A Brush with the Unpredictable Past
On March 29, 2017, the blog of the National Library of Israel announced the discovery of SS Commander Heinrich Himmler’s telegram to Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem.1 Although the telegram was not dated, there is conclusive evidence that it was sent on November 2, 1943, the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. While the existence of this telegram and its contents were known, the original telegram seemed to have been lost. According to Mr. Chen Malul, a contributing editor of the National Library’s blog, this document was donated to the National Library in 1952, some sixty-five years ago. Several months ago, the archivists of the library classified the telegram as pertaining to the Balfour Declaration. With the approach of the Declaration’s centennial, the Library carried out a search by keyword and discovered this document.2
Himmler’s telegram may be appreciated on several levels: 1) as a primary source which represents a statement of Nazi-German policy; 2) as an important part of the context of a major political rally against the Balfour Declaration at which an alliance with the Arab cause, and particularly with the Palestinian Arabs, was ceremoniously celebrated; and, 3) as an address by Amin al-Husseini, an unconditional Nazi-collaborator who pledged the support of the Palestinian Arabs and the Muslim world for Nazi cause.
The Mufti claimed “to present himself not just as leader of the Palestinian national movement, but as leader of all Arabs and even as representative of all Muslims.”3 To be sure, Amin al-Husseini did not possess the legitimacy of a democratically-elected leader. Nevertheless, through his social status, cunning, eloquence and force, he was able to acquire the necessary power to lead the faithful and intimidate the unconvinced. (It should be remembered that under the British Mandate Amin al-Husseini was never officially appointed to this post.)4
The rediscovery of the original telegram is significant. It confirms that there was a partnership between Nazi-Germany, the Arabs of Palestine and the Arab World. This alliance was based on their mutual support for the destruction of “world Jewry,” which both sides openly declared to be a shared interest and the basis of their friendship. The purpose of this telegram was to reaffirm publicly the existence of this partnership and the transaction it represented. The following is the text of Heinrich Himmler’s shameless telegram:
TO THE GRAND MUFTI AMIN EL HUSSEINI, BERLIN
FROM ITS BEGINNING THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST MOVEMENT OF GREATER GERMANY5 HAS INSCRIBED THE STRUGGLE AGAINST WORLD JEWRY ON ITS BANNER. THEREFORE IT HAS ALWAYS FOLLOWED WITH SPECIAL SYMPATHY THE STRUGGLE OF THE FREEDOM – LOVING ARABS, FOREMOST IN PALESTINE, AGAINST THE JEWISH INTRUDERS. THE RECOGNITION OF THIS ENEMY AND OUR COMMON STRUGGLE AGAINST HIM FORM THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF THE NATURAL ALLIANCE BETWEEN NATIONAL-SOCIALIST GREATER GERMANY AND THE FREEDOM-LOVING MUSLIMS OF THE WHOLE WORLD. ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE WRETCHED BALFOUR-DECLARATION I SEND YOU IN THIS SPIRIT MY HEARTFELT GREETINGS AND WISHES FOR THE SUCCESSFUL PURSUIT OF YOUR STRUGGLE UNTIL ITS ASSURED FINAL VICTORY.
SIGNED REICHSFUEHRER-SS HEINRICH HIMMLER6
The Historical Context
Heinrich Himmler sent his telegram for the Mufti to read at a major rally protesting the Balfour Declaration. It was held in the Luftwaffe Hall—an unsightly monument of Nazi imperial architecture—in Berlin. The Third Reich used political rallies as a medium for conveying its propaganda messages and for mobilizing support. The rally was broadcast directly on November 2, 1943, and a recording was rebroadcast the following day. In addition, the Central Islamic Institute in Berlin published a hard-copy edition in German of the Mufti’s speech in the form of a pamphlet of eight pages.7 In fact, the title of this pamphlet used the words, Protest Kundgebung, or “Protest Rally,” which indicates exactly how contemporaries were supposed to appreciate its purpose. The rally was a public demonstration of official support for the Palestinian and Arab cause to which the Nazi regime had committed its full prestige and considerable financial resources.
The framers of Nazi propaganda intended that the message for their audience be simple and literal. Accordingly, the text and the ceremony itself represent a major piece of open-source information. There are no nuances or subtext. As Hannah Arendt observed, a characteristic of the totalitarian propaganda was its method of openly stating goals of the regime:
… What is remarkable in the totalitarian organizations is rather that they could adopt so many organizational devices of secret societies without ever trying to keep their own goal secret. That the Nazis wanted to conquer the world, deport ‘racially alien’ peoples and exterminate those of ‘inferior biological heritage,’ that the Bolsheviks work for the world revolution, was never a secret; these aims, on the contrary, were always part of their propaganda. In other words, the totalitarian movements imitate all the paraphernalia of the secret societies but empty them of the only thing that could excuse, or was supposed to excuse, their methods – the necessity to safeguard a secret.8
The Allies transcribed the radio broadcasts of this rally, and in 1947, a young journalist and author, Maurice [Moshe] Pearlman, drew on these materials to publish an account of this event.9 With this information, one may appreciate its scale and careful staging. The following is the “color piece” of the Nazi radio announcer:
We are in the Luftwaffe building in Berlin, where Arab leaders are gathered to protest against the Balfour Declaration. The hall is festooned with Arab flags and poster portraits of Arab patriots. Arabs and Muslims from every land pour into the hall. Among them are Moroccans, Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenites, men from the Hedjaz, Indians, Iranians and Moslem representatives from all over Europe. Among the latter are a great many Germans friendly to the Arabs, high government officials, civilian and military, one of the S.S. chiefs, representatives of foreign embassies and at their head, representatives of the Japanese Embassy. The audience runs into hundreds, and here now I see the Mufti of Jerusalem making his way into the hall. He is shaking hands with a number of notables and mounts the steps to the stage to deliver his address.10
The Mufti, Amin-al Husseini, read two telegrams of support: one from Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister of the Reich, and the other from Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Normally, Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop would have served as the counterpart of the Mufti, but the latter had gravitated into Himmler’s camp. Accordingly, Himmler’s telegram is a matter of special interest. When, on November 28, 1941, Hitler had received Amin al-Husseini at the Chancellery of the German Reich in Berlin, Ribbentrop was present as well as Ambassador Fritz Grobba.11 The addition of Himmler’s message suggests the evolution of a “strategic partnership” in genocide, the real propaganda message of the rally and the telegram.
Beyond this, there is another dimension of meaning, namely Amin al-Husseini’s perception of this event. The text of his address contains some his statements on this festive occasion:
… Germany is also fighting against the common enemy who oppressed the Arabs and the Moslems in their respective lands. It understood the Jews perfectly and decided to find a final solution to the Jewish menace, which will contain their mischief in the world.
… Arabs and Muslims! Beware not to lose this opportunity, and do not let the Allied deception distract you from liberating Holy Palestine from colonization and complete judaization. Do not fear your enemies and their propaganda and keep in mind that you never fought the Jews without their becoming the loser [stormy and prolonged applause]. Allah has determined that there never will be a stable arrangement for the Jews, and that no state should be established for them … I do not have the slightest doubt that we shall succeed in the victory against them, despite the massive help of the cruel allies. God helps those to victory who help Him. We will win and liberate our lands from the claws of the Allies.12
The Mufti’s address makes it clear that he rejoiced in the Final Solution, the Nazi war of genocide against the Jews. His words communicate the total nature of the alliance between the Palestinian Arabs and the crimes of Nazi Germany. Furthermore, this speech reflects the Mufti’s novel method of combining politics with religion, known today as “Islamism.” Indeed, an important passage in the above text proclaims that “Allah has determined that there never will be a stable arrangement for the Jews, and that no state should be established for them.” It is clear that the Mufti essentially meant that there is no room in the world for living Jews,—much less a Jewish state.13
The Modalities of Collaboration
Himmler’s telegram, the Mufti’s response, and the demonstrative political rally of protest on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration show Nazi Germany’s positive support of the Palestinian Arabs and their reciprocally warm feelings. With the benefit of recent scholarship, we may better appreciate the nature and extent of this type of collaboration.
In his recent article in this journal, Johannes Houwink ten Cate cited the Swiss historian and journalist, Werner Rings, who identified four different forms of collaboration, according to their degree of identification with the ideology of Nazism, as follows: “tactical, neutral, conditional and unconditional collaboration.”14 Using these categories as his standard of comparison, Ten Cate concludes that Amin al-Husseini was one of the few unconditional collaborationists because of his ideological collaboration with the Waffen-SS.15 Separately, Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz list examples of the Mufti’s contributions to the cause of Nazi-Germany. These include, “… fomenting a pro-Axis revolt and a massacre of Jews in Iraq; collaborating with Hitler; gathering intelligence for the Germans; recruiting Muslim army units for the German army and SS; preparing a Middle East Holocaust against the Jews; promoting pro-Axis revolts in Egypt and elsewhere; and conducting pro-Nazi propaganda by every means at his disposal.”16
Any discussion of Amin al-Husseini’s ideological collaboration must also point out his remarkable claim that Nazism and Islam have a basic affinity. Examples of such shared values are the “Führer Principle,” discipline, and obedience which, according to him, find clear expression in the Koran.17 Rubin and Schwanitz observe that “… Islamists did not need to take ideas from German Nazis or Italian fascists. As al-Husaini had argued in the 1930s and 1940s, they had a parallel yet symbiotic world view, drawn from their own societies’ political traditions, history, and religion.”18 Such views clearly indicate that the Mufti’s commitment to the principles of National Socialism represented a form of unconditional ideological collaboration.
One should not overlook the essential fact that this ideological collaboration was reciprocal. The Nazi elite had a special respect and great admiration for Islam. Although these views have been documented, they have not yet been placed in context. In his recently published study, Islam and Germany’s War, David Motadel describes the admiration of the Nazi elite for Islam, an admiration which frequently predicated the rejection of Christianity. According to Motadel, who cites the scholarship of Peter Longerich, “The man who was perhaps most fascinated with the Muslim faith and enthusiastic about what he believed to be an affinity between National Socialism and Islam, was Himmler.”19 Himmler’s doctor, Felix Kersten, wrote an entire chapter on his patient’s “Enthusiasm for Islam,” which was excluded from the English translation. According to Kersten, “Himmler saw Islam as a masculine, soldierly religion.”20
Collaboration also had a material dimension, namely financial support. In the 1950s, John Roy Carlson, an investigative journalist, published an accounting of the payments which Nazi Germany transferred to Amin al-Husseini and his entourage. According to Document NG-5461 of the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Nuremberg, the Mufti received a monthly salary of 66,850 Reichmarks and a yearly salary of RM 802,200. The rate of exchange at the time was two and a half RM to the Dollar. His salary was intended to cover “rents, personal upkeep, wages salaries (residences in Berlin; houses I, II, III, IV; Hotel Adlon; Hotel Zittau; the Jewish Institute, Klopstockstrasse).” Beyond this, the total annual cost of his whole entourage was RM 4,993,860.21 Citing recent scholarship, Jeffrey Herf placed the Mufti’s salary at 90,000 Reichmarks.22 Herf observed: “A monthly salary of 90,000 Reichmarks was paid only to the very wealthiest persons in the German economy. It was designed to support both Husseini’s luxurious lifestyle as well as his considerable political entourage.”23 These great sums indicate that Nazi Germany was making a major financial investment in the Mufti and this fact provides quantifiable evidence of a major partnership based on unconditional collaboration.
Why the Himmler Telegram Matters
What conclusions may be drawn from this discussion? Using open sources, particularly the Himmler telegram and the proceedings of this rally, it is clear beyond a doubt that Nazi Germany and Amin al-Husseini were bound by an effective alliance, which had its ideological, financial, political and military dimensions. Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarian regimes applies in this case. Both sides proclaimed their real intentions. Therefore, these public statements must be given full weight as evidence. They constitute a primary source of the first order.
The arguments and accusations of Amin al-Husseini endure to the present. For example, Ahmed Shukairy (1908-1980), who was an aide of the Mufti and the first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, drafted the Palestinian Covenant (1964). In this document, he articulated the Palestinian Arab rejection of the Balfour Declaration and of Jewish nationhood. (Shukairy also wrote a short book, Liberation – Not Negotiation, which set forth the credo of Palestinian intransigence,24 and he was the father of the “apartheid” slander against Israel.)25 The following is a direct quotation from Article 20 of the Palestinian Covenant:
The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine and everything that has been based on them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitute statehood. Judaism being a divine religion is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own: they are the citizens of the state to which they belong.26
More recently, on the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian Authority has engaged in a large-scale campaign against the Balfour Declaration.27 One may find the same rejection of Jewish nationhood in the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and in the recent UNESCO resolution denying any historical Jewish connection with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.28 This consistent world-view is reflected in Mahmoud Abbas’ contemptuous words of April 4, 2009, addressed to the Preparatory Council of the Palestinian Youth Parliament:
The Jewish state. What is a Jewish state? We say, ‘The State of Israel.’ You may call yourselves whatever you want…. But I shall not accept it…. It is not my job … to give a definition to the state and what is in it. Call yourselves [he stammers] the ‘Zionist-Hebrew-National-Socialist-Republic,’ call it whatever you wish! I do not care! [Applause]29
Beyond the discussion of Himmler’s telegram to Amin al-Husseini, the basic challenge of honest history-writing is to place the greater problem of Amin al-Husseini’s partnership with Nazi Germany on the agenda. As of the present, one would look in vain for mention of the Mufti in school textbooks or in museums commemorating the Holocaust, both in Israel and abroad. To use the expression of Walter Lacqueur, this subject represents “inconvenient information.” It is inconvenient for many because of its direct connection with the present. Not the least, it is part of the larger problem of Islamic antisemitism, a subject which, until recently, mainstream thinkers and media carefully avoided. The world is not ready to face this sensitive subject, and there are vested interests which have endeavored to conceal and obfuscate the subject.
The great French historian, Marc Bloch, who died in the Resistance, was correct when he wrote, “Misunderstanding of the present is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past.”30 In Israel, a group of the elite once argued that forgetting history is necessary in order to advance the cause of peace and understanding with the Palestinian Arabs. On the merits of the issue, it is unsound to argue that there is a virtue in preserving blank spots in our national history. All subjects should be legitimate for study, research, and discussion. The public good will not be served by stifling the frank political discussion of issues of vital importance to the present. The reality is that if we leave large gaps in the writing of our own history, others will fill them with their own counterfeit narrative. Bitter experience has shown that Israeli leaders who have denigrated the study of the past and blacked out the historical record have deluded themselves and misled the public. Although some have tried to escape into the future, it is not possible to build the future without a clear awareness of the past. For this reason it is necessary to grasp and confront the full significance of Himmler’s pledge to Amin al-Husseini, which the latter happily accepted.
* * *
* The author wishes to thank the following persons for their kind help: Mr. Chen Malul, Contributing Editor of the blog of the National Library of Israel; Dr. Dafne Mach, for help in translating the German texts; Prof. Johannes Houwink ten Cate of the University of Amsterdam, and Dr. Matthias Keuntzel of Hamburg, for their suggestions.
1 “Exposed: SS Commander Heinrich Himmler’s Warm Wishes to Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini,” http://web.nli.org.il/sites/NLI/English/library/reading_corner/Pages/Himmler.aspx, last accessed April 12, 2017. The title which Himmler used was, “Reichsführer SS,” as per his telegram.
2 National Library of Israel: http://primo.nli.org.il/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=NLI&docId=NNL_ARCHIVE_AL003531299
3 “Exposed: SS Commander Heinrich Himmler’s Warm Wishes to Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini,” Blog of the Israel National Library cited above.
4 Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version and Other Middle-Eastern Studies (Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press, reprint of 1970 edition), 67.
5 Johannes Houwink ten Cate has explained how the meaning of the term, “Greater Germany” or Grossdeutschland, evolved. “Obviously, Himmler agreed with Hitler that the major objectives of the war were the conquest of living space (Lebensraum) in the East and the extension of the “grossdeutschen” to a “germanischen” (Germanic) or “grossgermanischen” (Great Germanic) empire that would form a supra-national community of the Germanic race. This new Germany would include other Germanic peoples such as the Dutch and the Norwegians. Himmler considered that only his SS was capable of conquering and ruling the East and winning the Germanic peoples over to the idea of their annexation by Germany.” Johannes Houwink ten Cate, “Collaboration with the Third Reich: The Wider Historical Debate and the Role of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem,” Jewish Political Studies Review, 26, 3-4 (Fall 2014), 102. (Ten Cate also refers to: Bernd Wegner, Hitlers politische Soldaten: Die Waffen SS 1933-1945: Leitbild, Struktur und Function einer nationalsocialisten Elite [Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoeningh Verlag, 1990], 295.)
6 Himmler Telegram, Israel National Library. http://primo.nli.org.il/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=NLI&docId=NNL_ARCHIVE_AL003531299
7 “REDE S. Em. [Sein Eminenz] DES GROSSMUFTI anlaeslich der PROTEST KUNDGEBUNG gegen die Balfour-Erklaekung am 2. November 1943,” Berlin: Islamisches Zentral-Institut, 1943. PAAA (Political Archive of the German Foreign Ministry, Berlin) R27327, Grossmufti, 1942-1944, 297878-86, as quoted by: Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Yale: New Haven & London, 2009), 185 and 298n.
8 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Meridian Books, 1969), 378.
9 Maurice [Moshe] Pearlman, Mufti of Jerusalem: The Story of Haj Amin el Husseini (London: Gollancz, 1947).
10 Ibid., 49.
11 Fritz Konrad Ferdinand Grobba (1886 – 1973), Foreign Ministry Plenipotentiary for the Arab States.
12 “Rede zum Jahrestag der Balfour-Erklaerung, 2.11. 1943,“ in: Gerhard Hoepp ed., Mufti-Papiere (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 2004), 197, 198.
13 The position of the Palestinian Authority which categorically refuses to recognize Israel as the Jewish state closely corresponds with this statement.
14 Werner Rings, Life with the Enemy: Collaboration and Resistance in Hitler’s Europe, 1939-1945 (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1982), as cited by Johannes Houwink ten Cate, Jewish Political Studies Review, 26, 3-4 (Fall 2014), 96.
15 Ibid., 103.
16 Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New Haven: Yale, 2014), 194.
17 Ibid., 182-83, and Hoepp, Mufti-Papiere, “Rede vor den Imamen der bosnischen SS-Division, 4.10. 1944,” 219-22.
18 Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 253.
19 Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler: A Life (Oxford, 2011), 267 and 677, as quoted by: David Motadel, 60.
20 Felix Kersten, Totenkopf und Treue: Heinrich Himmler ohne Uniform (Hamburg, 1952), 203, as quoted by Motadel, 61.
21 Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, Nuremberg, Document NG-5461 [Affidavit by Carl Rekowski, Bremen, 05.10.1947] as quoted by John Roy Carlson [Avedis Boghos Derounian], Cairo to Damascus (New York: Knopf, 1951), 420-421.
22 David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, 43-44, as cited by: Jeffrey Herf, “The Historical Problem of Haj Amin al-Husseini, “Grand Mufti” of Jerusalem,” Jewish Political Studies Review, 26, 3-4 (Fall 2014), 28. David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War (Cambridge: Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014), 60 ff.
23 Herf, “The Historical Problem of Haj Amin al-Husseini, “Grand Mufti” of Jerusalem,” 28.
24 Ahmad Shukairy, Liberation – Not Negotiation (Beirut: Research Centre – PLO, 1966); Robert Wistrich, Between Redemption and Perdition: Modern Antisemitism and Jewish Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 218.
26 The Palestinian Covenant and its Meaning, ed. and trans. Y. Harkabi (London: Valentine Mitchell, 1979), 78.
27 See: Alex Joffe, “Palestinians and the Balfour Declaration at 100: Resisting the Past,” BESA Center Perspectives Paper, No. 433 (March 26, 2017), https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/palestinians-balfour-declaration-100-resisting-past/.
28 Decision: 39 COM 7A.27, “Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (site proposed by Jordan) (C 148 rev), http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6243/.
29 Abu Mazen [Mahmud Abbas], “I Reject Israel as a Jewish State,” PMW Videos, posted April 30, 2009, http:// www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=2ilLeENaxK4, as quoted by: Kobi Michael and Joel Fishman, “Building the Positive Peace: The Urgent need to Bring the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Back to Basics,” Jewish Political Studies Review 24, 3 – 4 (Fall 2012), 13, https://jcpa.org/article/building-the-positive-peace-the-urgent-need-to-bring-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict-back-to-basics/
30 Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft, trans. Peter Putnam, intro. Joseph R. Strayer (New York: Vintage Books, 1953 [reprinted]), 43.