Book Review

The Abandonment Of The Jews:
America and the Holocaust

  • The Abandonment Of The Jews: America and the Holocaust, by David S. Wyman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, 444 pages, Hb.

Reviewed by Mark Weber

Most of the important information assembled in this significant new book has already been presented and evaluated by others, most notably by Bernard Wasserstein, Martin Gilbert and Arthur Morse. But in The Abandonment of the Jews, David Wyman goes further than any other historian to accuse the Allied wartime leadership of passive complicity in the Holocaust.

Wyman makes no secret of his basic outlook. In the preface he describes himself as "strongly pro-Zionist" and a "resolute supporter of the state of Israel." He is a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles. The bias that pervades this book is reflected, for example, in Wyman's reference to "the alleged Russian massacre of Polish officers at the Katyn forest." (p. 334. Emphasis added.) While eager to accept at face value the unsubstantiated Holocaust story, Wyman is unwilling to acknowledge the indisputably established Soviet slaughter of thousands of leading Poles in the Katyn forest near Smolensk.

Wyman devotes just three pages of "evidence" for the Holocaust itself, including a lengthy excerpt from the widely-quoted affidavit of Hermann Graebe (Nuremberg document 2992-PS) describing a mass shooting of Soviet Jews in 1942. Wyman does not mention (and probably does not know) that in 1964 and 1965 Graebe was proven to have been a professional liar who perjured himself in 145 Allied "war crimes" trials, and that his famous "eyewitness" affidavit is now thoroughly discredited. (See: Der Spiegel, 29 December 1965, pp. 25-28) Also cited is Göring's well-known letter of 31 July 1941 to Heydrich which Wyman describes as the "directive" for "the systematic extermination of all Jews in the Nazi grip." But as the letter's text (not given by Wyman) makes rather clear, and as Martin Broszat and some other anti-Hitler historians have conceded, Göring's reference to "the final solution of the Jewish question" in this key document meant peaceful emigration and deportation, not extermination.

Wyman's main charge is that the British and American political leaders, including President Roosevelt, turned down numerous proposals that they knew would have saved hundreds of thousands of European Jews from certain death at German hands. In doing so, Wyman argues, the Allied leaders showed inexcusable indifference, betrayed their own highly-touted moral principles, and therefore share some historical responsibility for the slaughter of European Jewry.

But there is another explanation for this apparently heinous negligence: Along with others in a position to know, the Allied leaders did not believe their own propaganda that Germany was systematically destroying Europe's Jews. (This point has already been dealt with at some length in The Journal by A. Butz, Winter 1982, and K.C. Gleason, Winter 1984.) Wyman assembles compelling evidence for this alternative explanation, but like other Holocaust historians, he ignores the obvious and tries instead to make the evidence fit his preconceived thesis. To the unbiased reader, the facts he presents actually cast severe doubt on the Holocaust story.

Rabbi Stephen Wise, who was president of both the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, announced at a press conference in late November 1942 that, according to information confirmed by the State Department, the Germans had already killed two million European Jews as part of an "extermination campaign." In fact, the State Department had confirmed nothing of the kind. Two weeks later, its specialist for European Jewish affairs, R. Borden Reams, urged higher Department official's to try to persuade Wise "to call off, or at least to tone down, the present world-wide publicity campaign concerning 'mass murders' and particularly to ask Dr. Wise to avoid any implications that the State Department furnished him with official documentary proof of these stories."

The State Department issued a formal statement, which was made public on 4 September 1942, protesting the "brutal mass murders" of "hundreds of thousands" of Jews deported from Germany and other countries under German control "in accordance with the announced policy of the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe." But as Wyman points out, the day before this statement was made public, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles privately assured Wise that in reality the deported Jews were not being killed. The "real purpose" of the deportation program, Welles said, was "to use Jews in connection with war work" in Germany, Poland and Russia.

And although President Roosevelt had issued a vaguely worded condemnation in July 1942 of the alleged German extermination of the Jews, he privately told his close Jewish confidant Felix Frankfurter in mid-September 1942 not to worry because the deported Jews were simply being employed in the Soviet frontier area. While Walter Laqueur and a few other Jewish historians have cited this revealing statement by Roosevelt, Wyman prefers to ignore it.

As Wyman repeatedly emphasizes, the U.S. and British governments turned down numerous proposals to accept European Jews out of fear that Hitler would eagerly turn over masses of Jews to the Allies. This issue was brought up, for example, at a White House conference on 27 March 1943 of top American and British wartime leaders, including President Roosevelt, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, presidential advisor Harry Hopkins and the British Ambassador to Washington, Lord Halifax. Hull raised the question of having the Allies offer to accept 60,000 to 70,000 Jews from Bulgaria, a German ally. Eden replied

that the whole problem of the Jews in Europe is very difficult and that we should move cautiously about offering to take all Jews out of a country like Bulgaria. If we do that, then the Jews of the world will be wanting us to make similar offers in Poland and Germany. Hitler might well take us up on any such offer and there simply are not enough ships and means of tranportation in the world to handle them.

The conference record shows that no one present objected to or even questioned Eden's statement. Apparently no one really believed the Allied story that the Jews of Poland and Germany were being exterminated.

Similarly, the representatives to the April 1943 joint British-American refugees conference in Bermuda also did not speak as if they believed the official claims of their own governments. Delegate Richard Law, the British parliamentary undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, said that if the Allies agreed to accept Europe's Jews, Hitler might offer two million of them, which would make the Allies "look exceedingly foolish." Another British delegate, Osbert Peake of the British Home Office, cautioned that the Allies should not relieve Hitler of the burden of having to care for Jews who couldn't work. "Many of the potential refugees are empty mouths for which Hitler has no use," Peake said. "It would be relieving Hitler of an obligation to take care of these useless people. If Hitler would agree to release a large number of old people and children, we should be placed in a ridiculous position ..." One conference delegate explained the problem to reporters: "Suppose he [Hitler] did let two million or so Jews out of Europe, what would we do with them?"

In May 1943, State Department official Robert Alexander opposed proposals to accept masses of European Jews under German control because that would "take the burden and the curse off Hitler." In October 1943 a State Department advisor on political relations strongly opposed any Allied offer to accept European Jews because the Germans might agree and the "net result would be the transfer of odium from the German to the Allied governments." The head of the British Foreign Office's Refugee Department, A.W.G. Randall, noted in an internal communication in late December 1943: "Once we open the door to adult male Jews to be taken out of enemy territory, a quite unmanageable flood may result. (Hitler may facilitate it!)" U.S. Treasury Department lawyer Randoph Paul commented on the Allied unwillingness to accept Jews: "I don't know how we can blame the Germans for killing them [the Jews] when we are doing this. The law calls [it] para-delicto, of equal guilt ..."

At the end of May 1944 (when most of Europe's Jews had supposedly already been killed), the British War Cabinet's Committee on Refugees turned down a proposed arrangement for transporting large numbers of Jews from Axis-controlled Europe in part because it could "lead to an offer to unload an even greater number of Jews on our hands."

One of the biggest non-issues raised by Holocaust publicists in recent years has been why the United States did not bomb Auschwitz-Birkenau during the war. Chapter 15 of Wyman's book, much of which originally appeared in 1978 in Commentary magazine, is devoted to this question. Discussion of this issue was also stimulated by the release and publication in 1978 of a series of detailed aerial reconnaissance photos taken of the Auschwitz camp complex by Allied aircraft during the war. The most important of these were photos of Birkenau taken on various dates in April, June, August and September 1944, when as many as 10,000 Jews were supposedly gassed and cremated there every 24 hours.

While Jewish leaders and numerous publications eagerly misrepresented these photos to charge that Allied officials knowingly permitted the slaughter of Jews, these photos are actually important evidence that there were no mass killings at Auschwitz. The remarkably detailed enlargements of these photos show no evidence at all of the alleged extermination operation: no crowds of Jews awaiting gassing, no smoke or flame billowing from the crematories which were supposedly in continuous operation, and no trace of ashes or corpses. Although Wyman refers to them in passing, he says nothing about what these aerial photos show (or don't show).

America's most influential newspapers have warmly praised The Abandonment of the Jews. The New York Times alone ran no less than four glowing tributes: a lengthy front page review in the nationally distributed Sunday "Book Review" section, a second review in a week day edition, a "news" article "puff piece" about the book, and a sympathetic profile of author Wyman. Daily newspapers across the country ran syndicated reprints of the laudatory Times pieces. The book was also enthusiastically reviewed by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor. Wyman appeared as the main guest on an ABC "Nightline" broadcast devoted to the book's central thesis. Various writers, including nationally syndicated columnist Max Lerner and Village Voice contributor Sol Stern, have seized upon the book to castigate Roosevelt for his alleged complicity in the Holocaust. As a result of this kind of coverage, The Abandonment of the Jews may have already put a real dent in the Roosevelt iconography. The book's greatest significance, though, is probably as an expression of a growing trend to shift the collective guilt for what is regarded as history's most evil deed from Hitler and the Germans to all of non-Jewish humanity, including the Americans. For those who uphold the Holocaust story, as well as for revisionists who challenge it, The Abandonment of the Jews is an important work.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 3), pages 369-373.