History and Historiography

The Mufti and the Holocaust

John Rosenthal on Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten by Klaus Gensicke

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Mufti and the Holocaust

By: John Rosenthal

Klaus Gensicke. Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. 247 pages.49.90

Germany stands for an uncompromising struggle against the Jews. It is self-evident that the struggle against the Jewish national homeland in Palestine forms part of this struggle, since such a national homeland would be nothing other than a political base for the destructive influence of Jewish interests. Germany also knows that the claim that Jewry plays the role of an economic pioneer in Palestine is a lie. Only the Arabs work there, not the Jews. Germany is determined to call on the European nations one by one to solve the Jewish problem and, at the proper moment, to address the same appeal to non-European peoples.

—Adolf Hitler to Haj Amin Al-Husseini, mufti of Jerusalem, November 28, 19411

The persistence of widespread Judeophobia in the Muslim world is hardly a matter of dispute, even if many commentators are inclined to dismiss it as merely an “understandable” reaction to Israeli “oppression.” Among those who take the phenomenon seriously, however, a debate has been taking place of late about its origins. The debate has been spurred on, notably, by the publication in English translation of the German political scientist Matthias Küntzel’s book Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11. The central thesis of Küntzel’s book is that anti-Semitism — or, more precisely, modern anti-Semitism as crystallized in the “Jewish world conspiracy” theory — was largely imported into the Muslim world from Nazi Germany.

Now, one might have expected that opponents of Islamism would welcome a book showing the direct influence of the Third Reich upon the development of the Islamist movement and, most notably, on the Muslim Brotherhood, the pivotal organization in its history. In normal political discourse, after all, pointing out the links of an organization or movement to National Socialism does not exactly constitute an endorsement. Ironically, however, Küntzel’s book has been most roundly criticized — indeed outright denounced — by precisely the most adamant foes of Islamic extremism. For the most part self-styled experts in Islam, the latter have insisted, as against Küntzel’s thesis, that Muslim anti-Semitism is, in effect, a strictly Muslim affair.

The Gensicke volume provides considerable support for the thesis that “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and the “father” of Palestinian radicalism, is obviously a key figure for such debates. As is well known, from 1941 to 1945 Husseini lived in Berlin as the honored guest of Nazi Germany. During this time, he notably collaborated with the Nazis in assembling the Muslim ss division “Handzar” in Bosnia, as well as in numerous propaganda activities aimed at Arab speakers. Whereas the facts of Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis are widely known, what is less know, however, is the degree to which the mufti was influenced by or indeed himself influenced his hosts on an ideological and programmatic level. But a new book by German historian Klaus Gensicke titled Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten — “The Mufti of Jerusalem and the National Socialists” — sheds light on precisely this question. Based largely on primary source materials from the German archives, Gensicke’s volume provides unparalleled insight into the details of the mufti’s relationship to his Nazi hosts: at least as seen from the German side.

Gensicke’s 1988 doctoral dissertation is one of the principal sources for Küntzel’s discussion of the mufti in Jihad and Jew-Hatred and Küntzel himself wrote the preface for Gensicke’s new book: an updated version of the dissertation. Nonetheless, the Gensicke volume also provides considerable support for the thesis that, so to say, “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism. At the very least, Gensicke’s account shows the relation between the mufti and the Nazis to have been very much a two-way street: even — or indeed especially — as concerns the notorious “Jewish Question.”

Thus, in March 1933, only two months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, it was in fact the mufti who sought contact to the new German authorities and not vice-versa. In a March 31 telegram to Berlin, the German general consul in Jerusalem, Heinrich Wolff, reported on his meeting with Husseini:


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