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Aug. 26, 2011

The Führer of the Arabs; The Mufti of Jerusalem’s years in Nazi Berlin

by Gil Zohar

The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: Amin al-Husaini: The Berlin Years
Gensicke, Klaus, translated by Alexander Fraser Gunn (Edgeware: Vallentine Mitchell, 2011)

In November 2008, 28 neatly drawn 1:100 blueprints of the Auschwitz concentration camp were discovered hidden in a Berlin apartment undergoing renovation. One page of the set of drawings bore the signature of Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler. The exact address has never been revealed, leading to Internet speculation that the unspecified building once belonged to Hajj Ami al-Husseini, the notorious leader of Palestine’s Arabs who spent the years 1941-1945 as a Nazi collaborator, or more accurately as a member of the Nazi elite, living in Berlin.

One Auschwitz survivor testified he saw al-Husseini visiting the concentration camp with Himmler in 1943. Could the SS leader have given al-Husseini an autographed copy of the plans for Auschwitz, as well as a private tour?

Were the incriminating documents perhaps found at the self-styled Grand Mufti’s grand villa at Goethestrasse 27 in Berlin’s swank suburb of Zehlendorf? There many of the Nazi regime’s elite lived, served by Express S-Bahn trains, known as "Banker Trains", that whisked them at 120 km/h to the Third Reich’s financial and government heart of darkness downtown until the service was disrupted near the end of World War II.

Or perhaps the Auschwitz plans were discovered at al-Husseini’s macabre “Jewish Institute” on fashionable Klopstock Street overlooking the Tiergarten park? Or the other Berlin residences in Zaue, Oybin, Zittau and Pieskow placed at the Mufti’s disposal for his retinue of 60 Arab Palestinian and Iraqi exiles who spent World War II aiding the Nazis?

Those tantalizing questions are left unanswered in Klaus Gensicke’s otherwise magisterial The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: Amin al-Husaini: The Berlin Years. The volume, a translation and update of Gensicke’s 2007 study Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten which was based largely on primary source materials from German archives, provides unparalleled insight into the details of the Mufti’s relationship to his Nazi hosts: at least as seen from the German side.

Gensicke provides damming evidence of the Mufti’s role as a genocidal player in the Holocaust, as well as documenting his baleful responsibility for the Nakba – the Arab Palestinian debacle of 1948, and his toxic legacy on Arab-Jewish relations.

It’s not a pretty story.

An avid supporter of National Socialism after Hitler came to power in 1933, and before that of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy, Amin al-Husseini narrowly missed meeting Adolph Eichmann during the latter’s brief visit to Palestine in October 1937. The Mufti was unable to keep his appointment with Eichmann having fled to Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif to avoid being arrested by the British for his central role in fomenting in the Great Revolt that broke out against the Mandate a year earlier.

Gensicke discusses the question of how well the two knew each other in Berlin. While Eichmann may have lied about his friendship with al-Husseini at his 1961 trial in Jerusalem, there is no doubt that his SS boss Himmler was on quite friendly terms with the Palestinian leader. Numerous photos document the two smiling together. More notable still was the meeting of al-Husseini with Adolf Hitler in November 1941. That rendezvous with dark destiny occurred shortly after the Palestinian Arab leader arrived in Berlin via Teheran and Rome, having fled from Baghdad where he was instrumental in abortive pro-Nazi coup d’état.

Al-Husseini and former Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid al-Kaliani became bitter rivals in Berlin. The former sought the conquest of Palestine via Egypt as the first Arab country in Asia to be liberated by the Wehrmacht. The latter preferred that Germany first capture Iraq by sweeping down through Turkey after seizing the Caucasus.

In vain al-Husseini sought a declaration from the Nazis of the future independence of the Arab states. He saw himself as the Fuhrer of the Arabs, and hoped to create a Greater Syria sweeping aside the 1920 Treaty of Sevres borders that created the various British and French mandates from the former Ottoman Empire.

The mufti with Handjar Waffen SS troops

Al-Husseini and al-Kaliani had limited success recruiting for the Deutsch-Arabische Lehrabteilung (German Arab Training Unit) – which was stationed at Stalino (today Donetsk in Ukraine) on the Eastern Front where it was wiped out by the advancing Red Army.

Initially the Nazis were reluctant to utilize al-Husseini’s considerable organizational skills, recognizing the inveterate schemer would enmesh them in conflict with Italy – which saw the Mediterranean as its own sphere of influence, and with Vichy France – which hoped to regain control of French North Africa, and its Mandates Syria and Lebanon. Indeed al-Husseini, with his fantastic claim to head a vast Arab underground that existed only in his febrile mind, was seen a racial buffoon by his Herrenvolk hosts.

In the Nazi racial pseudo-science, Arabs were deemed hardly better than Jews – both “Semites”. Aware of the snub, the blue-eyed, red-bearded Mufti repeatedly asked the Germans to use the term “anti-Judaism” instead of “anti-Semitism”. With the Allied landings in Morocco and Algeria followed by the defeat of Field Marshall Rommel’s Afirka Korps in Tunisia in 1943, Germany’s position in the Arab world totally changed. Al-Husseini now became a valuable asset to the increasingly desperate Reich, and was paid 50,000 Reichmarks a month (when a German field marshal was making 26,500 marks a year). Al-Husseini energetically recruited 8,000 Bosnian Muslims for the "Handzar" (dagger in Arabic. i.e. the ceremonial saber worn by Ottoman officers) 13th Mountain Waffen-SS division, which partnered with the bloodthirsty Ustashi in the Nazi puppet state of Croatia to commit some of the most heinous crimes of the Holocaust.

While al-Husseini’s collaboration intensified after the turning point of the war, his alliance with the Nazis spanned WWII, from the June 1-2, 1941 farhud (pogrom) against the Jews of Baghdad, to intelligence gathering, to broadcasting propaganda in Arabic on Radio Zeesen from near Berlin - the most powerful of Nazi Germany’s shortwave transmitters, to recruiting Muslims troops, and to sending a five-man parachute unit of Arabs and Germans to Palestine in November 1944 to carry out sabotage. The plan, called Operation Atlas, included poisoning the Tel Aviv water system with arsenic, destroying the Naharayim hydroelectric plant, and blowing up the oil pipeline running from Iraq to Haifa.

In April 1945 as Nazi Germany was collapsing the German Foreign Office rewrote its contract with al-Husseini to ensure continued future political-ideological campaigns in Arab lands.

A vicious hater of Jews, al-Husseini repeatedly intervened with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to ensure that all Jews were sent to Poland under “active supervision” and “vigilant surveillance” rather than be allowed to immigrate to Palestine in some prisoner exchange. While Nazi bureaucrats followed Sprachregelungen (language regulations, i.e. euphemisms for the murder of Jews), al-Husseini felt no such qualms.

In a March 1944 Arabic-language propaganda broadcast he exhorted: “Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you." More circumspect, he also declared that Muslims should follow the example Germans set for a “definitive solution to the Jewish problem”.

Gensicke suggests that al-Husseini – with his extensive intelligence network – became privy to top secret policy information about the Final Solution shortly after his arrival in Berlin in November 1941. He planned to erect a concentration camp near Nablus once Germany had occupied Palestine. To that end, in 1942 Einsatzkommando Egypt was deployed to Greece pending Rommel’s breakthrough.

Turning to al-Husseini’s postwar career, Gensicke reviews how the war criminal dodged justice. Yugoslavia, Britain, France and the U.S. - each for its own reasons - allowed the Grand Mufti to escape prosecution at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.

He then places the blame for the Palestinian Arab catastrophe of 1948 squarely on the Mufti’s spectacular political incompetence and megalomaniacal intransigence. Having ordered the Arabs of Palestine to abandon their homes so as not to encumber the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon coming to attack the nascent state of Israel, the Mufti condemned those who stayed as traitors accepting the UN partition plan.

Citing Hillel Cohen’s Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism, 1917-1947, Gensicke notes” “If a man who sold 400 dunams to the Jew is a traitor, what would one say of a man whose policies led to the loss of all Palestine? Isn’t he the biggest of traitors?”