Keren Wexler examined whether Americans took an ignorant stance to the Holocaust. Through extensive research she learns that American’s were not provided with accurate information from the Nazi regime. Furthermore, she makes the claim that if German commanders who worked in the Holocaust daily were unaware of the true realties than it is believable that Americans were greatly unaware of the realities of the Holocaust. She based her information off the books Beyond the Belief: The American Press and the coming of the Holocaust written by Deborah Listadt and Robert H. Abzug, America Views the Holocaust: 19933-1945 A Brief Documentary History.
It was, in fact, the reports, pictures, and newsreels taken by Allied journalists, Signal Corps photographers, and liberating soldiers and brought home the reality of Nazi brutality and mass murder. Some who suspected that prior reports had been exaggerated or were simply propaganda felt compelled to admit, ‘So it was true!’ Others simply exclaimed, ‘we didn’t’ know!’
Were Americans Really Ignorant?
It is debatable as to whether the American press was provided with valid information about the tragedies that occurred during the holocaust. If we the idea that the American press was not given correct information, it is fair to state that it was not in denial about the realities, but instead as ignorant. It is proven in various articles, memoirs, and novels that Eastern Europeans who worked in the concentration camps as generals and SS soldiers were not aware of the harsh realties that occurred where they worked. Consequently, it is fair to state that if those who worked in close proximity with the nazi regime were not aware of the Nazi’s actions then it is impossible to believe that those who lived continents away had access to the reality of the situation.
American Knowledge of the Beginning of the War
The holocaust occurred between the years 1933 and 1945. As the years of the war increased so did the severity of the Nazi’s actions. Consequently, it may be believe that the information disclosed to the American press was closer to reality in the beginning of the war than later. Furthermore, some believe that as their persecution of Jews increased so did their misinformation to the American press for fear that it might publicize the harsh realities. During the earlier years of the holocaust the violence factor was not as severe because the nazi ideology was not fully organized or strengthened. Consequently the information given to the American press by the nazi regime was more accurate in the beginning because there were not major acts of violence that needed to be hidden.
The Final Solution: German Tactics that Lead to Ignorance
However when the final solution, the act of putting all Jews into death camps, was enacted in the latter years of the holocaust, the information given to the American press was censored. Yes, the American public was aware of the anti-Semitic sentiment and actions that were portrayed in the newspapers because these were acts that occurred openly. But, the final solution was something that was shielded not only from the majority of the Eastern European population but also from the outside world. The Germans were extremely tactful with the information they disclosed through the usage of multiple forms of deception. For example, as stated in the book, Beyond Belief, when massive acts of deportation were enacted the Germans expressed their acts to American reporters as, “economic requirements of the war,”(Lipstadt, p.136). Furthermore, they fully denied their actions to American reporters and went as far as to state that they were not uprooting Jews from their homes and forcing them into concentration camps. The Germans even tried to convince American reporters that Stalin of Russia was a worse leader than Hitler so as to deter the American quest for accurate information. It is proven that the Americans press was not successful in investigating beyond the information they were given and consequently small fractions of what truly occurred was portrayed.
What Did American Press Really Know?
As evident from what is written above, the American press was not given insider information as to what really occurred during the holocaust nor did they explore beyond the information given to them. They were aware that mass murders were occurring in Eastern Europe but they did not directly associate this act solely with Jews. Rather, articles and editorials focused on all people who were being persecuted by the Germans because the Nazis did not publicly expose their ideology as directly linked to anti Semitism. Consequently, for a long while American papers did not express that thousands of Jews were being gassed and burned daily and forced to perform hard labor during all hours of the day. Consequently, it is fair to state that the lack of truthful information portrayed in the American press was not based on denial but on ignorance. It is evident that American reporters tried to gain inside information, however there were many hidden places where Germans conducted such acts, and to which reporters had no access. Furthermore, the Nazis euphemized most of the information that they were willing to share, which in turn did not allow for valid portrayals of information, thereby contributing to American ignorance.
Created by: Keren Wexler, Dec. 2003