What Did He Know, and When Did He Know It?

Posted on October 11, 2015


In 1944 the Nazis in Germany were busy exterminating the Jewish race.

The problem with finishing their agenda of getting rid of the world’s Jews was two-fold: one, not all the Jews were under their boots in Europe; and, two, they were losing the Second World War as the armies of the Soviet Union crunched their way forward from the east, and the Americans and their allies stormed across France on the western front, having landed with a massive invasion force on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on the coast of France.

The writing was on the wall, even though the fighting was brutal on both fronts. The Americans and English, for example, were bottled up in Normandy trying to break through the hedgerows and deadly German defenses in early June.

But it was clear that the initiative, the power, the offensive cast of mind, and the immense war making resources that America was bringing to bear would finally overwhelm the old Nazi juggernaut.

The conditions of the Jews of Europe had moved from precarious under the onslaught of Nazi racism to outright genocide as Jews were herded into trains from all across occupied Europe to concentration camps and gassed to death by the thousands. By 1943 American and allied intelligence were aware that this was happening, in a shadowy sort of way as early intelligence tends to be.

By mid-1944, however, it was clear, presented in depth in a new book by Jay Wink, 1944, that President Roosevelt and his high commanders knew that the Nazis were exterminating Jews.

That one people would deliberately decide to exterminate another is perhaps incredible, outrageous, and immoral, not to speak of illegal and in violation of every civil code known to man, but there it is: the Nazis under Hitler were exterminating the Jews.

What were the allies to do? They knew for example that Auschwitz in Poland was one of the killing grounds. They even had high altitude aerial reconnaissance photos taken in May, 1944 showing the camp with startling detail. And they knew generally that the last concentration of Jews in Europe, in Hungary, were set to be transported by train to Auschwitz for ultimate destruction.

Bomb Auschwitz? Bomb the trains and tracks carrying the Jews to Poland?

Let’s return to the title of this little essay: what did he know [writing of President Roosevelt], and when did he know it? The last question we haven’t yet posed: and what did he do about it?

High altitude bombing during the war was notoriously inaccurate. And the bombing of railroad tracks, if it wasn’t done almost on a daily basis, was equally inefficient. The Americans bombed away by day and the Germans and their forced labor rebuilt them by night.

Roosevelt, in the end, vetoed the various proposals reaching him to somehow do something. If they bombed Auschwitz and other camps, they could very well kill thousands of innocents. Bombing the railroads, if it wasn’t a military target, was taking away valuable bombers and crews from their primary mission: destroy the ability of Germany to make war, and bring the war to the quickest end possible.

Roosevelt stuck to his guns on this issue. Ending the war with a complete, devastating defeat of the Nazis was the priority. Everything else had to be subordinated to that ultimate goal.

It was probably the only decision consistent with allocating the war making capabilities of the allies to bring about the final, unconditional surrender of Germany. The Nazis would have another year, before Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin and the war ended in May, 1945, to pursue their “final solution” to the Jewish problem.

Six million perished before the liberating allied armies broke through to the camps and saw the gas chambers, the ovens and the spectral vision of the starved survivors.

Within three years modern Israel came into being and it had to shoot its way to independence as six Arab Muslim states attacked it almost immediately after its independence was declared by United Nations mandate.

Today the Iranian government very explicitly states it will destroy Israel, and, presumably, finally complete what Hitler started, the final solution.

We sometimes just shrug and say it is all just hyper nationalism by a few radicalized Muslim hotheads and not to worry. Let them make a nuclear weapon. After all, they are a sovereign country and are entitled to determine their own destiny.

So, back to the question: what do we know, when did we learn about it, and, most important, what are we going to do about it? It may be the most important question for all candidates for president, for the answer informs us very clearly of where each stands as a human being.

Published in my OpEd column, the Port Rail, as What Did He Know and When Did He Know It? in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday October 11, 2015.