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Auschwitz Bombing Controversy: Plea by Va'ad Hahatzala to Bomb Auschwitz Railway Lines

(September 2, 1944)

In 1939, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada established a rescue committee, the Va'ad Hahatzala, to promote and engage in rescue activities on behalf of European Jewry, especially of rabbis and yeshiva students.

In September 1939, Rabbi Abraham Kalmanowitz -  leading rabbinical figure in the Va'ad Hahatzala - passed on the following message to the Executive Director of the United States' War Refugee Board.


September 2, 1944

To: J.W. Pehle
From: B. Akzin

Subject: Urgent message from the Rabbi Kalmanowitz

Last night, Rabbi Kalmanowitz called me at home from New York and asked me to deliver to you the following message:

A cable from Sternbuch, transmitted through the Polish embassy, contains the information that on August 26 deportations of Jews from Budapest have begun. Twelve thousand Jews have already been deported to Oswiecim, in Upper Silesia. Sternbuch, in his own name and on the suggestion of the Rabbi of Neutra suggests that further deportations be interfered with the immediate bombing of the railroad junctions between Budapest and Silesia, viz: Kaschen Presow – Zilina- Galanta – Leopoldorf – Caca – Rudki, as well as the railroad junction at Graz (Austria).

The Polish charge d'affaires, M. Kwapiszewski, has promised to Rabbi Kalmanowitz to transmit a copy of the cable to WRB, but in view of possible delays, the Rabbi wanted my assurance that this matter will be placed before the Board at yesterday's conference.

While supporting Sternbuch's and the Rabbi of Neutra's request regarding this matter and, is ready, despite the Sabbath, to take a train today to Washington, if this should appear necessary in the interest of insuring immediate action.

To the above, I should like respectfully to add the following:

The thought of bombing the railroad junctions between Hungary and Silesia to interrupt the flow of deportations is indeed elementary. You will recall that the thought has been clearly hinted at by McClelland, in 4041 from Bern, dated June 24.

I am aware of the fact that a somewhat similar idea was rejected some time ago by the Department of War – a rejection which quite likely stems from the habitual reluctance of the military to act upon civilian suggestions.

It is submitted, however, that the WRB was created precisely in order to overcome the inertia and – in some cases – the insufficient interests of the old-established agencies in regard to the saving of Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. Repeatedly we refused to take a “no” for an answer when it came from the Department of State. There is nothing in the officials of the Department of War that would make them more sacrosanct or freer from error than the officials of the Department of State.

In the matter of the “Free Port” which, whatever its merits, was certainly not a matter of life and death, Mr. Pehle went to the President.

To be faithful to our task, it would appear most appropriate if the Board took the identical course in connection with the Hungarian emergency.

In the light of the present air superiority of the United Nations, I am certain that the President, once acquainted with the facts, would realize the values involved and, cutting through the inertia-motivated objections of the War Department, would order the immediate bombings of the objectives suggested.

[Signed] B. Akzin

P.S. I have promised the Rabbi to see to it that you get this message without delay. I therefore take this unconventional way of sending it straight to your office, not through channels. A copy of the memo goes to my chief, Mr. Lesser.