How could we have ignored what was happening in the camps? - Memory makes us free

How could we have ignored what was happening in the camps?


Many knew about the extermination of the Jews, yet no one intervened, although they knew about the horrors that the Nazis were committing. 

English people had been perfectly and promptly informed of the fact that the Nazis were ruthlessly exterminating millions of innocent civilians at the beginning of the conflict. They could have denounced the massacre and intervened by stopping or at least limiting the destructive extent of the Shoah, but they chose silence.

In 1941 the battalion number 316 of the German police was in a swampy village between Ukraine and Belarusians. All the ways out were blocked, the order was to kill all the male Jews and to drown, then bury, all the women in the swamps. In a short time 1,658 Jews were eliminated. The German police tried to hide the event, but the story spread very quickly. 

The documents proved without any doubt that the Allies, London in particular, knew well what had been happening since 1940. The extermination took place practically under the eyes of the Western democracies, which did not do enough to stop it and at first remained completely inert.

The American also knew about the Shoah but did little.  At the time over 15.000 articles were published in American newspapers, but no one (including the important Jew film producers) took the topic seriously,  maybe because they were frightened and didn’t want to expose themselves, they limited the distribution of the films to Germany.

The British, maybe with the help of the Americans, could have organized military actions to protect part of the civilian populations attacked by the Nazis. But above all, they could have opened their doors to save millions of refugees, who instead found themselves trapped and ended up being exterminated. 

Despite this, during the war, many Jew associations lobbied for intervention, at least thirty, including the Jewish World Congress. But, unfortunately, they failed to achieve anything. 

Sometimes the bureaucracy did not help finding a solution: the government equipment was often not aware of all the information in their possession. The Royal Aviation Information Service, for example, had high-resolution images taken from reconnaissance flights from concentration camps, but they ended up buried in the collected material of the sea.

Many people stated that the bombings were not feasible, even if they had wanted to, but in the meanwhile in 1943, three squadrons of Mosquito bombed a prison in Amiens (France), to facilitate the escape of political prisoners and partisans. Even an American pilot, who took part in the East Europe operations, said:” We often flew over Auschwitz, it was a meeting point for our operations in the area”.

Jan Romuald Kozielewski’s story is emblematic of this paradoxical situation. With the pseudonym Jan Karski, he met some Jewish leaders in the Warsaw ghetto and the Izbica transit ghetto, who provided him reports on the mass killings in the Belzec extermination camp.

Later, Karski was able to pass these detailed reports to Allied leaders, including US President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the result was yet another deafening silence.

Throughout his life, Karski continued to carry out what he himself called an “unfinished mission” and as a posthumous recognition of his heroic commitment. In 2016 in the historic Jewish district of Kazimierz, a monument was unveiled depicting a bench with the Karski sat comfortably, as if waiting for someone to pay attention to his testimony.


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