Recently released documents show that the Allied forces were aware of the scale of the Holocaust some two years earlier than previously assumed. They did little to stop the deaths or rescue the victims.

The unsealed United Nations files show that the US, UK and Russia knew as early as December 1942 that two million Jews had been massacred and millions more were at risk of being killed, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported on Tuesday. 

Despite that knowledge, the Allies did not accept refugees or take action to prevent the slaughter.

“The major powers commented [on the mass murder of Jews] two-and-a-half years before it is generally assumed,” Dan Plesch, author of the new book “Human Rights After Hitler,” told the Independent.

Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London, author of "Human Rights After Hitler," August 2012. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS, University of London, author of “Human Rights After Hitler,” August 2012

In December 1942, UK Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the British parliament, in a statement on behalf of the UK, the US and the Soviet governments, that the Nazis were in the process of exterminating the Jews. Eden said that a similar statement was also being read out in Moscow and Washington at the same time.

“The German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule extends, the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people,” Eden said in the statement.

Plesch, a University of London researcher, said the Allies presumably learned of Nazi Germany’s actions “when they discovered the concentration camps, but they made this public comment in December 1942.”

This document shows that in 1944 the United Nations War Crimes Commission sought to indict prominent Nazis (UNWCC)

This document shows that in 1944 the United Nations War Crimes Commission 
sought to indict Nazis (UNWCC)

Plesch reiterated the charge that the Allied powers did very little to save the Jews.

In March 1943, based on reports from Europe, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, head of the Church of England, pleaded with the British government to accept Jewish refugees who were in danger of being massacred.

“In view of the massacres and starvation of Jews and others in enemy and enemy-occupied countries,” Temple wrote to the House of Lords, the government should offer its “fullest support for immediate measures, on the largest and most generous scale… for providing help and temporary asylum to persons in danger of massacre who are able to leave enemy and enemy-occupied countries.”

UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill (l) and Foreign Affairs Secretary Anthony Eden in 1943. (Public Domain)
UK prime minister Winston Churchill (l) and foreign affairs secretary Anthony Eden in 1943.

Yet Viscount Cranborne, a minister in prime minister Winston Churchill’s war cabinet, said that Britain was not in a position to accept large numbers of refugees, and that while the government sympathized with the situation, it had to take care of its own citizens first.

Plesch’s book is based on an archive from the now-defunct United Nations War Crimes Commission, which was sealed for 70 years. He said that it was through the intervention of Samantha Powers, former US ambassador to the UN, that he was able to access the files.

There are other proofs that the Allies knew the extent of the Holocaust already in 1942. For example, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial states in a report to the UN that “During 1942, reports of a Nazi plan to murder all the Jews – including details on methods, numbers, and locations – reached Allied and neutral leaders from many sources.”

However, Plesch said that the new research provides a “cartload of nails to hammer into the coffins” of Holocaust deniers.