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March 28, 2008

The Mufti and the Holocaust

John Rosenthal on Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten by Klaus Gensicke


Klaus Gensicke. Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. 247 pages.49.90

Germany stands for an uncompromising struggle against the Jews. It is self-evident that the struggle against the Jewish national homeland in Palestine forms part of this struggle, since such a national homeland would be nothing other than a political base for the destructive influence of Jewish interests. Germany also knows that the claim that Jewry plays the role of an economic pioneer in Palestine is a lie. Only the Arabs work there, not the Jews. Germany is determined to call on the European nations one by one to solve the Jewish problem and, at the proper moment, to address the same appeal to non-European peoples.

—Adolf Hitler to Haj Amin Al-Husseini, mufti of Jerusalem, November 28, 19411

The persistence of widespread Judeophobia in the Muslim world is hardly a matter of dispute, even if many commentators are inclined to dismiss it as merely an “understandable” reaction to Israeli “oppression.” Among those who take the phenomenon seriously, however, a debate has been taking place of late about its origins. The debate has been spurred on, notably, by the publication in English translation of the German political scientist Matthias Küntzel’s book Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11. The central thesis of Küntzel’s book is that anti-Semitism — or, more precisely, modern anti-Semitism as crystallized in the “Jewish world conspiracy” theory — was largely imported into the Muslim world from Nazi Germany.

Now, one might have expected that opponents of Islamism would welcome a book showing the direct influence of the Third Reich upon the development of the Islamist movement and, most notably, on the Muslim Brotherhood, the pivotal organization in its history. In normal political discourse, after all, pointing out the links of an organization or movement to National Socialism does not exactly constitute an endorsement. Ironically, however, Küntzel’s book has been most roundly criticized — indeed outright denounced — by precisely the most adamant foes of Islamic extremism. For the most part self-styled experts in Islam, the latter have insisted, as against Küntzel’s thesis, that Muslim anti-Semitism is, in effect, a strictly Muslim affair.

The Gensicke volume provides considerable support for the thesis that “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and the “father” of Palestinian radicalism, is obviously a key figure for such debates. As is well known, from 1941 to 1945 Husseini lived in Berlin as the honored guest of Nazi Germany. During this time, he notably collaborated with the Nazis in assembling the Muslim ss division “Handzar” in Bosnia, as well as in numerous propaganda activities aimed at Arab speakers. Whereas the facts of Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis are widely known, what is less know, however, is the degree to which the mufti was influenced by or indeed himself influenced his hosts on an ideological and programmatic level. But a new book by German historian Klaus Gensicke titled Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten — “The Mufti of Jerusalem and the National Socialists” — sheds light on precisely this question. Based largely on primary source materials from the German archives, Gensicke’s volume provides unparalleled insight into the details of the mufti’s relationship to his Nazi hosts: at least as seen from the German side.

Gensicke’s 1988 doctoral dissertation is one of the principal sources for Küntzel’s discussion of the mufti in Jihad and Jew-Hatred and Küntzel himself wrote the preface for Gensicke’s new book: an updated version of the dissertation. Nonetheless, the Gensicke volume also provides considerable support for the thesis that, so to say, “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism. At the very least, Gensicke’s account shows the relation between the mufti and the Nazis to have been very much a two-way street: even — or indeed especially — as concerns the notorious “Jewish Question.”

Thus, in March 1933, only two months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, it was in fact the mufti who sought contact to the new German authorities and not vice-versa. In a March 31 telegram to Berlin, the German general consul in Jerusalem, Heinrich Wolff, reported on his meeting with Husseini:

The Mufti explained to me today at length that Muslims both within Palestine and without welcome the new regime in Germany and hope for the spread of fascist, anti-democratic forms of government to other countries. Current Jewish economic and political influence is harmful everywhere and has to be combated. In order to be able to hit the standard of living of Jews, Muslims are hoping for Germany to declare a boycott [of “Jewish” goods], which they would then enthusiastically join throughout the Muslim world.

As Gensicke explains, however, the initial German response to the mufti’s advances was cool. Indeed, the German attitude toward the mufti would remain reserved throughout the first years of Nazi rule. At the time, the Nazi leadership still hoped to come to an understanding with Great Britain that would allow it to pursue unhindered its expansionist goals in Eastern Europe. In return for British acquiescence, it was prepared to treat the Middle East as part of the British sphere of influence.

Moreover, for at least part of the Nazi leadership — Gensicke points in particular to Deputy Foreign Minister Ernst von Weizsäcker — the immigration of German Jews to Palestine represented a tolerable solution to Germany’s supposed “Jewish problem.” This attitude was obviously inimical to the plans of the mufti, who pleaded with German authorities to restrict Jewish immigration. Starting in August 1933, however, they did the opposite: in effect, facilitating Jewish immigration under the complex terms of the so-called Haavara or “Transfer” Agreement. The Haavara Agreement simultaneously permitted German Jews to transfer part of their wealth to Palestine and favored German exports to the region — the latter aspect earning it the support also of the Economics Ministry. “It cannot be denied that the Haavara Transfer made a considerable contribution to the development of Jewish settlement in Palestine,” Gensicke writes.

The immigration of Jews to Palestine represented a tolerable solution to some in the Nazi leadership, but it was inimical to the mufti’s plans.

By August 1940, however, the situation had radically changed. The outbreak of the war had brought the Haavara Agreement to an end. Even while it was still at least formally in effect, moreover, the Germans had already been quietly providing financial and material support to the mufti-led “Arab Revolt” in Palestine from 1936 to 1939. The aim of the revolt was precisely to stop Jewish immigration. After guiding the Arab Revolt from exile in Beirut, the mufti had in the meanwhile taken refuge in Iraq. There he allied himself with the pro-Axis circle around new Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gailani, who had recently replaced the pro-British Nuri as-Said. On August 26, an emissary of the mufti by the name of Osman Kemal Haddad met with Fritz Grobba of the German Foreign Office in Berlin. According to Grobba’s notes, Haddad asked for a declaration from Germany and Italy recognizing the right of the Arab countries to independence and “self-determination” and that they might resolve the “question of the Jewish element” just as Germany and Italy had done. In return, Haddad promised that Iraq would accord Germany and Italy “a privileged place” in its foreign relations: notably as concerns the “exploitation of Iraq’s mineral resources and in particular its oil reserves.”

Only the defeat of Rommel at the second Battle of El Alamein prevented German forces from entering Palestine and carrying out operations against the Jewish population.

Gailani would resign his post in January 1941 and then be returned to power by a coup d’état four months later. The British military intervention that followed would bring a provisional end to the mufti’s plans of transforming Iraq into a pro-Axis beachhead in the Middle East. “Sonderkommando Junck,” a somewhat perfunctory German Luftwaffe mission dispatched by the Reich to support its allies in Iraq, could not reverse the trend. Both the mufti and Gailani fled to Tehran toward the end of May. Even after their departure, Gensicke writes, “a wave of acts of intimidation and terror on the part of the pro-Axis forces continued.”  These included a major anti-Jewish pogrom, known as the “Farhud,” in which some 179 Iraqi Jews were killed.

As Gensicke’s account makes clear, moreover, the Nazi leadership would continue to accord central importance to the Iraqi “liberation struggle.” The deposed Iraqi Prime Minister Gailani followed the mufti to Berlin, where he, too, would take up residence starting in November 1941. For the remainder of the war years, the two Arab leaders would compete jealously for the Nazis’ favor. In light of the obvious parallels between the anti-British Iraqi “liberation struggle” of the early 1940s and the anti-American Iraqi “liberation struggle” of today, it is curious that Nazi Germany’s involvement in the former has not received greater public attention. A separate study of Gailani’s collaboration with the Nazis would undoubtedly be rich in historical lessons.

Hitler appears to have made German plans for a more muscular intervention to “liberate” Iraq merely contingent upon the successful conclusion of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Once the Wehrmacht had taken control of the southern Caucasus region, German troops were to sweep down into Iraq. The German defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943 definitively put an end to such plans.

On november 28, 1941, three weeks after his arrival in Berlin, the mufti was received by Hitler. As recorded in the minutes of the meeting, Hitler urged his guest to remain patient:

At some not yet precisely known, but in any case not very distant point in time, the German armies will reach the southern edge of the Caucasus. As soon as this is the case, the Führer will himself give the Arab world his assurance that the hour of liberation has arrived. At this point, the sole German aim will be the destruction of the Jews living in the Arab space under the protection of British power.

In the same meeting, Hitler likewise assured the mufti of his opposition to the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, which, he said, “would be nothing other than a political base for the destructive influence of Jewish interests.” More than 15 years earlier, Hitler had expressed the same thought in more colorful terms in Mein Kampf: “They are not at all thinking of building a Jewish state in Palestine in order, for instance, to live there; but rather they only hope to have a headquarters for their international swindling operations that is furnished with sovereign powers and removed from the influence of other states.”2

When the right time had come, Hitler told the mufti, the Arabs and other “non-European peoples” would be called on to “solve the Jewish problem” just as the “European nations” had done. The chilling remark suggests plans to exterminate even those Jews that the Nazi leadership had earlier permitted to immigrate to Palestine. As so happens, historians Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers have recently uncovered evidence that such plans did indeed exist. A special ss commando unit was formed in 1942 and attached to Rommel’s African Panzer Army. Its writ was in large part identical to that of the infamous Einsatzgruppen that accompanied the Wehrmacht during the invasion of the Soviet Union and that were responsible for the murder of upwards of one million Soviet Jews. On Mallmann and Cüppers’s account, only the defeat of Rommel at the second Battle of El Alamein prevented German forces from entering Palestine and carrying out similar operations against the Jewish population there.3

Among his other activities in Berlin, the mufti served as honorary chair of a newly founded “Islamic Central Institute” The institute was officially opened on December 18, 1942: during Eid al-Adha, the Islamic “Festival of Sacrifice.”  In a letter to Hitler on the occasion, the mufti expressed the hope that “thousands of Muslims around the world” would cooperate with Germany in the fight against “the common enemies”: “Jews, Bolsheviks and Anglo-Saxons.” The speech given by the mufti at the opening ceremony provides perhaps the clearest evidence that he required no lessons from the Nazis in anti-Semitism — or, at any rate, that if he did, he had by this time successfully assimilated those lessons into a remarkable synthesis of “traditional” Quranic and “modern” European Judeophobia:

The Jews and their accomplices are to be counted among the bitterest enemies of the Muslims, who made known . . . their hostility since ancient times and have everywhere and always . . . treated them [Muslims] with guile. Every Muslim knows all too well how the Jews afflicted him and his faith in the first days of Islam and what hatefulness they displayed toward the great Prophet — what hardship and trouble they caused him, how many intrigues they launched, how many conspiracies against him they brought about — such that the Quran judged them to be the most irreconcilable enemies of the Muslims. . . .  They will always remain a divisive element in the world: an element that is committed to devising schemes, provoking wars and playing peoples off against one another. . . . In England as in America, it is the Jewish influence alone that rules; and it is the same Jewish influence that is behind godless Communism. . . . And it is also this Jewish influence that has incited the nations into this grueling war. It is only the Jews who benefit from the tragic fate that they [the nations] suffer. . . .

In a subsequent talk at the Islamic Central Institute on November 2, 1943, the mufti called on Muslims to follow the example of National Socialist Germany, since the latter “knew how to save itself from the evil [Unheil] done by the Jews. . . . It had precisely identified the Jews and decided to find a definitive solution to the Jewish menace, in order to eliminate their evildoing [Unheil] from the world.” Gensicke points to the latter remark as evidence that the mufti was “well informed” about the extermination program that was by this time long underway in the Nazi death camps in occupied Poland.4

Indeed, perhaps the most shocking finding of Gensicke’s research concerns the repeated efforts of the mufti after 1943 to ensure that no European Jews should elude the camps: this during a period when it was becoming increasingly obvious even to the Nazi leadership that Germany would lose the war. Thus, for example, Bulgarian plans to permit some 4,000 Jewish children and 500 adult companions to immigrate to Palestine provoked a letter from the mufti to the Bulgarian foreign minister, pleading for the operation to be stopped. In the letter, dated May 6, 1943, Husseini invoked a “Jewish danger for the whole world and especially for the countries where Jews live.” “If I may be permitted,” the mufti continued,

I would like to call your attention to the fact that it would be very appropriate and more advantageous to prevent the Jews from emigrating from your country and instead to send them where they will be placed under strict control: e.g. to Poland. Thus one can avoid the danger they represent and do a good deed vis-à-vis the Arab peoples that will be appreciated.

One week later, the mufti sent additional “protest letters” to both the Italian and German Foreign Ministries, appealing for them to intervene in the matter. The German Foreign Ministry promptly sent off a cable to the German ambassador in Sofia stressing “the common German-Arab interest in preventing the rescue operation.” Indeed, according to the post-War recollections of a Foreign Ministry official, “The Mufti turned up all over the place making protests: in the Minister’s office, in the waiting room of the Deputy Minister and in other sections: for example, Interior, the Press Office, the Broadcast service, and also the ss.” “The Mufti was a sworn enemy of the Jews,” the official concluded, “and he made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred to see them all killed.”

As Gensicke points out, the mufti’s hyperactivity is particularly notable in light of the fact that the Foreign Ministry — and even indeed Heinrich Himmler’s Reich Security Central Office (rsha), which was directly responsible for implementing the Final Solution — had shown signs of being willing to tolerate the Bulgarian rescue action: at any rate, for a price. The rsha demanded the release of some 20,000 Germans interred by the Allies in exchange for the Jewish children.

In the nearly 800 pages of the two volumes of Hitler’s would-be magnum opus, Arabs are not mentioned at all as such and Islam is mentioned just once.

In late June, both the Romanian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers would be recipients of similar appeals from the mufti. The Romanian government had been planning to allow some 75,000 to 80,000 Jews to immigrate to the Middle East, and Hungary — which had become a refuge for Jews escaping persecution elsewhere in Europe — was reportedly preparing to allow some 900  Jewish children and their parents to immigrate as well. The mufti repeated his counsel that the Jews should be sent rather to Poland, where they could be kept under “active surveillance.”  “It is especially monstrous,” Gensicke concludes, “that el-Husseini objected to even those few cases in which the National Socialists were prepared, for whatever reasons, to permit Jews to emigrate. . . . For him, only deportation to Poland was acceptable, since he knew fully well that there would be no escape for the Jews from there.”

Self-professedIslamophobes — whose insistence that Islamism has something to do with Islam is, of course, not unreasonable in itself — will undoubtedly be tempted to see in Gensicke’s research support also for far more extravagant propositions. Pointing to the alleged admiration for Islam of this or that Nazi luminary or of the Führer himself, the most hysterical reactions to Matthias Küntzel’s Jihad and Jew-Hatred seem even to want to suggest that it is not, after all, National Socialism that is the source of rampant anti-Semitism in the Muslim World, but rather Islam that was perhaps the source or inspiration of the anti-Semitism of the National Socialists! Thus, for example, in a review of Küntzel’s volume on the Frontpage website,5 Andrew Bostom accuses Küntzel of “selective citation” and triumphantly adduces a passage from Albert Speer’s memoirs in which Speer describes Hitler expressing his regrets that Arabs had failed to conquer Europe in the early Middle Ages, since their warlike Muslim religion was “perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament.”

Let it be noted in passing that it is at least odd for Bostom to accuse Küntzel of having, in his words, “omitted” this passage, given that Küntzel’s own citation of Speer concerns a different topic (Hitler’s alleged fantasies about the destruction of New York) and is drawn indeed from an entirely different book. The eccentricity of such a procedure, moreover, appears less innocent when one considers that Bostom himself — in a 10,000-word screed replete with lengthy citations — has taken the trouble to suppress the following words from the very middle of his own Speer passage: “Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives. . . . ”6

Gensicke, citing a similarly anecdotal source, suggests that it was precisely Hitler’s belief in the racial inferiority of Arabs that prevented him from fully utilizing the support that the mufti and his Arab nationalist allies could have provided the Nazi cause. More generally, Gensicke notes that “on account of their racial ideology, it was impossible for the National Socialists to advocate the idea of Arab independence.” For the Nazis, he concludes, “the Semitic Arabs were as incapable of successfully running a state as were the Jews.”  Even leaving aside the biographies of Nazis who would convert to Islam after the War or Himmler’s well-documented (though seemingly rather superficial) enthusiasm for Islam, this well-meaning caveat is contradicted by archival evidence adduced by Gensicke elsewhere in his volume.7

If, however, instead of turning to more or less reliable recollections of third parties,8 one returns to the source — namely, the undisputed bible of the National Socialist movement, Hitler’s Mein Kampf — one discovers that Hitler’s own views on Islam and Arabs were almost nonexistent. In the nearly 800 pages of the two volumes of his would-be magnum opus, Arabs are not mentioned a single time as such and Islam is mentioned just once, in a neutral remark on the relative appeal of Islam and Christianity in Africa. The fevered mental universe of the discharged corporal and aspiring “race theorist” was amply populated by different varieties of Slavs, the occasional “Negro” [Neger], and, of course, always and everywhere the conniving and threatening Jew: the racial antipode of the honest “Aryan.” But Arabs and the “Muslim world” seem barely to have crossed his radar. Only once does Hitler implicitly offer his “racial” assessment of the latter: this in considering the prospect of German National Socialists forming an alliance with Egyptian insurgents fighting against British colonial rule. Hitler even alludes tantalizingly to the insurgents’ “Holy War” — in scare quotes, suggesting his clear disdain for the idea. “As [someone] who assesses the value of humanity according to racial criteria,” Hitler writes, “the knowledge of the racial inferiority of these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ forbids me from linking the fate of my own people with theirs.”9

It was only during the war that Hitler would, in effect, be confronted in a far more practical and urgent form by the very same question of “linking” the Nazi cause to religiously-tinged  Arab nationalism. And when he was, as Gensicke’s volume shows, he would find not only a willing ally, but also a kindred spirit, in Haj Amin Al-Husseini.


John Rosenthal writes on European politics, with a special focus on Germany and France. His work has appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, the Opinion Journal, Les Temps Modernes, and Merkur. He is a contributing editor for World Politics Review.


1 Klaus Gensicke, Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007), 60-61. Author’s translation.

2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Munich: Verlag Franz Eher Nachfolger, 1943), 356. Author’s translation.

3 See Klaus-Michael Mallman and Martin Cüppers, “‘Elimination of the Jewish National Home in Palestine’: The Einsatzkommando of the Panzer Army Africa, 1942” in Yad Vashem Studies XXV (available online at http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/studies/vol35/Mallmann-Cuppers2.pdf, accessed February 29, 2008). Mallmann and Cüppers have published the results of their research in book-length form in Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2006).

4 Citing documents from the Nuremberg Trials, Gensicke also notes that in mid-1942 members of Husseini’s and Gailani’s respective entourages visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg near Berlin. It is perhaps exaggerated to conclude from this fact that the mufti was aware of what was transpiring in the camps further to the East. According to the commonly accepted classification, Sachsenhausen was not a “death camp,” but merely a “normal” concentration camp. This is not to say that tens of thousands were not executed there: above all, Soviet prisoners. In any case, the Jewish inmates at Sachsenhausen were supposed to have “particularly interested” the visitors, who came away from their visit with “a very positive impression.” Gensicke, 206, note >55.

5 http: //www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=E352185E-D91E-4773-B4AE-9A5C3EA4949B (accessed February 29, 2008).

6 Lest I myself be accused of “selective citation,” I should mention that in a more recent blog post — discovered thanks to a fortuitous Google search rather than comprehensive familiarity with the author’s output — Bostom cites the full Speer passage and now allows that Hitler’s views of Arabs and Islam were “ambivalent.” See http://www.andrewbostom.org/blog/2008/01/25/verboten-discussion—hitler-muhammad-and-islam/ (accessed February 29, 2008).

7 Thus in a letter of March 11, 1941, Deputy Foreign Minister Ernst von Weizsäcker assured the mufti that Germany was “of the opinion that the Arabs are an ancient cultured nation [ein altes Kulturvolk] that has proven its aptitude for administration and its military virtues and that is fully capable of governing itself.”  

8 Speer in particular was a notorious fabulist and his often farfetched inventions have been the subject of several books: such as Matthias Schmidt’s Albert Speer: the End of a Myth and Dan van der Vat’s The Good Nazi: the Life and Lies of Albert Speer. In a particularly craven and macabre instance, at one point during questioning at the main Nuremberg trial, Speer claimed to have been planning to assassinate Hitler by dropping poison gas through a ventilation pipe at the Reich Chancellery, a plan that only failed to come to fruition, he said, because the opening of the pipe was too high for him to reach.

9 Hitler, Mein Kampf, 747. Author’s translation.