The Mufti and Hitler

Had Netanyahu devoted his talk to the Holocaust and Hitler’s role in it, he undoubtedly would have underlined Hitler’s role in initiating the mass murder of Jews.

Entrevue entre Hitler et le Grand mufti en 1941 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Entrevue entre Hitler et le Grand mufti en 1941
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The words spoken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Mufti and Hitler have been taken out of context. The speech was devoted not to the Holocaust and who was responsible for it, but to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is a historical fact that the Palestinian national movement then headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, favored a alliance with Nazi Germany in the hope of eliminating the Jewish presence in Palestine.
It is also a fact that for the first seven years after Hitler’s assumption of power, the policy followed by him with regard to Jews was to force them out of Germany, by making their life as miserable as possible.
This is sometimes referred as the forced emigration policy – and did not include murder.
With this in mind, the Nazi regime came to an understanding, known as the Transfer Agreement, with the Zionist organization in Palestine that facilitated the emigration of thousands of Jews to that country. The horrific Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938 was also largely prompted by the Nazi frustration at, in their estimation, the too-slow emigration of Jews. After that pogrom the Nazi regime, still adhering to the emigration policy, actively participated in what became known as the Rublee- Schacht plan to allow most remaining Jews to leave the country, even allowing as many children as possible to leave in what became known as the Kindertransport.
Even into the war, the Nazis toyed with the idea of the Madagascar Plan, whereby all of Europe’s Jews would be transferred, and in Vienna Adolf Eichman urged the Jewish Berthold Storfer and the Zionist Mossad Le’Aliyah Bet (Institute for Aliya B) to speed up the emigration of Jews, legally or not. In fact, they allowed a certain Josef Schleich to organize the illegal crossing of Jews into Yugoslavia – that is, until the German invasion of that country in April 1941.
It was only on the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, that the Nazi regime, frustrated at the apparent unwillingness of the major democracies to allow the ingress of Jews into their countries, and not willing to be “loaded down” with millions of additional Jews in the conquered countries, that it switched to a policy of mass extermination.
So, if Netanyahu meant that the original Nazi plan, pursued for over seven years, was to encourage emigration of Jews, he was right. At the same time, when Hitler met with the Mufti in late November 1941, he needed no advice from him regarding what to do with the Jews, as the killing of Jews had been proceeding at full speed for the past five months on the Soviet front with the help of the Einsatzgruppen.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been shot to death over open pits and ravines, such as took place in Babi Yar, outside Kiev, Ukraine, in September 1941.
The Mufti nevertheless asked of Hitler to help free the Arab world from the so-called British stranglehold, which would also finish off the half a million Jews in then Palestine.
Hitler responded that first the military campaign against the Soviet Union had to be completed, and then Palestine would be no problem for the German military, and the Mufti would be positioned as the leader of all Arabs. The Mufti settled down in Berlin, with a hefty Nazi salary and a radio station, on which he called for all Muslims within and outside the German sphere to rise and kill Jews.
He then journeyed to Bosnia, to encourage local Muslims to join special SS-supported military units. When reviewing these troops, he was careful to give the Nazi salute – something that even Petain in France and Horthy in Hungary, both allies of Nazi Germany, refrained from doing when meeting with their Nazi overlords.
Furthermore, the Mufti’s strong opposition to allowing Jews to leave German-controlled countries for fear they would head to Palestine led to the German scuttling of a plan favored by its ally Bulgaria to allow some 5,000 Jewish children to leave for Palestine. Interestingly, Eichmann, in his talks with Joel Brand in the famous “blood for goods” deal was careful to indicate that the Jews that would be freed under this arrangement would all have to leave German- controlled countries via Spain, not any Balkan country, for fear of undermining the agreement with the Mufti not to allow any Jews access to Palestine.
In summary, had Netanyahu devoted his talk to the Holocaust and Hitler’s role in it, he undoubtedly would have underlined Hitler’s role in initiating the mass murder of Jews; a determination by him that needed no prompting by anyone else – although, for the first seven years of Hitler’s 12-year rule the policy was not extermination, but forced emigration.
At the same time, the Mufti’s constant prodding, probably strengthened Hitler’s resolve that he was on the right track when he had already abandoned emigration in favor of extermination. No wonder the Palestinian social media hardly mentions the Mufti, an unrepentant pro-Nazi collaborator who escaped justice during the Nuremberg trials of 1946 by fleeing Germany.
It should not be forgotten that Haj Amin al-Husseini was the leading spokesman for the Palestinian national movement during its formative years, beginning in 1920, and right up to the creation of Israel in 1948.
The author was formerly head of the Righteous Among the Nations Department of Yad Vashem, and currently teaches about the Holocaust at Yeshiva University-Stern College and Touro College, New York.