This encyclopedic work, by a French Jew, covers many details about the emergence of news about what has become to be known as the Holocaust. Some of the early information is valuable and correct only when viewed in hindsight.
Several factors stood as immediate barriers to the appreciation of the information that came in. One of these was the recalling of WWI-era mass-atrocity accounts that later turned out to be bogus. For instance, the DAILY TELEGRAPH published an article, in March 1916, stating the gassing of 700,000 Serbs by the Austrians and Bulgarians. (p. 9). Second, Polish Jews were not, for a long time, particularly afraid of the Germans, whom they regarded as the Kuturvolk. In fact, Laqueur estimates that the Jews who voluntarily moved from Soviet-occupied Poland to German-occupied Poland numbered in the "many thousand(s)." (p. 124).
The first stage of the Holocaust--the mass shootings of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen units in the wake of Operation Barbarossa--was regularly publicized by Polish sources. (p. 68, 72, 83, 109). Similar information came about the death camps at Chelmno, Belzec, and Sobibor. Later, the OSS (American intelligence) was kept informed about the Treblinka death camp, before August and September 1942, by Polish sources. (p. 97).
The flames in the Auschwitz crematories were said to rise 5 meters above the chimneys (p. 24), and to be visible 15-20 km away. (p. 23). The odors were said to be noticeable not only in the kilometers around the camp, but even at Katowitz (Katowice) (p. 23), some 25 km away. [I knew an eyewitness, Jerzy Gnat, who lived in Katowice at the time, and he scoffed at this notion.]. Laqueur does not make it clear how, in the absence of hindsight, distantly-originating sights and smells by themselves translate into certainty about human bodies being cremated, the scale of these acts, and the nationality of the people being cremated.
Although bits and pieces of information about the systemic murders of the Jews trickled in from many sources, the author is unambiguous in his identification of the German-occupied nation that did the most to alert the world about the unfolding Holocaust: "The first authentic and detailed news about the `final solution' came from inside Poland." (p. 101). "The records, to repeat, show that the first authentic news about the `final solution' was transmitted to the West by couriers and the radio station of the [Polish] Home Army...The Polish case is very briefly that they did what they could, usually at great risk and in difficult conditions. If the news about the mass murders was not believed abroad this was not the fault of the Poles." (p. 106). "The record of the Polish Underground and the Polish Government-in-exile was not perfect, as far as the publication of news about the `final solution' is concerned. But the long report submitted by Edward Raczynski, the Polish representative of the Allied governments, of 9 December 1942 contained the fullest survey of the `final solution'. No other Allied government was remotely as outspoken at the time and for a long time after." (p. 121).
The author reviews certain insinuations about Poles being tardy in disclosing what they knew (p. 106, pp. 200-201) (accusations later revived by, for example, David Engel). He leaves these insinuations an open question and comments: "If the Poles showed less sympathy and solidarity with Jews than many Danes and Dutch, they behaved far more humanely than Romanians or Ukrainians, than Lithuanians and Latvians. A comparison with France would be by no means unfavorable for Poland. In view of the Polish pre-war attitudes towards Jews, it is not surprising that there was so little help, but that there was so much." (p. 107). [In making the last statement, Laqueur evidently does not appreciate the essential difference between the conventional anti-Semitism practiced by some Poles and the exterminationist anti-Semitism practiced by the Nazis.]
Pointedly, Laqueur also realizes that there was plenty of blame to go around: "The Poles did not realize immediately the scale of the Nazi plot to exterminate all Jews. But most Polish Jews were even slower in understanding that they were not facing isolated pogroms but something infinitely worse." (p. 107). "If one finds fault with them [Poles], what is one to say about the Russians, who deliberately played it down from the beginning to this day? What about the British Foreign Office which decided in late 1943 to delete any reference to the use of gas chambers because the evidence was untrustworthy? What about the American officials who tried to suppress the `unauthorized news' from Eastern Europe? What about the Jewish leaders who continued to doubt the authenticity of the news well after it should have been obvious that there was no more room for doubt?" (pp. 121-122).
As for the conduct of the Vatican, Laqueur characterizes its alleged inaction as follows: "Probably it was a case of pusillanimity rather than anti-Semitism. If the Vatican did not dare to come to the help of hundreds [actually, thousands] of Polish priests who also died in Auschwitz, it was unrealistic to expect that it would show more courage and initiative on behalf of the Jews." (p. 55).