escape Auschwitz
Begin deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz
D-Day landings
Allied bombers attacked Auschwitz III (rubber factory)
Allies liberate Paris
Warsaw Uprising ends
Allies liberate Athens
Last use of gas chambers at Auschwitz
Himmler orders destruction of crematories at Auschwitz
Soviet troops besiege Budapest
Nazis evacuate 66,000 from Auschwitz
Soviets liberate Auschwitz
Group #1
Handout #4
Aerial Photographs of Auschwitz
All photos courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
These photos are from a series of aerial photographs taken by Allied reconnaissance units
under the command of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force during missions dating between April 4,
1944 and January 14, 1945. The photos were used to plan bombing raids, determine the
accuracy of bombing sorties, or make damage assessments.
When analyzing these photos, it is important to remember that photos were analyzed for a
specific purpose. The purpose was not to look at the camp, but to find enemy build-ups or
military movements. They only concentrated on the Buna. On average, the daily intake of
Allied photos was 25,000 negatives and 60,000 prints. In the end, over 5 million prints were in
storage and more than 40,000 reports were made from these prints. Most photo analysts received
very limited training in analyzing pictures and that training focused on identifying military
equipment such as airplanes, tanks, and artillery.
After the war, the Auschwitz reconnaissance photographs were stored in the archives of
the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. until they were rediscovered in 1978 by
two CIA photo analysts, Dino Brugioni and Robert Poirer. The photos were later declassified
and transferred to the National Archives. A selection of the images were enlarged and annotated
with identifying labels by the CIA in 1978.
Directions: Before filling out your graphic organizer, discuss/answer the questions below to
guide your analysis of the photos. Your last step is to synthesize the information you find
and fill out the graphic organizer.
Photo #1
This is a photo of the I.G. Farben Complex that was taken on January 14, 1945.
 When was this photo taken?
 According to the CIA labels that were added in 1978, what objects or
buildings are shown in this photograph?
 According to the photos, where did the bombs land?
 Based on your analysis, would it have been possible for the Allies to
accurately bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau?
Photo # 2
This is an aerial reconnaissance photo showing Auschwitz-Birkenau.
 When was this photo taken?
 Is there any information from the background reading that can help you
analyze these photos?
 What items in this photo would you expect to see at a death camp and would
those analyzing photos in 1944 recognize these structures?
 Using both photographs, would you know this was a death camp if it were
not labeled as such? Why or why not.
Group #2
Handout #5
Questions to consider while reading the excerpt:
1. What is being bombed?
2. What feelings did the author have during the bombing?
3. What feelings did others have during the bombing?
4. How did the bombing effect work and the lives of the inmates?
Excerpt from Night by Elie Wiesel (p. 60-61)
That was when we began to hear the planes. Almost at the same moment, the barrack
began to shake.
“They’re bombing the Buna factory,” someone shouted.
I anxiously thought of my father, who was at work. But I was glad nevertheless. To
watch that factory go up in flames—what revenge! While we had heard some talk of German
military defeats on the various fronts, we were not sure if they were credible. But today, this was
We were not afraid. And yet, if a bomb had fallen on the blocks, it would have claimed
hundreds of inmates’ lives. But we no longer feared death, in any event no this particular death.
Every bomb that hit filled us with joy, gave us renewed confidence.
The raid lasted more than one hour. If only it could have gone on for ten times ten
hours…Then, once more, there was silence. The last sound of the American plane dissipated in
the wind and there we were, in our cemetery. On the horizon we way a long trail of black
smoke. The sirens began to wail again. The end of the alert.
Everyone came out of the blocks. We breathed in air filled with fire and smoke, and our
eyes shone with hope. A bomb had landed in the middle of the camp, near the Appelplatz, the
assembly point, but had not exploded. We had to dispose of it outside the camp.
The head of the camp, the Lagerälteste, accompanied by his aide and by the chief Kapo,
were on an inspection tour of the camp. The raid had left traces of great fear on his face.
In the very center of the camp lay the body of the man with soup stains on his face, the
only victim. The cauldrons were carried back to the kitchen.
The SS were back at their posts in the watchtowers, behind their machine guns.
Intermission was over.
An hour later, we saw the Kommandos returning, in step as always. Happily, I caught
sight of my father.
“Several buildings were flattened,” he said, “but the depot was not touched…”
In the afternoon, we cheerfully went to clear the ruins.
Group #2
Alternate Handout #5
Questions to consider while reading the excerpt:
1. What is being bombed?
2. What feelings did the author have during the bombing?
3. What feelings did others have during the bombing?
4. How did the bombing effect work and the lives of the inmates?
Excerpt from Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
Page 117-119
But in August ’44 the bombardments of Upper Silesia began, and they continued with
irregular pauses and renewals throughout the summer and the autumn until the definite crisis.
The monstrously unanimous labour of gestation of the Buna stopped brusquely, and at
once degenerated into a disconnected, frantic and paroxysmal confusion. The day on which the
production of synthetic rubber should have begun, which seemed imminent in August, was
gradually postponed until the Germans no longer spoke about it.
Constructive work stopped; the power of the countless multitudes of slaves was directed
elsewhere, and day by day showed itself more riotous and passively hostile. At every raid there
was new damage to be repaired; the delicate machinery assembled with care just before had to be
dismantled again and evacuated; air-raid shelters and walls had to be hurriedly erected to show
themselves at the next test as ironically ineffective as sand castles.
We had thought that anything would be preferable to the monotony of the identical and
inexorably long days, to the systematic and ordered squalor of the Buna at work; but we were
forced to change our minds when the Buna began to fall in pieces around us, as if struck by a
curse in which we ourselves felt involved. We had to sweat amidst the dust and smoking ruins,
and tremble like beasts, flattened against the earth by the anger of aeroplanes; broken by
exhaustion and parched with thirst, we returned in the long, windy evenings of the Polish
summer to find the camp upside down, no water to drink or wash in, no soup for our empty
bellies, no light by which to defend our piece of bread against someone else’s hunger, or find our
shoes and clothes in the morning in the dark, shrieking hole of the Block.
At Buna the German civilians raged with the fury of the secure man who wakes up from
a long dream of domination and sees his own ruin and is unable to understand it. The
Reichsdeutsche of the Lager as well, politicals included, felt the ties of blood and soil in the hour
of danger. This new fact reduced the complications of hatreds and incomprehensions to their
elementary terms and redivided the camp : the politicals, together with the green triangles and
the SS, saw, or thought they saw, in all our faces the mockery of revenge and the vicious joy of
the vendetta. They found themselves in unanimous agreement on this, and their ferocity
redoubled. No German could now forget that we were on the other side: on the side of the
terrible sowers who furrowed the German sky as masters, high above every defence, and twisted
the living metal of their constructions, carrying slaughter every day into their very homes, into
the hitherto unviolated homes of the German people.
As for us, we were too destroyed to be really afraid. The few who could still judge and
feel rightly, drew new strength and hope from the bombardments; those whom hunger had not
yet reduced to a definitive inertia often profited from the moments of general panic to undertake
doubly rash expeditions (since, besides the direct risk of the raid, theft carried out in conditions
of emergency was punished by hanging) to the factory kitchens or the stores. But the greater
number bore the new danger and the new discomforts with unchanged undifference: it was not a
conscious resignation, but the opaque torpor of beasts broken in by blows, whom the blows no
longer hurt.
Entry to the reinforced shelters was forbidden us. When the earth began to tremble, we
dragged ourselves, stunned and limping, through the corrosive fumes of the smoke bombs to the
vast waste areas, sordid and sterile, closed within the boundary of the Buna; there we lay inert,
piled up on top of each other like dead men, but still aware of the momentary pleasure of our
bodies resting. We looked with indifferent eyes a the smoke and flames breaking out around us:
in moments of quiet, full or the distant menacing roar that every European knows, we picked
from the ground the stunted chicory leaves and dandelions, trampled on a hundred times, and
chewed them slowly in silence.
When the alarm was over, we returned from all parts to our posts, a silent innumerable
flock, accustomed to the anger of men and things; and continued that work or ours, as hated as
ever, now even more obviously useless and senseless.
Handout #6
Groups # 3 and # 4
World Jewish Congress & McCloy Letter
Brief background about these lettersThe World Jewish Congress: In 1936, the World Jewish Congress was established with help
from the American Jewish Congress. During World War II, the WJC organized rescue attempts
of European Jews and sought to influence world leaders to take more steps to rescue Jews.
John J. McCloy: Assistant Secretary of War, April 1941-November 1945. A couple of his
responsibilities in this position were to recommended policies within enemy-held territories and
coordinate military and civilian agencies requests in these enemy-held territories.
Oswiecim: The three camps of Auschwitz were established near this Polish city.
War Refugee Board: In January 1944 Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (within the
Treasury Department) to facilitate the rescue of imperiled refugees.
Reminder: One group is analyzing the World Jewish Congress letter, which was sent to
McCloy. The other group is analyzing the McCloy letter, which was a response to the World
Jewish Congress letter.
As you are reading the letter assigned to you, consider:
 Who sent this letter?
What is the message being send?
When was it sent?
To what location are they referring?
Why are they writing and responding in this way?
Group #3
Handout #7
Group #4
Handout #8
Handout #9
“Should the U.S. Have Bombed Auschwitz-Birkenau?”
Writing Assignment
Due ___________________
From what you have learned about Auschwitz, the photographs, the McCloy/World Jewish Congress
letters, and the memoir excerpt, answer the following questions in the writing you will compose. Use
examples from the documents that were analyzed in your response.
 Why bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau? What was the purpose?
 What were the possible risks for the United States in carrying out the bombing? What were
the benefits?
 Are the arguments to bomb/not to bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau primarily military or moral in
nature? Defend your answer.
 Overall, using what was known in 1944, what would you think to be the correct decision- to
bomb or not to bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau?
 Should a country or organization ever bomb a country or region for humanitarian reasons?
In what situations and at what cost?
Before writing, choose from each category in order to focus your writing. Follow instructions under each
TopicRoleAudienceFormatMaintain the voice and
Determine who you
Choose one of the
Explain and discuss your
information of the
want to write to. Keep
following written
overall opinion as to
writer’s role throughout them in mind as you
formats to explain and
whether Auschwitz should
your piece.
discuss your opinion.
have/have not been
Historian who has
President Roosevelt in
Letter to persuade
I believe the United
stumbled upon the same order to help him choose someone to act or
States/Allies should have
primary source
a course of action for the change their opinion
bombed Auschwitz (or
Jews remaining/being
should do it, depending on
deported to Auschwitz.
the time period in which
you are focusing).
Allied soldier who
Class of high school
Editorial/Op. Ed piece
I believe the United
becomes aware of the
students interested in
for a nationally
States/Allies should not
situation of the
this same topic.
syndicated newspaper.
have bombed Auschwitz.
Hungarian Jews of
(or should not do it,
depending on the time
period in which you are
American journalist sent A parent/family member Journal entries
I believe that there are
to cover the World War
interested in what you’re discussing opinions as
arguments for both
II in Poland.
learning in school.
information presents
bombing/not bombing
Auschwitz. I truly can’t
A student who has just
The general American
learned about Auschwitz public
& the Holocaust
A writer commissioned
Activists calling for the
to write a piece about
U.S. to claim
the Holocaust.
responsibility for their
actions during WWII &
The Holocaust.
Advisor to the Pres.
Your U.S. Congress
Roosevelt, asked to
person, asking for an
report back with
inquiry or action
Handout #10
“Should the U.S. Have Bombed Auschwitz-Birkenau?” Written Assignment Scoring Rubric
Introduction was
polished and had a
catchy opening that
captured attention. It
masterfully established
the main points to be
The organizational
structure of the content
and the development of
a thesis was
exceptionally clear.
There was abundant use
of compelling examples
and evidence and it was
presented in a thoughtprovoking manner.
Language is stylistic
and sophisticated.
Varied sentences have
effectively been
incorporated. There is
skillful use of transition
words and phrases.
Demonstrated control
of the conventions with
no errors.
Proficiently prepared
introduction. It
related to the topic and
preview the main
points to be discussed.
Partial introduction,
but it failed to
adequately preview the
main points.
No introduction or
thesis. Couldn’t
discern main points.
The organizational
structure of the
content was
effectively clear.
There is a clear thesis
and numerous and
interesting examples
of evidence and
support were present.
The organizational
structure of the content
was moderately clear,
there was a thesis, but
it is somewhat
confusing. It
contained some
examples of support,
but they were not
Relied on basic
vocabulary and
revealed a limited
awareness on how to
vary sentence patterns.
No transitions were
occasional errors
which do not hinder
The organizational
structure of the
content is barely
discernable. It lacks
a clear thesis and is
absent of examples
and evidence of
support. It may
contain irrelevant
Used unsuitable
language such as
slang and did not
vary sentence
The conclusion
superbly summarized
the main points. It was
very clear what plan of
action you are calling
for and it ends with a
catchy statement.
The conclusion
summarized the main
points and it was clear
what action you are
calling for.
Used appropriate
language and varied
some sentence
structure. Made effect
use of transition words
and phrases.
Demonstrated control
of the conventions
with minimal errors.
A conclusion was
present, but it
minimally summarized
the main points.
frequent errors that
make comprehension
difficult. (Run on
sentences, lack of
It lacked a
concluding statement.
There was no
summation of points.
Total Points: __________ x 3= _________________
Handout #11
Dr. Will Meineke, USHMM scholar.
Questions to think about while reading the arguments:
Why bomb Auschwitz?
What were the possible risks for the United States in carrying out the bombing? What were the
Are the arguments primarily military or moral in nature? Are the military arguments convincing
one way or the other?
The War Department argued at the time that Auschwitz was not within the range of Allied
Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy insisted in 1944 that the bombing of Auschwitz
“could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air forces now engaged in decisive
operations elsewhere.” “Such an operation,” he continued, “would be of such doubtful efficacy
that it would not warrant the use of our resources.”
The Allied bombing strategy was directed toward destroying Nazi fuel supplies, their synthetic
oil industries, the oil fields of Romania, and their communication and transport lines wherever
possible. American forces were engaged at the time with the battle for Italy and the invasion of
northern and southern France—operations that were by no means assured of success.
German air defenses and the difficulty of hitting four relatively small buildings from the air
meant high risk of American casualties when compared to results expected from bombing the
killing center. While Auschwitz had no air defenses, the nearby I.G. Farben works at Monowitz
had almost 80 heavy guns, which could have fired on planes attacking the camp. The gas
chamber-crematoria buildings at Auschwitz-Birkenau were mostly underground with only a
small structure visible from the air. Low level attacks by heavy bombers on other targets such as
Ploesti in Romania, for example, lost 30 percent of the attacking bombers to German fire.
Bombing the rail lines from Hungary to Auschwitz would be just as ineffective and costly as
targeting the camp itself. In the spring of 1944, it took the Germans about 6 hours to repair a
single track rail line hit by a 250 pound bomb and just 3.5 hours for a 100 pound bomb. The rail
line and all possible alternative lines would have to have been bombed every day to keep them
closed. Unless all routes were simultaneously hit every day, alternative routes, repair gangs and
other “make-do” efforts would negate the effort to stop the deportations.
Humanitarian concerns about the plight of European Jewry were not a priority during World War
II. Allied leaders did not discuss the Nazi genocide at any of the wartime conferences (Cairo,
Teheran, Yalta, or even Potsdam). American authorities repeatedly spoke of a “refugee crisis”
and of the massacre of “innocent civilians” without mentioning “Jews.”
McCloy was concerned at the time that the bombing of Auschwitz “might provoke even more
vindictive action by the Germans.” Germany could escalate the terror and involve the Allies in
an upward spiral of atrocities--German perpetrated massacres to be matched by Allied retaliatory
bomb attacks on German cities. Both sides would then target innocent civilians for death and
destruction. This would expose the Allies to charges of violating the rules of war and of war
Bombing during World War II was not very accurate. Any attempt to bomb the gas chambers at
Auschwitz would probably have killed large numbers of prisoners since barracks were only 300
feet away. The Germans could claim that the bombing, not their killing operation, was
responsible for the large number of deaths at Auschwitz.
Innocent Jews should not be the deliberate victims of American attacks. Those that condemn the
United States now for inaction would probably have accused the U.S. of complicity in the
Holocaust had American bombs killed hundreds if not thousands of Jews at Auschwitz.
Although bombing might facilitate a mass escape, but there was no haven for escaping Jews.
Poland remained in the midst of German-occupied Europe. Escaped Jews could expect little aid
from the local population-- anti-Semitism was pervasive in Poland and ethnic Poles were
concerned with their own survival—and no mercy from the Germans.
The genocide against the Jews had equal priority with the war for Germany. Even if the gas
chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were destroyed, the Germans could still kill Jews through
shootings and other means. The Mobile Killing Units, special killing squads that roamed behind
the German lines during the invasion of the Soviet Union, killed larger numbers in less time than
the extermination camp process. After gassing operations stopped at Auschwitz in November
1944, the Germans killed hundreds of thousands of people.
There was no political consensus in the United States to support the bombing of Auschwitz. The
Roosevelt administration did not want the American public to perceive the war as a “war to save
Jews.” Which might have undermined public support for the war effort. Also, antisemitism in the
Allied camp might have been aroused which would have interfered with mobilization for victory.
Finally, since most Americans opposed the entry of additional Jewish refugees into the United
States a more active rescue policy was problematic for the Roosevelt administration.
Other non-military strategies for rescue appeared to be working. President Roosevelt’s repeated
warnings that those who were responsible for the deportations would be punished after the war—
the Hungarian government understood that Germany would lose the war-- and the actions of the
U.S. War Refugee Board and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, contributed to
the survival of more than 100,000 Jews in Hungary.
The best way to engage in rescue was to defeat the Nazis as fast as possible. Any diversion of
military assets delayed the ultimate victory of Allied forces and ultimately cost more lives. Only
the total, unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany—a task that took 4 years and the
mobilization of the combined resources of Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United
States—could save lives in German-occupied Europe.
It was militarily feasible to bomb Auschwitz at the time. The U.S. War Department’s negative
decision was not based on an analysis of air force operations. The department never looked into
the possibility of carrying out such an attack and never consulted with the American Air Force
commanders based in Italy, who were in the best position to strike Auschwitz. Fearing that
military forces would be diverted to rescue missions, the War Department decided unilaterally on
a policy of noninvolvement from the outset.
Auschwitz was in range of U.S. Air Force bombers as early as May 1944, at the start of the
deportations from Hungary. In July 1944, 400 American bombers actually flew above the rail
lines through Hungary and on August 20, 1944 Allied bombers attacked Buna-Monowitz, a
synthetic-rubber works less than five miles from Auschwitz. The camp remained untouched.
The destruction of the rail lines through Hungary and the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau
would have halted the killing operation and saved many thousands of lives.
Bombing Auschwitz could have enabled a mass escape of thousands of prisoners from the camp.
The Germans would have had to divert considerable manpower to recapture them. This would
have aided the Allied war effort directly.
Prisoners in Auschwitz supported a bomb attack on the camp. Recalling the bombing of nearby
Buna-Monowitz one Auschwitz survivor said, “We were not afraid. And yet, if a bomb had
fallen on the [barracks], it alone would have claimed hundreds of victims on the spot. But we
were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not that death. Every bomb that exploded filled us
with joy and gave us new confidence in life.”
The U.S. Air Force had flown bomb attacks against other concentration camps. The risk of loss
in prisoner lives did not prevent the bombing in those cases and therefore cannot be used as an
argument against the bombing of Auschwitz. On August 25, 1944, for example, the U.S. Air
Force bombed the V-2 guidance works in the Buchenwald concentration camp in central
Germany. 129 B-17 bombers dropped 303 tons of bombs. 315 prisoners died in the raid, 525
were seriously wounded and 900 were lightly wounded. Also, most of those wounded or killed
were prisoners working in the guidance works at the time of the attack.
Since the Germans were going to kill the prisoners at Auschwitz in any case, the bombing should
have been carried out, despite the probable loss of life among the prisoners, for symbolic
reasons—to demonstrate America’s determination to stop the mass murder of innocent civilians.
The morale of anti-German resistance groups would have been bolstered by a successful attack
on Auschwitz-Birkenau. The overwhelming power of Allied air superiority, extending even into
Eastern Europe, would be decisively demonstrated, encouraging belief in final German defeat
and strengthening the resistance against the German occupation regime in Poland as well as in
the rest of Europe.
The U.S. Air Force diverted resources from their strategic bombing campaign to drop supplies to
the Warsaw Polish uprising in September 1944. Despite the strong objections of the commanders
in the affected theaters of war, more than 100 Flying Fortresses took part in the operation on
September 20, 1944. They dropped almost 1300 containers of arms and supplies to the
insurgents. Nearly 1,000 of these canisters fell into German hands. The flight path of the
bombers took them over Auschwitz on their way to Warsaw. The political will was there to aid
the uprising of ethnic Poles, but not to rescue Jews.
Anti-aircraft defenses in the Auschwitz area were relatively weak during the peak of the
deportations from Hungary. In fact, most of the almost 80 heavy guns defending the BunaMonowitz complex were added in August 1944, after the conclusion of the deportations from
Hungary. An attack before August 1944 would have meant planes could fly lower; bombing
would have been more accurate and losses minimized.
Auschwitz should have been bombed to avoid the postwar charge that the United States was
indifferent to the plight of European Jewry. The decision not to bomb Auschwitz has since
become the symbol of American indifference and complicity in the Holocaust.