How did the Red Cross respond?

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The Red Cross was founded in 1863 as a neutral organisation in times of war.

By the spring of 1942, the Red Cross knew of the ‘Final Solution’. However, it neither publicly condemned the Nazi atrocities, nor did it challenge the German government to respect human rights.

In an attempt to dispel the rumours of the mass murder of Jews, the Nazi authorities invited a Red Cross delegation to visit the Theresienstadt camp on 23 June 1943. In order to deceive the Red Cross, the Nazis adapted the camp into a model Jewish town.

They covered up the gruesome conditions of life in the camp. They planted trees and established gardens and set up play areas for children. There was even a bank and a cafe. However, there was no food in the cafe; nor was there any money in the bank. A film was made showing cultural life in the camp including wonderful concerts.

Following the visit, the delegation of the Red Cross reported that it had been impressed by the condition of the Jews in Theresienstadt. The reality was that, after the Red Cross left, the people who had participated in the film were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and murdered. The Nazis had succeeded in their deception.

In March 1944 the Germans invaded their former ally, Hungary, and began to plan the deportation of the Hungarian Jewish community. On this occasion the Red Cross did attempt to intervene. In early 1945 the Red Cross further attempted to negotiate with the German authorities to exchange civilian prisoners. Unfortunately this came far too late because a large majority of Jews had already been murdered.