Project Management Articles

Making Tough Decisions - Would You Have Bombed Auschwitz?

by Di Ellis

One of the key responsibilities of a project manager is to make decisions regarding the project. Most decisions will be relatively simple to make, but there may come a time on a project when you have to make a decision that will not please everyone.

In my book, Manage That Project, we look at one of the essential skills for a successful project manager – the ability to make tough decisions. Not all decisions you make as a project manager are going to be popular – some may go against your personal preferences or values, or they may not be the preferred option of your own project team. However, if you can satisfy yourself that you have made the best decision based on the facts available, have documented your fact-based assumptions, listened to the opinions of the relevant "subject matter experts", then you have made the best decision available at the time. (A subject matter expert is someone who is considered an expert in that particular subject area).

As a Project Manager, you need to be willing to make tough decisions which are in the best interest of the project – you can't be "Mr Nice Guy".

And that's not to say you will always make the right decision. Sometimes not all the facts are available, not all the "subject matter experts" are available, or certain facts are either not available at the time or withheld from you.

What would you have done?


On June 6, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Overlord – the D-Day landings in France.  By July, progress was agonisingly slow, and victory was nowhere near assured.

Decision Required

The Allied leaders (Churchill and Roosevelt) were asked by the Jewish Agency to bomb the Auschwitz camp, including the crematoria and the railway lines leading to Auschwitz in July 1944. To do so would require pulling resources away from other fronts.

Facts Available

Information had been available from the Polish resistance regarding what was going on at Auschwitz since 1941 (however, in some circles these reports were thought to be gross exaggerations). The Polish Home Army had been refused air support from Britain in 1943 to attack Auschwitz.

From May 1944, the US Army had the range & aircraft to reach the camp.

Subject Matter Experts

Senior military personnel from the US and Britain were concerned that any mission to bomb Auschwitz would be a diversion of the war effort – they felt that the land war had to be won first.

Stalin's armies were in fact closer, but he also chose not to bomb as he preferred to focus on the Russian land campaign.

Others were concerned that too many prisoners would be killed or injured.

The Jewish Agency felt that the Allies had a moral duty to destroy Auschwitz, and felt that even an unsuccessful attempt to bomb Auschwitz would be a morale boost both for the Allies and for the camp inmates.

The Decision

Apparently, Churchill implored the RAF to bomb the camp, and called Auschwitz "the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world".

However, the British Air Ministry and Foreign Office, and the U.S. War Department concluded that Auschwitz could not be bombed – that a precision bombing raid (one which would destroy the gas chambers but leave the inmates unharmed) had almost no chance of success.

Churchill and Roosevelt decided, after conferring with their respective ministries, not to bomb.

Facts Not In Evidence

When an Allied photo-reconnaissance plane flew over southern Poland in the summer of 1944, it took detailed images of Auschwitz. Bizarrely, the photographs were taken purely by accident, and were filed away and never looked at. The site of the Auschwitz camp was only 8km from an oil and rubber plant – priority targets for Allied bombers.

In fact, on September 14, 1944 the Allies did in fact accidentally bomb crematoria 2 and 3. These same aerial photos, not analysed at the time, clearly show the bombs falling on the camp and the hits on the crematoria.

Unfortunately, this did not slow down the camps.

In addition, the US War Department, in direct contravention of Roosevelt's request for the US to do everything they could to further rescue efforts for refugees (and, by extension, camp inmates), developed a blanket policy of non involvement in rescue actions.


Although both Churchill and Roosevelt personally supported bombing the camps at Auschwitz, they made the decision not to bomb based on the recommendations of their subject matter experts – the Foreign Office, the British Air Ministry, and the US War Department. This must have been a very difficult decision for these men to make.

The point of this article is not to debate whether this was a right or a wrong decision. The Allied leaders made the best decision they could given the facts they had available at the time. And as you can see from this article – they did not have all the facts.

The question is – could you make a decision that you do not personally agree with, if it is the right thing to do for your project?

Back to List of Articles

About the Author

Di Ellis is the owner of this site, and author of Manage That Project, a fantastically simple, easy to understand guide to project management.

Most Popular Articles

A Dissertation on Leadership - During World War One a dissertation on leadership was given to the student-officers of the Second Training Camp at Fort Sheridan, by Major C. A. Bach, a quiet, unassuming army officer acting as an instructor. This is one of the finest lessons on leadership ever recorded. Read more ...

So You Want to be a Project Manager - In our first of 2 articles So You Want To Be A Project Manager... we look at what skills it takes to become a Project Manager. We identify the 6 key skills required to be a successful project manager, and explain why these are more important than qualifications. In our follow up article, we look at these 6 skills in more detail, and advise how you can acquire, learn or improve these skills, in order to become a more successful project manager. Read more ....

The Art of War and Project Management - The Art of War is an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy considered to be a prime example of Taoist strategy. But Sun Tzu also teaches about leadership, team building, and what makes a good leader. This article looks at what can we learn from this book to make us better Managers. Read more ....