Auschwitz: Place of Horrors - WHEN DID THE ALLIES KNOW?

WHEN DID THE ALLIES KNOW? (Illustration) Crimes and Criminals Disasters Famous Historical Events Geography History Social Studies World History World War II

This image, from the Russian State Archives, depicts Soviet soldiers freeing female prisoners at Auschwitz during the Red Army's late-January, 1945, liberation of the notorious death camp.


Nagging questions about Allied knowledge of Auschwitz have always troubled people. From camp survivors to the curious public, a key issue remains: Did the Allies know about extermination at Auschwitz before the camp was liberated? If so, why wasn't it bombed?

Had the sprawling complex been destroyed by Allied air raids, the Nazis would have lost their ability to continue murdering innocent people. Scholars have argued such action would have been preferable, even though prisoners would have died in the raid, because it would have ended the Nazi's biggest killing machine.

Did these aerial photographs sufficiently reveal what was happening at Auschwitz-Birkenau? Not according to the CIA report. It was only later, with the use of sophisticated photo-interpretation equipment and survivor testimony, that the various pieces of the Auschwitz terror could be fit together.

When Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, on 27 January 1945, only a fraction of the camps' total prisoners had survived.  Some of those survivors were Sonderkommandos - male prisoners who were forced to participate in the dreadful goings-on in the death camp. 

Six of those Sonderkommandos later agreed to answer questions about what they did - and why they did it.  Their responses  and stories - including details of a Sonderkommando uprising (in October of 1944) which took the Nazis by complete surprise and resulted in burning the camp's crematoria -  are included in a book entitled We Wept Without Tears.  It is a difficult read.

Millions of people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Evidence of what remained, at liberation, chills the spine:

  • Heaps of eyeglasses, no longer needed by murdered people; 
  • Stacks of clothing, carelessly tossed away by Nazis who thought they had the right to kill (or maim) people they considered inferior.

If females in the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau thought they were free from the grip of injustice and inhumanity, when the liberators arrived, they would soon experience a different reality.

In Auschwitz: A New History, by Laurence Rees, we learn that liberating soldiers of the Red Army did not just have freeing the captives on their minds when they arrived at the notorious death camps.

Some of the soldiers perpetrated a different kind of horror against the girls and women whom they freed from the Nazis. Stories told by survivors, included in Rees' book, are neither easy to read nor to comprehend.

And what of all the children who passed through Auschwitz?

Among those who survived were Miriam and Eva Mozes, two of the first youngsters to walk through the camp gates on January 27, 1945. We see them here, in this photo, which is part of an exhibition at the British Library called “Life in a Jar: Childhood Experience of the Holocaust.”

How many children were still alive at the time of liberation?

Only 180 survived what happened at this place of horrors.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jan 19, 2017

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"WHEN DID THE ALLIES KNOW?" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2002. Jan 29, 2020.
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