In October 2015, at the meeting of the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an extraordinary claim about the genocide of the Jews during World War Two; killing the Jewish population of Europe was not the idea of Hitler and the Nazi Party, but was originally espoused by the Palestinian cleric and national leader at the time, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. According to Netanyahu, the Palestinian cleric, in a meeting with Hitler in 1941, implanted the notion of physical liquidation of the Jews of Europe in the minds of Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy. Hitler’s original intention, so Netanyahu stated, was to expel the Jews to Madagascar. However, the Mufti complained that European Jews would only make their way to Palestine, then a British colony facing an influx of Jewish immigration. When Hitler then asked what he could so to resolve this problem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini allegedly responded with the words ‘burn them’.
This version of World War Two history provoked a storm of reactions, denunciations and condemnations by historians and political leaders around the world. The Germans basically responded by stating that they had no idea what Netanyahu was talking about. Israeli leaders and historians blasted Netanyahu’s remarks, stating that the primary and ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Nazi party and its associated military and police establishment. Historians of the Holocaust are overwhelmingly united in their analysis that the Nazi party did not need any outside encouragement to systematically murder the Jewish communities of Europe. Indeed, the Final Solution had been in full operation by 1941, when Hitler and the Mufti had their meeting. The India Today online newspaper stated that not only did Netanyahu stir up controversy with his remarks, but was basically absolving Hitler of responsibility for the murder of the Jewish people of Europe. The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the West Bank, Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying, “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews”.
The Mufti and Germany
Erekat’s comment speaks to a wider issue regarding Netanyahu’s remarks. The Israeli prime minister was speaking from an approved speech – it was not an off-hand remark. He has made similar comments previously, portraying the Palestinians, and by extension Arab and Muslims, as crazed existential enemies hell-bent on exterminating every single Jewish person. Netanyahu’s speech in Jerusalem, coming in the context of increasing tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, serves as an inflammatory element, worsening tensions between the two communities. Anti-Arab racist lynch mobs, supported by the Israeli military and security services, are on the rampage against the Palestinians, the latter bearing the brunt of the suffering. It is customary to ignore blatant nonsense, such as when bigoted, irrelevant windbags and cretins make speeches inciting racial hatred. They can be ignored and everyone can get on with their lives. But Netanyahu’s fairy tales about the Mufti, the Holocaust and World War Two are poisonous nonsense, and attempts to rewrite the history of the Second World War deserve a strong rebuttal.
It is most certainly true that the Mufti, having met Hitler in 1941, raised three divisions of Bosnian Muslims as a unit to fight in the Waffen SS. They were recruited, and formed part of the elite German troop formations, to fight the Communist Partisans and anti-Nazi forces waging a guerrilla struggle in German-occupied Yugoslavia. The Mufti was motivated by the naive, simplistic notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He had hopes that the Germans would recognise the Arab states as independent entities after the defeat of Britain and France. As Tony Greenstein, British socialist and anti-Zionist activist notes in his article for Jacobin magazine:
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.
The Bosnian SS units, after being formed, showed minimal interest in fighting alongside the Germans, and promptly abandoned their former masters once they had been sent to France for retraining. A number of the Bosnian Muslim recruits for the Axis, having deserted the German side, ended up in France helping the French Resistance. What Netanyahu did not mention in his speech, and perhaps he should have done his homework, was that the Muslim clerics in Bosnia issued forceful denunciations of Nazi atrocities in their country, and heavily criticised the killings of Jews and Serbs. While the Jewish communities in Yugoslavia faced deportation and eventual mass murder, there was one country that offered asylum and took Jewish refugees from the German-occupied territories of the Balkans – Muslim Albania. As Greenstein notes in the article quoted from above;
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.
The Arab-Nazi connection, exaggerated and over-inflated by Netanyahu and his co-thinkers, is meant to smear the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for an independent state as a continuation of an existential motivation by Arabs (and by extension Muslims) to exterminate the Jewish people. The Mufti’s sad and repulsive collaboration with Nazism demonstrates the importance of understanding politics, especially to understand the motivations of the imperialist states. Netanyahu’s repugnant remarks are intended to place the Palestinians on an equal footing with Nazi Germany, and thus slander the Arab and Muslim people as irredeemably anti-Semitic. The explosion of political and social contradictions between the capitalist states that resulted in World War Two cannot be reduced to simplistic ‘they hate us’ slogans, much like the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott did with his repetitive and oversimplified expressions that passed as policy decisions (stop the boats, death-cult, carbon tax). Netanyahu is attempting to extend the obnoxious legacy of European anti-Semitism onto the Arab and Islamic worlds.
The genocidal savagery of German imperialism, at first aided and abetted by the British and French, was primarily directed at crushing the German working class, and then unleashed against the Soviet Union. However, the ambitions of the German ruling class did not stop at Eastern Europe. They wanted to subjugate France and Britain as well, including their colonial possessions. Why is this aspect of the war important?
Remembering the Muslims who fought against the Axis powers
In the wake of the criminal, horrifying and repugnant Paris terrorist attacks, Muslim communities in Europe are facing a heavy backlash, with Islamophobic and racist outbursts targeting Muslim people as the enemy within, a hostile and alien presence that must be expunged. Cynical exploitation of the Paris terror atrocities by current Western political leaders is a sad fact in this day and age, as anti-Muslim prejudice and anti-refugee bigotry increases, and ultra-right political parties such as the National Front in France, seek to gain political capital from this tragedy. As French President Hollande, and other political leaders turn this Paris tragedy into a blank-cheque for more wars and increasing repression at home, it is worth remembering that at a time of great peril, when Britain and France faced the mortal danger of German imperialism and conquest, they asked their former colonies for help. Millions of Muslim subjects answered that call.
It is entirely incorrect to portray the Arab and Islamic contribution to World War Two as pro-German, or pro-Axis. Millions of Muslims fought alongside their English and French counterparts in the Allied effort to stop German and Italian fascism. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims of fighting age, putting aside their contempt for British and French colonialism in their home countries, enlisted to fight against Nazi Germany because they realised the mortal danger that German imperialism and racism posed. German military personnel, thoroughly indoctrinated in half-baked ‘theories’ of white racial superiority, treated the subject populations as sub-human species.
In the French defeat of June 1940, about 5,400 Arab soldiers were killed fighting on the Allied side, and an estimated 60,000 Algerians, 18,000 Moroccans, 12,000 Tunisians and 90,000 other Muslims were captured by the Germans. It has been estimated that 233,000 North African Muslims were serving in the Free French Army in 1944, and that about 52 per cent of all its troops killed during the final year of the war were Muslims, mostly from North Africa. Some 40,000 North Africans are estimated to have given their lives in fighting for the liberation of Europe in 1944-45.
It was not just the French who recruited Muslims into their ranks to fight – the British appealed to their former possession of India, and millions signed up to the British military’s Indian Army. Tens of thousands of Indian Muslims, fighting while wearing the uniform of the British army, sacrificed their blood, sweat and lives in Italy, North Africa, the Middle East itself, and Southeast Asia. Tens of thousands were killed, taken prisoner, and suffered the horrors of war alongside their British companions. Indian Muslim soldiers distinguished themselves in battle, and having fought along with British all throughout Libya, Tunisia and North Africa, then went on to fight in Italy against the collapsing Mussolini regime.
Ibish notes in the article quoted above that:
Additional untold numbers were recruited from various Arab states, or among Muslims fighting in the Soviet, Chinese and other Allied armies. Exceptionally few took up arms on the Axis side. About 9,000 Palestinians, for example, joined the British Army during the war.
One last point to make on this issue; read the article by Michael Wolfe in the Washington Post, published in September 2014 entitled “Meet the Muslims who sacrificed themselves to save Jews and fight Nazis in World War II”, which recounts the details of the life of Noor Inayat Khan, a courageous and intelligent Muslim woman.
We must resist this downward spiral of hysteria, hatred and more war that the terrible Paris attacks have accelerated. Calls by French, British, Australian and other politicians for national unity and resistance are meaningless, given that after fourteen years, the war on terror has demonstrably failed. More overseas wars, the further erosion of civil liberties and increasing surveillance at home, and a reliance on drone-strikes-policy of war from a distance, have made the world a more dangerous place.
The poisonous nonsense of Netanyahu, elaborated above, can only thrive in a media-and-political culture that promotes the nonsense of humanitarian war. Imperial powers, disguising their motivations as purely humane, can carry out wars of aggression overseas, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the destruction of those societies. Refugees from those war zones are met with hysteria, suspicion and hatred, even though they are fleeing from countries demolished as a result of Western policies. It is time to re-examine our own values and political system, and the policies that have resulted in turning the Middle East into a cauldron of suffering. Further tragedies, like the Paris atrocity, can be avoided, if we recognise our common humanity and stop repeating the destructive cycle of this ‘war on terror’. That will require a huge rethink from our side of the fence.