Yes, Churchill knew about the Holocaust; and contrary to popular belief, he tried to do something about it.
A Letter to the New York Times Magazine by Dr. Cyril Mazansky
Published in Finest Hour 93, Winter 1996-97
IN the December 22nd New York Times Magazine, William vanden Heuvel published an article, “The Holocaust Was No Secret,” subtitled: “Churchill knew, we all knew, and we couldn’t do anything about it—except win the war.”
Quoting a forthcoming book, The Myth of Rescue, by William D. Rubenstein, which he claims is “the most significant new contribution to the history of the Holocaust,” van-den Heuvel asserted that “no one plan or proposal made anywhere in the democracies by either Jews or non-Jewish champions of the Jews after the Nazi conquest of Europe could have rescued one single Jew who perished in the Holocaust.”
Dr. Mazansky’s letter to the Times Magazine refers to “Churchill and the Holocaust,” a speech by Sir Martin Gilbert at the 1993 Churchill Conference, ICS Proceedings 1992-1993.
That Winston Churchill was aware of the Holocaust is certainly not news. Mr. vanden Heuvel indicates that the recently released intercepts of the British Military Intelligence provide the public with information that makes it aware for the first time that the Allies knew of the onset of the Holocaust. This is incorrect.
In a speech to the International Churchill Society at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in late 1993, Sir Martin Gilbert gave an impressive overview of Churchill’s knowledge of the Holocaust and of his personal efforts to ameliorate it. This speech has been published in the Proceedings of the International Churchill Societies 1992-1993. In it Sir Martin provided the details of these intercepts.
Mr. vanden Heuvel points out correctly that Churchill was a champion of the Jewish cause, but it is inaccurate to state that the only way Churchill could have helped was by winning the war. Certainly in magnitude and significance this was obviously the most important thing to do, but Churchill did not let it rest there. He made multiple and varied attempts, both on a small and large scale, to try to mitigate the effects of the Holocaust. Specific endeavors were proposed or projects actually instituted, often in opposition to the wishes and policies of the British civil and military bureaucracy and even of the American administration earlier on. Many such examples were quoted by Sir Martin. These examples would also, therefore, be a rebuttal of Professor Rubenstein’s argument.
We must await the publication of Martin Gilbert’s book, Churchill and the Jews, to get the complete picture. As Churchill’s official biographer, as a leading authority on the Holocaust, and as one of the twentieth century’s preeminent historians, Gilbert will undoubtedly provide more than sufficient evidence attesting to Churchill’s lifelong efforts in support of the Jews and particularly his unrelenting human rights efforts during World War II to save even a small fraction of them.
Dr. Mazansky heads the Radiology Department at Carney Hospital, Boston. He is a director of the International Churchill Society and a governor of The Churchill Center.