Auschwitz train station
The railroad tracks leading to the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp, January 1941 . Photo by AP
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting a new exhibition at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, June 13, 2013. Photo by AP

It horrifies me every time people raise the false claim that the Allies could have bombed Auschwitz and stopped the mass murders in the Holocaust. I feel particularly distressed when people use that claim for political gain. It was hinted at, without any political context, in Ari Shavit’s article about the Israel Air Force’s flyby at Auschwitz exactly 10 years ago, and it was uttered explicitly for the clearest political reasons during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit there last June.

“When I finally walked into that archive [at Auschwitz] and read through all the files, I discovered further proof of a shocking historic truth - the Allied leaders knew what was happening here,” the prime minister said in his speech. 

“They could have easily diverted their planes, which were bombing the nearby chemical plants, to here," Netanyahu said. "They could have bombed the railway tracks that led to Auschwitz-Birkenau. They could have easily bombed the furnaces in Birkenau in order to stop the death machine. The Allied leaders knew about the Holocaust as it was happening. They understood perfectly what was taking place in the death camps. They were asked to act, they could have acted, and they did not.

“The lesson for us, for the Jews, is clear,” he continued. “We cannot be complacent in the face of threats of our annihilation. We cannot bury our heads in the sand or assume that others will do the work for us.”

This was a clear hint that we must act on our own against Iran, and that we can rely on no one - including our ally, the United States.

I grieve for the prime minister - and I grieve even more for us - that this is what we have. I am concerned about the future of my children and grandchildren, not because of our enemies’ schemes against us, but because of the folly, superficiality and ignorance of our own leaders, who are capable of expressing such groundless opinions - viewpoints that show ignorance and insensitivity about topics of supreme importance for the future of Israel and its people.

I do not want to write here about the hint regarding what we must do about the Iranian nuclear program, but about the tale Netanyahu was referring to - a tale that has been popular among Israelis for many years. According to this tale, the Final Solution could have been stopped by military means that were easily available to the Allies at the time.

Could the bombing of railway lines really have prevented the Holocaust? The Americans bombed the city of Cluj in Transylvania at midday on June 2, 1944. I was there that day, in a temporary concentration camp located inside a brick factory.

Most of the Jews were no longer there because they had been deported to the camps in Poland, on transports that left by train every other day. The bombing was something that can never be forgotten. Twelve hundred bombs were dropped on Cluj in less than half an hour. The industrial zone where the remaining Jews were - including my mother and myself - was bombed. So was the downtown area and the train station, as well as the railway lines leading outside the city.

The purpose of the bombardment that day was not to stop the deportation of Jews, but rather to stop the transportation of German reinforcements three days before the Normandy invasion. Cluj suffered heavy losses and damage, but despite the damage to the railway terminal and the lines, the last transport of Jews to Auschwitz left the brick factory two days later.

By luck and extraordinary coincidence, my mother and I were not among the group that was deported to Auschwitz. At the last moment, thanks to my mother’s remarkable initiative, we were placed among a group of 350 Jews who later became known as “the survivors of the Kastner train.”

Throughout the war, and particularly in 1943, one of the main strategic goals of the heavy Allied bombing was to damage the railway network. Despite the Allies’ enormous effort, the Germans - whose efficiency is beyond dispute - managed to repair the damage quickly, and the trains functioned on all fronts to the end of the war. So did the arms industry, which, despite heavy aerial bombardments, continued to manufacture and even increased its output. We saw that very well when we were in Bergen-Belsen and on the way there, when we passed through large sections of Germany in the summer of 1944.

The Allies, who knew of the mass murder of Jews and kept silent about it, could have used other means - such as intelligence, propaganda, agents, a smuggling network to neutral countries, and statements from the Vatican and other diplomatic officials - to stop it. Perhaps such methods could have helped to combat it.

The many failures of the Jewish community in prestate Israel, and of the large, influential Jewish population in the United States, also left a black mark on history, the effects of which are visible to this day as atrocities and mass murders continue to be perpetrated in many places, near and far. But the tale that an Allied bombing of the railway lines could have saved the Jews from destruction during the Holocaust needs to be eradicated, once and for all.

An English version of Ari Shavit’s article mentioned above will appear later this week.