Cover image for The Red Cross and the Holocaust
The Red Cross and the Holocaust
Favez, Jean-Claude.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Mission impossible? English
Publication Information:
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxxii, 353 pages : map ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D804.6 .F3813 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Red Cross and the Holocaust presents a startling assessment of the role of the world's most famous charity in World War II. Was the Red Cross aware of the appalling sufferings of the victims of the concentration camps? How much did its International Committee know about the deportation and extermination of the Jews in Europe? Did it try to protect the persecuted Jews? In what ways could it have helped them, given the neutrality which was the basis of its foundation? These questions have remained unanswered for more than fifty years and have sparked off bitter debates. Jean-Claude Favez here presents a fundamental reappraisal, informed by unrivalled access to the archives of the Red Cross. This magisterial work includes a chronology, indices, biographical notes, and a statement by the charity's current leaders: anyone interested in the complexity and tragedy of the Holocaust will find this compelling reading.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Favez, former Rector of the University of Geneva, was the first researcher to have unrestricted access to the files of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). His book, first published in French in 1988 (and very capably translated and edited in this slightly abridged edition), shows that the ICRC, which historically dealt with injured soldiers and prisoners of war, was cautious and reticent in responding to the unique horrors that European Jewry faced as civilian internees of a totalitarian state. Quoting from archival materials, Favez illustrates how the ICRC felt itself powerless, not wanting to jeopardize its appearance as a neutral intermediary and moral guarantor in order to maintain its access to POWs. He includes an appendix with ten of the documents. Favez provides a remarkably balanced portrait, detailing successful operations of the ICRC while criticizing the overall response. This breakthrough volume belongs in all European history and diplomatic collections.--John A. Drobnicki, York Coll., Jamaica, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The author (Univ. of Basel) has enjoyed unrivaled access to archival sources and interviews of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials and other witnesses to Nazi Germany. This translation of a book first published in French in 1988 now makes crucial organizational detail available in English on the Nazi annihilation of European Jews and the responses--sometimes lack of responses--of "the Red Cross." Favez shows the ICRC as a private organization of Swiss citizens with no control over governments or national Red Cross societies such as the German Red Cross. As protector of prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention of 1929, the ICRC observed indirectly some of the atrocities of the German concentration camps earlier than other witnesses but was slow to expose such horrors, realizing that if it did so, the Nazis would stop the ICRC's access to POWs and other captives. Some ICRC leaders hoped that the worst could not be true, even in the face of heavy documentation that genocide was in its advanced stages. Other more general recent books on Red Cross history are John F. Hutchinson's Champions of Charity (CH, Dec'96) and Caroline Moorehead's Dunant's Dream (CH, Oct'99). All levels. G. H. Davis; Georgia State University

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Background
1 The Red Cross, political prisoners and racial persecution before 1939
2 Secrecy, rumour, information
3 The door that stayed shut
4 Ways and means
Part 2 The ICRC and Political and Racial Persecution in Hitler's Europe
5 The occupied countries
6 The satellites
7 The Axis allies
Part 3 Another Turn of the Screw
8 The drama of retreat, persecution and action played out in Hungary
9 Aid and protection on the eve of liberation
10 Conclusion