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Knowledge of The Holocaust

Nazi efforts to clear the continent of Jews depended upon the cooperation of Germany's allies and satellites, asked to turn their Jews over and given a convenient pretext that Jews were being resettled and used for labor in the East. SS and police officials tried to deceive Jews themselves from the moment of assembly or roundup, through the train transports, and until they actually entered the gas chambers at the extermination camps. The more Jews went into hiding or engaged in resistance, the more difficult it was for the Nazi bureaucracy of death to complete the job efficiently. Finally, given exact knowledge of what fate lay ahead for the Jews, more non-Jews might have helped them hide or escape. Neutral countries might have allowed groups of Jewish refugees to enter, rather than turn them away.

In September 1939 British intelligence began to 'read' the radio messages of the German Order Police, the large branch of the German police headed by Kurt Daluege. At least two battalions of Order Police carried out mass killings of Poles and Jews during the military campaign in Poland. British analysts learned of some of these murders through Order Police radio messages which they quickly deciphered, partly in a cooperative effort with French intelligence. The Order Police used obsolete World War I-era coding systems (hand ciphers, as opposed to the more sophisticated Enigma machine codes), which made their codes easier to break than those of Reinhard Heydrich's special mobile police units, the Einsatzgruppen.

Shortly after Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, British codebreakers at Bletchley Park deciphered some messages to and from the Higher SS and Police authorities in the Soviet territories sent through the Order Police communications network. The analysts recognized that Nazi mass murders of civilians had not only resumed, but were expanding. Between late July and mid-September 1941 the Higher SS and Police Leaders in the Soviet territories reported many details of the killing actions carried out by Order Police battalions and other Nazi forces under their command.

On September 12, 1941, the MI-6 staff declared in a note: "The fact that the Police are killing all Jews that fall into their hands should by now be sufficiently well appreciated. It is not therefore proposed to continue reporting these butcheries specially [to the Prime Minister], unless so requested." 31 This initial conclusion applied only to Nazi policy in the Soviet territories, not Nazi policy across the continent.

On January 22, 1942, the British Postal and Telegraph Censorship Office issued its third report in a special wartime series on Jewry. 29 Describing the situation of Jews on the continent, an unidentified official commented: "Policy of Extermination. The Germans clearly pursue a policy of extermination against the Jews. From an official German document the statement is quoted: 'The only things Jewish that will remain in Poland will be Jewish cemeteries.' "

In the summer of 1942 a Jewish labor organization (the Bund) got word to London that 700,000 Polish Jews had already died, and the BBC took the story seriously. The State Department, however, doubted the August 1942 report that Nazi Germany had a policy of resolving the Jewish question with the murder of up to four million Jews by means of poison gas. That information was sent by anti-Nazi German industrialist Eduard Schulte through intermediaries to Gerhart Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, and from there to London and Washington. Even in the fall of 1942 there was considerable resistance in Washington to the conclusion that the Nazis were singling Jews out for "extermination."

By October 1942 the West had received partial information about the Holocaust from a multitude of sources. Existing historical accounts of the private meeting between Himmler and Mussolini, which took place on October 11, 1942, are usually drawn from Himmler's own detailed summary of the meeting. After covering various topics, Himmler gave Mussolini a version of Germany's policy toward the Jews that was more invented than sanitized. According to Himmler, because Jews were the source of sabotage, espionage, and resistance - even women and children -- they were being removed from Germany, the General Government of Poland, and other occupied territories. Mussolini supposedly agreed with Himmler that this was the only possible solution. Himmler then spoke of sending some Jews into concentration camps and using others for construction of roads in the East. The mortality was high, because these Jews had never worked before, Himmler said. The oldest Jews were quartered in old age homes as well as in a special ghetto at Theresienstadt, where they could live according to their taste. Another portion of the Jews had been pushed through the lines to the East, where the Russians had shot them.



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