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Commentary :: Education
The Palestinians' Nazi Past and Present
04 Oct 2007
The Palestinians' Nazi Past and Present

The most important book to read on the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Nazis has, unfortunately, not yet been translated into English. Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers’ Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das "Dritte Reich", die Araber und Palästina, translated Crescent Moon and Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine was published September, 2006.

Dr. Klaus-Michael Mallman, the author of many books on Germany and the Holocaust, is Privatdozent für Neuere Geschichte at the University of Essen. Martin Cuppers is a researcher at the Forschungsstelle Ludwigsburg, and has published an important book on the command staff and office of the Reichsfuhrer SS, the Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler.

Here is a summary of the argument of the book, translated from a long summary in German:

The Nazis prepared to extend the Holocaust into Palestine and in preparation for doing so they infected the Arabs with their ideology, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, and the forces around Amin al-Husseini, in order to have allies.

"The Jew is the enemy and to kill him pleases Allah." This statement, which is formulated a bit more rhetorically in the Charter of the Palestinian government party Hamas and which appears in publications of the Iranian state publishing house, and is daily broadcast by Hezbollah TV al-Manar to all world, actually originates neither from Islamic extremists nor from recent events. It was the common coin of Nazi radio broadcasts to the Arabs between 1939 and 1945 in order to win Arab hearts and minds to the German cause. Meanwhile German Middle East experts endeavored in Germany to convince the Nazi government of "the natural alliance" between National Socialism and Islam. Experts such as the former German Ambassador in Cairo, Eberhard von Stohrer, reported to Hitler in 1941 that "the Fuhrer already held an outstanding position among the Arabs because of his fight against the Jews."

Nazi propaganda with the Arabs had considerable success. Cüppers and Mallmann quote many specific documents from the Nazi archives on this. Against common perception, according to which Germany only became involved in the Middle East via (originally) support for the Israeli state, Cuppers and Mallmann show what an important shaping influence national socialism had on the Arab national movement.

The German invasion of the Middle East never happened because Rommel was defeated, but that does not mean that the Nazis exerted no influence. From the late 1930s, the planning staffs dealing with the external affairs of the Reich in the Head Office of Reich Security (RSHA, Reichssecuritathauptamt: originally under the monstrous Gestapo-chief Reinhard Heydrich) sought influence in the Arabian Peninsula. The dream was a pincer movement, one from the north via a defeated Soviet Union, one from the south via the Near East and Persia, in order to separate Great Britain from India and to control completely the oil-rich Middle East. That was the plan, but the counteroffensive of the Red Army before Moscow in 1941/1942 and at Stalingrad in 1942/1943, and the defeat of the German Africa Corps with El Alamein, finally defeated the plan. These victories also prevented the arrival of the Holocaust in the Near East, riding with the German armed forces, something which, however, was intended.

Despite the initial Nazi tolerance of Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine, the Nazi government eventually expanded their Holocaust plans to include the destruction of the Jews in the Near East. Studies undertaken by SS Einsatzgruppe [Special Taskforce] F already were listing Jewish dwellings in Palestine to be confiscated as accommodations for German troops once the Afrika Korps arrived in Palestine. Starting from the summer of 1942, an "SS Einsatz Gruppe Egypt" was established after the model of the mass-murder Einsatzgruppen active on the East Front, which had already murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews. The one established in Egypt was led by SS-Obersturmbannführer Walter Rauff and he had a whole staff with him, experienced in the murder of Jews, experts from the RSHA, the Head Office for Reich Reich Security. Their order: To continue "the destruction of the Jews begun in Europe with the energetic assistance of Arab collaborators" in the Near East.

According to Mallmann and Cuppers, the main Nazi ally locally was the Arab National Movement, and especially the Palestinian national movement, under the guidance of the exiled Amin al-Husseini Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and uncle of the later Palestinian president Yassir Arafat. Its task was the spreading of pro-Nazi propaganda intended to mobilize local collaborators with the Nazi army and Nazi policies. The latter task, spreading support for Nazi policies, was not a failure. Partly because of the attraction of the alleged anti-imperialism of the Nazis, which was directed against the mandate power of Great Britain, partly because of the dream of the resurgence of a vast Arab-Islamic realm, the Middle East elite became what Hitler celebrated as "prophets against the Jews.”

Already at that time the so-called Palestinian question provided the crucial link, hatred of the Jews provided the crucial link, between the two different forces.

The military successes of the Afrika Korps eventually came to an end, stopped by the British in August/September 1942. But a lasting Nazi propaganda achievement was to place the Jewish settlement in Palestine in the center of Arab political mobilization and at the same time within a burning Islamic anti-imperialism. The central idea was that the destruction of the Yishuv (the Jewish population in Palestine) was the condition for the release of the Arab world from foreign rule. "Hear, O noble Arabs!," reads one German pamphlet spread in Tunisia in 1943, "Free yourselves from the Englishmen, the Americans and the Jews! Because the Englishmen, Americans, the Jews, and their allies are the largest enemies of the Arabs and Islam!"

Messages such as these were spread by a far-reaching network of Nazi agents and collaborators, and met with a positive response in Arab nationalist and Islamic circles, a positive response from an elite that would eventually run entire Arab states.

Thus agents of Nazi foreign propaganda in Egypt maintained close relations not only with the Muslim Brotherhood (from which Hamas descends), but also with "the free officers," a clandestine group from which the later presidents Abdel Nassir and Anwar al Sadat originated. Arab terrorists in Palestine were already being supplied with weapons from Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s, when the Grand Mufti Husseini was leading them in an anti-Jewish rebellion against the British; the Nazi intent was to weaken both the Jewish and British mechanisms of power. In all parts of the Arab world, similar groups, such as those in Iraq in 1940-1941 (the pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali in Baghdad in April 1941, with Husseini again present) pushed for action and gratefully received the material and ideological support from Nazi Germany. From April to June 1941 there was actually a Luftwaffe squadron stationed in Baghdad. The Rashid Ali coup was eventually overturned by the British in June 1941--but not before there was a pogrom in Baghdad that led to the murder of several hundred (and perhaps up to two thousand) Iraqi Jews.

With the defeat of El Alamein in November 1942, it was clear that the German military invasion of the Middle East would not materialize. The Nazi government therefore concentrated German policy on mobilizing "the Arab resistance." In this way the advance of the Allied armies could be hindered (though not stopped). The connection of all this to the Jews, however, soon embodied itself in the everyday consciousness of the masses. "What do the Americans want? They want to help the Jews," was the type of propaganda the Nazis were spreading at that point. "Take up weapons, where you find them. Do damage to the cause to the enemy, wherever you can."
As Mallmann and Cuppers write, the "remarkable similarity between Nazi propaganda that was broadcast into the Middle East and the treatises of today's terrorists is not accidental;" the one is the ancestor of the other. Mallmann and Cuppers show that virulent Arab anti-Semitism is older than the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, and they demonstrate what part Nazi Germany had in its propagation. Their work is based on investigations in German archives.

This work is in the public domain