The remarks of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem about the role of the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the Holocaust have engendered a massive, and mostly critical response. It is important to define in more precise terms the role of the Mufti in those tragic days.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was incorrect in asserting in his speech that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, gave Hitler the idea of annihilating the Jews of Europe during World War II. “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” said Netanyahu, stating that the Mufti protested to Hitler that “they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine. “‘So what shall I do with them?’” Prime Minister Netanyahu quoted Hitler as asking al-Husseini. “He said, ‘Burn them.”
The problem with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement, as several Israeli historians and politicians have pointed out, is that there is no documented evidence that such a conversation between the Mufti of Jerusalem and Hitler ever took place. The Nazi plans for the extermination of the Jews, predated Haj Amin al-Husseini’s arrival in Berlin and his meeting with Hitler on November 28, 1941. While Haj Amin al-Husseini would play a prominent role in encouraging and accelerating the Final Solution, there is no historical evidence that the Mufti had any part in the initial Nazi decision to exterminate the Jews. Even Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s defense minister and a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, questioned the historical accuracy of the Prime Minister’s statement, saying in a radio interview that, “history is actually very, very clear. Hitler initiated it. Haj Amin al-Husseini joined him.” Yet, Prime Minister Netanyahu was correct in focusing renewed attention on the role and complicity of Haj Amin al-Husseini in the extermination of the Jews.
There is no doubt that Hitler was intent on the extermination of the Jews throughout his years in politics. From his earliest speeches in the 1920s to his infamous address to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Hitler made no secret of his ultimate goal, the extermination of the Jews. It is also true that Haj Amin al Husseini was a notorious anti-Semite, infamous for his maniacal Jew-hatred, for many years before he met Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1941. As one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the predecessor of Hamas, the Mufti was instrumental in inciting the pogrom-like anti-Jewish Arab Palestinian riots of 1920 and 1929, as well as the Arab Revolt or Intifada of 1936, resulting in the murder of hundreds of Palestine’s Jews. Throughout World War II he was an active collaborator in the murder of the Jews of Europe. Had Hitler’s General Erwin Rommel won the battle of El Alamein in Egypt in 1942, and had the Nazi armies subsequently gone on to conquer Palestine and the rest of the Middle East as Hitler hoped would happen, there is little doubt that the Mufti would have played a central role in exterminating the 450,000 Jews that were then living in Palestine.
Recent revelations have documented that the German government had specific plans, formulated in 1942, to build death camps, modeled after Auschwitz, in Tel Aviv and Jaffa in what they hoped to be "liberated Palestine". SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Walther Rauff, one of Adolf Eichmann’s most trusted deputies, was assigned the task of implementing the plans for the death camps following the hoped-for German conquest of Palestine. Only the defeat of General Rommel’s German army at El Alamein, one of the decisive military engagements of World War II, prevented these plans from being implemented.
When the Mufti arrived in Berlin in November 1941 the Nazi plans for the annihilation of the Jews, contrary to what Netanyahu has asserted, had already been formulated without Haj Amin al-Husseini’s previous advice or inspiration. Did, however, the Mufti subsequently encourage and actively participate in the extermination of the Jews? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
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This morning at 10:00 a.m., in Israel, all activity came to a halt as sirens sounded, and Israelis stood for two minutes with heads bowed in memory of the 6 million Jews, one third of the Jewish people, who perished in the Holocaust. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Yad Vashem in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here are excerpts from his remarks:
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