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The Holocaust History Project.
The Holocaust History Project.

British: What Did They Know?


I am currently writing a project on how much the British Government really knew about the Holocaust during the war. I was wondering if you could tell me your opinions about how much the British government knew, and if so how much did they know and why you think they concealed their knowledge of it.

I have many sources saying that the Government did know a lot, and I have recently ordered a new book by Prof. Richard Breitman called Official Secrets, and I know this would be of paramount importance to my study. I feel that some opinions from an official group would also help me develope more ideas for my project.

One last question is, do you think that the British Government could have been able to stop the Nazis with hurting the Jews, such as bombing the camps?

Yale F. Edeiken answers:

You are correct in stating that the most recent research indicates that knowledge of the Holocaust was much more widespread then previously thought. This does not, however, invalidate the conclusions of previous research. Prior to the recent publication of many documents, the consensus of historians was that information about the Holocaust was sufficiently known to allow the allies to understand the genocide being committed by the Third Reich. The recent documents have only reinforced this conclusion and, therefore, many older works on this subject are still quite reliable.

Your second question -- whether the allies could have had an effect on the progress of the Holocaust -- is far more controversial. There are many who argue that there were several avenues, such as the bombing of Auschwitz, which could have slowed down the killings. Others are not sure that any such effort would have had a discernible effect. While the failure of the allies to pay more attention to the genocide was one of the great failures of the alliance, there is no consensus as to what could have been done. Several of the books I have listed for you argue that the bombing of Auschwitz would have slowed down the killings. On the opposite side Lucy Dawidowicz, a leading authority on the Holocaust, argues that such bombing would have had no effect on the genocide.

The Holocaust History Project is neither an "official" group or an association of professional historians. Our own opinions, therefore, on a controversial question like this are only our private opinions. You must - as we at The Holocaust History Project have done as individuals -- come to your own conclusions based on the evidence you find during your research.

Here are some books which should give you a good start.

  • Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies

  • Arthur Morse, While Six Million Died

  • David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews

  • Walter Laqueur The Terrible Secret

A defense of the actions of the Allies can be found in:

  • Lucy Dawidowicz, What is the Use of Jewish History?

A balanced view of the arguments which also includes descriptions of other sources can be found in:

  • Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History

I hope this gives you an idea of how to start your research.

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Last modified: September 4, 1999
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