cover image The Red Cross and the Holocaust

The Red Cross and the Holocaust

Jean-Claude Favez. Cambridge University Press, $75 (387pp) ISBN 978-0-521-41587-3

The Red Cross's failure to fight the Holocaust has long been known. What's new in this dry but worthy addition to Holocaust literature by a French academic who had unrestricted access to the organizations archives is the author's nuanced argument about why that failure took place, along with his documentation. The failure, Favez argues, stemmed not, as has been alleged, from anti-Semitism among the group's top officers, but from their refusal to violate their group's founding principles of neutrality--they were determined not to appear to favor the cause of the Allies over that of the Axis. Furthermore, the Red Cross's mandate extends to prisoners of war; the Jews, as civilian prisoners, did not fit into the organization's categories even if they were treated much more harshly than POWs. Indeed, since the Jews had no state, their situation was worse: there was no individual national Red Cross fighting for their protection and no place to repatriate them to. And when the Red Cross did try to gain access to the camps to check on the inmates' status, the Nazis and their collaborators, with a couple of exceptions, refused to let them enter. Finally, says Favez, Red Cross delegates and staff never shook off the ""habit of caution."" Going country by country, relying on extensive archival material, Favez notes how the group's desire to maintain balance, borne out of its neutral, Swiss orientation and the habit of reticence among most of its leaders, was no match for the Nazis. The whitewashed description of Theresienstadt, written after a Red Cross delegate was allowed to visit there in 1944, is only the most egregious example. Favez, like his subject, is balanced: he dutifully lists the number of aid packages sent to concentration camp inmates and requests made to visit the camps. He also demonstrates that a few courageous people in a few countries, particularly Hungary, where mass deportations of Jews did not occur until late in the war, were able to achieve some results. As is clear from this account, however, even these results were meager. (Jan.)