Occasionally ranters, internet and otherwise, claim that America betrayed the Jews because Roosevelt was asked to bomb the rails to Auschwitz and he refused/ rebuffed them.

  • Is it difficult to bomb a rail line accurately and effectively?

  • How difficult is it for the Germans to repair the rail line?

  • How expensive in terms of war resources would the task be?

  • Would such a mission be deep in the Soviet theater of war?

What was the opportunity cost to bombing the rails? What tactical or strategic objectives would have been at risk if Roosevelt had diverted resources to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz?

  • 4
    How could you objectively evaluate whether it was a "waste" or would be "better" spent on bombing? I don't think the value of disrupting concentration camp activities can be meaningfully compared to the general war effort. As a side note Allied strategic bombing in general had pretty lacklustre effects on German industry until the war was effectively decided.
    – Semaphore
    Jul 24, 2015 at 12:11
  • I think it was usually claimed by the critics that it would be better to bomb the gas chambers themselves rather than the railroad.
    – Anixx
    Jul 24, 2015 at 13:16
  • There are several questions put together here. Questions 1 (difficulty) and 2 (resources) may have an objective answer. Question 3 (Soviet theater) depends on one's definition of "deep", so may be more opinion-based. Question 4 ("waste") depends clearly on subjective values - all acts of war can be considered "waste".
    Jul 24, 2015 at 13:36
  • 1
    There is also important point missed, if we approach this question from the point of practicality: the Nazis (as will as other armies, partisans etc) were pretty effective in killing people outside of camps, often killing thousands or tens of thousands of people in days. Would cutting off the camp make any difference?
    – Greg
    Jul 26, 2015 at 3:07

3 Answers 3


There's (surprisingly to me) a rather extensive Wikipedia page on this subject.

The main takeaway I got from it is that merely bombing the rail lines without bombing the camps themselves was not considered to be a particularly effective option. Bombing the camps was fairly extensively discussed at high levels (even consulting with Jewish community representatives). It was worried that not only would that also kill the internees, but it was quite likely the Germans would turn around and try to blame all the death camp deaths on the allied bombings.

At lower levels, it appears that it was Army policy to bomb only military targets, so such requests made through military channels were typically rejected without ever going up the chain far enough to reach a politician.

  • 6
    I find the notion that the Army bombed only military targets suspicious. Rail lines are military targets, and the same ranters blame us for the firebombing of Dresden. In total war there isn't a clear cut line between military targets and other targets. I suspect there is more to the story (I'm not challenging you, I just think that this may be an example of Whited's Law ("It's not quite that simple"))
    – MCW
    Jul 24, 2015 at 17:35
  • Actually, I suspect most of my set of rangers are of the opinion that Dresden had it coming. Jul 24, 2015 at 18:18
  • 3
    Very few 'rail lines' were bombed, or even strafed... by which I mean rails out in the 'wilderness.' Trains themselves were strafed and bombed if they were positively identified as war materiel hauling, or switching centers were bombed, A train of Jews being hauled to Auschwitz, or any other camp, would most likely be NOT bombed. Bombing/strafing the lines themselves had damage repaired in under a day.
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 24, 2015 at 19:06
  • Railroaders in Olive Drab is a really good article by Lt Col Newell. Also, believe it or not, the old 1964 movie The Train has a decent example of immediate repair of rail and tie damaged by saboteurs.
    – CGCampbell
    Jul 24, 2015 at 19:12

In regards to the first question:

There were two main bombing techniques used in World War II: area bombing and precision bombing.

Area bombing was carried out by large numbers of high-altitude bombers at a time (typically tens to hundreds of bombers). This could certainly destroy a rail line, but accuracy was abysmal: the Eighth Air Force considered any bomb that landed within a thousand feet of the aiming point to be a hit, and even with that low standard, they only managed an accuracy of 20%.

Precision bombing was typically done by ground-attack aircraft or light bombers such as the Mosquito. These aircraft had the accuracy to hit a small target such as a locomotive or a tank, so hitting a rail line would be no problem. However, they couldn't carry much of a bomb load: German forces could repair the damage in a matter of hours.

Your choice: accuracy, or effectiveness. You can't get both.


There is a large difference between bombing a military target and a civilian target. And that's true even if the "same" railroad can be either one or the other.

In military bombing, the idea is not to destroy the target per se, but to "put it out of action" during a critical time period, say right before a battle. For instance, the Allies bombed a lot of roads and railroads in France in connection with the Normandy campaign. A number of German units were "delayed," but they made it to Normandy eventually. The real objective of the railroad bombings is the Allied lives and time saved by the delay of German reinforcements. Without this consideration, the difficulty and cost of bombing a target would outweigh the value of the bombing itself; most roads, railroads, and buildings are easily repaired.

In the case of the railroads to Auschwitz, there were no military "savings" to offset the cost of the bombing. The railroads would have been repaired eventually, the shipping and killing would have gone on, and the main result is that people who were "shipped" to Auschwitz would either have been killed in the bombing, or forced to detrain and walk the remainder of the way, resulting in more and earlier deaths.

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