As I write this, discussions are underway on a deal that may include giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to the estimated 240 hostages in the Gaza Strip. While they may get to see hostages when they are released, it seems unlikely that Hamas would give the agency access to those remaining in captivity. Until now, the ICRC has not been allowed to visit them to ensure that they are alive and being treated humanely.
The IRC’s inability to be any help or comfort to the Jews is reminiscent of its failure during World War II when Roger Du Pasquier, head of the Information Department, explained:
No relief action of any sort by the Red Cross in Germany or the occupied territories could have been undertaken without the approval of the authorities. … Conforming to the letter, if not to the spirit of the Geneva Conventions … the Nazi government permitted the ICRC and its delegates to act on behalf of the several millions of prisoners held in the Stalags and Oflags. It refused, however, to allow any intervention on the part of the Red Cross in the concentration camps. …
In the face of such an obstinate refusal which covered up the horrifying reality, about which one was then ill-informed, the ICRC certainly could have made itself heard; it could have protested publicly and called on the conscience of the world. By doing so it would, however, have deprived itself of any possibility of acting in Hitler’s Empire; it would have deliberately given up what chances there still remained to it to help, even in a restricted manner, the victims of the concentration camp regime. But, above all, it would have made it impossible for it to continue its activity on behalf of millions of military captives.
The ICRC was not “ill-informed” about the “horrifying reality” of the camps. The American Red Cross files contain a collection of newspaper clippings that indicate it knew about the Nazi atrocities as early as August 1942. Here are a few of the headlines of those stories:
“25,000 Jews Seized In Southern France,” (The New York Times, Aug. 28, 1942);
“Jewish Children Interned by Vichy” (Chicago Sun, Aug. 31, 1942);
“Nazi Slayings Near 250,000,” (The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 22, 1943);
“1,000,000 Hungarian Jews Face Massacre, Hull Says” (Chicago Sun, July 15, 1944).
The ICRC could have given greater publicity to the Nazi genocide, used its influence to obtain access to more camps and mobilized world opinion to crusade for an end to the atrocities. An outcry may not have moved Hitler, but the absence of one allowed him to conclude that his annihilation of the Jews was of little concern, even to his enemies.
In February 1945, the president of the Red Cross wrote to a U.S. official: “Concerning the Jewish problem in Germany we are in close and continual contact with the German authorities.” The fact that the head of the Red Cross would use the Nazi phraseology “the Jewish problem” may be an indication of the organization’s attitude that Jews were more of a problem than a people who were being annihilated.
One gets the same sense today in the ICRC’s focus on the Palestinians while not even mentioning Israelis.
On Oct. 7, this news release came from Geneva: “The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is extremely concerned by the alarming intensification of armed violence in Israel and the occupied territories this morning.”
What violence in the territories? They don’t mention any in the release. Worse, Israel is not mentioned at all in the text. Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Near and Middle East, refers to “utterly horrific” images and reports of violence against civilians and people being captured. Reading the release with the title, one might assume it was Palestinians in the territories who were slaughtered and kidnapped.
Another release on Oct. 10 refers to “premeditated killings of civilians,” without identifying the killers or the victims, in the same sentence as “bombings in residential neighborhoods” with no context for the reason they are targeted.
After one month, an ARC press release assured us “the ICRC continues to pursue every possible avenue to secure the release of all remaining hostages, calling for urgent, immediate access to all those detained.” The ICRC says it is advocating for the hostages and “speaking with Hamas at [sic] highest levels” while also insisting it has no role in negotiations.
Ignoring its World War II failure, the ICRC says it is “not outspoken because we know from decades of experience that the way we can best influence change for those we want to help is to keep a low profile and advocate for the best interests of those we want to help discretely and directly with those who have the influence to make a difference.”
To which I ask, what have you accomplished in the last 47 days with your profile?