The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is widely regarded as an independent and neutral organisation, however, during the Holocaust, the ICRC failed to protect Jews and, following World War II, it worked with the Vatican to protect Nazi war criminals and collaborators.1

The ICRC was created in 1863 as a neutral humanitarian organisation; independent of political, religious and ideological bias, with its aim to relieve suffering in time of war and provide medical care for the wounded.2 Despite its claim to be neutral, during World War II the ICRC was influenced by the policies of the Swiss government — which failed to speak out against Nazi persecution of Jews, and was reluctant to help Jewish refugees.

Steinacher examines how the ICRC failed to uphold its ideal of neutral humanitarianism during World War II and after and instead pursued anti-Semitism

As early as 1939 the German Red Cross refused to allow representatives of the ICRC to visit Jews deported to Poland, because of Nazi government policy. As a result, the ICRC says it made indirect enquiries about mass arrests and deportations without mentioning Jews. The ICRC, in effect, accepted this situation: “Its infrequent and generally informal efforts to assuage the misery of the Jews in concentration camps were feeble and unconvincing.”3

As the war progressed, information about the fate of the Jews of Europe was reaching the Allied powers and the ICRC says it became aware of the situation. After debating whether to expose these violations of international humanitarian law, the ICRC decided to continue its indirect approach as this allowed its broader humanitarian work to continue in Germany and occupied Europe.4 Co-operation with the German Red Cross ensured that the ICRC’s work with prisoners of war continued.

Following World War II, the ICRC assisted German prisoners of war to locate relatives and provided support for civilians in post-war Germany; while it was reluctant to assist Jewish survivors. Travel documents were created by the ICRC for Germans and Eastern Europeans who were compromised by their role in the war and wished to escape Allied scrutiny. These documents were accepted by the Vatican.

Thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators, including German SS officers Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele — who performed human experiments on Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners — escaped justice with the help of the false identities provided by the ICRC and the Vatican.5 The ICRC regarded the Nuremberg trials as revenge by the Jews and considered the Germans as victims of war notwithstanding the evidence of Nazi atrocities and concentration camps.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the war, the United States was distracted by the immediate issues of rebuilding Europe, confronting the threat of the Soviet Union and the developing Cold War. Priorities changed, as there was a pressing need to reform the Geneva Conventions with Soviet support. Although threatened with losing its neutral status and being displaced as the central body of the Red Cross, the ICRC managed to retain its position.

In 1996 the ICRC released copies of its World War II files, some of which provided evidence that it knew of the persecution of Jews in Nazi concentration camps.6 It is now known that in 1941 the ICRC was aware of the Nazi plans to destroy European Jews. Twenty-five thousand microfilmed pages were given to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The files contained many first-hand accounts and reports on the persecution of Jews and political prisoners between 1939 and 1945.

The ICRC kept silent about the treatment of Jews for fear it would lose its ability to provide humanitarian aid to both sides of the conflict. Late in the war, the ICRC did provide some assistance to a few thousand persecuted Jews — but most relief was too little and came too late for the millions who perished in the camps. Only the work of Friedrich Born7 in Hungary and a few others elsewhere,8 was effective in assisting the Jews. Otherwise, the ICRC failed to provide relief to Jews persecuted during World War II.

The ICRC was also manipulated, perhaps knowingly, by the Nazis as in the report written by Red Cross inspectors about the concentration camp at Terezin (also known as Theresienstadt), Czechoslovakia. Outwardly, conditions at Theresienstadt appeared humane — but in reality it was a channel to the death camp at Auschwitz. In 2014, the ICRC acknowledged its failure to protect the Jews and for “its impotence and the mistakes it made in dealing with Nazi persecution and genocide”.9

Sadly, the prejudice toward Jews has not completely disappeared. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, anti-Semitism has taken the form of anti-Israelism. This was seen in the acceptance of the Red Crescent of Muslim countries while initially refusing to accept Israel’s Red Star of David (Magen David Adom) as the symbol of its emergency aid organisation.

Israel had been arguing for over fifty years that the Red Star of David be recognised as the symbol of Israel’s humanitarian organisation in addition to the Red Cross and Red Crescent.10 This request was rejected on the grounds that the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems did not represent Christianity and Islam, but were based on the Swiss and the Ottoman flags.

The issue was finally resolved with the creation of the Red Crystal emblem and the admission of the Red Star of David on 22 June 2006. Israel uses the Red Star of David in domestic activities but employs the Red Crystal emblem during international operations in order to ensure protection.

Because the ICRC provides humanitarian aid to Gaza and the Palestinian territories, it often takes the view that Israel’s response to provocations by Hamas and others is excessive. The organisation rarely acknowledges that Israel is acting to defend its citizens against rocket attacks, suicide bombers and incendiary devices that terrorise its people.

Only when Christ returns will Israel experience true peace and security, and be free from the prejudice of international bodies such as the ICRC. At that time, God says, “I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith Yahweh” (Zeph 3:19-20).

References:

  1. Janet Levy, “How the International Red Cross failed the Jews”, Israel National News, 28 December 2017, online at https://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/21473
  2. https://www.icrc.org/en/who-we-are/history
  3. Arthur D. Morse, While six million died, London: Secker & Warburg, 1968, p. 38
  4. Morse, p. 325.
  5. Ralph Blumenthal, “Vatican is reported to have furnished aid to fleeing Nazis”, The New York Times, Jan. 26, 1984, online at https://www.nytimes.com/1984/01/26/world/vatican-is-reported-to-have-furnished-aid-to-fleeing-nazis.html
  6. Irvin Molotsky, “Red Cross admits knowing of the Holocaust during the War”, The New York Times, 19 December 1996, online at https://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/19/us/red-cross-admits-knowing-of-the-holocaust-during-the-war.html
  7. Adam LeBor, Hitler’s secret bankers: the myth of Swiss neutrality during the Holocaust, revised and updated, Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1999, p. 184.
  8. Morse, p. 328-329.
  9. “The ICRC in WW II: The Holocaust”, International Committee of the Red Cross, 24 January 2014, online at https://www.icrc.org/en/document/icrc-wwii-holocaust
  10. “International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement”, in Wikipedia, online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_ Red_Cross_and_Red_Crescent_Movement#The_Red_Star_of_David_(Magen_David_Adom)