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The centerpiece of the Wyman Insitute event was the first-ever showing of a new film interview with former U.S. Senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, who as a World War II pilot bombed targets close to the Auschwitz death camp. In the interview, McGovern
said that he could have bombed the gas chambers, if only the Roosevelt administration had not made the “tragic mistake” of refusing to order such bombing raids.
L to R: Stephen Solarz, Rafael Medoff, Kay King
The event, which was cosponsored by the Wyman Institute and the House International Relations Committee’s Task Force on Anti-Semitism. It was held in the Rayburn House Office Building, on Capitol Hill, before a standing-room-only audience.
During the summer and autumn of 1944, U.S. bomber pilots, including McGovern, repeatedly bombed German oil factories that were part of the Auschwitz camp complex--but were never instructed to hit the gas chambers or the railways leading to them, even though the Allied leadership had detailed information about the mass-murder going on there. McGovern said that “entire crews,” including himself, “would certainly have volunteered” for a mission to bomb Auschwitz, if they had been asked.
"There is no question we should have attempted ... to go after Auschwitz," McGovern said in the interview, which was conducted at his home in South Dakota last month, by filmmaker Stuart Erdheim of the Wyman Institute and Haim Hecht of Israel Television. "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."
The interview with McGovern was facilitated by Dr. Racelle Weiman, who is director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education at Hebrew Union College, and a member of the Wyman Institute's Academic Council. Dr. Weiman's initiative in contacting Senator McGovern has opened up an important new area of research and information concerning the bombing issue.
"Franklin Roosevelt was a great man and he was my political hero," McGovern said. "But I think he made two great mistakes in World War Two." One was the internment of Japanese-Americans; the other was the decision "not to go after Auschwitz ... God forgive us for that tragic miscalculation."
McGovern said that the Auschwitz experience should produce "a determination that never again will we fail to exercise the full capacity of our strength in that direction ... we should have gone all out [against Auschwitz] and we must never again permit genocide."
L to R: Rafael Medoff, Stephen Solarz, Kay King
Former U.S. Congressman Stephen Solarz, a leading member of the Wyman Institute's Advisory Committee, also spoke at the event. He described America's response to the Nazi genocide as "one of the greatest moral failures in the history of U.S. foreign policy." Noting the argument that Auschwitz should not have been bombed because some of the inmates might have been harmed, Solarz recalled a conversation he had with a survivor of Auschwitz, who said that an Allied bombing of the camp "would have been our finest hour," despite the risk of civilian casualties, because it would have interrupted the mass-murder process. Solarz served in Congress for 18 years, and a was prominent member of the House International Relations Committee.
Also speaking at the Capitol Hill event were Dr. Kay King, senior staff member of the House International Relations Committee, Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff, and filmmaker Stuart Erdheim, a member of the Wyman Institute's Arts & Letters Council, who was one of those who interviewed McGovern, and directed "They Looked Away,” a recent documentary about the Auschwitz bombing issue.
Stuart Erdheim (standing), Stephen Solarz
Among the media which covered the event were CNN, BBC Television, the Associated Press, United Press International, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In addition, an op-ed about the McGovern interview and the bombing issue, coauthored by Rep. Solarz and Dr. Medoff, has been published in numerous newspapers around the United States and as far away as Taiwan, where it appeared in the daily Taiwan News. (For the full text of the Solarz-Medoff op-ed, click here.)