TEL AVIV (Aug. 31)
The International Committee of the Red Cross has admitted, in a special communication to the Jerusalem Post, that it could have saved more Jews from the Nazis.
The statement, published in Wednesday’s edition of the Post, was issued Tuesday in Geneva and signed by its director general, Jacques Moreillon.
It was released especially for publication in the Post in response to a report by the Israeli daily’s London correspondent, David Horowitz, published last Sunday under the headline “Red Cross knew in 42 of massacre of Jews, but kept silent.”
The ICRC admits for the first time that it could probably have saved more Jewish lives than it did, particularly in countries where the Nazis did not maintain total control, such as Hungary and Romania.
The Post reported that the ICRC itself hired Swiss Professor Jean-Claude Favez to investigate the matter. Following a six-year study of 350,000 Red Cross documents, Favez wrote, “The ICRC knew what was happening — that is quite clear. (But) it did not dare confront the Germans.”
The ICRC’s failure to inspect Nazi concentration camps has been reported before, including one inspection for which the Nazis propped up a false front at Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia.
The camp was presented as having healthful conditions, and the Red Cross fulfilled the Nazi illusion by only visiting the camp’s orchestra and carefully prepared children’s facilities.
Moreover, vans used by the Nazis for the mobile extermination of Jews were painted with a red cross on the side, thereby leading people to believe that the vans were actually Red Cross vehicles.
Favez has written a book on the subject of the ICRC’s failure, titled “Silent Witness,” and has appeared in a BBC documentary on the subject seen in England.
However, Favez conclusion was challenged by Moreillon, who hired him, prior to the publication in the Post of the first article. At the time, Moreillon had said he did not believe an appeal would have helped Jews.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles criticized Moreillon for defending the Red Cross in the BBC documentary.
But Tuesday’s ICRC statement, titled “First Lessons Drawn by the ICRC,” admits for the first time that it could probably have saved more Jews.
“In those countries, the ICRC today feels that it did not seek out, at that time, all the possible ways and means of protecting more of the victims,” Moreillon wrote.
However, Moreillon refrained from unconditional apology by saying that in October 1942, the Red Cross had “mostly indirect and incomplete information regarding the fate of the Jews in Europe and was not conscious of Hitler’s systematic plan to kill all the Jews.”
But the ICRC also takes blame for not having asserted itself more in its contacts with the Allied and neutral powers, singling out the United States and Britain.
“The ICRC could no doubt have shown more imagination and greater firmness in order to persuade the Allies — especially the U.S. and Great Britain — and the neutral countries, to combat the policy of genocide and — particularly with regard to Switzerland — to relax their policies towards refugees, the Jews in particular, for whom admittance by neutral countries and by the Allies represented the only chance of survival,” the statement says.
DID NOT DO ENOUGH
On Wednesday, Moreillon told Swiss radio that the ICRC “did not do enough to save the Romanian and Hungarian Jews during World War II, but could not do more in favor of the Polish and Russian Jews under Nazi occupation.”
Moreillon also said that “restricted documents” concerning activities of the organization during World War II will be made available in the future to non-Swiss researchers.
“We made an exception and gave access to the documents to Arieh Ben-Tov, a Tel Aviv researcher,” Moreillon said.
The Red Cross’s failure to save Jews has been compounded in recent years by the organization’s decision to ally itself with its Moslem counterpart, the Red Crescent Society, and to pointedly evade any union with its Israeli counterpart, The Magen David Adom, even going so far as to change its name in 1986 to the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
This move has been protested by the World Jewish Congress, which held a meeting in New york last week with the president of the American Red Cross, Richard Schuber, who promised to do all he could to assist in a worldwide campaign to bring the Magen David Adom into the fold.
(JTA correspondent Tamar Levy in Geneva and JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)