One of the best-known stories of the Holocaust is about Anne Frank and her tale of silent resistance. Anne and her family hid for just over two years in her father's Amsterdam office building, while eight people from the office worked together to secretly feed and care for the family in hiding. There are many similar stories of courageous citizens who helped to hide and protect Jewish friends, neighbors, and strangers.

Most people, however, closed their eyes to what was happening. Many people collaborated, or cooperated, with the Nazis, actively taking part in killing Jews or informing on Jews in hiding. In France, the Vichy government helped ship thousands of Jews to their deaths. Strict immigration policies in many Western countries as well as conscious efforts to block Jewish immigration prevented many Jews from gaining refuge elsewhere.

The Allies Respond to the Holocaust

Even before the war started, some people outside Germany expressed concern about the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Still, the response was limited. The United States and other countries could have accepted many more Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria.

The Question of Jewish Refugees

In the summer of 1938, delegates from 32 countries met in France to discuss the “refugee problem.” During the nine-day meeting, delegates expressed sympathy for the refugees, but most countries, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not accepting more refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans worried that refugees would take jobs away from them and overburden social welfare programs. Widespread racial prejudices among the Allies, including anti-Semitic attitudes, also played a role in the failure to admit more Jewish refugees.

In 1939, the United States refused asylum to Jewish refugees on board the ship the St. Louis. The passengers were forced to return to Germany.

On the eve of World War II, Britain briefly lifted some restrictions and accepted almost 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi Europe. Their parents were not allowed to accompany the children, and many children never saw their parents again.

The Allies Take Limited Action

After the war began, the Allies were mostly concerned with military strategy. Throughout 1940 and 1941, Britain was fighting the war against the Nazis alone. Even when reliable reports concerning the murder of the Jews started to surface, the Allies were slow to respond. Despite urgent calls from resistance groups in occupied Europe, the Allies did not undertake any military operations.

Photo of two children looking out of the porthole of a ship.

Passengers on the refugee ship St. Louis were turned away from Cuba and the U.S. In June 1939, the ship was forced to return to Europe and an uncertain fate.

By 1942, the Allies knew that Jews were being taken to death camps in Poland, but often kept this information classified. They refused to release early photographs taken of the camps. Over the next two years, both Britain and the United States considered the idea of bombing Auschwitz, but neither country took action, focusing instead on their ultimate war aim to defeat the Nazis. The only way to rescue Jews, argued some U.S. officials, was to win the war as fast as possible.

President Roosevelt began to respond to reports of Jewish genocide in 1944. He established the War Refugee Board, a government agency that worked with the Red Cross to save thousands of Eastern European Jews. Its greatest success was due to the brave actions of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, in Hungary. Wallenberg issued thousands of Swedish passports to Hungarian Jews, which saved them from being deported to Auschwitz. Overall, the War Refugee Board is credited with saving as many as 200,000 Jews.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments