There is one survey of the Jewish question in Europe during World War Two and the conditions of Germany’s concentration camps which is almost unique in its honesty and objectivity, the three-volume Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its Activities during the Second World War, Geneva, 1948.
This comprehensive account from an entirely neutral source incorporated and expanded the findings of two previous works: Documents sur l’activité du CICR en faveur des civils détenus dans les camps de concentration en Allemagne 1939-1945 (Geneva, 1946), and Inter Arma Caritas: the Work of the ICRC during the Second World War (Geneva, 1947). The team of authors, headed by Frédéric Siordet, explained in the opening pages of the Report that their object, in the tradition of the Red Cross, had been strict political neutrality, and herein lies its great value.
The Red Cross Report is of value in that it first clarifies the legitimate circumstances under which Jews were detained in concentration camps, i.e. as enemy aliens. In describing the two categories of civilian internees, the Report distinguishes the second type as “Civilians deported on administrative grounds, who were arrested for political or racial motives because their presence was considered a danger to the State or the occupation forces” (Vol. 111, p. 73). These persons, it continues, “were placed on the same footing as persons arrested or imprisoned under common law for security reasons.” (P.74).
The ICRC complained that obstruction of their vast relief operation for Jewish internees came not from the Germans but from the tight Allied blockade of Europe. Most of their purchases of relief food were made in Rumania, Hungary and Slovakia.
The ICRC also had praise for the regime of Ion Antonescu of Fascist Rumania where the Committee was able to extend special relief to 183,000 Rumanian Jews until the time of the Soviet occupation. The aid then ceased, and the ICRC complained bitterly that it never succeeded “in sending anything whatsoever to Russia” (Vol. II, p. 62). The same situation applied to many of the German camps after their “liberation” by the Russians. The ICRC received a voluminous flow of mail from Auschwitz until the period of the Soviet occupation, when many of the internees were evacuated westward. But the efforts of the Red Cross to send relief to internees remaining at Auschwitz under Soviet control were futile. However, food parcels continued to be sent to former Auschwitz inmates transferred west to such camps as Buchenwald and Oranienburg.
One of the most important aspects of the Red Cross Report is that it clarifies the true cause of those deaths that undoubtedly occurred in the camps toward the end of the war. Says the Report: “In the chaotic condition of Germany after the invasion during the final months of the war, the camps received no food supplies at all and starvation claimed an increasing number of victims.
The Red Cross are quite explicit in stating that food supplies ceased at this time due to the Allied bombing of German transportation, and in the interests of interned Jews they had protested on March 15th, 1944 against “the barbarous aerial warfare of the Allies” (Inter Arma Caritas, p. 78). By October 2nd, 1944, the ICRC warned the German Foreign Office of the impending collapse of the German transportation system, declaring that starvation conditions for people throughout Germany were becoming inevitable.
In dealing with this comprehensive, three-volume Report, it is important to stress that the delegates of the International Red Cross found no evidence whatever at the camps in Axis occupied Europe of a deliberate policy to exterminate the Jews. In all its 1,600 pages the Report does not even mention such a thing as a gas chamber.
So far as the genuine mortality rate is concerned, the Report points out that most of the Jewish doctors from the camps were being used to combat typhus on the eastern front, so that they were unavailable when the typhus epidemics of 1945 broke out in the camps (Vol. I, p. 204 ff) – Incidentally, it is frequently claimed that mass executions were carried out in gas chambers cunningly disguised as shower facilities. Again the Report makes nonsense of this allegation. “Not only the washing places, but installations for baths, showers and laundry were inspected by the delegates. They had often to take action to have fixtures made less primitive, and to get them repaired or enlarged” (Vol. III, p. 594).