Allies Knew About Holocaust as Early as 1943, New Documents Show

Secret material smuggled out of Eastern Europe during the war will be released online this week

An undated image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland. Writing over the gate reads: "Arbeit macht frei" (Work Sets You Free)
File, AP Photo

Previously unseen documents containing the earliest accounts of the Holocaust showing the West knew of Nazi war crimes before discovering concentration camps will be released to the public in Britain this week.

The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide will upload the documents to its website, where they will be searchable. The material was smuggled out of Eastern Europe as early as 1943, and was stored in the archive of the UN War Crimes Commission.

Archival research by Prof. Dan Plesch of the University of London made the release to the public possible. Plesch received special access to the documents, which are kept in New York. He published some of them in his new book, “Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes.”

“This is a huge resource for combatting Holocaust denials,” Plesch told The Guardian. “All of this has never seen the light of day.”

According to The Guardian, Plesch persuaded diplomats, including Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN under Barack Obama, to release the secret material.

The documents include information that the Polish government in exile collected, such as detailed descriptions of death camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz, which were smuggled out of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. For instance, a document from April 1944 describes victims being forced to undress. The Czechoslovakian government in exile provided other documents in an attempt to implicate Adolf Hitler for his part in the war crimes being committed by his country. Another account comes from a British soldier imprisoned by the Nazis who escaped, joined the partisans and was captured again.

Despite these accounts collected by the West, the governments of the United States and Britain were in no hurry to take action, Plesch told The Independent. A combination of anti-Semitism in the U.S. State Department and concerns about America’s economic relationship with post-war Germany played a role in the foot-dragging, he said.