The New York Times and the Holocaust, and other items

January 27, 2005

This is the first of five dispatches today that will deal with the commemoration of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. (See here and here for links to the other four.)

While this email list primarily concerns Middle Eastern politics and the media, it occasionally includes items concerning anti-Semitism. This is because these can be relevant to the way in which policies towards the Arab-Israeli dispute are formulated by governments, and to the mindset and prejudices of those reporting on the conflict.

-- Tom Gross



1. The New York Times and the Holocaust
2. Henry Orenstein
3. How the Jews in France were rounded up (The Guardian, Sept. 3, 1942)
4. The German massacres of Jews in Poland (The Guardian, Dec. 11, 1942)
5. "You must give some meaning to my condemned existence" (By Zalmen Gradowski, a Polish Jew, who wrote this in Auschwitz just before he died in a camp revolt in October 1944.)
6. Hell let loose – A doctor describes the gas chambers (The Manchester Guardian, Oct. 2 1945) (This article contains testimony given at the trials of Nazi war criminals held at Luneberg)


[Note by Tom Gross]

Today, January 27, 2005, marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army. Those who will attend the official ceremony in Poland, include presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Jacques Chirac of France, Horst Kohler of Germany, the newly-elected Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, Moshe Katsav of Israel and Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland.

Britain has not sent its head of state nor its prime minister, nor has America, which will be represented by vice-president Dick Cheney. All three living former US presidents, Bill Clinton, George Bush senior, and Jimmy Carter, are expected to attend.

Britain is sending only Prince Edward, the queen's fourth and youngest child, and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, a level of representation that has raised eyebrows among some organizers and diplomats.



Below I attach three articles from 1942 and 1945 from The Guardian newspaper, which was then known as The Manchester Guardian, and an account by Zalmen Gradowski, a Polish Jew, written shortly before his death in Auschwitz.

I attach the articles from The Guardian (which speaks in 1942 of "The German scheme for total extermination [of the Jews]") as a reminder that there were news reports concerning the genocide of European Jewry from 1941 but the Allied powers did next to nothing to stop it over the next four years.

As I have pointed out before on this list, the most influential paper in the world, the New York Times, fearing that people might think it a "Jewish" paper, deliberately suppressed coverage of the Holocaust. When it did carry reports, these were often brief and buried inside the paper.

Example 1: The two inches (yes, that was all) that the New York Times devoted on June 27, 1942 to the news that "700,000 Jews were reported slain in Poland."

Example 2: Reports in December 1942 that "two million Jews had been killed and five million more faced extermination" appeared only on page 20 of the New York Times.

Example 3: The New York Times reported (accurately) on July 2, 1944 that 400,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to their deaths so far and 350,000 more were to be killed in the next weeks. Yet this news received only four column inches on page 12. The Times found room on that edition's front page to analyze the problem of New York holiday crowds on the move.

The disgraceful lack of coverage by the New York Times and other American papers has been well documented by historians. The New York Times has never adequately apologized for it. Had the Times reported properly on the Holocaust at the time (this in an age before television), other papers would probably have followed suit, and US public opinion may have forced the US government to act.

Even though the New York Times' Middle East coverage has improved slightly in recent months, it remains poor, and today it continues to bend over backwards to avoid being seen as the "Jew York Times," as one anti-Semitic European journalist I used to work with in Israel called it. (For more on this see "All The News That's Fit To Print? The NY Times and Israel"



As far as I am aware, there are three concentration camp survivors who are subscribers to this email list. One of them is my friend Henry Orenstein, who is now 81, and lives in New Jersey. Henry is the survivor of five concentration camps. He was liberated on May 2, 1945, near the old German university town of Rostok, in the midst of the Sachsenhausen death march that had already claimed many lives.

His parents, Lieb and Golda Orenstein, were shot dead in the cemetery of their home village of Hrubieszow on October 28 1942.

The following words were conveyed to me by Henry yesterday to mark today’s commemoration and in relation to the recent dispatch (Forgetting to mention the Jews: The BBC, Prince Harry, and the Holocaust.):

"Firstly let me emphasize that in spite of all the moving words written about the Holocaust it remains impossible to adequately convey in writing the full horror, brutality and torture of what actually happened.

"Although I still live in hope that the world will become a better place, I am very disappointed by the people of Western Europe. As a little boy in Poland, I thought of Western Europe as a place of enlightenment, of understanding and humanity, as the cradle of western civilization. I was wrong. Even today, the new generation in Western Europe does not measure up at all to this. They have barely absorbed the lessons of the Holocaust. That is if they have given much thought to it or understood it at all, even though it happened right there in their backyard."

Henry's wartime experiences can be read in his vivid, touching, stirring autobiography, "I Shall Live: Surviving against all odds, 1939-1945," published by Beaufort in 1987, with a forward by filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, director of "Shoah."




How the Jews in France were rounded up
Terror still growing
From our special correspondent
The Manchester Guardian
September 3, 1942

The round-up of Jews in occupied France was begun on July 14 and reached its height on the night of the 15th to 16th.

Twenty-eight thousand people, including Jews of foreign origin, French Jews, and other French subjects regarded as suspects were wanted by the French and German authorities. Many were warned in time of what was to come, in several instances by the French constabulary. In Paris thousands of them tried to hide in the Eighteenth District. One of those who were taken into custody after their money and valuables had been forcibly taken from them the men were brought to the Velodrome d'Hiver and the women carted off to the Parc des Princes.

Not a single soul whom the police could lay hands on was allowed to go free. Inmates of the Rothschild Hospital, which had been set apart for patients from the camp at Drancy, were placed under arrest regardless of their condition and no matter how recently they had been operated upon. Children over three years old were separated from their mothers, about 5,000 of them being herded together in three school buildings, whither they were taken in lorries after their parents had been seized and their homes locked up by the police. Quite a number of the smaller children are unable to give their names and cannot be identified.

Efforts are now being made by the Quakers, the Salvation Army, and the Iraelite Union of France to improve conditions in the camps to which the adults were eventually transported. The prisoners are half-starved and deprived of the most elementary comforts. There is no proper sanitation, no medical supplies, and no kitchen equipment.

Children left in the streets

In and around Paris foreign Jews formed the majority among the victims, but in the provinces, where German police carried out the arrests, French and foreign Jews alike were rounded up. Thousands of them, men and women, were provisionally interned in a camp at Pithiviers. Children were simply left in the streets and the neighbours expressly forbidden to take them in. The police turned up even in out-of-the-way places for the purpose of arresting the solitary Jewish family known to be living there.

The plight of the French Jews was relieved to some extent by help and sympathy shown to them by their non-Jewish countrymen. Some were enabled to escape and numbers of children were given shelter and smuggled later into unoccupied territory, in spite of the danger involved. Others who evaded arrest are trying desperately to reach unoccupied France, and there is an almost uninterrupted stream of fugitives towards the demarcation line.



The German massacres of Jews in Poland
From our diplomatic correspondent
The Manchester Guardian
December 11, 1942

The Note on Jewish persecution in Poland which the Polish Government in London has addressed to the respective Governments of the United Nations contains a comprehensive account of the horrors being perpetrated by the Germans on Polish soil. The Note mentions "new methods of mass slaughter" and tells the ghastly story of the Warsaw Ghetto. It declares that the total number of Jews killed in Poland since the German occupation runs into many hundreds of thousands and that of the 3,130,000 Jews in Poland before the war over one-third have perished in the last three years whilst many millions of the Polish population have been either deported to Germany as slave labour or evicted from their homes and lands, and many of their leaders murdered.

The Polish Government asks that the United Nations shall take effective measures to help the Jews not only of Poland but of the whole of Europe, three to four millions of whom are in peril of ruthless extermination.

The anxiety expressed in the Polish Note is fully shared by the United Nations.

Discussions on the subject have been going on for some time. Mr. Eden has had conversations with Mr. Winant and Mr. Maisky and also with representatives of other allies. The outcome of these discussions has not yet been made public, but it is known that the accumulation of evidence concerning the massacres that have already taken place and the proof of German intentions for the future of European Jewry which is now available have convinced the representatives of the Great Powers of the need for immediate action.

The situation obviously calls for something more than a reaffirmation of principles or a condemnation of the indescribable deeds being done in fulfilment of a predetermined policy. There is a growing feeling that in spite of all the difficulties involved practical measures of help must be sought and found.

But it would seem that a change of outlook and approach to the problem must precede any undertaking of the kind. There should in the first place be a relaxation in the official methods which have hitherto so impeded the work of rescue as to make it almost impossible. In the case of countries still liable to an illegal influx of Jewish refugees certain assurances should perhaps be considered. It should be made clear to these States that they will not be left responsible for chance immigrants indefinitely but that provision will be made for them in the general reconstruction after the war.

The German scheme for total extermination can only be combated by radical means, and any plan of rescue must be evolved on a really broad and constructive basis. It is clear, therefore, that whatever body may be chosen to put into practice decisions made by the United Nations must start with a generous mandate, unfettered by petty limitations.

The Polish Note forms an important contribution to the documentation of this black chapter in history. The situation as outlined in the Note has already taken a turn for the worse, according to the most up-to-date information. It is feared that of the weekly average of 25,000 Jews reaching Eastern Poland from the countries of occupied Europe the vast majority are going to a ghastly death.



You must give some meaning to my condemned existence

Zalmen Gradowski, a Polish Jew, wrote this just before he died in a camp revolt in October 1944. His testimony was found buried near the gas ovens

Dear reader, I am writing these words in the hour of my greatest despair. I neither know nor believe I will ever reread these lines after the "storm" that is to come. Who knows whether one day I will have the satisfaction of revealing to the world the profound secret I carry in my heart? Who knows whether I will ever see or speak to a "free" man again? Perhaps these lines will be the only witnesses to the life I once lived.

But I will be content if my account reaches you, a free citizen of the world. Perhaps a spark from the fire that burns inside me will ignite within you and you will accomplish our shared desire. You will take vengeance, vengeance on the murderers! Esteemed discoverer of this account! I am writing to make this request of you: that some meaning is given to my condemned existence. That my infernal days, my futureless tomorrow will be of some use in times to come.

I am describing only a tiny part, the very minimum, of what has happened in this hell that is Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have written many other things. I think you will at least find their traces, and from all that you will gain some idea of how the children of our race were murdered.

In the large room, deep underground, 12 pillars support the weight of the building, harshly lit by electric light. Along the walls, benches and hooks await the victims' clothes. A sign advises the victims in several languages that they are now in the "baths" and they must remove their clothes so they can be cleaned. We find ourselves there with them and look at each other, petrified. They know, they understand. These are not baths. This room is the corridor of death, the antechamber to the grave.

The room fills and refills with people relentlessly. More convoys of new victims continue to arrive and the "room" continues to swallow them. We all stand there in a daze, unable to say a word to them. It's not the first time. We have already received many such convoys and seen many similar scenes...

We are all stupefied... They study us with dark, deep, saucer-like eyes ... We watch them compassionately, because we can already see a different scene, a scene of horror. In a few hours all these beating lives, these lively worlds, all this hubbub will be rigid and lifeless ...

I stand here next to a group of 10 or 15 women, knowing that it won't be long before their bodies end up in a wheelbarrow of ashes. No trace will be left of those who were here, so many of them, enough to fill entire towns. They will be wiped out, eradicated. It will be as if they were never born.

Our hearts are rent by pain. We feel and suffer the torments of the journey from life to death along with them ... You have to harden your heart, dull all sensitivity, stifle all feelings of grief... You have to become an automaton, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, knowing nothing.

Your arms and legs set to work, a group of comrades, each charged with his own task ... Bodies are pulled and dragged from the tangle, one by the foot, another by the hand, however you can. You would think that they would be torn limb from limb by all the tugging this way and that.

The corpse is dragged across the icy, dirty cement and the beautiful polished alabaster body sweeps all the mud and grime along with it. The soiled corpse is seized and laid out, face upwards, outside. Two frozen eyes fix upon you, as if asking, "What are you going to do with me, brother?"...

Three men are there to prepare the body. One has a cold pair of pincers that he thrusts into the beautiful mouth, looking for the treasure of a gold tooth, which he pulls out, flesh and all. The second uses his scissors to shear their curls, stripping them of their natural crowns. The third grabs roughly grabs their earrings, often dashed with blood, and uses the pincers to force off any rings which resist removal.

Now it's up to the goods lift. Two men pile the bodies like logs on the platform and once seven or eight have been loaded a signal is given and the lift rises... Up there, next to the lift, are four more men. On one side, two of them drag the bodies to the "reserve pile". The other two haul them straight to the crematoria. They lay them out in pairs in front of the mouth of each furnace.

Children are heaped at the side then added afterwards, thrown on top of each pair of adults. The corpses are piled on each other on the iron stretcher, the mouth of Gehenna is opened and the stretcher pushed in. The infernal fires reach out their tongues like open arms, seizing the body like a precious treasure. The hair catches light first. The skin swells and blisters, bursting open after a few seconds.

Arms and legs twist, veins and nerves seize up and cause the limbs to jerk. By now the whole body is ablaze, the skin splits open, fat spills out and you hear the fire sizzle. You can no longer make out the body, just a furnace of hellish fire that is feeding on something at its centre. The stomach bursts. The intestines and entrails pour out and within a few minutes no trace remains. The head takes longer to burn. Two little blue flames flash in the eye-sockets, consuming the brain and everything within, and the tongue chars in the mouth. The whole process takes 20 minutes, a body, a world, is reduced to dust...

We had already seen hundreds of thousands of young, robust, vigorous lives pass before our eyes; from Russia, from Poland and from Hungary-and ... not one had tried to resist or put up a fight. They went like lambs to the slaughter. In six months, there were only two exceptions. During a convoy from Bialystock, a brave young man launched himself upon the guards with knives and stabbed several of them before being killed as he escaped.

The second incident was... that of the "Warsaw convoy". They were from Warsaw who had taken American citizenship; some of them had been born in America. They were supposed to be transferred to an internment camp in Germany then eventually to Switzerland where they would be placed in the care of the Red Cross.

But instead of doing so, the great and "civilised" powers-that-be had them brought to the crematoria here. It was at this point that a heroic young woman, a dancer, committed an act of great bravery. Seizing the revolver of Kwakernak, the head of the camp's political section, she used it to shoot Schillinger, a notoriously nasty character. Her act inspired the other brave women with her, who launched bottles and other missiles at those savage, rabid animals, the uniformed SS.



Hell let loose
A doctor describes the gas chambers
The Manchester Guardian
October 2 1945

The Military Court sitting in Luneberg in judgment on Joseph Kramer and 44 members of his staff at Belsen has had a surfeit of horror during the past fortnight, but for sheer ghastliness nothing has equalled the description given in evidence today of the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The prosecution put forward an unexpected witness in Charles Bendel, a Rumanian doctor resident in Paris for many years, who was arrested there in 1943 for not wearing the yellow star and was sent to Auschwitz. Here he worked at a crematorium as doctor to the special Kommando of prisoners required to dispose of bodies from the gas chamber.

Dr Bendel's was the whitest face in the courtroom as, speaking in French in almost a whisper, he described a normal day at the cremating places during a period when 80,000, composing the whole ghetto of Lodz, were being wiped out. Even some of the accused, let alone the many British officers and German civilians in court, seemed appalled at the horror of it all.

At Birkenau, a sector of the main camp, there were, stated the witness, four crematoriums, each equipped with two gas chambers. But their capacity became insufficient and an additional system was devised by digging large trenches, some 12 yards by six, in which the bodies were burned. It was part of his Kommando's work to prepare these pits each day by laying huge wood fires.

In the morning, the chief of the political bureau would arrive on his motor-cycle to say that a new batch of prisoners had arrived. There would be between 800 and 1,000 of them, some on foot and others, usually too ill to walk, in tip-up trucks, from which, to the amusement of the drivers, they were spilled out without warning. They were taken into the courtyard or, in winter, to a large hall of the crematorium and required to undress under the pretext that they were to take a bath followed by hot coffee.

Then the doors of the two-roofed gas chambers would be opened and the victims herded in with blows from whips and sticks. Finally the guards would succeed in locking the doors.

About 20 minutes later, said Dr Bendel, the main task of the special Kommando began. With the opening of the doors the bodies, tightly jammed inside, would fall out. Often it was almost impossible to separate one from another and one had the impression that they had fought terribly against death. Anyone who had seen a gas chamber filled to a height of four feet with corpses would never forget it.

As for the Kommando, which might contain an electrical engineer from Budapest or a solicitor from Salonika, people who had human faces a few minutes before were no longer recognisable. It was hell let loose. "They are like devils, no longer human beings as they drag the corpses away as fast as possible under a rain of blows from the SS."

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.