We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

Most important turning point of WW2

LAURENCE REES: What would you consider the single most important turning point of the war?

NORBERT FREI: Well, I always have problems singling out one event as the single most important, because it needs you to think in this alternative way and to think counter-factually as a historian. This can help you to understand things but it can also lead to rather fancy ideas about possible different developments which finally end up to be just a fantasy of yours.

I think there’s one point in the Second World War which might have made us think more honourably about the Western Allies probably than we do. If we knew that there had been an attempt, for instance, to bomb Auschwitz. As we know now, there were reflections about this, there were pros and cons, but we also know that it’s not true that it was technically impossible to do so. It might not have helped overall, but it might have helped a couple of hundred thousand, particularly if you think 1944 was the last step of the Holocaust, the extermination of the Hungarian Jews. If the Allies had gone there a couple of weeks earlier they probably might have saved a couple of hundred thousand people, and one would not need to reflect on why this decision was not taken. Actually it was not a decision not to bomb Auschwitz but it was the neglect of this decision, if you will. The bottom line is probably that they didn’t care enough to decide. But there were all these considerations in-between and also the fear that at the end it would be perceived as an indication that again it’s a war for the Jews.