Photo: Baghdad burning in 2002.
Today, June 1, is an historic day for a free and active press.
From The Writer’s Almanac:
It was on this day in 1942, a newspaper in Warsaw published the first account of Jews being gassed to death in a concentration camp. This was the first time the news of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” became public.
Hitler had been in power for nine years, had never made a secret of his anti-Semitism. He had passed laws firing Jews from government jobs, dismissing them from public schools, and burning their books.
The first concentration camps were set up not for Jews but for political dissidents, unionists, social democrats; then homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Gypsies. The first people the Nazis exterminated were the mentally and physically disabled.
It wasn’t until after the invasion of Poland, with its enormous Jewish population, that Hitler began to consider what he called the “Jewish question.” There was a plan for a while to ship all the Jews to the island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, but that was scrapped.
By 1941, many thousands of Jews had already been rounded up and shot in Eastern Europe, as the Nazis marched north into Russia. Historians aren’t sure precisely when the decision was made to systematically exterminate the Jews in death camps, but it was Himmler’s idea to use gas chambers, after he’d witnessed a mass execution by gunfire, which he found shocking.
The newspaper that broke the story of the death camps was an underground Polish Socialist paper called the Liberty Brigade. A young man named Emanuel Ringelblum had escaped from the death camp, and his story was published on this day. The story was picked up by the London Daily Telegraph a week later. Around the same time, secret Polish agents began to send messages to the allies about Auschwitz. They met with Churchill and Roosevelt, but when the story reached the public, it was met with disbelief, even by many Jews.
British and American intelligence experts knew it was happening because they had cracked the Nazi codes, but they were reluctant to make their knowledge public because they didn’t want to signal the fact that they’d broken the codes. And Roosevelt and Churchill were reluctant to turn the war into a “Jewish war.”
It was not until American soldiers liberated the camps in the spring of 1945 that the full truth came out. The word genocide was not even coined until after the war. It wasn’t until 1957 that people began to use the term “the Holocaust.”
The press is just as important today, probably more so. Those running our government are corrupt and conniving, and we depend on journalists to keep them honest.
But when reporters do supply information about nefarious agendas, like the Downing Street memo, we can’t turn away. That story, and so many others like it, are out there. Where are we?