The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?

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edited by Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. 350pp. $29.95.

The collection of essays that are gathered in this volume together with introductory essays for each section represent a thorough and careful effort to explore both sides to an issue that most of the authors agree is hardly answerable. Doing history by hindsight is not normally the role that historians assume, and this question is loaded with so much contemporary meaning that we are well served by the caution of the authors who attempt to expose our all too easy desire to use our current view of things to make judgments about decisions in the past. Thus, I believe that this collection is a sterling example of good historical research as well as a fine model for how such questions ought to be pursued in any field of inquiry, particularly when dealing with the Holocaust.

Of course the debate presumed as backdrop for these essays is the one initiated by David Wyman, who strikingly, and it must be noted, by his own decision, is not included in this volume. The issue is whether the allies had the capacity to bomb the crematoria and gas chambers at Auschwitz, especially in late summer 1944, or if not that the rail lines leading to the camps. More to the point, the issue is whether the allies should have bombed these facilities if they had such a capacity, the question the editors claim is the most asked question by our students. Wyman's conclusion was yes on all counts, and his position has been forcefully supported by a number of people, most particularly Stuart Erdheim and to a lesser extent, Martin Gilbert. Those who wish to accept Wyman's claims in whole or part are inclined as well to conclude that such efforts should have been undertaken. Those who do not accept Wyman's judgments about the capacity of the allied forces are inclined to argue against such a conclusion. The issue is throughout this text one of military capacity and timing within the whole scope of the military advance against the Nazis on all fronts.

The debate presented in these essays is remarkable for several reasons. First, the editors have skillfully organized material around basic sub-questions within which are included both academic and military historians as well as eyewitnesses, Jewish leaders, and technical experts. …