Mufti al-Husseini’s initiatory role in the Holocaust

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been widely castigated for highlighting the role of Haj Amin al-Husseini, a former Mufti of Jerusalem, in the Holocaust, during a speech at the 37th World Zionist Congress this week:

“…the premier claimed that Hitler’s original intentions were solely to expel the Jews.

According to Netanyahu, the Fuhrer changed his mind at the insistence of the Palestinian Arab leader at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who argued that the expulsion of the Jews would result in their arrival en masse to Palestine, which at the time was under British Mandatory rule. […]

He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them’.”

The charge has been widely criticised. Even anti-Semitic illustrator Carlos Latuff has mocked Netanyahu over the episode – a rich irony given his grotesque near-continual use of Holocaust imagery to demonise the Jewish State’s role in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Whilst it is arguable that Netanyahu may have exaggerated the role of the Mufti in Hitler’s decision-making on the Holocaust, he is nonetheless correct in stating that the Mufti had a vital role. It is undeniable that testimony, such as that of Eichmann’s assistant, establishes that the Mufti had a role in encouraging the Holocaust rather than expulsion as a means for Hitler to be rid of Jews:

“Adolf Eichmann’s deputy, Dieter Wisliceny, stated at his Nuremberg trial that the mufti’s importance “must not be disregarded[.] … [T]he Mufti had repeatedly suggested to … Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry[.] … The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and advisor of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of the plan.”

Netanyahu later clarified his remarks:

‘I had absolutely no intention of absolving Hitler of his diabolical responsibility for the extermination of Europe’s Jews,” Netanyahu said as he prepared to depart for Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to murder six million, it was his decision.
“At the same time it is absurd to ignore the role played by the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, in encouraging and goading Hitler, Ribbentrop, Himmler and others to exterminate European Jewry. […]
“He said: ‘The Mufti played a role in the decision of the German government to exterminate the European Jews, the importance of which must not be disregarded. He has repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution for the Palestine problem.’
“Eichmann’s deputy added: ‘The Mufti was one of the initiators of the diabolical extermination of European Jewry and was a partner and advisor to Eichman and Hitler in the carrying-out of this plan.’
“This attempt by certain researchers and certain people to give an apologetic to the central and important role Hajj Amin al-Husseini had is obvious. Many other scholars quote this testimony and other testimonies as to Hajj Amin al-Husseini’s role.”

The ‘My Right Word’ blog collates some interesting material on this issue. The book ‘Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East’, authored by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz and Barry Rubin, points to Hitler being open to emigration as a solution to the “Jewish Question” as late as 1941, while Bernard Wasserstein’s book ‘Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945’, asserts that the Third Reich precluded Jews being allowed to emigrate to British-Mandatory Palestine due to the NAZI alliance with the Mufti.

The Mufti was instrumental in helping initiate the extermination programme. Netanyahu may not have been mistaken in tying the extermination plan largely to a meeting in late 1941 between the Mufti and Hitler, given the sequence of events that would ensue. To quote at length an extract from Schwanitz and Rubin’s book:

“Hitler had to decide precisely how “the very last” of the Jews were to leave Germany. As late as 1941, Hitler thought this could happen, in the words of Hermann G.ring in July, by “emigration or evacuation.”15 Yet since other countries refused to take many or any Jewish refugees, Palestine was the only possible refuge, as designated by the League of Nations in 1922. If that last safe haven was closed, mass murder would be Hitler’s only alternative.

The importance of the Arab-Muslim alliance for Berlin, along with the grand mufti’s urging, ensured that outcome. And al-Husaini would be present at the critical moment Hitler chose it. In November 1941, al-Husaini arrived in Berlin to a reception showing the Germans saw him as future leader of all Arabs and Muslims, perhaps even reviver of the Islamic caliphate. […]

Von Ribbentrop assured al-Husaini of the Reich’s support.20 The Germans accepted alHusaini’s claim that the Arab masses would rally to their side if Berlin guaranteed independence from British and French rule as well as stopping all Jewish immigration into Palestine. In March 1941, Berlin secretly promised to support Arab independence.21 In October, Berlin and Rome publicly announced that policy.22 […]

…Hitler gave al-Husaini a ninety-minute meeting on November 28, 1941. Hitler’s preparatory briefing, written by Grobba, stressed that al-Husaini was in tune with Germany’s ideological and strategic interests.26 The red carpet was rolled out with the Nazi regime’s considerable talent for dramatic pomp. The grand mufti stepped from his limousine to see a twohundred-man honor guard and a band playing military music. Hitler greeted him warmly, “I am most familiar with your life.” […]

Al-Husaini explained his plan to Hitler. He would recruit an Arab Legion to fight for the Axis; Arab fighters would sabotage Allied facilities while Arab and Muslim leaders would foment revolts to tie up Allied troops and add territory and resources for the Axis.

Hitler accepted, saying the alliance would help his life-and-death struggle with the two citadels of Jewish power: Great Britain and Soviet Russia…. When the day of German victory came, Hitler continued, Germany would announce the Arabs’ liberation. The grand mufti would become leader of most Arabs. All Jews in the Middle East would be killed.27 […]

…there was another consequence of the al-Husaini-Hitler meeting to cement their alliance. A
few hours after seeing the grand mufti Hitler ordered invitations sent for a conference to be held at a villa on Lake Wannsee. The meeting’s purpose was to plan the comprehensive extermination of all Europe’s Jews.

Considerations of Muslim and Arab alliances, of course, were by no means the sole factor in a decision that grew from Hitler’s own anti-Semitic obsession. But until that moment the German dictator had left open the chance that expulsion might be an alternative to extermination.

When Hitler first told Heydrich to find a “final solution,” the dictator had included expelling the Jews as an option. Already, the regime estimated it had let about 500,000 Jews leave Germany legally during seven years of Nazi rule. Yet if the remaining Jews could only go to Palestine, and since ending that immigration was al-Husaini’s top priority, emigration or expulsion would sabotage the German-Arab alliance.31 Given the combination of the strategic situation and Hitler’s personal views, choosing to kill the Jews and gain the Arab and Muslim assets necessary for his war effort was an easy decision.32

Consequently, Hitler ordered the Wannsee Conference to devise a detailed plan for genocide.33 Since this decision was linked to the alliance with al-Husaini he would be the first non-German informed about the plan, even before it was formally presented at the conference. Adolf Eichmann himself was assigned to this task.

Eichmann briefed al-Husaini in the SS headquarters map room, using the presentation prepared for the conference. The grand mufti, Eichmann’s aide recalled, was very impressed, so taken with this blueprint for genocide that al-Husaini asked Eichmann to send an expert–probably Dieter Wisliceny–to Jerusalem to be his own personal adviser for setting up death camps and gas chambers once Germany won the war and he was in power.34”


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