George McGovern, a Pacifist Who Wanted to Bomb Auschwitz

October 22, 2012
George McGovern receives Distinguished
Flying Cross in 1944. (AP Photo/McGovern
Family)

by Rafael Medoff
REMEMBRANCE
WASHINGTON (JTA) — George McGovern is widely remembered for advocating immediate American withdrawal from Vietnam and sharp reductions in defense spending. Yet despite his reputation as a pacifist, the former U.S. senator and 1972 presidential candidate, who died Sunday at 90, did believe there were times when America should use military force abroad.
Case in point: the Allies’ failure to bomb Auschwitz, an episode with which McGovern had a little-known personal connection.
In June 1944, the Roosevelt administration received a detailed report about Auschwitz from two escapees who described the mass-murder process and drew diagrams pinpointing the gas chambers and crematoria. Jewish organizations repeatedly asked U.S. officials to order the bombing of Auschwitz and the railroad lines leading to the camp. The proposal was rejected on the grounds that it would require “considerable diversion” of planes that were needed elsewhere for the war effort. One U.S. official claimed that bombing Auschwitz “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”
Enter McGovern. In World War II, the 22-year-old son of a South Dakota pastor piloted a B-24 “Liberator” bomber. Among his targets: German synthetic oil factories in occupied Poland — some of them less than five miles from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

In 2004, McGovern spoke on camera for the first time about those experiences in a meeting organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies with Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Sigmund Rolat and filmmakers Stuart Erdheim and Chaim Hecht.
McGovern dismissed the Roosevelt administration’s claims about the diversion of planes. The argument was just “a rationalization,” he said, noting that no diversions would have been needed when he and other U.S pilots already were flying over that area.
Ironically, the Allies did divert military resources for other reasons. For example, FDR in 1943 ordered the Army to divert money and manpower to rescue artwork and historic monuments in Europe’s battle zones. The British provided ships to bring 20,000 Muslims on a religious pilgrimage from Egypt to Mecca in the middle of the war. Gen. George Patton even diverted U.S. troops in Austria to save 150 of the famous Lipizzaner dancing horses.
“There is no question we should have attempted … to go after Auschwitz,” McGovern said in the interview. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”
Even if there was a danger of accidentally harming some of the prisoners, “it was certainly worth the effort, despite all the risks,” McGovern said, because the prisoners were already “doomed to death” and an Allied bombing attack might have slowed down the mass-murder process, thus saving many more lives.
At the time, 16-year-old Elie Wiesel was part of a slave labor battalion stationed just outside the main camp of Auschwitz. Many years later, in his best-selling book “Night,” Wiesel described a U.S. bombing raid on the oil factories that he witnessed.
“[I]f a bomb had fallen on the blocks [the prisoners’ barracks], it alone would have claimed hundreds of victims on the spot. But we were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death,” Wiesel wrote. “Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life. The raid lasted over an hour. If it could only have lasted ten times ten hours!”
At the time, McGovern and his fellow pilots had no idea what was happening in Auschwitz.
“I attended every briefing that the air force gave to us,” he said. “I heard everyone, from generals on down. I never heard once mentioned the possibility that the United States air force might interdict against the gas chambers.”
Ironically, in one raid, several stray bombs from McGovern’s squadron missed the oil factory they were targeting and accidentally struck an SS sick bay, killing five SS men.
McGovern said that if his commanders had asked for volunteers to bomb the death camp, “whole crews would have volunteered.” Most soldiers understood that the war against the Nazis was not just a military struggle but a moral one, as well. In his view they would have recognized the importance of trying to interrupt the mass-murder process, even if it meant endangering their own lives in a risky bombing raid.
Indeed, the Allies’ air drops of supplies to the Polish Home Army rebels in Warsaw in August 1944 were carried out by volunteers, who agreed to undertake the missions despite the hazards of flying their planes to areas outside their normal range.
McGovern noted that he remained an ardent admirer of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“Franklin Roosevelt was a great man and he was my political hero,” he said in the interview. “But I think he made two great mistakes in World War II.” One was the internment of Japanese Americans; the other was the decision “not to go after Auschwitz. … God forgive us for that tragic miscalculation.”
In contrast with his pacifist image, McGovern emphasized that for him, the central lesson of the U.S. failure to bomb Auschwitz was the need for “a determination that never again will we fail to exercise the full capacity of our strength in that direction.”
He added, “We should have gone all out [against Auschwitz], and we must never again permit genocide.”
Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author or editor of 15 books about the Holocaust and American Jewish history.


Kissinger called American Jews "self-serving…bastards"

November 20, 2011

(EOZ) AP has picked up on YNet’s story late last week about newly-released State Department historical documents where Henry Kissinger complained about the Jewish community who were trying to help get Soviet Jews released.
Here is the entire section of the released document that deals with this. Besides Kissinger’s remarks, it is interesting to anyone who wants to know more about the history of American involvement in the Soviet Jewry issue.

On August 30, 1972, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Haig wrote Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Kissinger: “Earlier yesterday, I had talked to Len Garment, Special Consultant to the President on Minorities and the Arts, about the problem of Soviet Jewry which is apparently growing and which McGovern hopes to exploit. This was complicated yesterday by a letter sent out of the Soviet Union by a group of Soviet Jewish leaders, a copy of which was furnished to McGovern.” Referring to Senator George McGovern, the Democratic candidate for President, Haig wrote that he understood that “McGovern will try to exploit the letter.” Haig had asked Garment to contact Senator Jacob Javits (R–NY) to discuss the matter. Haig informed Kissinger: “I insisted to Garment yesterday and again late last night to tell Javits to reaffirm strongly his conviction that the President and the White House are very concerned about the plight of the Soviet Jews, to reassure him that this matter was discussed during the summit and on his own to urge the Jewish leaders to understand that quiet diplomacy has accomplished far more than an extensive trumpeting so far. Javits, of course, can go much farther on this issue that can any White House official and especially the President.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 995, Alexander M. Haig Chronological Files)
On August 31, Haig forwarded Kissinger the text of a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, received that day, in which she asked President Nixon to send “a direct confidential message to the people in the Kremlin expressing your reaction to the outrage” of the Soviet exit fees for emigrants. Haig wrote Kissinger in a covering memorandum: “Now that the Prime Minister has formally raised this issue in a direct communication with the President, we will have to consider very carefully the best means by which to proceed. Sometimes our Jewish friends know just what not to do at the right moment.” (Ibid.)
On September 6, Garment phoned Kissinger regarding the Soviet exit fee issue. He told Kissinger that “the Russian issue is flooding my desk and phone at this point and I need some guidance.” The relevant portion of the transcript of their telephone conversation continues as follows:
“K[issinger]: Is there a more self-serving group of people than the Jewish community?
“G[arment]: None in the world.
“K: I have not seen it. What the hell do they think they are accomplishing?
“G: Well, I don’t know.
“K: You can’t even tell the bastards anything in confidence because they’ll leak it to all their
“G: Right. Very briefly, what seems to be coming through just dozens of conversations is basically this, and there are political as well as some other dangers involved—that the intellectuals and Jewish community in the Soviet Union are just saying that in a sense they will have their position compromised by the Soviets through a trick of timing and that the Russians feel secure until November in going ahead with the attacks because of the concern on our part of . . .
“K: They’re dead wrong. After November they’re even safer.
“G: That may well be. I think then in any event . . .
“K: You can say—well, what we are doing, we’ve talked in a low key way to Dobrynin. Next week, we’ll call him into the State Department. If the Jewish community doesn’t mind, after I’ve been in the Soviet Union and have done some national business, so we’ll do it on Wednesday [September 13] or Thursday [September 14] next week. Don’t tell them that.
“G: No, I won’t tell them anything.
“K: But next Thursday, we’ll call them in.
“G: And defer any meetings between any of our people and the Jewish groups until after Wednesday.
“K: That’s right. After Wednesday you’ll be able to say that the issue has been raised both with Dobrynin and with the Minister.

“G: I think between now and November a certain amount of theater is needed to keep the lid on. That’s basically what seems to come through to me. After that I just don’t know; there are various people that are talking about forming committees to raise the money and doing a variety of things.
“K: They ought to remember what this Administration has done . . .
“G: Yes, all of that can be pointed out, but nevertheless, here they are subject to presses [pressures?] of this sort and I’m simply asking.
“K: No, no, you’ve been great on it.
“G: Well, I’m doing a job and all I want to know is how to handle it.
“K: Our game plan is that we cannot possibly make a formal protest while I’m on the way to Russia.
“G: Right. I understand that.” (Ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations (Telcons), Box 14, Chronological File)
Secretary of Commerce Peterson also raised the issue of Jewish emigration with Kissinger during a telephone conversation on September 7. He told Kissinger that he had heard “from three different sources that there’s a strong movement on the Hill to tie the Soviet Jewry issue with anything that has anything to do with the Soviet Union.” The relevant portion of the transcript of their telephone conversation continues as follows:
“K[issinger]: But that won’t be effective until after the election.
“P[eterson]: Well there’s strong pressure in this one group that I met with that’s been confirmed since then to submit MFN legislation, but to tie the issue to that and then to use the submission of the bill to get extremely vocal about it. Javits and a number of others are very active on it.
“K: Yeah, but they’ll subside after the election.
“P: Yeah, now I don’t know how much it hurts you, however, to do it prior to the election because that’s what they’re going to do. Okay, I just wanted you to know about it.
“K: No, I didn’t know about it; it will hurt me but . . . It will hurt, but what can we do? There’s no sense; you can’t make a deal with Javits on things like this. Don’t you think?
“P: Well, you know him much better than I do. I don’t know what he’d . . . he’s got great respect for you. I don’t know. I’ll tell you what I can do if we can be helpful. I can find out who the Senators and Congressmen are beside him, and if in your absence, you want anybody to try to pacify them so they don’t get out on the floor and create problems for you while you’re over there, that might help. Or I can drop it, whatever you wish.
“K: No, if you could find out in a way that doesn’t draw too much attention to it, that would be very helpful.
“P: All right, you’ll get it in the morning.” (Ibid.)

It the Jewish community’s noisiness about the Soviet Jews – mass rallies on the White House lawn, recruiting senators to the cause, and especially the Jackson-Vanik amendment – that pressured the Kremlin to allow millions of them to leave, not the “quiet diplomacy” that Kissinger advocated.
UPDATE: Alex points me to an NYT article from last year on newly released Nixon tapes:

An indication of Nixon’s complex relationship with Jews came the afternoon Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, came to visit on March 1, 1973. The tapes capture Meir offering warm and effusive thanks to Nixon for the way he had treated her and Israel.
But moments after she left, Nixon and Mr. Kissinger were brutally dismissive in response to requests that the United States press the Soviet Union to permit Jews to emigrate and escape persecution there.
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.
I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
In his discussion with Ms. Woods, Nixon laid down clear rules about who would be permitted to attend the state dinner for Meir — he called it “the Jewish dinner” — after learning that the White House was being besieged with requests to attend.
“I don’t want any Jew at that dinner who didn’t support us in that campaign,” he said. “Is that clear? No Jew who did not support us.”
Nixon listed many of his top Jewish advisers — among them, Mr. Kissinger and William Safire, who went on to become a columnist at The New York Times — and argued that they shared a common trait, of needing to compensate for an inferiority complex.
“What it is, is it’s the insecurity,” he said. “It’s the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure. And that’s why they have to prove things.”
Nixon also strongly hinted that his reluctance to even consider amnesty for young Americans who went to Canada to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War was because, he told Mr. Colson, so many of them were Jewish.
“I didn’t notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don’t know how the hell they avoid it,” he said, adding: “If you look at the Canadian-Swedish contingent, they were very disproportionately Jewish. The deserters.”

(h/t Alec)

You can’t say Kissinger was just another Jew with loyalty to Jews