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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Not Guilty Reconsidering the Allies and the Holocaust BY CHAR MILLER THE MYTH OF RESCUE: Why the Democracies Could Not Have Saved More Jews From the Nazis. By William D. Rubenstein. Routledge. 267 pages. $25.00. 1 ” have just seen the most terrible place on the face of the earth the German concentration camp at Maidanek,” reporter W.H. Lawrence wired The New York Times in the summer of 1944. The massive 670-acre camp, located just outside of Lublin, Poland, comprised a vast complex of barracks, guarded by fourteen machine-gun turrets, and patrolled by more than 200 man-tracking dogs. This abattoir was “a veritable River Rouge for the production of death, in which it is estimated by Soviet and Polish authorities that as many as 1,500,000 persons from nearly every country in Europe were killed in the last three years.” Lawrence’s tour of the Maidanek camp began when he stumbled through a building strewn with tens of thousands of shoes, “spread across the floor like grain in a halffilled elevator.” Next was a visit to the camp’s bathhouse all prisoners received a soaking “in advance of execution because the hot water opened their pores and generally improved the speed with which the poison gas took effect” and then on to hermetically sealed gas chambers, where he learned that the Nazis had perfected the use of Zyklon gas so as to kill 100 people within minutes. The brutality continued after death: German soldiers systematically knocked out gold teeth from the corpses, before carting them off to the massive crematoria that incinerated 1,900 bodies a day. Shaken, Lawrence admitted that his journalistic detachment could not hold up under the crushing weight of horror. “After [my] inspection of Maidanek,” he wrote in an article that appeared in the Times on August 30, 1944, “I am now prepared to believe any story of German atrocities no matter how savage, cruel and depraved.” Accounts such as Lawrence’s did a great deal to shape how the larger world responded to Nazi brutality during World War II. The Nuremberg Trials, after all, were governed by the conviction that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity, and the tribunal prosecuted those brought before it with the confidence that it was exacting global revenge on behalf of those millions who had perished in Maidanek and the other death camps. Hannah Arendt would not share that confidence about a later trial; her Eichmann in Jerusalem prosecution of one of Hitler’s most willing executioners. And she offered a new explanation of the “Final Solution”: in creating an unprecedented killing machine, the German totalitarian state depended upon psychological indifference what Arendt called the “banality of evil.” “Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth,” she observed. “He merely never realized what he was doing.” There were all too many. Eichmanns: men and women, Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, and others, whose active participation is so chillingly detailed in Raul Hilberg’s massive three-volume The Destruction of European Jewry whose findings shaped Claude Lanzmann’ s searing documentary, Shoah these analyses, however, simply sustained the conclusion Lawrence had reached forty years earlier in his shocked report about the Lublin killing factory: “I have been present at numerous atrocity investigations in the Soviet Union, but never have I been confronted with such complete evidence, clearly establishing every allegation made by those investigating German crimes.” The thought that those on the sidelines might bear even a small share of guilt never surfaced until the mid-sixties. It received its most complete articulation in David Wyman’s The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust fished the same year that Hilberg’s seminal work seemed to demonstrate the extent of German culpability. Agreeing that the “Nazis were murderers,” Wyman nonetheless alleged that “we were the all too passive accomplices.” The first person plural encompassed the U.S. nation state, as well as American Christians, who “forgot about the Good Samaritan,” and even American Jews, who “lacked the unquenchable sense of urgency the crisis demanded.” Charging that divisions within domestic Jewish communities, and a virulent strain of antiSemitism in the State Department and larger society, had prevented swift action in the face of compelling evidence of a Holocaust, Wyman then directly accused Franklin Roosevelt. According to Wyman, the genial aristocrat’s “indifference to so momentous an historical event” marked the “worst failure of his presidency.” To reinforce the concept of American complicity, Wyman proposed a remarkable counter-factual argument for what might \(read: have been done to rescue those imprisoned within war-torn Europe. Had the War Refugee Board been established earlier than 1943 and been more substantially funded, it might have freed any number of victims. The United States government, moreover, should have pursued a series of diplomatic initiatives to force the Germans to free the Jews: negotiations with Hitler and his Axis allies; encouragement of neutral nations, such as Switzerland and Sweden, to become safe havens for Jews in flight; the diversion of shipping to speed these refugees away from the embattled continent; and, most of all, the elimination of Auschwitz through aerial bombardment. Had these actions been taken, Wyman speculated, hundreds of thousands of lives would have been spared. That none were, wrote Wyman, was due to the fact that “European Jews were not Americans and they were not English. It was their particular misfortune not only to be foreigners but also to be Jews.” Anglo-American 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 10, 1998