In 1942, Eisatzgruppen Commando head Walter Rauff was assigned to Rommel's Panzer Army fighting in Africa. His task? To organise the elimination of the Jews. In their paper Elimination of the Jewish National Home in Palestine: The Einsatzkommando of the Panzer Army Africa, 1942, two scholars, Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, have trawled the German archives and amassed more important evidence of Arab solidarity with Nazi Germany, and the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem's backing for the mass murder of the Jews. Here's a long extract, but read the whole thing if you can (With thanks: Eliyahu):
In 1928, the cleric Hassan al-Banna had established the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It formed the core cell of modern Islamic fundamentalism. In 1936, the Brotherhood was but a small organization with some 800 members. Yet its ranks soon swelled, and two years later it boasted a total of 200,000. The driving factor behind this upsurge was mobilization for the Arab uprising in Palestine, as passages of the Koran hostile to Jews were interwoven with antisemitic
formulations of struggle from the Third Reich, and the hatredof the Jews was transformed into jihad, “holy war.” The consequence was boycott campaigns and violent demonstrations under the slogan,“Jews out of Egypt and Palestine!”
In October 1938, a conference of Islamic parliamentarians “for the defense of Palestine” was held in Cairo; antisemitic tracts were distributed, including the Arabic versions of Hitler's Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In contrast, the Syrian National Socialist Party, founded in Damascus by Antun Saadeh in 1932, was decidedly secular and totalitarian, as were the Phalanges Libanaises, founded in 1936, and based on the principle of the “strong leader.” They postulated a folk-ethnic superiority and, in their external forms, borrowed from the paradigm of the NSDAP, as manifest in their swastika flag and fascist salute with a raised hand.
In Trans-Jordan, under the Hashemite Emir Abdullah, the most moderate country in the region, there were also traces of antisemitism. The British representative in Amman noted in February 1941:“There has been a certain amount of pro-Nazi talk.”
In Saudi Arabia, in 1939, King Ibn Saud offered the use of Saudi Arabia as a waystation for German weaponry shipments to Palestine and openly expressed his sympathies for Nazi ideology: “All Arabs and Muslims throughout the world have great respect for Germany, enhanced by the struggle Germany is waging against Judaism, the arch enemy of the Arab nation.”
In March 1937, Walter Doehle, the German consul-general in Jerusalem, wrote a position statement on the future aims of German policy in Palestine in which he commented on the enthusiasm for Nazism among Palestinians:
Palestinian Arabs in all social strata have great sympathies for the new Germany and its Führer. These are sympathies that should be deemed even more valuable since they are on a purely abstract level.… If a person identified himself as a German when faced with threats from an Arab crowd, this alone generally allowed him to pass freely. But when some identified themselves by making the “Heil Hitler” salute, in most cases the Arabs’ attitude became expressions of open enthusiasm, and the German gave ovations, to which the Arabs responded loudly. Enthusiasm for our Führer and the new Germany is probably so widespread because the Palestinian Arabs, in their struggle for existence, long for an Arab “Führer.” And because in their fight against the Jews, they sense that they share a common single front with the Germans.
This glowing veneration for the Führer was confined not only to Palestine. A situation report from the German legation in Teheran emphasized the almost grotesque degree of enthusiasm among Muslims there for Nazism:
In his press, a Teheran printer of pictures made pictures of the Führer as well as of Ali, the first Imam. For months, these large pictures were hanging to the left and right of the front door to his shop. Anyone with the proper knowledge understood this juxtaposition. Its meaning: Ali is the first Imam, Adolf Hitler the last.
Among Arabs, in the summer of 1942, there was indeed a concrete expectation that the Germans would soon be on the march, advancing in force into the region. In mid-August, a liaison officer commented on the situation in Syria:
The friendly mood to the Germans among the Muslim Arabs continues unabated. In general, they express the wish that the Germans might soon arrive and liberate the country from the occupying forces and from its misery. To speak about Hitler publicly, the Arabs use a number of pseudonyms. The newest code name for Hitler is “Hajj Numur,” the tiger. Wishes for Hitler's victory often serve as a form of greeting.
Correspondingly, a military handbook on Syrian political life listed pro-German parties and groupings almost exclusively: if the Wehrmacht should appear on the scene, they would not resist but rather would collaborate with the conquering forces.
That same year, the British Secret Intelligence Service assessed the situation in Iraq, concluding
that 95 percent of the population there was also favorably disposed toward Germany.
In the same vein, a report by Schellenberg on Palestine noted:
The exceptionally positive attitude among Arabs toward Germans is largely connected with the hope that “Hitler will come” to drive out the Jews. Field Marshal Rommel has become a legendary personality. Thus it is that Arabs today long for a German invasion, and repeatedly ask when the Germans will arrive. And they are very unhappy that they have no weapons.
Schellenberg commented on the impact of German radio propaganda in Palestine:
The Arabs have an unshakeable faith that the Germans will be victorious. The German short wave broadcasts are listened to only by a small number. But their content soon makes the rounds of the Arab people. It is exaggerated and embellished in an Oriental manner to the point where the original text can barely be recognized.
Just how volatile the mood was in the summer of 1942, in heated anticipation of the arrival of the German forces, is reflected in the report of a liaison officer. He noted that part of the 9th British Army had remained in Palestine, despite the ever-more critical military situation, in order to defend the Jewish population there from Arab attacks. Such defensive measures also appear to have been urgently needed, because in the course of the German advance, thousands of Arab soldiers had deserted the British army. By 1943, some 8,000 Arabs, 7,000 of them from Palestine, had deserted with their weapons and disappeared into hiding, so as to join Rommel’s invasion later on.
Already in June 1941, Hitler was contemplating possible collaboration between the Arabs and the Third Reich. He spoke of “utilizing the Arab liberation movement” as an important trump card for the Germans against the existing British position and presence in the Near East. The decisive link between National Socialism and the Arab cause was antisemitism. A liaison officer reported in the summer of 1942: “The English have managed to make themselves hated throughout the Near East, especially because of their alliance with the Jews.”
Erwin Ettel, SS-Brigadeführer and expert on the Near East in the Foreign Office, noted that same year:
The Arab Question is bound up insolubly with the Jewish Question. The Jews are the mortal enemy of the Arabs, as they are the deadly enemy of the Germans. Anyone in Germany who deals with Arab politics must be a convinced and uncompromising adversary of the Jews.
Amin el-Husseini: Nazi Collaborator and Radical Jew-Hater
The most important collaborator with the Nazis on the Arab side, and,at the same time, a rabid antisemite, was Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In his person, we can see exemplified the decisive role played by hatred for the Jews within the project of German-Arab cooperation. There are countless statements made by him during his lifetime that clearly articulate his antisemitic attitudes. For example, el-Husseini gave a talk on the occasion of the opening of the Islamic Central Institute in Berlin in 1942, which prototypically reflects his recurrent patterns of interpretation.
On the one hand, he argued along fundamentalist Islamic lines, emphasizing: “Among the most
bitter enemies of the Muslims, who for ages have professed their hostility and everywhere make use of spite and cunning in their encounter with Muslims, are the Jews and their accessories.”
On the other hand, the Mufti was not only a religious fanatic. In order to disseminate hatred
of the Jews, he also resorted to the central antisemitic stereotypesof Nazi ideology, as another passage from this lecture shows:
In England and America, Jewish influence is dominant. It is the same Jewish influence that lurks behind godless communism, which is inimical to all religions and fundamental principles. That Jewish influence is what has incited the peoples, plunging them into this destructive war of attrition, whose tragic fate benefits the Jews and only them. The Jews are the inveterate enemies of the Muslims, along with their allies the British, the Americans and the Bolsheviks.
Such passages indicate that el-Husseini and his rhetoric should not be characterized solely along one-dimensional lines as an Arab nationalist. Especially when he was concerned with eliminating the Jewish presence in Palestine or elsewhere, the Grand Mufti was a National
Socialist and Islamic fundamentalist at one and the same time.
Who was Haj Amin El-Husseini? He was born between 1893 and 1897 to one of the two most influential families in Palestine. His grandfather, father, and brother before him had all occupied the religious office of Mufti (judge) of Jerusalem, but he had only a superficial religious education. He then embarked on a military career in the Ottoman army, where he also served during World War I.60 After that, he became even more opposed to the newly created British Mandate in Palestine, and an advocate of the Arab cause. El-Husseini was one of the instigators of the pro-Syrian riots in Jerusalem in April 1920, and also steered them in an anti-Jewish direction. The result was five Jews dead and 234 injured. El-Husseini fled to Syria and was sentenced in absentia by the British to ten years in prison.
But exile and condemnation did not spell the early political end of the demagogue. Rather, the British rewarded him with an important office, in a conciliatory move toward the Palestinian-Arab national movement. In a manipulated electoral procedure, he was named Mufti
of Jerusalem; the next year, he became President of the Supreme Muslim Council, which the British had created. Thus, in a very short time, he found himself exercising the greatest influence of any Arab in Palestine. In the meanwhile, Arab riots in 1921 led to the death of forty-seven Jews. In 1929, a renewed wave of disturbances took a total of 133 Jewish lives.
It was precisely the terror that raged in 1929 that indicates vividly the fact that those who were behind the disturbances were not simply seeking to prevent the mounting Zionist immigration; rather they were fighting the essence of Jewish life in Palestine as a whole. Responding to calls on August 16, 1929, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed, 2,000 Muslims descended on the Western Wall in Jerusalem, shouting slogans such as “Kill the Jews.” In their frenzy, they beat up Jews praying at that holy site. A week later, on August 23, Arab rioting escalated in the city, and that same afternoon a rumor also reached Hebron that Jews were slaughtering Arabs in Jerusalem. Centuries of the small Jewish minority’s peaceful coexistence with the Arabs in Hebron could not halt the subsequent wave of anti-Jewish violence that erupted. On August 24, 1929, an all-out massacre took place in Hebron, and sixtyseven Jews were murdered.
Following the Nazi rise to power in Germany, the Mufti immediately commanded great sympathy and admiration. In March 1933, he sent the new rulers in Berlin his best wishes, stressing in particular his unconditional support for the struggle against Jewish influence.
In 1937, el-Husseini intensified his contacts with Germany and tried to obtain financial aid. The Nazis’ increased interest in the region and search for potential allies there was manifest in the trip to the Near East taken by Herbert Hagen, the head of the Judenreferat in the SDHauptamt,
and by his associate Adolf Eichmann in the fall of 1937.
After a new Arab revolt erupted in mandatory Palestine — beginning in April 1936, and which, by October 15, 1936, cost some eighty Jewish lives — the British Peel Commission published its report, on July 7, 1937, outlining a plan to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state on some 15 percent of the territory. Immediately thereafter a new Arab uprising flared, developing into an anti-Jewish and anti-British guerrilla war. In 1938, it cost 297 Jewish lives. The Mufti had managed to avoid arrest by the British by fleeing to safety in 1937, to the grounds of the Al-Aksa Mosque. From there, he continued to lead the uprising.
A report by German Vice-Consul Herbert Dittmann gives an indication of the atmosphere in the country at the time, even if it might reflect to a certain extent what a Nazi official hoped to find. He noted that there was “anarchy for all practical purposes” in Palestine. Then he spoke about the methods being employed by the terrorists:
“The initially small number of Arabs active in the uprising have managed in the meantime to gain the support of the entire Arab people.” Their methods are “often quite cruel.” The fanatical activists employed the “most extreme personal terror, which does not hesitate to perpetrate targeted killings.”
People accused of cooperating in any way with the British mandatory administration had been murdered; at times their bodies were mutilated, their hearts torn out, or throats cut and tongues
removed. Those murdered in this way were then buried with signs saying, “This is how we treat those who betray the national cause.”
Such massive terror within the society abruptly interrupted the development of a civil society in the Arab community in Palestine. The Arab sphere broke its link with the British legal system and any semblance of constitutional law, instead using unbridled violence to pass judgment as it saw fit. The insurgents forced their will on Palestinian society and replaced the rule of law by arbitrary force. The society was now based on surveillance and informing on one’s neighbors. As
Dittmann described the situation, it hunted down the “enemies of the revolution” and “un-Islamic” deviants.
Not all Arabs in Palestine joined the faction led by the Mufti, becoming radical antisemites. But the consequence of this deluge of terror was that moderate voices were silenced; to advocate such views had now become a threat to one’s very life.
Dittmann confirmed that the terrorists were ultimately successful. They now could seriously be considered to have become the “agents of a popular movement.” He illustrated this by noting a development he had recently observed in the streets:
Suddenly the word went out that all who supported the national cause of Palestine should wear the same headdress as the insurgents, a kaffiyeh and agal [headscarf and double cord]. This order was adhered to by the entire Arab population in Palestine, Muslim and Christian, effendis and fellahs, so that today the tarbush, the headdress of the urban Arabs over centuries, has completely vanished from view, and the towns in Palestine provide an external image that is completely changed.
The insurgents had requested the Germans in Palestine to use swastika flags for their own protection in order to identify themselves. On the whole, in Dittmann’s view, the Palestinian Arabs felt that, “it is possible for a united, fanatic people to force their will even on the English, who previously had been regarded as invulnerable.”
While the uprising in Palestine raged on unabated, the Grand Mufti managed, in October 1937, to flee from Jerusalem to Lebanon, under the very eyes of the British. Two years later, he fled to Iraq. There he quickly established contact with an influential circle of military men well disposed toward the Germans, and politicians around Rashid Ali al-Gailani, who, in 1940, became the Iraqi prime minister, but was soon forced to step down in January 1941.
When it became clear that the British were successfully pressing his successor for a more
critical policy toward the Axis powers, al-Gailani and the Iraqi military staged a coup against the government on April 1, 1941, with the support of the Mufti. The insurgents sought military assistance in Germany and Italy, shifting immediately to a confrontation course with Great
Britain. A short time later, a British army corps landed near Basra.
In this case as well, the uprising against the British Empire coincided with a direct attack on the Jews. On June 1, 1941, a pogrom broke out in Baghdad against the Jewish community there. The violence raged for two days and took 110 Jewish lives. Some 240 Jews were injured, 86 Jewish shops and workshops were plundered, and 911 houses and apartments destroyed. On June 9, the Italian legation there reported that Jews “were continuing to be attacked and looted in Baghdad.”
Once again, el-Husseini and the Iraqis in revolt sought and found the help of the Nazis. But since Hitler was busy organizing airborne troop drops against Crete and preparations for the attack on the Soviet Union, German weapons shipments via Syria and the support of the German air force turned out to be far too modest in scope. As a consequence, the Iraqi army was quickly defeated by the British, and el-Husseini fled to Iran with al-Gailani. After a few weeks there, he proceeded via Turkey to Italy, where he arrived in early October 1941, and consulted with Mussolini. On November 6, 1941, he relocated to Berlin, and al-Gailani followed him there on November 21.
On November 28, el-Husseini had an audience with Hitler, during which Hitler raised the topic that especially interested his guest: “Germany supports an uncompromising struggle against the Jews.”
He then spoke about the current military situation, emphasizing that the real German aim
in the Orient was to “destroy the Jews living in the Arab area under the aegis of British might.”
The Mufti thanked Hitler for these assurances, stating that, for his part, he had full confidence in the German initiative. This Arab solidarity with the Third Reich, primarily motivated by
antisemitism, and with the common basis of the struggle against Jewish life in the Near East, was later repeatedly stressed and underwent further concrete elaboration. In a letter to the Reich foreign minister, the Grand Mufti and al-Gailani officially sought German support, in April 1942, for the “elimination of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.”
Given such a formula for alliance, Ribbentrop did not find it difficult to agree. Shortly afterward, the Mufti stressed that, “Arab interests are completely identical in thrust with those of the Germans.”
Along with unity in the struggle against England and communism, there was agreement most especially with regard to fighting against the Jews.
Germany was the only country in the world that did not limit itself to struggling against the Jews solely on its own soil, but had also declared an uncompromising war on world Jewry. In this
struggle of Germany against international Jewry, the Arabs felt a very close bond of solidarity with Germany.
As had been evident earlier in his efforts to organize anti-British uprisings and anti-Jewish pogroms in the Near East, the Grand Mufti in exile in Germany was not satisfied with mere rhetoric and antisemitic tirades. Rather, he continued to pursue the vision of the destruction of
the Jews and the simultaneous creation of a pan-Arab empire under his leadership. This was to culminate in a new Caliphate, yet to be established.
Among other things, he declared his readiness to help set up armed units of Arab volunteers for the struggle. Trained by Germans, they were to take part side by side with them in the fight against the British in the Middle East. Subsequently, in the framework of the Special Staff F, under General Hellmuth Felmy, who had participated in the abortive German intervention in Iraq in 1941, the German-Arab Training Department (Deutsch-Arabische Lehrabteilung) was established.
Like the Einsatzkommando Egypt, it was marking time, in the summer of 1942, in mainland Greece at Cape Sunion, awaiting imminent deployment. Along with his diverse contacts with the Italians, the German Foreign Office, and the Wehrmacht, it can be proven that the Mufti also
had direct communication with the Judenreferat in the RSHA. A short time after his first meeting with Himmler, el-Husseini paid a visit to the Section Head IV B 4, Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann.
On this occasion (the visit must have been the end of 1941, or the beginning of 1942), Eichmann provided his much-impressed guest with an intensive look at the current state of the “Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe” by the Third Reich, and illustrated this with numerous statistics and maps. For his part, the Grand Mufti informed Eichmann that he had already received approval from Himmler that, after the Axis victory, one of the advisors on Jewish affairs from Eichmann’s section would go with him to Jerusalem in order to come to practical grips with the virulent questions still remaining there. Eichmann, who was very impressed by the Mufti, subsequently met with him a number of times.
However, the basic questions pertaining to the “Jewish Question”in Palestine appeared to have been clarified already during their first meeting. This can be safely assumed, since el-Husseini later turned directly to Eichmann’s competent associate to discuss practical matters in more precise detail. There is evidence that the Grand Mufti met at least on one occasion with Sturmbannführer Friedrich Suhr, head of IV B 4 b (“Jewish Affairs”) during the first half of 1942, as Suhr’s secretary later confirmed.85 During this period the Mufti was, as mentioned, directly assisted by Obersturmführer Hans-Joachim Weise, who later was assigned to Rauff’s Einsatzkommando.
The capture of Tobruk, at the end of June 1942, was the starting signal both for the RSHA and el-Husseini to render the plan for the destruction of the Jews in Palestine into more concrete terms. While the Einsatzkommando for the Panzer Army Africa was put together in Berlin and sent on to Athens to await further orders, the Mufti also intensified his activities to liberate Palestine. He offered to travel to Egypt and become active in propaganda work there in order to spur Arab collaboration. In this connection, he also called for dispatching the German-Arab Training Department to Egypt. His tactic to destabilize the British position in the Middle East and prepare it for a German invasion was summed up by el-Husseini in the following words:
Set up bands of Arabs as a fighting force and equip them. They will march to Egypt and other Arab countries in order to disturb and harass the enemy by destroying roads, bridges and possibilities for contact more generally, and to promote uprisings inside the country.… Set up regular Arab military units that will operate side by side together with troops of the Axis powers. These units will have a morally favorable impact in the Arab countries and will draw the volunteers in the British army to their side.… Dispatch weapons and munitions to Egypt behind enemy lines, and then to Palestine, Syria and Iraq — in order to lay the groundwork for uprisings and to harass the enemy.
The Overlooked Project for Mass Murder
It is well known that the Germans did not reach Palestine and the Rauff Commando did not embark upon its envisioned agenda of operations there. The halt at El Alamein, which Rommel expected would be a short stay-over, ultimately became a turning point for the advance of the Axis powers. After it had proved impossible to successfully resume German-Italian operations, the Panzer Army Africa was forced into a final withdrawal and retreat from Egypt and Libya by the power of the British counter-offensive that commenced in early November 1942.
As a result of the unfavorable course for the German forces of the second battle at El Alamein — as the conclusion, on September 3, made it evident that a conquest of Egypt would be deferred to a more distant future — the Rauff Commando was given orders to leave Athens in September 1942. It returned to Berlin and remained there, apparently still intact, because precisely two months later the unit was deployed, at the very same strength of 7:17, in Tunis. In Tunis, the Commando unit was assigned at least three more SS officers, and the personnel was strengthened from the original twenty-four men to 100.
Out of consideration for Germany’s close ally in Tunisia, which the Germans accepted as an Italian sphere of interest, the Rauff Commando did not organize a mass murder of the Jewish population there. Instead, Rauff and his men were put to work registering the Jews and deploying them at forced labor for the construction of fortifications.
Rauff’s previous record makes it more than likely that if there had been less requisite consideration for the Italian ally and its wishes, Rauff would doubtlessly have been prepared to press ahead with the mass murder of the Jewish population in Tunisia, too. In addition, an assessment by Rudolf Rahn, the German ambassador in Italy, who expressly praised the “exceptionally energetic and successful activity of Obersturmbannführer Rauff,” suggests that Rauff was probably only allowed to a very restricted extent to pursue his true calling in Tunisia.
Shortly before the Axis troops surrendered in Africa on May 13, 1943, the Rauff Commando was withdrawn, on May 9, from Tunis and sent to Naples. It was then transferred for Security Police duties to the island of Corsica. At the beginning of September, Rauff was placed under the commander of the SIPO and SD Italy, where he was responsible among other things for “combating partisans” in his new capacity as commander of the Group Upper Italy-West.
The end of the Africa campaign of the Axis powers should not obscure a central fact: in the special strategic situation that developed during the summer of 1942, Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa stood on the verge of a breakthrough into Palestine. The Germans had prepared for this scenario: with the Einsatzkommando under Rauff and certain support that could be expected from the Arab side in Palestine, the mass murder of the Jewish population in mandatory Palestine could also have been put into high gear once that breakthrough occurred.
Down to the present, this plan has not become part of public historical awareness. There were some German state prosecutors who did at least hear certain intimations about these designs in the interrogations they conducted of the potential perpetrators after the war. However, the lawyers did not interest themselves in the murderous intention that emerged in these statements, since destruction of human life not carried out was not a criminal offense that could be prosecuted in a court of law.
It is obvious that the history of the Middle East would have taken a far different course, and it probably would never have been possible to establish a Jewish state if the project described here had been made a concrete reality by the joint action of the Germans and Arabs. It was only thanks to El Alamein and the second Allied front that opened up in November 1942 in North Africa that the Yishuv — at the time nearly half a million Jews in Palestine — were spared and survived.
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