This collection of essays about the feasibility of bombing the crematoria and gas chambers at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz and the railways leading to it in 1944 presents virtually every aspect of the issue--from the available intelligence about the camp to military logistical and operational considerations to the British and American politics behind the decision not to intervene to the likely casualties caused and lives saved by such an intervention if it had taken place. Don't come to this book expecting facile, clear, categorical answers to the issues. While most authors have their own viewpoints to argue, collectively, the essays present a reasonably balanced set of perspectives on the pros and cons of bombing Auschwitz and its environs. The editors largely leave it to the reader to decide what could and should have been done. They are to be commended for their overall objectivity.
Especially compelling are the aerial reconnaisance photographs and contemporary documents included in the book. One photograph alone--showing Auschwitz from high above, with the crematoria bracketed by bombs dropped to destroy the adjacent IG Farben slave labor factory--is especially haunting, since it shows very vividly that not only could the Allies have bombed the killing facilities at Auschwitz/Birkenau, they did bomb a facility literally only a few miles away. (Former Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is quoted to the effect that the Allies knew enough and had the capacity to bomb Auschwitz; the problem, he asserts, was that the Jews did not have enough political clout at the time to command attention and military resources.)
Among the documents included in the volume is a detailed report from two Slovakian Jews who escaped from Auschwitz, documenting very clearly that early in 1944 detailed information was available to Allied leaders about the massive murders being carried out there. It also included a remarkably accurate map of the area, drawn from memory by the escapees.
Many of the essays caution the reader against the fallacy of "presentism"--reading the history of over half a century ago through the prism of the present along with its political and ethical standards. For example, at the time that it first became militarily feasible to bomb Auschwitz--late spring and early summer of 1944, when American bombers were operating out of southern Italy--the Allies were understandbly preoccupied with launching the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and most available British-American resources in the European theater were being devoted to that goal. Nor was victory over the Nazis a certainty at this time. Thus, the repeated response of U.S. War Department officials that military resources could not be diverted to bomb Auschwitz is a bit more understandable, albeit still morally obtuse in light of the boming of the nearby I.G. Farben works. (None of the essays seems to recognize that the allocation of military resources at the time was not 100-percent efficient--a point underscored repeatedly in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22.") Similarly, there was some political concern that openly proclaiming an Allied goal of halting the slaughter of the Jews might backfire, given the widely prevalent anti-Semitism in both the U.K. and U.S.A. at the time. None of the points like these seems to be presented to excuse Allied inaction so much as to explain it.
As might be expected, the essays vary a great deal in quality. A few seem excessively detailed and verbose, but most are quite thought-provoking, well-written, and informative. None is an easy read, however--this is not a book for the reader who does not feel like investing a good deal of time, concentration, and energy. Nonetheless, it is a book not to be missed by anyone seriously interested in the Holocaust and World War II in Europe. I learned more from this book about both those topics than I have from any single book in a long time. Pay attention to the endnotes, too--they are filled with additional insights.