Holocaust and Liberation, 1942-1945
During the war's final months, Soviet forces overran death camps used by Nazi Germany to carry out its "Final Solution" - the effort to eliminate Europe's Jewish population. The Western Allies similarly discovered concentration camps in which Jews and others were worked and starved to death.
While Nazi atrocities had been previously known, this gruesome evidence focused new attention on mass murder. The Nazis and their collaborators murdered approximately six million Jews. They also murdered millions of other people they considered "undesirable," including Slavs, Sinta and Roma people, political dissidents, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and physically and mentally handicapped people.
Nazi plans for extermination of the Jews had been formalized secretly at a January 1942 conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. During 1942, Jews throughout Europe began to be rounded up and sent by train to distant camps where they were murdered in gas chambers. The systematic murders continued throughout the war.
Reports of mass killings began reaching the Allies almost as soon as they occurred. The response of FDR and others within American government and society has sparked heated scholarly debate.
The War Refugee Board
A pivotal moment in the Roosevelt administration's response to the Holocaust was a January 16, 1944 White House meeting involving FDR and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. At this meeting, Morgenthau, a longtime friend of Roosevelt, presented a blunt "Personal Report" on what he and other Treasury officials believed to be the State Department's acquiescence in Germany's mass murder of Jews.
The startling evidence of State Department incompetence, delay, and even obstruction of a variety of rescue efforts convinced FDR to issue an Executive order on January 22 establishing the War Refugee Board, an independent commission to coordinate governmental and private efforts to rescue those who might still be saved. The Board is credited with helping to save up to 200,000 Jews.