George McGovern, a pacifist who wanted to bomb Auschwitz
By Rafael Medoff · October 21, 2012
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- George McGovern is widely remembered for advocating immediate American withdrawal from Vietnam and sharp reductions in defense spending. Yet despite his reputation as a pacifist, the former U.S. senator and 1972 presidential candidate, who died Sunday at 90, did believe there were times when America should use military force abroad.
Case in point: the Allies' failure to bomb Auschwitz, an episode with which McGovern had a little-known personal connection.
In June 1944, the Roosevelt administration received a detailed report about Auschwitz from two escapees who described the mass-murder process and drew diagrams pinpointing the gas chambers and crematoria. Jewish organizations repeatedly asked U.S. officials to order the bombing of Auschwitz and the railroad lines leading to the camp. The proposal was rejected on the grounds that it would require “considerable diversion” of planes that were needed elsewhere for the war effort. One U.S. official claimed that bombing Auschwitz "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans."
Enter McGovern. In World War II, the 22-year-old son of a South Dakota pastor piloted a B-24 "Liberator" bomber. Among his targets: German synthetic oil factories in occupied Poland -- some of them less than five miles from the Auschwitz gas chambers.