Planning the Holocaust in the Middle East:
Nazi Designs to Bomb Jewish Cities in Palestine

, December 8, 2016


During the spring of 2016, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone​,​ ​claimed ​that ​Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism in the 1930s. When this claim ​was discredited, he refused to apologize and claimed that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.” Supporting this assertion, Livingstone cited a book by the Trotskyite writer, Len​ni Brenner. ​ ​A review of the published scholarship and ​original German governmental​ documents ​show​​ the intensity of​ the Nazis​’​ hostility toward the establishment of a Jewish state. Archival evidence reveals that as a means of striking out against Zionism, the Luftwaffe even considered bombing Jerusalem on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

“Partial Truths Are More Dangerous than Outright Lies”

During the spring of 2016, former mayor of London Ken Livingstone claimed that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s. When confronted about this claim, he refused to recant and said that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”1 To back this assertion, Livingstone cited a book by the Trotskyite writer, Lenni Brenner.2 During a Q&A at the Oxford Union in the summer of the same year, Livingstone was asked about his comments on Hitler’s alleged backing of Zionism in the 1930s.3 He defended himself with a laundry-list of supposed collaborations between Nazis and Zionists, which he described as “just historical facts.”4 He then referred to a confrontation between himself and Labour MP John Mann. Mann had intercepted Livingstone as he entered the BBC’s headquarters and called him “a Nazi apologist,” who was attempting to “rewrite history.”5 The Oxford interviewer pressed Livingstone on this, asking whether he could be perceived as “lauding Hitler.”6

While the interviewer’s questions and Mann’s confrontation rightfully called out Livingstone’s historical revisionism, they missed a key point about his intentions. Ken Livingstone was not associating Zionism with the Third Reich as a way of praising Hitler and the Nazis, he was doing so to tarnish Zionism by association with Nazism. Former Labour parliamentarian George Galloway was less circumspect in an interview stating “there was an agreement between the Nazi filth of Hitler and the Zionist leaders in Germany to send Germany’s Jews to Palestine, because both of them believed that German Jews were not Germans.” To him, this meant that “Nazism and Zionism were two sides of the same coin.”7 For Galloway, Zionists were collaborators. The implication was obvious; just as the legitimacy of the Vichy Government in France or Vidkun Quisling’s government in Norway were discredited by their collaboration with the Nazis, so too should the Zionists’ project—the State of Israel.

Ken Livingstone and his supporters intentionally confuse collaboration for desperation on the part of Zionists and attribute fictitious qualities to the Third Reich. In an interview with The Times of Israel, Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer said of Livingstone that “partial truths are more dangerous than outright lies.”8 A review of the scholarship and available published documents show the Nazis’ pre-war enmity toward the establishment of a Jewish state. Nazi archival evidence reveals that during the Second World War the Nazis even considered bombing Jerusalem on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration as a way of striking out against Zionism.

The Nazis accepted emigration to Palestine, but this only as a way of making Europe free of Jews. To do so they stole slightly less from Jews fleeing to Palestine than Jews fleeing to other nations with strict immigration quotas. When, in 1937, it appeared that the Zionist project in Mandatory Palestine might succeed, officials both in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its office on Jewish affairs (Referat D III) withdrew their support for emigration to Palestine. They feared that Zionism might succeed, thereby creating another base for world Jewry during the coming war. Finally, even as the Nazi Empire was collapsing, the Germans considered bombing Jewish cities in Palestine in 1943 and 1944. The Third Reich’s plans for the Final Solution extended to the Middle East.

Historical Background

Hitler and the Nazi party never supported Zionism. Zionism—the establishment of a Jewish nation in its historic homeland—was entirely incompatible with Nazi notions of an international Jewish conspiracy determined to prevent the German Volk from achieving its destiny-bound greatness. Before the outbreak of World War II, Hitler sought to force Jews to emigrate after depriving them of their civil rights and pauperizing them. The goals of Nazi policy were to rid the country of its Jewish population, enrich itself from stolen Jewish property, disperse German Jews throughout the world, in order to prevent any large concentration of Jews. Cooperation between the Nazis and the Zionists was limited to reduced expropriation as a result of the Haavara Transfer Agreement of 1933. This agreement allowed Jews to transfer about half of their wealth in the form of German goods if they emigrated to Palestine.9 The thought of cooperation with Zionists immediately divided Nazi leadership precisely because the Nazis feared the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East which would act as a base for the Jewish conspiracy. By the mid-1930s, the agreement was tenuous, precisely because the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Auswärtiges Amt) feared the Zionists would succeed in their project.

The Nazis ever-increasing domestic policy of persecution of Jews was inextricably linked to their foreign policy objectives.10 On January 30, 1939, Hitler demonstrated that link in his oft-cited “prophecy speech.” In that speech, Hitler predicted that “if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”11 The speech laid bare the seemingly inherent contradiction in Nazi antisemitism; namely that in Nazi cosmology Jews were responsible both for finance capital as well as Soviet Bolshevism. This ideological antisemitism justified the coming war with both the Soviet Union as well as the Western capitalist democracies, and would provide the logical justification for the coming genocide.

Hitler’s war would be waged not just against the Jews of Germany or the Jews of Europe but also against World Jewry. Immediately following the invasion of Poland in September 1939, German soldiers committed atrocities against Poland’s Jewish population as part of their racial war in the East.12 It was the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, however, that transformed Hitler’s war against ‘international Jewry’ into the Holocaust. Mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) trailed the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Before the end of 1941, they were shooting thousands of Jewish men, women and children per week. The “actions,” as the mass murders were euphemistically called, were supported enthusiastically by the Wehrmacht and the German police on the Eastern Front. Contrary to enduring popular belief, by the time of the Wannsee Conference, the Nazis had already begun the process of wholesale genocide on the Eastern Front.13

Thousands of miles away in North Africa, contemporaneous military events threatened to engulf Palestine’s Jewish population in the Nazis’ murderous plans. Between January and July 1942, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel led the newly formed Afrika Korps across North Africa towards British-held Suez Canal. Historians Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers have demonstrated that had Rommel succeeded in capturing Egypt, an Einsatzgruppe created in order to murder the Jews of Palestine would have been activated. In July of 1942, the unit, consisting of 24 men, flew to Greece. Had Rommel won the first Battle of El Alamein, the unit would have been sent to Egypt and neighboring Palestine to conduct its genocidal project.14 As it happened, however, Rommel’s defeats at the First and Second Battles of El Alamein as well as the Allied landing in French North Africa prevented the spread of the Holocaust to Palestine.

The defeats of the summer and fall of 1942 destroyed the German strategic fantasy of linking the North African front with the German forces on the Eastern Front coming from the Caucasus. Rommel’s defeat was a turning point in the Second World War. From late 1942 onwards, the Wehrmacht no longer produced the spectacular victories of the first three years of the war. Shortly afterward, it would be in retreat on all fronts. In May 1943 with German morale already reeling from defeat at Stalingrad, some 275,000 German and Italian soldiers surrendered to the Allies in Tunisia, marking the end of that campaign.15

Remarkably, archival documents show that months after the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, the Luftwaffe actually considered a proposal to bomb Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration in November 1943. This plan, proposed by Arab nationalist leader and Nazi collaborator Amin Al-Husseini and supported by Heinrich Himmler’s Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt [RSHA]), was turned down in summer of 1943 by Hermann Göring.16 The RSHA’s duties expanded dramatically during the war and it became the key internal and external arm of the Nazi police state. The involvement of the RSHA in the planning of an air raid suggests that the bombing was a continuation of the SS’s exterminatory policy toward Jews within the Nazis’ grasp. The fact that the Nazis considered bombing Jewish cities in Palestine long after it would have any military significance is a testament to both their unmitigated hatred of Jews and Zionists as well as to the centrality of the Holocaust in Nazi military strategy.

German Prewar Emigration Policy

The 1933 Haavara Transfer Agreement has provided those seeking to discredit Israel with a fabricated historical pretext to associate Israel with the Third Reich. Such attempts are fallacious, as they ignore the ample record left by Nazi leaders who showed a consistently hostile attitude toward the creation of a Jewish state. Throughout the 1930s, important elements within the regime developed an increasingly hostile attitude toward Jewish emigration even to British Mandate Palestine, as agencies in charge of Jewish emigration prepared for the coming war. Historian Jeffrey Herf has described this change in Nazi attitudes toward Jewish emigration as a convergence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism brought about both by a consistent Nazi world-view and the strategic demands of the Second World War in the Middle East.17 In parts of the Nazi bureaucracy, that process began with the Gleichschaltung (Nazification) of public life.

In 1933, most German Jews were not Zionists. In fact, at that point the largest Jewish organization in Germany was the “Central Organization of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith.”18 It was the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent escalating persecution of German Jews which gradually led to increased emigration. In the summer of 1933, the Nazis negotiated the Haavara Transfer Agreement. This agreement impoverished the Jews leaving for Palestine slightly less so than to other countries. The state, however, seized the émigrés’ property in Germany and replaced it with German-made goods in Palestine. The details of the agreement were quite complicated, but in the end, the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that Jews emigrating from Germany to Palestine received 42.8 percent of their original capital, with 38.9 percent transferred to the Jewish Agency in the form of German industrial goods.19 After robbing German Jews of more than half of their capital, the agreement forced émigrés to live surrounded by products which their tormentors manufactured.

Still, the number of German Jews emigrating to Palestine never matched the numbers emigrating to other Western European countries or to the United States. Between 1933 and 1938, 39,839 German Jews left for Palestine, as opposed to the 80,653 Polish Jews who came at the same time.20 Had Western countries been more willing to accept Jewish populations, the numbers of those departing for Palestine would have been smaller. Basically, Jews were being forced to make the painful decision to emigrate after being reduced to financial ruin, harassed and humiliated. There was no collaboration between the Nazis and Zionists. On the contrary, the Haavara Agreement revealed the desperation of Jews and Zionists and the cynical opportunism of the Nazis.

The vast historiography on the Nazi persecution and extermination of European Jewry contradicts the claim that the Haavara Agreement amounted to Nazi support for Zionism or a type of collaboration between Nazis and Zionists. In his two-volume study of the Holocaust, historian Saul Friedländer wrote that “the Nazis considered the Zionists first and foremost Jews.”21 In the mind of a racial anti-Semite, the distinction between German Jews and Jews in the Middle East was inconsequential. Friedländer described the policy of the Nazis as “divided from the outset.” While it favored pursuing emigration “as a means of enticing Jews to leave Europe, they [the Nazis] also considered the Zionist Organization which was established in 1897 as a key element of the Jewish world conspiracy.”22 In The Third Reich in Power, Richard Evans wrote that the reasons Nazis “favored treatment of emigrants to Palestine were complex.” They included helping to “mitigate international criticism of anti-Semitic measures at home.” Like Friedländer, Evans saw that the “principal aim of the Nazis in those years was to drive the Jews out of Germany and preferably out of Europe too.”23

Both Friedländer and Evans point to increasing disagreement on Jewish emigration within the German government throughout the 1930s. The changes in attitude may be explained in part by competition among governmental agencies vying for influence. The government in the Third Reich operated like so many fiefdoms, all trying to get closer to their feudal lord, Adolf Hitler. Hitler himself offered only vague pronouncements on emigration policy. Using Ian Kershaw’s principle of ‘working towards the Führer,’ Nazi officials translated Hitler’s pronouncements into policy.24 In Mein Kampf, Hitler had been openly contemptuous of the Zionist project, writing:

while the Zionists try to make the rest of the world believe that the national consciousness of the Jew finds satisfaction in the creation of a Palestinian state, the Jews again slyly dupe the dumb Goyim. It doesn’t even enter their heads to build up a Jewish state in Palestine for the purpose of living there; all they want is a central organization for their international world swindle, endowed with its own sovereign rights and removed from the intervention of other states25

Hitler’s declarations in Mein Kampf were important as programmatic statements of purpose for the Nazi party and its various agencies, but had no direct policy implications. In summer of 1933, the details of the Haavara Transfer Agreement were negotiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (Reichswirtschaftministerium) under Hjalmar Schacht. Historian Yehuda Bauer argues that in addition to the ideological cause of making Europe free of Jews, the Haavara Agreement was perceived as promoting Nazi economic interests, because it expanded export markets and could relieve the strain on German foreign currency reserves.26

While there were officials in the Third Reich, such a Hjalmar Schacht, who operated under the traditionally antisemitic objective of making Europe ‘Jew-free’ (Judenrein) through emigration, an ascendant Nazified bureaucracy declared its opposition to aiding an international Jewish conspiracy of émigrés. The group which most encompassed this Nazi world view in the Foreign Ministry was Sonderreferat Deutschland (Germany Special Section). Founded in 1933 as a liaison between the Foreign Ministry and the Nazi Party, Sonderreferat Deutschland included an office for Jewish Affairs (Referat D III [Office D III]).27 The leader of the Sonderreferat was a German aristocrat named Vicco von Bülow-Schwante.28

In February 1934, Bülow-Schwante circulated a memorandum written by the head of Referat D III, Emil Schumberg.29 The memorandum, entitled “The Development of the Jewish Question and its Backlash Abroad,” was circulated to all German diplomatic missions and consulates abroad, as well as requested copies both for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Konstantin von Neurath, and the State Secretary, Ernst von Weiszäcker.30 The thirteen-page memo began by praising the Nazi regime for “succeeding in channeling the spontaneous popular anger against Jewry… into regulated processes.”31 The ‘regulated process’ was the April 1933 “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,” which removed “civil servants of non-Aryan descent” and denied pensions to those ‘non-Aryan’ retirees who had worked for less than a decade in the civil service.32

Emil Schumberg wrote that the new ‘Aryan laws’ left two options for Jewish professionals in Germany. One group could “accept their favorable position as a racial minority…out of respect or at least resigned recognition of the of the exceptional legislation.”33 The other group “disavows the possibility of assimilation of Jews in a guest nation and propagandizes the emigration and centralization of Jews scattered around the world in their own political polity.” To Schumberg, Zionists and Zionism, “come closest to the goals of practical German politics toward Jews.” To support this objective, German officials cooperated “without anger or fondness (sine ira et studio)” with Jewish organizations to support the Haavara agreement.34

According to several historians, this document shows that the Foreign Ministry’s department on Jewish Affairs offered conditional support for German-Jewish emigration during the first years of the Third Reich.35 But the “practical” dimension of support for emigration was a matter of the development of the Jewish question in Germany. Most of the memorandum detailed the “backlash abroad” and illuminates Nazi thinking on the connection between domestic and foreign policy.

Emil Schumberg wrote that while “in Germany the Jewish problem is quietly and unerringly being solved by affirmative legal measures,” the spread of German-Jewish émigrés was inciting hatred toward the Nazi cause. “Since the discovery of the Aryan laws abroad, foreign Jews and émigré Jews from Germany have promoted lying-atrocity propaganda (Greuel-und Lügenhetze) against National Socialist Germany not seen since the war propaganda of the Allies (in World War One).”36 Schumberg praised the “nearly prophetic” words of Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, when Hitler wrote that “wherever in the world we read of attacks against Germany, Jews are their fabricators.”37 Schumberg then drew attention to the link between Germany’s racial desire to rid Germany of Jews and the international context, “The fight for Germany’s emancipation is then taken out of the sphere of power-political interests and into an ideological plane, in which the National Socialist worldview is in an implacable confrontation with Jewish-Marxist doctrines.”38

Emil Schumberg’s Manichean view of world affairs meant that the “internal-German biological and racial Jewish problem takes on the dimensions of a foreign policy problem of the first order.”39 While the Nazis’ desire to rid the country of Jews was regarded as part of their domestic policy, sending them abroad would only increase the international condemnation of Nazism. Schumberg even drew a historical analogy to the War of the First Coalition waged against the fledgling French First Republic by European monarchies at the end of the Eighteenth Century. At the time, revolutionary France had been surrounded by hostile monarchies; in the case of Nazi Germany, the encircling enemy was ‘international Jewry.’40

Schumberg argued that the German Foreign Ministry should fight against ‘Jewish propaganda’ and calls for boycotts of German goods on the part of Jews living abroad. It was important to realize, however, “that there is no occasion for the German government to make pacts with the opponents of the National Socialist world view.” If those working in the government accepted this, they could proceed with “the fanatical belief of the German race in the mission of Adolf Hitler, who is the manifestation of the Reich government.”41 Schumberg was not sure what direction German domestic politics would take with regard to international Jewry. However, he summed up his own view of the future with a quotation from Mein Kampf that “political parties are prone to compromise, world-views never compromise!”42

The views outlined in Schumberg’s memorandum were further intensified when it appeared that the Jews in Palestine might succeed in creating a Jewish state. After the publication of the British partition plan of 1937, the Nazi elite balked at the notion of continued Jewish emigration to Palestine. In response to the Arab anti-British and anti-Jewish revolts of 1936-1939, a British government commission headed by Lord William Peel recommended the partition of Palestine in order to prevent future conflicts.43 This partition plan was seen by Zionist leaders as an important step in the creation of the Jewish State. Konstantin von Neurath, – the predecessor of Joachim von Ribbentrop at the Foreign Ministry, – concurred. He wrote that the partition plan would “force a decision as to what attitude Germany is to take in the face of the possible formation of a Jewish state.” Neurath sent a circular to German diplomatic offices in London, Jerusalem, and Iraq ordering the diplomatic functionaries to make clear in their conversations that

The formation of a Jewish state or a Jewish-led political structure under British mandate is not in Germany’s interest, since a Palestinian state would not absorb world Jewry but would create an additional position of power [power base] under international law for international Jewry, somewhat like the Vatican State for political Catholicism or Moscow for the Comintern.44

According to some in the Nazi bureaucrats, Jews could emigrate to Palestine and live under British rule just as they could in London. The Nazis feared that the success of Zionism would create an additional base for “international Jewry.” Historian David Yisraeli points out that the year 1937 represented a “volte-face” for the German foreign policy establishment with regard to a Jewish presence in Palestine.45 On the request of the assistant secretary at the Foreign Ministry, Referat D III also drafted a position paper on continued support for Jewish emigration to Palestine after the Peel Commission Report of 1937. It concluded

The German interest in the promotion of Jewish emigration Palestine is therefore offset by the far greater interest in preventing the formation of a Jewish state. The Jewish question as a domestic problem would be replaced by the considerably more dangerous problem of an opposition of world Jewry to the Third Reich based on recognition by law. 46

Schumberg’s memorandum and the German Foreign Ministry’s bluster against the Peel Commission Report were neither immediate calls for genocide nor blueprints for the Holocaust. It would take the radicalizing effect of the war to produce such plans. But antipathy toward Jewish emigration as such must be viewed as part of a shifting mentality which accompanied the Nazification of the German government. As early as 1934, hostility toward ‘International Jewry’ was closing off avenues of escape for German Jews. Officials in the German government saw themselves as isolated, surrounded, and ‘under attack’ by world Jewry and therefore began to take what they considered to be defensive measures against the Jews. By 1937, however, Germany was engaged in actual military confrontations with the West. The Nazis were providing Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War with military supplies and even combatants. The Soviets and Western European powers countered this development, by sending varying amounts of support for the Republican cause. The battle lines for the Second World War were being drawn. For the Third Reich, there could be no base for World Jewry to operate against Germany. When war did break out, the Third Reich could rely upon state and military bureaucracies which erased the distinction between Jews and enemy combatants.

An Attack Against “the Citadel of Palestinian Jewry”

On April 1, 1944, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, repeated his request for an air raid against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Previously, in July 1943, Husseini’s request had reached the highest level of the Luftwaffe bureaucracy, only to be rejected by the Third Reich’s second-highest ranking Nazi, Hermann Göring. 47 Even as the Nazi empire was collapsing under the weight of the Allied armies advancing from all directions and an aerial campaign was sapping the Luftwaffe’s remaining strength, the intelligence section of Luftwaffe High Command considered the virtues of a strike “against Palestinian Jewry in order to support our propaganda the Arab world.”48

Although Göring rejected the idea of the bombing in July, the intelligence section of the Luftwaffe High Command conducted an assessment of a possible future bombing raid against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in October 1943. Given that the study was produced by members of the intelligence section of the Luftwaffe and not the SS or the RSHA, the documents are remarkable for their candid espousal of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda. In a telephone call from “First Lieutenant Zetsche,” the officer discussed a possible air raid against a Zionist conference in Jerusalem in November on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Zetsche considered this attack “not feasible, as the location of the meeting is not known.” Instead, he suggested a “symbolic attack on the Jewish Agency” which was “the large ministry building of the top Zionist administrative positions.”49 The location of this building was known in the city plans of Jerusalem and therefore could be targeted.

Attacks against symbolic targets as a substitute for inaccessible centers of gravity follows a classic terroristic formulation. The Germans did not know where the conference was, so they would strike out at a symbolic embodiment of Zionism in the hopes of striking fear among the Jewish population. Lieutenant Zetsche acknowledged that an attack on Jerusalem would offer no practical military advantage when he wrote “Jerusalem has no great military importance.”50 In fact, he said that “large defense plants and upper command instillations are not known and are unlikely to exist in Jerusalem.” Instead, it was “the site of the Palestinian Mandate government as well as the aforementioned Jewish Agency and a Zionist University.” The attachment of a Zionist University as a possible target for bombing is eerily similar to the notion of “soft targets” which sadly have become so common in the past twenty years.

Zetsche had a problem, as he had wanted to ensure that the bombing would only kill Jews. He noted that only half of the population of Jerusalem was Jewish. This would mean that “if there was a city-wide air raid we would have to consider Jerusalem has a strong Arab minority.” Taking into account religious and cultural traditions, Zetsche also acknowledged that “the city is a holy city for Christians and Muhammadans as well as being the location of many cloisters and charities.” Zetsche’s concern that killing Muslims and Christians might be bad for propaganda is striking when contrasted with his utter ruthlessness toward the Jewish population in Jerusalem. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but Zetsche did not differentiate between Jews and Zionists. They were legitimate targets in an exterminatory total war.

As a way of preventing collateral damage as the Nazis’ understood it, Zetsche then considered an attack on military installations, such as arms and supply depots and runways, on the Palestinian coast. This would be “considered satisfactory” for the Mufti and the RSHA, although this was not what Arab leaders really wanted. Instead, “the Arabs, and especially the Grand Mufti” had many times asked for an attack against Tel Aviv. An attack against Tel Aviv would strike a blow on “the citadel of Palestinian Jewry and émigré Jews.” Unlike Jerusalem, almost all of the population of Tel Aviv were Jews. Unlike the coastal runways and depots, Tel Aviv was densely populated. Therefore, bombing Tel Aviv would kill the maximum number of Jews.51

At the end of his telephone call, Zetsche referred to the position paper that had been part of the proposal submitted to Hermann Göring in the summer outlining the benefits of bombing Tel Aviv. The paper Zetsche referred to started as a demographic outline of the city of Tel Aviv. Its darker intentions become clear when one realizes the context in which it was written. The city was populated “solely by immigrant Jews,” which meant that along with Jerusalem and Haifa it was “one of the most important city-settlements of Palestinian Jewry” and accounted for “one third of the total Jewish population of the country.”52 This conveyed a message to Göring; bombing Tel Aviv would kill the highest number of Jews with the lowest risk to other populations in the area including those who were or might be sympathetic to the Nazis.

The paper did report that the prosperity of Tel Aviv as a city was due to the arrival of German-Jewish émigrés. They had built “tool and textile manufactories (for tent and khaki materials), as well as factories for the production of chemical and pharmaceutical products, optical and precision equipment, and leather and shoe manufacturers.” This was useful in terms of selecting targets for bombing, as “the individual workshops are in fact quite small, and most of them are in their initial stages of production… The location of the workshops is not known.” Any air raid against the city would be area, – not precision, – bombing.

Area bombing was actually more suited to the goals of an air raid. The position paper ended by writing that “Tel Aviv is undoubtedly a place where we can consider retaliating against the British-American terror bombing.” This reflected the Nazi conspiratorial world-view in practice, namely striking émigré Jews in retaliation for the bombing of Berlin or Hamburg, as they believed Jews were in control in London and Washington, as well as Moscow. The call to bomb Tel Aviv corresponded directly with the deteriorating military fortunes of Germany in 1943.53

The planned Nazi area bombing of Tel Aviv never happened. In mid-July 1943 the Germans were losing on all fronts. The Battle of Kursk was lost, Germany was being bombed by Anglo-American air forces, and the Allies had landed in Sicily. Precious Luftwaffe resources could not be diverted for a long-range bombing from Crete—Germany’s last island stronghold in the Mediterranean. The position paper from that month had concluded “any possible attack must take place with strong forces, in order to have a lasting impact.” By 1943, the Luftwaffe was incapable of mustering the requisite forces to devastate cities as it had done earlier in the war. The intention was there. Luckily for the civilian population of Tel Aviv, the Nazi war machine was crumbling.

Nazi Bombing and the Holocaust

In her report of the Eichmann trial which began in April 1961, Hannah Arendt wrote that many Arab newspapers “did not hide their sympathy for Eichmann or their regret that he ‘had not finished the job.’” She even sardonically recounted that on the first day of the trial a radio broadcast from Cairo “injected a slightly anti-German note into its comments, complaining that there was not ‘a single incident in which one German plane flew over one Jewish settlement and dropped one bomb on it throughout the last world war.’”54 Recent scholarship has shown that such sentiment was shared by at least some Arab nationalist leaders during the Second World War.55 There was a plan for bombing Jewish cities, and the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj-Amin al-Husseini, was the voice in Berlin repeatedly urging a bombing of Jewish settlements.

The Luftwaffe had indeed considered the Mufti’s proposal. It had reached Hermann Göring’s desk in the summer of 1943. The type of bombing which the Nazis considered at this point differed qualitatively from the Anglo-American strategic bombing of Germany. While the Americans and the British bombed civilian centers, they did it to hasten the end of the war. Germany was the center of the Nazi war effort, and the Allied commanders took the view that bombing cities would destroy morale and hasten a collapse of infrastructure. There was of course also a certain measure of retaliation involved in planning, – especially on the part of the Royal Air Force. Germany had bombed London and numerous other cities in the United Kingdom at the start of the war. Arthur “Bomber” Harris’s memorable aphorism summed up this attitude: “they sowed the wind and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”

The intentions behind Anglo-American bombing, however, were grounded in a rational, – if not brutal, – effort to bring the war to a speedy conclusion.56 This did not apply to the plan to bomb Jewish settlements. Instead, the Luftwaffe considered a strategic ideological bombing in 1943, and again in 1944. By then, there were no Axis forces operating anywhere near the Middle East. Furthermore, Luftwaffe planners openly admitted that there were no major industrial targets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa. Bombing those targets would only succeed in terrorizing the Jewish population and killing as many Jews as possible in the process. According to the Nazi Weltanschauung (world-view), killing Jewish civilians in a noncombatant country was a reasonable response to the bombing of Germany. The notion of retaliatory bombing cuts to the heart of Nazi strategy that maintained that strikes against Tel Aviv would terrorize the Jewish cliques in charge in the Allied countries. The Nazi war against the Western powers and the Soviet Union was a war against the Jews.

The planned operation to bomb Tel Aviv belongs to the history of Nazi antisemitism and the Holocaust. The ‘twisted road to Auschwitz’ followed the same path for Zionists in Palestine as it did for the Jews of Europe.57 In the early 1930s, Jews seeking to flee were harassed, humiliated, and despoiled before being permitted to leave. While expedience characterized the Third Reich’s often competing views of Jewish emigration to Palestine, they never resulted in support for the Zionist project. As the state bureaucracy increasingly became Nazified, and the prospect of war began to creep into the mind of the Third Reich’s elites, Nazi policy toward Jewish emigration hardened. Fear of a Jewish nation-state stirred Nazi concern that ‘International Jewry’ could gain a sovereign territorial base, which in any future war would be used in operations against Germany. When the war came within striking distance of Palestine, the RSHA prepared an Einsatzgruppe with genocidal plans, just as they had done a year before on the Eastern Front. When this front collapsed, and the dream of a Judenrein (‘cleansed of Jews’) Middle East disintegrated, some officials in the Third Reich resorted to the idea of aerial bombardment to strike a blow against the Jewish enemy. If it were not for the changing military situation, this prospect could have become reality.

* * *


1 Ken Livingston interview transcript, John Stone, The Independent, April 28, 2016, accessed September 18, 2016,

2 Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (London: Croom Hill, 1983).

3 Oxford Union, “Ken Livingstone Full Q&A Oxford Union”, (Q&A of Ken Livingstone at the Oxford Union, July 2016), accessed September 15, 2016, Discussion of Livingstone’s remarks, 12:50-17:41.

4 “Ken Livingstone Full Q&A Oxford Union”14.28.

5 BBC News “Mann confronts Livingstone over anti-Semitic claim,” accessed October 14, 2016

6 “Ken Livingstone Full Q&A Oxford Union,”15.48.

7 Jess Staufenberg, ”George Galloway says Ken Livingstone should not be suspended over ‘historic facts’ about Hitler and Zionism,” The Independent, April 29, 2016, accessed August 25, 2016

8 Jenni Frazer, “Top Historians take down Ken Livingstone’s claim that ‘Hitler supported Zionism,’” Times of Israel, June 21, 2016, accessed September 18, 2016

9 Francis R. Nicosia, “Ein nützlicher Feind. Zionismus im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland 1933-1939,” Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte 37, no. 3(1989), 382.

10 Gerhard Weinberg, Germany Hitler & World War II: Essays in Modern German and World History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 68.

11 Quoted in: Jeffrey Herf, The Jewish Enemy (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2006), 52.

12 Halek Kochanski, The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (London: Penguin Books, 2012), 70, 108.

13 The scholarship on the timing of the decision on the Holocaust is voluminous. For a rigorous academic debate between two of the foremost advocates of ‘moderate intentionalism’ and ‘moderate functionalism’ see the debate between Richard Breitman and Christopher Browning in German Studies Review. Richard Breitman, “Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941,” German Studies Review 17, no. 3(Oct. 1994) 483-493. And Christopher Browning, “The Nazi Decision to Commit Mass Murder: Three Interpretations: The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution: Summer-Fall 1941,” German Studies Review 17, no. 3(Oct. 1994) 473-481. Browning also outlined his ‘moderate functionalist’ approach in far greater detail in: Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy September 1939-March 1942 (New York: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

14 Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine, trans. Krista Smith (New York: Enigma Books, 2010), 117-120.

15 Gerhard Weinberg, A World at War: A Global History of World War Two (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 446.

16 OKL/ Lw Fü Stb Ic/Frd Lw West, Anregung des Grossmufti zu einem Bombenangriff auf Tel Aviv um 1. April. National Archives Microfilm Publication T321, roll 99, frames 134-137

17 Jeffrey Herf, “Convergence: The Classic Case Nazi Germany, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism during World War Two”, Journal of Israeli History 25, no. 1 (2006), 63-83.

18 Peter Longerich, Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 43.

19 “Reich Migrants to Palestine Get Back 42% of Funds in Cash,” The Jewish Telegraph Agency, May 25, 1936, accessed November 17, 2016,

20 This number is of course not including the influx of Jews who came in 1938 and 1939 because of the Anschluss of Austria. If one counts the number of Jews who fled between 1938 and the outbreak of the war, then the figure is 60,000. The 39,839 figure is illustrative of the fact that Ha’avara did not mean that all German Jews could easily get to Palestine. Numbers found in: R. Melka, “Nazi Germany and the Palestine Question,” Middle Eastern Studies 5, no. 3 (1969), 230.

21 Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 63.

22 Ibid, p. 64.

23 Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 557.

24 Ian Kershaw, “‘Working Towards the Führer.’ Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship,” Contemporary European History 2, no. 2(July, 1993), 117.

25 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Mannheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), 324-325.

26 Yehuda Bauer, Jews For Sale: Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 10-12.

27 Christoph Kimmich, German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945: A Guide to Current Research and Resources (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 2013), 4.

28 Christopher Browning, The Final Solution and the German Foreign Ministry: A Study of Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland 1940-43 (London: Holmes & Meier Publishing, 1978) 1-22.

29 Magnus Brechtken, Madagaskar für die Juden: antisemitische Idee und politische Praxis, 1884-1945 (München: Oldenbourg, 1998), 173.

30 Vicco von Bülow-Schwante an sämtliche Missionen und Berufkonsulate (nicht Wahlkonsulate), “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” Berlin, February 28, 1934, German Foreign Ministry Archives, Serial 8788, frame E612298; National Archives Microfilm Publication T120, Roll 3503.

31 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” February 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E61299.

32 “Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service” (April 7, 1933), in: United States Chief Counsel For the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume III. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Offic, 1946, Document 1397-PS, 981-83.

33 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” February 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E612301.

34 Ibid.

35 Christopher Browning, The Foreign Office and the Final Solution, 14.

36 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” Feb. 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E612302.

37 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” February 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E612303. Quote found in: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Mannheim, 623.

38 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” February 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E612304.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” February 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E612307.

42 “Die Entwicklung der Judenfrage in Deutschland und ihre Rückwirkungen im Ausland,” Feb. 20, 1934, T120/8788/3505/E612311. Quote found in: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Mannheim, 455. Mannheim translates the passage as “Political parties are inclined to compromises; philosophies never.” Yet the German word Weltanschauung conveys something stronger.

43 Palestine Royal Commission Report, Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty July, 1937 (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1937).

44 Documents on German Foreign Policy (DGFP) Series D (1937-1945) Volume V: Poland; The Balkans; Latin America; The Smaller Powers June 1937- March 1939 (Washington DC: Department of State, 1953) Document nr. 561, 746.

45 David Yisraeli “The Third Reich and Palestine,” Middle Eastern Studies 7, no. 3 (1971), 349.

46 DGFP Series D Volume V, Document Nr. 564 p. 761.

47 OKL/ Lw Fü Stb Ic/Frd Lw West, Anregung des Grossmufti zu einem Bombenangriff auf Tel Aviv um 1. April. National Archives Microfilm Publication T321, roll 99, item no. OKL/232, frames 134-137

48 Ibid.

49 Telefonanruf von Oblt. Zetsche bezgl. Luftangriffe im Palästinenischem Raum, October 29, 1943, T321/99/135.

50 Ibid

51 Telefonanruf von Oblt. Zetsche bezgl. Luftangriffe im Palästinenischem Raum, October 29, 1943, T321/99/136.

52 Stellungnahme: zum Vorschlag eines Luftangriffes auf Tel Aviv Palästina, Undated (1943), T321/99/137.

53 On the relationship between the changing fortunes of the war and Nazi propaganda: Jeffrey Herf, “The Jews Are Guilty of Everything,” in The Jewish Enemy, 183-230.

54 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), 13.

55 For a description of recent scholarship on collaboration see this publication: “Special Issue on the Historical Problem of Hajj-Amin al-Husseini, ‘Grand-Mufti’ of Jerusalem,” Jewish Political Studies Review 26, numbers 3-4(2016).

56 Richard Overy, The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe (New York: Viking Books, 2014), 11-13.

57 Karl A. Schleunes, The Twisted Road to Auschwitz: Nazi Policy Toward German Jews 1933-1939 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970).

About Samuel Miner

Sam Miner is a doctoral student in the Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park. He holds a BA from Ohio University.