Two survivors of the Auschwitz death camp are suing the American government
April 14, 2001 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Two survivors of the Auschwitz death camp are suing the American government for not bombing the death camp and are seeking $40 billion in damages. (via Fark)
posted by tamim (26 comments total)
Oddly, this headline reminds me of the last episode of Seinfeld, where the four of them were arrested for NOT helping a guy who was being carjacked by another guy with a gun, under some kind of 'good samaritan' law. Seems to be a bit of a step towards legislating what a 'proper response' would have been. Isn't hindsight always 20/20? I suppose if the American government HAD bombed Auschwitz then family members of German soldiers killed there could ALSO sue? Huh?
posted by thunder at 4:19 PM on April 14, 2001

"No good deed goes unpunished."
posted by rodii at 4:21 PM on April 14, 2001

Let me be optimistic here and presume the suit is not about the money (despite the $40,000,000,000 price tag) and is motivated by a desire to start a discussion about why the US didn't bomb. Otherwise, I can't think of a single good thing about this suit.
posted by rdr at 5:06 PM on April 14, 2001

Actually, I think this lawsuit is generally a bad thing. It makes other jews look bad - so does the everyday killing and oppression of palestinians in Gaza.
posted by Hjorth at 5:32 PM on April 14, 2001

hjorth: so does the everyday killing and oppression of palestinians in Gaza.

let's not confuse the actions of a few israelis for the actions of all israelis, and certainly not for the actions or sentiments of most or all Jews.

posted by rebeccablood at 5:57 PM on April 14, 2001

I'm a little confused: wouldn't bombing the camp have killed many of the prisoners there? and their supply lines, while preventing the importation of more prisoners, would surely have reduced their starvation rations to no rations at all.

or am I just not good at war?

posted by rebeccablood at 6:05 PM on April 14, 2001

Yes, I agree this makes Jews in general look bad. I'm glad that in the article they quote several Jewish organizations as wanting nothing to do with the whole case, and voicing their opposition to it. Unfortunately, I think those details will probably be lost when news of this spreads... People will just say "Yeah, some stupid Jews are trying to make $4 billion".
posted by swank6 at 6:05 PM on April 14, 2001

Only in America can lawsuits like this happen....
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 6:26 PM on April 14, 2001

A frivoulos lawsuit at best and it will be quickly dismissed. Incidentally, the issue was not whether or not the camp should have been bombed but rather the railroad tracks leading into the camp should or could have been taken out, thus slowing down the camp killing process.
posted by Postroad at 6:51 PM on April 14, 2001

maybe someone should sue Israel for not stopping the Romans from killing Jesus...
posted by dorian at 7:04 PM on April 14, 2001

Maybe, but in that instance, those accused didn't have the power to stop the romans, whereas the U.S. did have the power to bomb the tracks.

Which doesn't mean it's not a stupid suit.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:12 PM on April 14, 2001

hjorth, swank6:

how does this make Jews look bad? it may make these individuals look bad, but it would take an exceptionally close-minded person to instantly generalize this behavior to all Jews.

do you generalize the behavior of fred phelps to all Christians? the behavior of tim mcveigh to all whites or even to all white supremacists?

of course not. think.

posted by rebeccablood at 7:17 PM on April 14, 2001

EricBrooks -- It remains to be seen whether or not this lawsuit will 'happen in America'. It could be very well be dismissed straight away: "It is a dead-end," said a prominent legal scholar who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There is no way a U.S. court will accept this kind of argument."

rdr -- I think there are better ways to foster discussion. Many of which are not as divisive as well.

I'm going to guess that the law firm of Mr. Wolz in Dusseldorf is not composed exclusively of German Jews. Perhaps not even a plurality. Either way, it seems difficult to accept the idea of Germans suing Americans for not putting a stop to Germans killing Hungarians. On top of which, the brunt of any reparations would be carried by Americans born after the war was over.

My personal feeling is that there are reparations claims with merit or at least which may be argued as serving some good. As many or more, though, are frivolous or fail to pass the primary test of causing more good than harm.

When it comes to Holocaust reparations, I wonder why now? Seems possible that it just took this long to have the wherewithal to mount such a legal charge. But I wonder to what extent this is the grumpy old man syndrome. I'm not trying to be frivolous, but it is a phenomenon. Perhaps when faced with inevitable mortality, these survivors are lashing out. When one has cheated death so narrowly, does its eventual triumph burn that much more?
posted by brantstrand at 7:47 PM on April 14, 2001

Rebecca, of course I'm not saying I would generalize all Jews to be like this, but the fact is some people would. Whether it's because they are close-minded or just plain ignorant, there are people out there that will say "Oh look, the Jews are at it again, always looking for money". Unlike the large majority of MeFi readers, a lot of people don't think.
posted by swank6 at 8:25 PM on April 14, 2001

What strikes me about this proposed lawsuit is that it's based on fairly shaky ground, since it implies a "sin of omission", to use the moral analogy. And while legal liability certainly covers omissions, they're normally ones that have been explicitly itemised (for instance, in a contract.) But with this, we're into the realm of counterfactual history, and thus a chain of causation that starts off tenuous and gets increasingly frayed the more you try to argue liability.

"If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there'd be no need for tinkers."

Why reparations now? Because there are unlikely to be any more criminal trials now, and the search for civil damages invariably comes after the criminal case is closed. And I think, perhaps, that it's because the tracking-down and prosecution of middle-ranking officers for war crimes hasn't really brought any sense of satisfaction or closure, when there are more obvious examples of corporate entities that, by their very nature, haven't had to deal with personal guilt over half a century.
posted by holgate at 8:25 PM on April 14, 2001

/slight tangent

rebecca- while it would be insanely close minded for someone to lump all Jews together with this lawsuit, it will probably happen.

I can't count the million times when someone assumes my opinion because I happen to be black. "No, I don't like basketball." "No, I think reparations are a retarded idea." "Yes, I think OJ did it."

It's how people are...
posted by owillis at 9:42 PM on April 14, 2001

Those survivors are courthouse trolls, and I can't believe this is a thread.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:43 PM on April 14, 2001

rebeccablood: It'll make other jews and holocaust victims look bad because they seem to be taking advantage of what happened, which is horrible. That anyone would want to make money out of holocaust is repulsive, and, as I said, it makes other victims look bad.
posted by Hjorth at 4:09 AM on April 15, 2001

rebeccablood said: how does this make Jews look bad? it may make these individuals look bad, but it would take an exceptionally close-minded person to instantly generalize this behavior to all Jews.

Unfortunately, many people are, in fact, this close-minded. It's so much easier when one's world fits inside a nice little box, and one doesn't have to think about complicated issues. (all Germans are smelly, all Americans are loud, stupid and obnoxious, all French are emasculated and pompous, etc. - I have to combat the 2nd item in this list on a daily basis as American expat.)

I don't know if Hjorth generalizes this behaviour to all other Jews, or if he is just pointing out that there is a sizeable population who would do just that. In other words, does it make all Jews look bad to him, or is it just likely to make a large number of unthinking people think poorly of all Jews?
posted by syzygy at 9:34 AM on April 15, 2001

two comments that say, straight out: "this makes Jews look bad."

a very different comment from "I fear that this will trivialize the claims of legitimate holocaust suitors" or "I think anti-Semites are going to have a field day with this."

I expect that level of communication here, everyone is intelligent and expressive. I took the statements at face value.

I grew up in a house that was apparently remarkably free of anti-Semitism. it wouldn't occur to me that others would extrapolate in that way, because I've never been around people who do. my reaction to those comments is that the poster must be extrapolating from their own experience, their own community, or their own first thoughts.

am I just naive? and sheltered?

posted by rebeccablood at 1:55 PM on April 15, 2001

it wouldn't occur to me that others would extrapolate in that way, because I've never been around people who do. my reaction to those comments is that the poster must be extrapolating from their own experience, their own community, or their own first thoughts.

am I just naive? and sheltered?

Well, going on the actions and thoughts of extremists in the North of Ireland, who would jump at the chance to attack the other side if they decided to bring a lawsuit, I'd have to say yeah, you're a bit sheltered. Believe me, extremists extrapolate all sorts to get at those they are against.
posted by tomcosgrave at 4:08 PM on April 15, 2001

Okay, someone here has to play devil's advocate...

Why is everyone so quick to dismiss this as a frivolous suit? Many have suggested that the Allies should have bombed Auschwitz. Yes, bombing would have killed some in the camp, but probably many fewer than were killed without the bombing. Perhaps more importantly, rebuilding Auschwitz would have proved very difficult, since the necessary materials were in short supply in 1944 Germany. Destroying the rail lines would have at least temporarily halted transportation of prisoners, and the resulting chaos of a bombing would have allowed some to escape. If nothing else, the mere delay would have saved lives. Other have said that the real value of an attack would have been its moral impact.

Of course, there are also those who have said that bombing the camps would have been both impractical and unrealistic.
posted by Aaaugh! at 8:31 PM on April 15, 2001

Rebecca: to me, the foregoing remarks such as "This makes other Jews look bad" call to mind not so much the notion that the speakers believe that the case at hand indicates something about Jews in general, but rather a variation on the well-worn "is it good for the Jews?" theme.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:48 PM on April 15, 2001

Hey folks - lets remember that WWII was not Desert Storm. This was the work of your grandaddy. This is the way it worked:

You have a scad of big planes chock full of high explosives. A fellow that sat in the belly of the plane called a bombadier said, "OK - we're somewhere around 40,000 feet off the ground, and we're moving at about 150 miles per hour. If I drop one of these babies out the belly of this beast, it should take about X number of minutes to fall, and therefore travel about X number of feet forward before it hits the ground and goes 'Boom'. The target is about yay far foward from our position at the moment, so I should push this lil' jigger here about.... now."

They Missed. Often.

Especially targets that are about 5-6 feet wide.

Sometimes they'd miss their targets by a literal mile, depending on weather conditions and bombing height.

To make sure they had half a shot at it, they'd dump shortsloads of blockbusters all at once, in hopes that one might get lucky.

Now.. would it have been prudent to rain high explosives on a prison camp as they try to take out a nearby railroad track using essentially The Force and basic Physics?

The REAL reason they didn't bomb is because the Allies knew for a fact that if they tried a dumb stunt like that and killed concentration camp prisoners it would have taken a whole lot less than 56 years to get nailed with a law suit that would have been a whole lot more compelling.

Bleah. Is it any wonder I'm resigned..
posted by resigned at 6:23 AM on April 16, 2001

Taking out a swath of railroad track or a bridge was not a high-tech feat in 1941. Sorry, try again.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:34 AM on April 16, 2001

Wrong. resigned is right, bombing was never very accurate in WWII. There were debates about two basic bombing strategies, pinpoint bombing and saturation bombing. Pinpoint bombing (which is what you seem to be thinking of) was rarely effective; saturation bombing gave us Dresden. I assume the Allies didn't want Auschwitz to become another Dresden.

I have no idea to what extent this issue was actually a factor in their planning, however. WWII in Europe wasn't conceived of or run as a rescue mission for the Jews--some might add "alas" to that--but as a war against the German Army. Allied planners might very well have concluded that bombing the Auschwitz railway line risked Allied bomber crews for no very tangible strategic or tactical advantage. It's often easier to distinguish the moral issues in hindsight, but when you're trying to win a war, you have the question of how to get the most advantage out of your X amount of materiel, while your enemy is trying to do the same thing to you. Relief for Auschwitz internees was probably rather far down on the list of objectives.
posted by rodii at 9:19 AM on April 16, 2001

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