Rewriting the Holocaust

Netanyahu’s attempt to shift the burden of Nazi atrocities to Palestinians is nothing new.

Drawing by a Theresienstadt concentration camp inmate, outside Prague, Czech Republic. El_Molino12 / Flickr

At the World Zionist Organization Congress on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made what, even by his standards, was an outrageous claim. He said that Hitler was initially only in favor of expelling Jews from Europe (what was known as the Madagascar Plan) and that it was a Palestinian, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who persuaded him to embark on a campaign of extermination.

When I first heard Netanyahu’s statement, I immediately thought of a similar claim by Pastor John Hagee, the president of Christians United for Israel. Hagee, a virulent antisemite, had stated in a sermon that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to drive the Jews to Israel.

In these new accounts, however, it appears that Hitler was in fact an agent of the mufti, not God!

It is a statement that will be grist to the mill for Holocaust deniers. But what Netanyahu is doing is what Zionist historians have been doing for over sixty years — portraying Palestinians and their leaders as major partners in the Holocaust and by extension claiming that Arab hostility to Zionism has nothing to do with settler colonialism, land theft, and mass expulsions. It’s all because the Palestinians and Arabs hate Jews. In other words, anti-Zionism is nothing more than antisemitism.

The Zionist holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, has played a full part in this. They have a whole wall devoted to the mufti of Jerusalem. In the Holocaust Encyclopedia, the section devoted to the mufti is only slightly shorter than that accorded to Hitler and larger than the combined entries on Goebbels, Goering, Heydrich, and Himmler.

As Israeli historian Tom Segev notes, the only image of a Palestinian in Yad Vashem is “a photo featured prominently on a wall depicting the Mufti sieg heiling a group of Nazi storm troopers.” Its purpose is to ensure that “the visitor is left to conclude that there is much in common between the Nazis’ plan to destroy the Jews and the Arabs’ enmity to Israel.”

The mufti was a minor war criminal, but the idea that he instigated the Final Solution is absurd. If anyone was a major war criminal it was Walter Rauff, the father of the gas chambers who invented the mobile gas trucks, first used in the Nazi “Action T4” euthanasia program and then the Final Solution.

Rauff had the blood of some one hundred thousand Jews on his hands and tried, when the Nazis occupied Tunisia in 1943, to build an extermination camp in the city of Kairouan to murder its Jews. Yet far from facing justice, after the war he became an Israeli agent and Israel later helped him escape to South America.

It’s worth noting too that Netanyahu ignores the role that Zionists played anointing Haj al Amin Husseini grand mufti after he came fourth in the election to the post in 1921. British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, who had been instrumental in lobbying for the Balfour Declaration, selected him in no small part because key Zionists saw a potential partner in Husseini.

Many Palestinians went as far as to consider the mufti a collaborator with the British after the Revolt of 1936–39. At no stage had the Palestinians elected Haj al-Amin Husseini. He had been imposed on them by the British and the Zionists.

The mufti was responsible for recruiting three Muslim divisions in Bosnia, which were primarily concerned with fighting the Serb Chetniks. They had no involvement in the Jewish deportations beyond handing over some 210 Jews from present-day Kosovo to the SS.

As Gilbert Achar notes in The Arabs and the Holocaust, the soldiers were so disinterested in the Axis cause that when they were sent for retraining in France, many promptly deserted and joined the Resistance.

What Netanyahu also doesn’t mention is the three declarations issued by senior Muslim clerics in Bosnia against Croat-Nazi measures against the Jews and Serbs — in Mostar in 1941, Banja Luka in December 1941, and Sarajevo in October 1941. Muslim Albania was the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe where the number of Jews at the end of the war (two thousand) was greater than the number at the beginning (two hundred). Not one Jew was deported from Albania under Nazi occupation.

A transcript of the meeting between Hitler and the mufti on November 28, 1941 is contained in Walter Lacquer’s Israel-Arab Reader. There is no mention of the mufti urging Hitler to exterminate the Jews. He was only informed of the Final Solution in the summer of 1943 by Himmler.

In his talk with Hitler, the mufti pressed Germany make a declaration that it supported the independence of the Arab countries — Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. Hitler refused to do so because he said it would cause problems in France and strengthen the supporters of Charles de Gaulle, who would see it as a threat to the French Empire.

In reality, Hitler had no intention of supporting Arab independence. If Germany had conquered the Arab countries, it would simply have supplanted Britain and France as the imperialist power. For many Nazis, Arabs were considered lower on the racial ladder than the Jews.

When the mufti met with Hitler, the Final Solution had already begun, with the invasion of Russia in June 1941. By this time, the mass shooting of some one million Jews by the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando killing squads, which operated in the rear of the Wehrmacht in White Russia and Ukraine, had taken place. Over 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev had already been murdered at the end of September 1941.

Experimentation with murder by gas had taken place in September 1941 in Auschwitz when 850 Poles and Russian prisoners of war were murdered. At the beginning of December 1941, the first extermination camp, Chelmno, had begun operations using carbon monoxide gas in mobile trucks, and the Belzec camp was running in March 1942.

On December 12, 1941, according to Goebbels’s diaries, Hitler made a speech in Berlin to Nazi leaders. Goebbels recorded in his diary:

With regard to the Jewish Question the Fuehrer is determined to make a clean sweep. He prophesized that if they brought about another world war, they would experience their annihilation. This was no empty talk. The world war is here. The annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence. This question is to be viewed without sentimentality. We’re not to have sympathy with the Jews, but only sympathy with our German people.

If we are to believe Netanyahu, this speech only came about as a result of Hitler’s meeting with the mufti.

In Mein Kampf, written in 1923–4, Hitler stated that the “sacrifice of millions at the front” in the Great War would have been prevented if “twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas.”

In his “prophecy” speech on January 30, 1939, which Hitler repeated at least three times, he spoke explicitly about annihilating the Jewish race.

Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should again succeed in plunging the nations into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (vernichtung) of the Jewish race throughout Europe.

The immediate precursor to the Final Solution — the “Action T4” — followed. As a result, by some estimates over five hundred thousand disabled Germans were murdered in six killing centers in Germany itself, before the Catholic Bishop Galen of Munster spoke out against it and Hitler was forced to end the program (though it continued in the concentration camps).

All this is to say that the entire Zionist outlook is based on the rewriting of history. The “return” of Jews to Palestine, the denial of the Nakba, and who was responsible for the Holocaust is no exception to this. Netanyahu’s attempt to shift the burden of those terrible crimes from the Nazis to Palestinians is nothing new.