In the issue of The New York Times on November 25, 1942,three short articles under a single headline, “HIMMLER PROGRAMS KILLS POLISH JEWS,” appear on page 10, seemingly placed there by an editor who did not think the subject all that important. An advertisement for whiskey takes up most of the same page.
Two of the three articles were “special to The New York Times.” One originated in London and the other in Jerusalem. The London article consisted of information from the Bund Report, smuggled out of Nazi-occupied Poland and published by the Polish government-in-exile. The third article, by the Associated Press in Washington, D. C., reported on Dr. Stephen Wise’s meeting with Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who had informed Dr. Wise that his “deepest fears” were confirmed.
Based on these articles, what information about the murder of the Jews was available to readers of The New York Times as of November 25, 1942?
A lot, it turns out.
The New York Times, November 25, 1942 – HIMMLER PROGRAM KILLS POLISH JEWS,Slaughter of 250,000 in Plan to Wipe Out Half in Country This Year is Reported, (AP) p. 10
Here are the significant excerpts:
Adam Czerniakow was the “Elder” of the Judenrat in the Warsaw ghetto. He was appointed by the Germans. “Mayor” is an awkward translation. Czerniakow committed suicide at the beginning of the deportations to Treblinka in July 1942, after the Germans informed him that orphans would be “resettled” along with the rest. This confirmed Czerniakow›s fear that there was no hope for anybody. He believed that his suicide would let the ghetto population understand what lay ahead. His diary, edited by historian Raul Hilberg, was published after the war.
Janusz Korczak, an assimilated Jew, was a writer of children’s books and the director of an orphanage for impoverished Jewish children in Warsaw. His building still stands. In early August 1942, soon after the deportations to Treblinka began, the SS and Jewish police came for Korczak and his orphans and ordered them to Umschlagplatz where the trains awaited. The procession of Korczak leading his one hundred and eighty orphans through the ghetto to Umschlagplatz was a heart-wrenching sight even by the macabre standards of the time.
It is true that a rumor circulated in the ghetto that an SS man at Umschlatplatz, who had read one of Korczak’s books before the war, offered to let him remain in the ghetto. Even if such an offer was made, Korczak would never have accepted it. He had already turned down offers by Polish friends who wanted to spirit him out of the ghetto and hide him on the Aryan side. Korczak remained loyal to his charges all the way to Treblinka.
“Non-Jewish Neutral Persons”
“Reports of the Himmler program that had been brought here since then have been authenticated by non-Jewish neutral persons who have visited Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.”
This reference to “non-Jewish neutral persons” suggests that Jewish sources, in contrast, were unreliable.
Guise of Resettlement
The word “resettlement” was used to deceive the Jews. They were told (and grasped at the hope) that they were being “resettled” to the “east” in order to work. If they had known that a bullet or gas chamber awaited them, many would have resisted and caused all sorts of problems for the German murderers, who prided themselves on ruthless efficiency and wanted the “resettlement” to go smoothly. So unaware were Jewish men in Germany, for example, that they were dressed in coats and ties when the boarded the trains. They had no idea that “resettlement” was a euphemism for murder.
The Polish Jews had a keener grasp of reality. They had seen enough of Nazi barbarity.
Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor
Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec were the three death camps that were hastily constructed in 1941-42 to achieve the goal of Operation Reinhard, which was nothing less than the extermination of Polish Jewry. In these three camps Jews were gassed on arrival, except for a relative few who were young and strong and used as slaves to burn the bodies of the victims or to bundle the stolen property for shipment to Germany.
Revolts took place at Treblinka (August 1943) and Sobibor (October 1943), and a planned revolt at Belzec was betrayed.
Beginning in late 1942, in a belated effort to erase the evidence of their crimes, the SS ordered Jewish slaves to exhume the mass graves and burn the bodies on huge pyres. The bones were crushed. The camps were then leveled and trees planted on the sites. Local people descended on the former death camps and upended the soil in search of the fabled Jewish gold.
Concrete Buildings on Russian Border
This is another reference to the Operation Reinhard camps. The “former Russian frontiers” was actually the former German-Russian border, which stood between September 1939 and June 1941.
This sentence is significant because it refers to “gas chambers.” But the number of victims at this point in the war was not in the “thousands” but in the hundreds of thousands.
Osweincim is misspelled. The Polish spelling is Osweicim. The town was named Auschwitz when the region (Galicia) belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the First World War. Auschwitz was the largest death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The specific mention of “children” was telling, as it indicated that no one was being spared.
“Finally Made Available…”
Dr. Wise says “finally made available” because officials in the State Department had suppressed this information for (at least) three months. In August they had informed Dr. Wise that the information was unconfirmed and persuaded him not to publicize it. Why did they suppress the information? They did not want to be forced into rescue efforts as a result of publicity about the enormity of the Jewish tragedy.
“Exhuming the Dead”
It is true that the Germans ordered Jewish slaves to exhume the mass graves. It also true the bones were crushed and used as fertilizer. But the reason for exhuming the bodies was different. When the tide of war turned against the Germans, Himmler ordered the evidence of the crimes destroyed. It turns out that the SS murderers were the first Holocaust-deniers.
“Christmas Won’t Wait”
These seven words fill an empty space at the bottom of the third article. The reference to Christmas, next to an article about the extermination of the Jewish people, is not without irony.