Ramp at Birkenau
“To kill the Jews, the Nazis were willing to weaken their capacity to fight the war. The U. S. and its allies, however, were willing to attempt nothing to save them.”
- Historian David Wyman
The nearly five hundred thousand Jews of Hungary were the last to be deported to Auschwitz. Their hour came in the summer of 1944. The victims included our survivor Dora Niederman and her family, as well as the family of our survivor Isaac Niederman.
Although Hungary was an ally, the Nazis occupied the country on March 19, 1944. In her documentary Dora Niederman describes the arrival of the Germans in her hometown.
Dora Niederman: Beating of Her Step-Father
The Germans quickly began the well-practiced task of identifying the Jews, marking them with the Star of David patch, concentrating them in ghettos, and loading them on cattle wagons for transport to Nazi-occupied Poland. The Nazi annihilation of European Jewry had been going on for three years. It was no longer a secret. But the majority of Jews in Hungary, which included the annexed regions in Czechoslovakia and Romania, did not have the slightest idea that gas chambers awaited them. Jews who listened secretly to the Voice of America radio or to the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) did not hear about the slaughter of Jews.
While the Jews of Hungary were being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German army was engaged in desperate battles to halt the advance of the Red Army. German troops were dependent on trains to bring arms and supplies to the front. Despite the urgent situation, the trains carrying Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau had priority over trains carrying war material to the eastern front.
The Jewish resistance petitioned the Western powers to bomb the railroad lines between Hungary and Poland and disrupt the passage of trains to Auschwitz. The U. S. air force, stationed in Italy, followed these same railroad lines while navigating its way to the very region where Auschwitz-Birkenau was located, a region heavily populated by German industries. But the War Department had made the decision that U. S. armed forces would not participate in rescue efforts. It refused to bomb the railroad lines or the Auschwitz-death camp, although U. S. bombers passed directly over the camp (and photographed it) while on bombing missions to hit the nearby German industries. The American bombers mistakenly dropped several bombs on the camp.
Dora recounts her time in the ghetto, the deportation to Auschwitz, and the day-to-day existence in the camp.
Dora Niederman: Ghetto and Transport to Auschwitz
Dora Niederman: Arriving at Auschwitz
Dora Niederman: Day to Day at Auschwitz and Transport to STUTTHOF
The Times-Picayune, July 4, 1944, p. 2
On July 4, 1944, The Times-Picayune published an article on page 2 describing the Hungarian deportations. The article included precise and chilling details. It quoted a report sent from Geneva, Switzerland, to The New York Times that 1,715,000 Jews had been gassed in the “Upper Silesian ‘extermination camps’ at Auschwitz and Birkenau…” The number of victims and places of origin were listed. They came from Poland, the Netherlands, Greece, France, Belgium, Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy, Norway Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia, Austria, and included “foreign Jews from Polish concentration camps.”
“Yet another 120,000 Jews from Hungary were said to have been killed or died en route to Upper Silesia.” The Hungarian Jews were subjected to “malicious, fiendish, in humane brutality.” The method of extermination was explained: the “Execution halls” were “fake bathing establishments capable of dispatching two thousand to eight thousand Jews daily.” The victims “were led into cells and ordered to strip for bathing, then cyanide gas was said to have been released, causing death in three to five minutes.”
On the very day that this article appeared in The Times-Picayune, the U. S. War Department signed off on a letter rejecting a request to bomb the railroad lines to Auschwitz. Dora says that the prisoners listened closely as the bombers passed overhead and prayed that they would bomb the camp.
DORA NIEDERMAN: BOMBING AUSCHWITZ
On July 8, 1944, The Times-Picayune ran an editorial about the Hungarian transports. It referred to “the notorious extermination camps in Upper Silesia” and called for the punishment of “the Hungarian accomplices.” Nothing was said about the Allies bombing the railroad tracks or attempting rescue efforts. But the editorialist agreed with those who urged the Allies to make “a stern protest and warning” to the perpetrators: “Certainly it is worthy trying.”