“Secrets of the Dead: Bombing Auschwitz” premiers nationwide on Tuesday, January 21, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/secrets, and the PBS Video app to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is January 27.
The show includes dramatic recreations and firsthand testimonies from historians, survivors, and experts, who examine one of the great moral dilemmas of the 20th century: Should the Allies have risked killing Auschwitz prisoners by bombing the camp to stop future atrocities?
In April 1944, Jewish prisoners Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler miraculously escaped from Auschwitz and fled through Nazi-occupied Poland to find refuge in Žilina, Slovakia, where they connected with the Jewish underground. Once safe, they recounted what they left behind. Their harrowing testimony revealed the true horror of the Holocaust to the outside world, describing in forensic detail the gas chambers and the full extent of the Nazi extermination program.
While millions of troops fought on both fronts and battled for supremacy in the air during World War II, Nazi forces continued to deport Jews to the concentration camps. As Vrba and Wetzler’s account made its way to Allies, the idea of bombing the camp was discussed at the highest levels of government. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Allied air commanders, the American War Refugee Board, and the Jewish Agency were presented with one of the greatest moral questions of the 20th century: Should we bomb Auschwitz and risk killing Jewish prisoners in the camp to stop future atrocities?
“Secrets of the Dead: Bombing Auschwitz” explores this dilemma through dramatic recreations of arguments that took place on both sides of the Atlantic.