The documents, unseen for seven decades, show as early as December 1942, the US and UK knew at least two million Jews had been murdered and a further five million were at risk of execution, although providing sanctuary to those awaiting their deaths was not on the Allied agenda. Received narratives of the Holocaust typically suggest the existence of extermination camps went undiscovered until their liberation by Allied forces.
The revelations add to the shamefulness of concerted Western attempts to prevent Jews and other Holocaust victims from escaping to Allied territory. In March 1943, Viscount Cranborne, minister in the war cabinet of Winston Churchill, said Jews should not be considered a special case, and the British Empire was already too full of refugees to offer a safe haven to any more.
Moreover, the documents suggest charges against far more Nazi officials were drawn up prior to the conclusion of the war than were eventually tried at Nuremberg. However, efforts to prosecute these individuals by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's envoy to the United Nations War Crimes Commission, Herbert Pell, were blocked by figures in the US State Department.
The Department was concerned the US' economic relationship with Germany after the war could be damaged if they went ahead. Moreover, US and British policymakers believed many Nazis would need to remain at liberty in order to assist in the post-war reconstruction of Germany. In the event, the first few governments of West Germany did feature former Nazis in prominent positions.
Prior to the public release of the documents, anyone wishing to read them required the permission of their own national government, and the UN Secretary General, and were forbidden from making notes.
Further trawling of the archives by researchers and historians may yield even more seismic revelations, demanding the rewriting of history textbooks the world over. In truth, the discovery of Allied foreknowledge of the Holocaust is but a confirmation of existing speculation.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance memorial in Israel, has previously on its website "information regarding mass murders of Jews began to reach the free world soon after [they] began in the Soviet Union in late June 1941, and the volume of such reports increased with time."
"Notwithstanding this, it remains unclear to what extent leaders understood the full import of their information. The utter shock of senior Allied commanders who liberated camps at the end of the war may indicate that this understanding was not complete," the organization said.