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Benjamin Akzin, War Refugee Board, to Lawrence S. Lesser, War Refugee Board, June 29 1944, urging the bombing of Auschwitz and Birkenau.


June 29, 1944

To: L.S. Lesser

From: B. Akzin

By cable No. 4041 of June 21, from Bern, McClelland, reporting on the deportation and extermination of Hungarian Jews, states that "there is little doubt that many of these Hungarian Jews are being sent to the extermination camps of Auschitz [sic] (Oswiecim) and Birkenau (Rajska) in Western Upper Silesia where according to recent reports, since early summer 1942 at least 1,500,500 Jews have been killed. There is evidence that already in January 1944 preparations were being made to receive and exterminate Hungarian Jews in these camps."

In view of the preeminent part evidently by these two extermination camps in the massacre of Jews; equipped to kill 125,000 people per month, it would seem that the destruction of their physical installations might appreciably slow down the systematic slaughter at least temporarily. The methodical German mind might require some time to rebuild the installations or to evolve elsewhere equally efficient procedures of mass slaughter and of disposing of the bodies. Some saving of lives would therefore be a most likely result of the destruction of the two extermination camps.

Though no exaggerated hopes should be entertained, this saving of lives might even be quite appreciable, since, in the present stage of the war, with German manpower and material resources gravely depleted, German authorities might not be in a position to devote themselves to the task of equipping new large-scale extermination centers.

Aside from the preventive significance of the destruction of the two camps, it would also seem correct to mark them for destruction as a matter of principle, as the most tangible--and perhaps only tangible-- evidence of the indignation aroused by the existence of these charnel-houses. It will also be noted that the destruction of the extermination camps would presumably cause many deaths among their personnel--certainly among the most ruthless and despicable of the Nazis.

It is suggested that the following be brought to the attention of the appropriate political and military authorities, with a view to considering the feasibility of a thorough destruction of the two camps by aerial bombardment. It may be of interest, in this connection, that the two camps are situated in the industrial region of Upper Silesia, near the important mining and manufacturing centers of Katowice and Chorzow (Oswiecim lies about 14 miles southeast of Katowice), which play an important part in the industrial armament of Germany. Therefore, the destruction of these camps could be achieved without deflecting aerial strength from an important zone of military objectives.

Presumably, a large number of Jews in these camps may be killed in the course of such bombings (though some of them may escape in the confusion). But such Jews are doomed to death anyhow. The destruction of the camps would not change their fate, but it would serve as visible retribution on their murderers and it might save the lives of future victims.

It will be noted that the inevitable fate of Jews herded in ghettoes near the industrial and railroad installations in Hungary has not caused the United Nations to stop bombing these installations. It is submitted, therefore, that refraining from bombing the extermination centers would be sheer misplaced sentimentality, far more cruel than a decision to destroy these centers.

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