Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Nazi Palestine
Enigma Books should be complimented for bringing Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers’ book to the English-reading world. Originally published in German in 2006 as Halbmond und Hakenkreuz: Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palestinia (The Crescent and the Swastika: The Third Reich, The Arabs and Palestine), its title, unfortunately, has been changed by the publisher to Nazi Palestine. I say unfortunately because the original title is more indicative of the goals and focus of the book. Nazi Palestine sounds to me like a defamation, a name calling, and leads to sup- porting a politically motivated criticism of the book that is simply not true for two reasons1: The criticism I refer to suggests that the book is part of an Israeli propaganda movement. The truth is that the original title reflects the clear-headed analysis contained in the book of the relationship between the Muslim world (the Crescent) and the National Socialists (the Swastika). It describes how the common value of Jew-hating and anti-Zionism made Pal- estine a ripe prize and rallying point both strategically and politically for Islamists, Arab nationalists, and Nazis. In a personal communication, the editor for Enigma Books told me that “The title was picked by Enigma Books, not the translator; it means to indicate what would have happened if Palestine and the rest of North Africa had been conquered by the Germans.”2 The book does paint the disastrous probable outcome of a “Nazi Palestine,” but it is much more than that. It is a book about what did happen, not a fantasy. It makes clear that the outcome of a success of the Arab/Nazi coalition in WW II would have been genocide of the Jews, led by Germans and enforced by Arabs.
Nazi Palestine is one of the first of a shower of post-2001 books on the relationship between the Muslim world and the Nazis. Other books at the top of the list, filling that story out—by Matthias Küntzel, Ephraim Karsh, and Jeffrey Herf, and some chapters in Robert Wistrich3—are invaluable to understanding what actually happened in that part of the world during and after WW II.
Since history is not a snapshot of an event but more like a film—a continuous and sequential set of ongoing happenings—it is crucial to find out what has led up to contemporary events. Nazi Palestine does that by revealing some of the underpinnings to the intractable problems between Israel and Palestine. When it seems clear that reasonable men and women could come to a solution to a problem of boundaries and assets, Mallmann and Cu ̈ppers show us the irrational roots of history. The authors discuss how useful the irrationality of Jew-hating was as a tool for uniting Muslims and Nazis. In addition, Nazi Palestine displays the toxic mix of Nazi and Muslim antisemitism, showing how the Germans exploited its pragmatic and historical tendency in the Middle East. The debate about how intrinsic antisemitism is in Muslim orthodoxy is not dealt with here, however. The relevant discussion between writers like Bassam Tibi, Bernard Lewis versus Andrew Bostom,4 and others might be expanded by this work.
Did the Nazis bring genocidal antisemitism to an Arab culture that previously had a very negative view of Jews, or is there a genocidal mes- sage in the core of Islam that the radical Islamists are bringing to the fore? Although Nazi Palestine does not approach this philosophical question directly, it gives us a lot of facts useful in drawing conclusions and in pro- viding an understanding of how, in much of the Palestinian population, this antisemitism was transformed into genocidal hate and political ammunition.
The book educates us about what went on between Germans, Arabs, and Jews between 1933 and 1945 in the Middle East. Numerous anti-Jewish assaults began after the end of WW I. Early in Nazi Palestine, Mallmann and Cüppers introduce us to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin el-Hus- seini. The Mufti and his actions have been well known. During WW II and earlier, the Mufti was a celebrity—a dark star, no doubt, but often seen in newsreels and in The New York Times. His murderous conspiracies lost public attention until recently, but post 9/11 research is bringing him back under scrutiny; he is one of the few Arab sources directly quoted. The Iraqi leader and Nazi supporter Gailani (elsewhere spelt as Kailani) is also men- tioned, but most of the narrative is told by the authors through translations of German sources. This does not make the information in any way inaccu- rate, but the reader should be aware that what the Germans said about the Arabs may be somewhat different from what the Arabs were saying to each other. The Mufti is freely quoted promoting the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Before WW II, the Mufti was ranting for genocide. In 1936 he said, “When the English remove their hands from this land, we will throw and chase all the Jews in a stampede into the sea.”5 The authors mention that the Mufti incited the Arab revolt against the English and Jews of Palestine in 1936-1939. In the revolt, more Arabs perished under the terror of the Mufti’s gunmen than did Jews or Englishmen; the Mufti had taken this opportunity to start killing off any Arabs in Palestine who showed signs of compromising with the Jews or the English.
In 1933, the Mufti reached out to the German consul general with a warm gesture toward the new German regime and his idol Adolph Hitler. The relationship of these men mirrors a nefarious love affair. The authors merely touch on this metaphor of romantic love, and it deserves more development. In 1938, articles appeared in various Arab newspapers in which Hitler was placed on a level with the Prophet Mohammad.”6
Clerics began preaching that God had sent the twelfth imam to the world in the form of Adolph Hitler. The myth of Hitler’s divinity became an orchestrated public relations move planned in Germany and aimed at Islam; a common chant at demonstrations was “In Heaven Allah/On Earth Hitler.” A love affair was growing—one not nurtured on kindness but fed by hate, specifically Jew hating. Representatives of Nazi Germany began visiting the Middle East. The German head of Hitler Youth visited Iraq. Arab youth organizations popped up, designed after Hitler Youth and pro- moting the similarities between Nazis and the pan-Arab renaissance.
“Anyone who drove through Arab territory with a swastika pennant had nothing to fear and was met with rapturous cheers,” the authors state.7 Comments like these support other reports of the popularity of the Nazis in the Middle East. They also bring up the question that although there is anecdotal evidence of collusion of the population, can the level of support be quantified? Since most of the evidence is from the German report, we once again miss the firsthand contemporary Arab translations that might provide some quantifiable evidence. The reason we cannot completely trust only the German reports is twofold. First, using the previous example of “rapturous cheers” for the swastika, it is possible that after the Mufti terror- ized his Arab opposition into silence, there was an obligation to conform. Imagine in Tripoli during the 2011 uprising refusing to cheer Gadafi while in the midst of Gadafi supporters.
Next, there is a term in Arabic called taqiyya. The principle of taqiyya allows Muslims to lie with honor if they believe it protects the goals of their faith. Lying to the Germans in some situations may have been strategic. We know today that some of Arab leaders’ comments in English can be contra- dicted by the same leader’s comments in Arabic.
Nowhere in Nazi Palestine does it state that all Palestinians were antisemitic Nazis. There are a few stabs at measuring the amount of sympa- thy for Nazis. There were 2,500 German settlers living in Palestine—mem- bers of the Templar Society (Templars), a Christian group. Where 5% of non-Jewish Germans outside of Germany belonged to the Nazi Party, 17% of the German Palestinian Templars were Nazis. The authors later quote a “British situation analysis concluding that 95% of the population of Iraq was also quite positively disposed toward Germany.”8 In 1942, Germany sent Persian spies to assess the situation in Iran. They reported that 90% were in support of Germany. Robert Satloff9 estimates that possibly up to 90% of Arabs might have been indifferent to the fate of the Jews. That still left 10%, or millions of people, to support the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
The love affair between Hitler and the Arab world did not start out smoothly. Many Arabs had stars in their eyes. They projected their hopes of a liberator onto Hitler and were blind to the racist discrimination that would most likely be in store for them. In the beginning, the Germans were not in any way in favor of the Arabs. They did not want to offend the British, whom they wanted to keep neutral. What started out as a rejection by Ger- many would turn into a mutually exploitive relationship. By 1937, Adolph Eichmann’s visit to the Middle East indicated a serious interest in exploring the relationship; by 1939, there was evidence that the Germans had secretly funded the Mufti’s Arab Revolt. The cool reception the initial Arab court- ing got from the Nazis was changing into something hotter and more mutual. The British Mandate system estimated that 60% of Palestinians who owned radios listened to Radio Bari. Radio Bari, an Italian station, was broadcast all over the world. The Mufti (Palestine) and Gailani (Iraq) and others broadcast over 5,000 broadcasts of vicious antisemitic and anti-Brit- ish/American propaganda on Radio Bari.
After presenting information of the deepening confluence of Palestin- ian and Nazi interests and resources, Mallmann and Cüppers, in an unusual criticism, charge an American historian with being “erroneous” and “incon- sistent” when he claims that “The Arab cause in Palestine . . . was not among the interests of National Socialist Germany.”10
If the German Mediterranean strategy had been successful, there is no reason to believe that the future of the Jews there would have been any different from their fate in the conquered nations in Europe. In 1941, the Mufti escaped the British, who were chasing him around the Middle East. and took up residence in Berlin. His meeting with Adolph Hitler is the con- summation of the Mufti and Arab love affair with Hitler. They agreed to share the German solution to the “Jewish question.” This period brought explicit plans for the destruction of the Jews worldwide. One quote states: “The Jews could be enclosed and isolated in their Zionist state and destroyed there root and branch.”11 This antisemitic genocidal statement is echoed in modern times by Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, when he says, “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them world wide.”12
An unbelievable criticism of Nazi Palestine is that the Mufti was actu- ally a marginal power at the time and never had the power attributed to him. These critics ignore the facts. Yasser Arafat became a disciple of the Mufti when he was 17 years old. At the Mufti’s funeral in 1974, Arafat called him “our Hero.” The U.S. government was threatened by the Muslim Brother- hood at the end of WW II. The Brotherhood basically said that if the Mufti were prosecuted for war crimes, the United States would be the target of terrorism. The king of Egypt provided living quarters to the Mufti, and the whole establishment of the Arab world welcomed him back from Europe after the war as a hero. The Arab Higher Committee was renewed and Hus- seini was appointed leader.
In the 1960s, the Mufti lost his glow in the Arab world. Though polit- ics put him on the losing side at times, he has always been a powerful figure in Palestine and beyond. In 2011, when Israel destroyed a wing of the decrepit Shepherd Hotel, protests arose that this was a “Palestinian and Islamic symbol” that should be honored and preserved. The building was originally built by and as a home to Husseini. The lead Palestinian spokes- person protesting the partial destruction of the building was a Palestinian official directly related to the Mufti. Thirty-six years after his death, many still hold the Mufti in high regard. In light of all this, the authors are right to ascribe significant power to Amin al-Husseini.
ROMMEL AND THE ROAD TO CAIRO
At this point in the book I wanted a military table map to keep track of ground, sea, and air movements. At least a printed situation map included in the book would have been helpful. The propaganda in the region was that the Axis powers in the form of the Afrika Korps were coming to liberate Egypt. Mussolini was ready to ride into Cairo on a white horse. He already had victory medallions minted. The Axis plan was to destroy Russia as an ally to the United States, bring Nazis into the Middle East from the Caucuses and from the west, and, through Tunisia and Libya, conquer Egypt and the rest.
Probably the most shocking and freshest research in Nazi Palestine is the information on the Einsatzkommando and Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The Einsatzkommando was authorized by the SS and the German police to “take executive measures against civilian populations on its own authority.”13 This was a euphemism for a license to commit mass murder on civilians, especially Jews. The Einsatzgruppen had a history as a small group of com- mandos who recruited the help of local sympathizers to slaughter large numbers of non-military men, women, and children. They did this in the Soviet Union, Poland, Lithuania, and Serbia. The authors give us a very personal profile of the members of the Einsatzkommando. They were young, idealistic, and committed Nazis, most in their twenties. Walter Rauff was the leader of this killing unit deployed in Egypt with plans to actively sweep into Palestine, exterminating the Jewish population on the way. One of Rauff’s claims to fame was the invention and use of automotive trans-ports that had the exhaust hooked up to the cargo section of the van, delivering lethal doses of carbon monoxide to the passengers/cargo. The readiness of this unit, along with the assurances of Arab leaders of assis- tance in the mass murder of the Jewish populations, gave little doubt of the antisemitic genocide about to take place. The precedent had been set. The Einsatzkommando had a tried-and-true protocol, tested in Europe, that they were about use in the implementation of the Holocaust in the Middle East.
While the Mufti and Arabs enjoyed a honeymoon of hate with the Third Reich, there were Arab troops in Greece waiting for deployment. Eichmann was bragging about the success of “the solution to the European Jewish Question.” Eichmann and the Mufti were equally charmed with each other; the Jews were their mutual mortal enemy.
In the Arab world, people were greeting each other on the street with “Heil Rommel.” Nasser was an advocate of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Sadat said of the Nazis and his own political circle in Egypt that “We acted in complete harmony.”14 Once Rommel crossed the Suez, Arabs, with German guidance, would have instituted the Nazi solution to the Jewish Problem in Palestine.
In 1936, David Ben Gurion predicted “the greatest catastrophe the world has ever experienced,” stating that Hitler and Arab supporters would invade the Middle East and destroy all Jews. In 1942, it looked like this was right on schedule: 15,000 Jews left Egypt for Jerusalem; Rommel was advancing with the Einsatzkommando, and plenty of willing Arab hench- men, behind him. The Haganah and the Irgun debated strategy. Jews from Palestine were ready to join the British military. The Palmach was formed to perform commando missions. A Jewish fighting force was maturing. There were plans for a mass evacuation should Rommel succeed in reaching Palestine. But evacuate to where? The reality was that the Jewish com- munity in Palestine would have been annihilated.
Alas for Hitler, his decision to put most of his resources in the Eastern Front foiled his plans for conquering the Middle East. The battles at El Alamein and the Nazi invasion from the Caucuses began to fail. The intelli- gence advantage switched to the British side. Supplies became scarce for the Axis powers. The Nazi plan was to converge on the Arab region from the east and west. Rommel’s losses at Alamein ended the hopes to crush the Jews and the British in the Arab world. Walter Rauff and his Einsatzgruppen were sent back to Europe.
Before Rauff returned to Europe, he inflicted a reign of terror in Tuni- sia. He enforced a labor program on Jews for months and robbed them oftheir personal possessions. After Rauff was evacuated from Tunisia, the war soon ended.
The Middle East was not the only place Muslims were working for Hitler. The Mufti was crucial to raising Muslim Nazi troops in Croatia and elsewhere. These troops, who were SS war criminals, wore uniforms honor- ing both Nazi and Islamic symbols. Certainly, all European Muslims were not Waffen SS soldiers. But this book is not about those who were not Nazis, it is about those who were. In Among the Righteous, Satloff15told about the righteous Muslims of WWII who saved Jews. Unfortunately, there were tens of thousands more who carried guns, burned homes with civilians inside, and generally perpetrated mayhem under the Crescent and the Swastika. Bolshevism, Jews, Catholic Serbs, and gypsies were the enemy. The troops were inspired by Imams trained in Islam and Nazi prop- aganda who traveled with them as they inflicted havoc. The cover of Nazi Palestine shows a photograph of two young and innocent-looking Muslim Waffen SS soldiers studying an antisemitic text. In Western Europe, there were training camps provided by the Germans for Arab informers who were trained in sabotage, insurrection, and radio operations. They were guided intellectually and politically to believe that Nazi and Islamic interests were parallel. Nowhere, though, do Mallmann and Cu ̈ppers claim that these Mus- lim troops were crucial to the Holocaust; in fact, they write when discussing the Muslim troops, “The practical value of the SS formations proved to be modest.”16 Those troops did, however, commit numerous war crimes and “had taken wide ranging measures against the Jews.”17
Husseini exaggerated to the Reich what he could deliver to them in terms of real military might. He was a failure not only to his troops and the Nazis, but to his people as well. Or was he? In the short term, he failed, but his view was wider and longer than WW II. One could say that his anti- Western plan is continuing and that WW II was just the beginning.
Mallmann and Cüppers end the book with a follow-up on some of the villains. The Mufti lived a long and celebrated life. Walter Rauff retired to South America and spoke freely of his death machine; he was protected by Chile’s lack of deportation laws. Others were killed by the end of the war, and very few were tracked down and punished after the war.
Of course, all Arabs were not Nazis. The Mufti and his thugs did allow, intentionally or not, some moderate, communist, and other Palestini- ans to live. Mallmann and Cüppers did not write a survey of all of Arab hearts and minds. They wrote instead a shocking and dangerously revealing story of a significant threat to the world reflected in the relevance of Nazi ideology and Nazi values to many Arabs. We hear in modern voices rising from Palestine and the Middle East repetitions of those genocidal threats that seem to have been coined in the 1930s and 40s. There should be room to defend against a blanket condemnation of a whole people as “Nazis.” At the same time, there should be the awareness of a legacy of Nazi sympathiz- ers that exists in the Middle East.
It would be interesting to see this subject followed up by a study using Arabic sources researched from the same time period. Rene ́ Wildangel does attempt to counter Mallmann and Cüppers, but his book, Between the Axis and the Mandate Power,18 published in German, is unavailable in English. This reviewer cannot read German, but from commentary, Wildangel believes Mallmann and Cüpper’s position is overstated.
Another book, by Esther Webman and Meir Litvak,19 is primarily about post-Holocaust Arab opinion. This work, which helps the Western reader understand Arab thinking on the Nazis, uses many Arabic sources as it takes a look at the complexity of Arab opinion after the war of the treat- ment of Jews by Nazis.
What makes this book extraordinarily relevant today is not that Arabs collaborated with Nazis; French, Polish, and other peoples did as well. What is different is that today we hear the same hateful and genocidal rants tolerated, not from Europe, but from the Middle East. It is imperative to determine the roots of this criminal speech and intent so that it can be overcome.
The public has the tendency to keep their eyes shut tight and not see the uncomfortable even if it is obvious. It is the role of the researcher to pry those eyes open through well-researched material, allowing scholars and the public to see the facts. The authors of Nazi Palestine have done just that with good scholarship and potent writing.
1. Gilbert Achcar, “Blame the Grand Mufti: Israel’s Propaganda War,” Le Monde Diplomatique (English ed.), May 2010.
2. Robert Miller, personal letter to author, March 15, 2011.
3. Matthias Küntzel, Jihad and Jew Hatred (New York: Telos Press, 2007); Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Ephraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); Robert Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession (New York: Random House, 2010).
4. Bassam Tibi, From Sayyid Qutb to Hama: The Middle East Conflict and the Islamization of Antisemitism (New Haven: YIISA, 2010); Bernard Lewis, “The New Antisemitism,” The American Scholar, Vol. 75, no. 1 (Winter 2006); Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2008).
5. Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Nazi Palestine (New York: Enigma Books, 2010), 18.
6. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 30.
7. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 30.
8. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 39.
9. Robert Satloff, Among the Righteous (Perseus Group, PublicAffairs, 2006).
10. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 133.
11. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 54.
12. Deborah Passner, “Hassan Nasrallah: In His Own Words,” Committee for
Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), July 26, 2006.
13. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 85.
14. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 96.
15. Satloff, Among the Righteous. 16. Mallmann and Cüppers, Nazi Palestine, 17. 17. Mallmann and Cu ̈ppers, Nazi Palestine, 146.
18. Rene ́ Wildangel, Between the Axis and the Mandate Power (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2007).
19. Esther Webman and Meir Litvak, From Empathy to Denial: Arab Reponses to the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
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