Leading Israeli historians and survivors’ advocates on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of distorting the Holocaust, following a speech in which he claimed that Adolf Hitler had been convinced to murder Europe’s Jews by the leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement.
Addressing the 37th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini “had a central role in fomenting the Final Solution."
Yad Vashem’s chief historian responded harshly to the speech, telling The Jerusalem Post
it was incumbent on Netanyahu to backtrack on his remarks.
While the mufti “definitely” played a role in the Holocaust, he was in no way one of the primary movers behind the adoption of the Final Solution and such comments are likely to “cause some damage unless they are urgently clarified,” Prof. Dina Porat said.
The destruction of European Jewry had been on Hitler’s mind since the First World War and it was “his obsession,” Porat said.
“The mufti had nothing to do with fomenting or developing the Final Solution.”
In 1939, years before Hitler and the mufti met in Berlin, the Nazi leader had already publicly stated that should the Jews “succeed in plunging the nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe,” Porat said.
She said further that the process of putting Jews into ghettos and the beginning of the mass murder of Jews in the Soviet Union occurred before the pair’s November 1941 meeting in Berlin.
Addressing Netanyahu’s claim that Hitler had changed his mind about expulsion as a viable solution to what he saw as the “Jewish problem” following the meeting, Porat said that while Hitler had supported forcible relocation, that was “only at the first stage.”
Jewish emigration from areas under German control was halted in 1940, she said.
“I would like [Netanyahu] to clarify what he meant by the mufti fomenting the Final Solution. I would like him to clarify what he meant by emigration being the only wish of Hitler,” Porat said.
According to historians such as Porat and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Dr. Efraim Zuroff, allegations such as those made by Netanyahu serve to obscure the actual role that the mufti played in the Holocaust and give ammunition to those who would whitewash his legacy.
Zuroff said that the involvement of the leader of the Palestinian national movement in the Holocaust is a matter of historical record. He cited the mufti’s propaganda work on behalf of the Third Reich and his role in recruiting Muslim troops to take part in the Holocaust.
“There is no doubt that the mufti was a zealous supporter of the Third Reich and that he hoped that the Nazis would implement the Final Solution in the Land of Israel, but Hitler did not need any convincing from the mufti or anyone else to launch the annihilation of European Jewry,” Zuroff said.
“At a time when Palestinian lies are fueling an outbreak of terror and the Palestinians have submitted a proposal to UNESCO which totally denies a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, a mistake of this sort is particularly unfortunate,” Zuroff said.
“If you inflate and totally exaggerate the role of the mufti it undermines the accurate aspects of the mufti’s zealous support for the Third Reich and [his] hopes that the Final Solution will be implemented in the Land of Israel.”
While Netanyahu was incorrect in his assertions, it is likely that his confusion was based on the mufti’s very real role in lobbying against proposals to bring Jews out of Romania and Bulgaria during the war, Zuroff said.
“The mufti tried very hard to stop it,” Zuroff said. “He intervened to make sure it wouldn’t happen and that intervention apparently halted or stopped those operations.”
One such incident involved the mufti “persuading the Germans to cancel a 1943 prisoner exchange that would have sent 4,000 Jewish refugee children to Palestine,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington.
“As a result of the mufti’s intervention, the children were sent to Auschwitz. There is ample evidence that he knew they would be murdered,” Medoff said.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.