It is often noted that American heavy bombers were carrying out raids at this time on industrial targets only a few miles away from the Auschwitz gas chambers, an observation made over and over again in the literature of 'rescue' which criticises the Allies. This point is, however, extremely misleading, regardless of how often it has been repeated. All
such strategic raids on military-industrial bases proceeded only after months of preparatory intelligence work, entailing the creation of a target folder with specific information about the size, hardness, structure placement, defences and so on, of the target and detailed aerial photography. However, the United States Air Force totally lacked the intelligence base necessary to plan and execute a bombing raid against the Auschwitz extermination camp.
This information - even if such a raid were enthusiastically endorsed at the most senior military levels - could simply not have been procured for months.
It would have been difficult enough to effect in the best of circumstances, but it would have been especially difficult in the late autumn-wwinter of 1944-5, and bearing in mind (as will be discussed) that the essential aims of bombing an extermination camp are entirely different from bombing an industrial plant. Furthermore, as Dr James H. Kitchens has remarked, the raid itself would also required perfect weather, since the bombing would have to be carried out visually. "I leave you to ponder how frequently such perfect weather occurred over southern Poland; how accurately such weather in the interior of Europe could have been predicted from southern Italy given 1944 state of the art; and how many abortive raids might have been launched before the necessary meteorological conditions materialised over the targets", Dr Kitchens has added. Self-evidently, it is exceedingly doubtful, starting from scratch in November 1944, whether any such bombing raids could have been accomplished before the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945.
It is also often contended that at least a part of the target information necessary for a bombing raid on Auschwitz did indeed already exist, namely aerial photographs of Auschwitz taken by Allied air reconnaissance missions. This claim, so often repeated, is also entirely misleading and ought to be examined with some care.
What are probably the best-known and most widely publicised aerial phototgraphs of Auschwitz were taken by an Allied air crew on 25 August 1944. These have been published and republished, generally as enlargements, during the past two decades. Even now, few apart from specialist historians realise that these aerial photographs remained in negative form until 1978
, and were not seen by anyone until 1978-9. In 1978, two American historians of aerial photography in the Second World War, Dino A. Brugioni and Robert Poirier, discovered these undeveloped films while researching in government photographic intelligence files. As a result of publicity generated by the American television series The Holocaust
, American aerial photograph analysts were given permission to use modern microstereoscopes to reexamine precise photographic enlargements of the original films. It was these enlarged, cropped and newly captioned photographs which were published and republished in the press. They had never been seen before. Especially poignant is the overhead enlargement of several columns of prisoners, captioned 'Group on Way to Gas Chambers', which has been frequently reprinted.
There is no evidence that these photographs were seen by anybody before 1978, let alone by trained photointelligence officers during the war who realised their significance. Indeed, no one could have seen the columns of prisoners on the way to the gas chambers because no aerial imagery photoenlargement techniques available in 1944 could have spotted those columns. As Colonel Roy M. Stanley II noted in his work World War II Photo Intelligence:
A report based on postwar ground information that no World War II P.I. [Photo Interpreter] had available, on modern enlargements that no World War II photo lab could have made, and all of the postwar sophistication devloped in the P.I. trade could unintentionally mislead the layman. Because of their advantages, this 1978 photo analysis contains an understanding and correlation of what was happening on the ground that would have been impossible for a 1945 vintage interpreter.
Moreover, no one ever asked the Allied photointelligence operatives to search for extermination camps. This failing was not the result of some anti-semitic cover-up (as well might be alleged by adherents of the proposition that rescue was possible) :no Jewish individual or group recommended a search by photographic specialists, and nor did the War Refugee Board. This failure arose simply from the nature of the tasks and priorities assigned to Allied photography interpreters in the context of the European war situation in 1944.