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October 23, 2015 12:05 pm

The Mufti and the Holocaust, Revisited

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, meets with Adolf Hitler in 1941. Photo: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons.

The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, meets with Adolf Hitler in 1941. Photo: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons. – If a man was a Jew, it was good enough for him to be killed or stamped out,” wrote a senior British official serving abroad to his superiors in London in 1929.

From where was this gentleman—Major Alan Saunders—writing his dispatch? From Munich or Berlin or any of the other German cities where Hitler’s Nazi Party was gaining supporters and street thugs? In fact, no. Major Saunders was the head of the British Police in Palestine during the mandate period, and his statement concerned the massacre by Arabs, in August 1929, of 69 Jews in Hebron, a city where their community had been a consistent presence for at least two millennia.

I was reminded of Major Saunders’s pithy summary of the motive behind the Hebron pogrom when news broke of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, in which he essentially argued that it was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who crystallized the idea of the mass extermination of the Jews in Adolf Hitler’s mind. But before I talk about the controversy that followed these comments, I want to make a couple of more general observations by way of introduction.

The first is that while Hitler unarguably remains the most powerful and devastating anti-Semite to ever hold state power, he was far from the only one at that time to approach the “Jewish question” in exterminationist terms. As Major Saunders related from faraway Palestine, about an episode that presaged the Nazi atrocities that were to follow in Germany and then in occupied Europe and North Africa, the same hatred of Jews simply for being Jews was in painful evidence there. For there were thousands, even millions, of ordinary people in Europe and the Middle East who regarded the Jews as a social and religious poison and wanted them—all of them—dead. In that sense, the Fuhrer was their representative and their master.

The second is that, as an Israeli Jew, Netanyahu is naturally sensitive to the Palestinian Arab dimension of the broader issue of collaboration with the Nazis, something I can relate to. As a kid, I remember sitting around my grandfather’s table with his relatives from Bosnia—men with sad eyes and the muscles and paunches of retired boxers, who had spent their youths in the Socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement, graduating to fight with Marshal Tito’s communist partisans against the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia that began in 1941. Men who, I realized with awe, had actually killed some of these Nazis that I’d seen in the movies.

And yet, when they spoke about the war, their anger really flowed when they remembered the locals who had assisted the Germans. Like Netanyahu now, what they found hardest to stomach was the spectacle of those non-Jews who lived alongside them collaborating with the Nazi extermination program.

In the pantheon of Nazi collaborators, Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini is right up there with Pavelic in Croatia, Petain in France, Horthy in Hungary, and all the other quislings—their name comes from the collaborationist leader in Norway, Vidkun Quisling—who implemented Hitler’s will. It was, ironically, the British authorities who appointed him to his position in 1921. During the 1929 massacre in Hebron, as during the openly anti-Semitic 1936-39 Arab revolt in Palestine, al-Husseini proved himself a confirmed Jew-hater and the natural ally of Hitler in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

It wasn’t until November 1941 that the Mufti met Hitler in person. Significantly, in the view of many historians, that encounter in Berlin took place two months before the Wannsee conference, where leading Nazis led by Hitler’s security chief, Reinhard Heydrich, plotted the implementation of the “Final Solution”—the extermination of the Jews.

In the official German record of their discussions (not an exact transcript, but a summary of what was said), it was clear that both Hitler and the Mufti were already in agreement that the Holocaust had to be visited upon the Jews. For his part, the Mufti expressed his appreciation of Germany’s commitment to the “elimination of the Jewish national home,” while Hitler restated his “active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine, which was nothing other than a center, in the form of a state, for the exercise of destructive influence by Jewish interests.”

For good measure, the Fuhrer added that “Germany was also aware that the assertion that the Jews were carrying out the functions of economic pioneers in Palestine was a lie. The work there was done only by the Arabs, not by the Jews”—a slander that could easily be expressed in the exact same words by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets the “Jewish national home” in our own time.

That last point highlights a critical factor which the furore around Netanyahu’s speech—much of it generated by visceral opponents of Israel who only talk about the Holocaust when it justifies their backing of Palestinian violence against Jews now—has largely missed.

During the 1930s, both Germany and Palestine were the sites of mob violence, boycotts, and discriminatory laws and regulations against Jews. The Nazi consolidation of power in the 1930s was what enabled them to launch their campaign of war and genocide at the end of that decade.

Had Palestine been conquered by the Germans from the British, there is no doubt that the Mufti would have been installed as the local quisling, and that the entire Jewish population would have been shipped to concentration and death camps in Europe—assuming that the Germans and their Arab militias didn’t build similar camps in the vicinity, of course. That was the mutual vision expressed in Berlin in 1941, the distinctly Arab contribution to the achievement of the “Thousand Year Reich.”

As the German historian Matthias Kuentzel has noted, the 700,000 Jews in the Middle East were in Hitler’s sights when he received the Mufti.

“As Hitler envisaged it, after the assault on the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht would also occupy the Caucasus and so open the way to the Middle East…Part of this scenario was the killing of the Jews,” Kuentzel writes. Even though this grand ambition failed, the Mufti was still able, as the prominent Israeli Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer put it, to be “an active partner in devising the Final Solution.” The Mufti also played a role in its implementation, raising three SS divisions composed of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims in the western Balkans.

Nor did the Mufti forget Palestine. The Israeli scholar Edy Cohen has revealed how, in May 1943, he blocked a deal agreed to by the British and the Germans to allow 4,000 Jewish children to enter Palestine in exchange for 20,000 German prisoners of war, while in 1944, he parachuted a terror cell  into Tel Aviv with the intention of poisoning the local water supply.

The Mufti, disgracefully, escaped the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi war criminals, and ended his days in Beirut in 1974. His legacy survives in the daily incitement against Jews that emanates from Palestinian official and social media. So, when considering the latest Netanyahu controversy, please remember this: Those Holocaust scholars who criticized Netanyahu’s speech nonetheless recognize the fundamental, bitter fact of Palestinian anti-Semitism and the Mufti’s position in fomenting it. It is the Palestinian leadership and their supporters—who have neither offered an apology nor reparations for the Mufti’s crimes against the Jews—who don’t.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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  • Michal

    It’s a bit surprising that no mention has been made here about the (supposed?) fact that the even early on the mufti Al-Husseini was an ottoman military officer who was described as ruthless and who participated in the armenian genocide, which Hitler modeled part of the holocaust on, maybe including the use of train transports to concentration death camps. Don’t recall and can’t yet find where i read this.

  • .


    Legacy of the Mufti and Hitler: The facts that are known.

    By: David Bedein & Rabbi Dr.Bernhard Rosenberg

    [Following the surprise that greeted the statement of the Prime Minister of Israel that the Mufti of Jerusalem inspired Hitler to initiate the “final solution” to murder the Jews of Europe, the time has come to clear the air and state the facts as we know them. The following article is excerpted from a paper that I delivered at an Israel Knesset Forum on Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2012]

    The titular leader of the Palestinian Arab community in the previous generation: Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, forged a pact with Adolf Hitler on November 28, 1941, one week before the Wannasee conference, originally scheduled for December 9, 1941, yet was postponed by one month, due to the attack on Pearl Harbor only two days before, and one day before Hitler declared war on the US, on December 10, 1941.

    The protocols of the Hitler -Mufti pact were presented as evidence against the Mufti in the Nuremberg war crimes trials, explicitly state that Hitler would exterminate the Jews in Europe, while the Mufti would enlist Nazi aid to exterminate Jews in Palestine, so as to establish a “JudenRein” state of Palestine.

    To that end, the Mufti ensconced himself in Hitler’s bunker, from where he recruited an Islamic unit of the Waffen SS, which actively engaged in the mass murder of Jews, while issuing Arabic language appeals on Nazi radio which incited Moslems to join the Nazi cause and to prepare for mass murder of Jews in Palestine.

    The Protocols of the Nuremberg conviction of the Mufti were published in the 1946 book, MUFTI OF JERUSALEM, authored by Journalist Maurice Pearlman, who was appointed in 1948 as the first director of the Israel Government Press Office.

    Pearlman cited affidavits of senior SS prosecution witnesses who testified that the Mufti, working directly under Eichmann and Himmler, identified the Mufti’s instrumental role in making sure that millions of Jews were murdered, and not ransomed.

    No one denies the Mufti’s Arabic language radio broadcasts, his recruitment of the Islamic SS unit, and his active involvement in SS round ups of Jews in Yugosolvia.

    And there is no doubt that Mufti was aware of the Final Solution, fully supported it, and sought to extend it to the Arab world

    The affidavit of one of Eichmann’s subordinates, SS Hampsturmfuerer Dieter Wisliceny, who appeared as a witness for the Nuremberg prosecution, speaks for itself:

    The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry for the Germans and had been the permanent collaborator and advisor of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of the plan…According to my opinion, the Grand Mufti, who had been in Berlin since 1941, played a role in the decision of the German government to exterminate the European Jews, the importance of which must not be disregarded, He had repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with who had been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution of the Palestinian problem. In his messages broadcast from Berlin, he surpassed us in anti-Jewish attacks. He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures…

    In 1961, when Eichmann was brought to justice in Jerusalem, Israel’s then foreign minister,, Golda Meir, called for the Mossad to apprehend the Mufti and to sit him alongside Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem

    Maurice Pearlman traces the Mufti’s escape to Cairo, where Pearlman reported how the Mufti influenced the newly formed Arab League to spawn the charter of the Arab League, with an explicit statement that its purpose was to wipe out any Zionist entity that would soon come about.

    Indeed, the Mufti inspired charter of the Arab League would soon form the basis of the Arab league declaration of war to destroy the nascent state of Israel in 1948.

    The refusal of the UK to arrest the Mufti in Cairo, described by Pearlman, caused the head of the Zionist revisionists in the United States at the time, Ben Zion Netanyahu, father of Israel’s current Prime Minister, to launch an unsuccessful campaign to push the US to demand the arrest of the Mufti in Cairo.

    A little known fact concerns the Mufti’s special relationship with a young relative in Cairo, who to the Mufti would affectionately give the name “Yassir Arafat”. In December 1996, Haaretz interviewed Yassir Arafat’s younger brother and sister, who said that the Mufti performed the role of a surrogate father figure and mentor to the young Arafat.

    The failure of the Arab League, in 1948, to mobilize the Arabs of Palestine into an active war against the newly formed Jewish state led the Mufti to urge the Arab League, in 1964, to launch the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose stated covenant of purpose was almost identical in language to the charter of the Arab League: to exterminate new state of Israel. Yet the focus of the PLO was to organize Arabs who remained in Israel along with the Arab refugees who languished in UNRWA refugee camps to organize an effective grass roots effort to liberate Palestine, all of Palestine, from Jewish rule.

    Today, the new curriculum of the Palestinian Authority is imbued with the legacy of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, whose vision of a Jew-free Palestine is taught in every educational institution of the Palestinian Authority, together with the armed struggle to liberate Palestine, as an ideal for Palestinian Arab students.

    On January 4, 2013, Mahmoud Abbas, spoke glowingly of the legacy of the Godfather of the PLO, the Mufti of Jerusalem, via video link on a wide screen to the masses in Gaza, who gathered to celebrate the founding of Fatah (Arabic word for “conquest”), otherwise known as the Palestine Liberation Organization.
    Abbas praised the Mufti as a man whose ways should be emulated by all Palestinian Arabs. “We must remember the pioneers, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Hajj Muhammad Amin Al-Husseini, as well as Ahmad Al-Shukeiri, the founder of the PLO,” Abbas said, according to a translation of the speech made by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
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  • David Goshen

    It shoud be recalled that Hajj Amin Al Husseini had prior to his flight to Hitler of Nazi Germany tried to launch 2 unsuccessful Holicasts one in Iraq and in Iran.He was being purseued by the British as a war criminal.He escaped by assistance he received from the Italian Embacies allies of Hitler.He was actively involved in the execution of the Holicast by visiting concentration camps and enlisting Mulims to special units of the Nazi SS and can certainly be recognized as a war criminal.His main concern was that Jews being allowed to leave Germany by Hitler should not get to Palestine,and that was his plea to Hitler.

  • jak40

    Mossad did nothing about him…As He was Actually more poisonous than a poor Mechanic like Eichmann in Buenos Aires…
    Just Political Narcissism and “POLICIES” with so called Allies?(Brits, US and French?) and nothing really Serious against the Biggest Question of Arabs’ strategy!
    The Mufti and his followers have the Advantage now, so far!

  • swilmet

    I have read that Arafat was the nephew of this Mufti.

  • steven L

    Now the Mufti is in HELL!

  • Fred

    Most scholars who objected to the criticism of the Mufti must be sitting on the toilet seat pondering. One has to go back and read the 1941 German Papers to see the actuality off the claim. One should add the anti Jewish behaviour of the goodie, goodie British who added their own virulent anti Semitic support to the Arabs by withdrawing protection whilst Jews were murdered Major Alan Saunders wasn’t wrong expressing the British policy.

  • Scotty

    Why do American Jews support #1 Jew Hater, Obama?

  • While the Mufti may not have met Hitler until November 1941, from the moment he arrived in Berlin in 1938 he had innumerable meetings with Ribbentrop, Himmler and many other high ranking Nazi officials. At these meetings he constantly entreated the Nazi leadership to exterminate European Jewry. This course of conduct by the Mufti was confirmed under oath at Nuremberg by SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dieter Wisliceny, a close associate of Adolf Eichmann. Is it a coincidence that after four years of these murderous entreaties the Final Solution was crafted in January 20, 1942? SS Hauptsurmfuehrer Wisliceny did not think so and so testified at Nuremberg.

  • joe
  • The Mufti was a real Jewhater . Hitler admirer. Love to see Jews to die. He didn’t let any Jew entern to that time called Palestine. He pressured the Brits . What alls anybody can say ? He was a bloody murderer. Opportunities . Yes one more thing I can say the stupid Jews made him a Mufti. We was always stupid who wants to please other people even if they against us. Want to show we are Humans. I think that’s enough . King David wasn’t such a timid fellow. It’s time for Israel to see clearly U not going anywhere with the goody goody behavior.

  • Thank you Mr Cohen. I really enjoyed reading your article. It was excellent journalism and a good history lesson for myself. I have read many books on the Holocaust however this part of history was unknown to me. Being British I was appalled to read the comment made by Major Alan Saunders. What a terrible thing to say. We must never forget the Holocaust and all who perished in those dark times. And long may Israel flourish and be a safe haven for Jews.

  • Concerned Historian

    The central issue which Mr Cohen is ignoring is that however abhorrent the Mufti’s views and rhetoric regarding Jews may have been, Mr Netanyahu’s comments were simply wrong. There is no way that the plan for the “Final Solution” was an idea transmitted to Hitler by the Mufti. The language of annihilation and genocide long pre-dated the November 1941 meeting.

    This brings us to the most problematic part of Mr Cohen’s article:

    “Significantly, in the view of many historians, that encounter in Berlin took place two months before the Wannsee conference, where leading Nazis led by Hitler’s security chief, Reinhard Heydrich, plotted the implementation of the “Final Solution”—the extermination of the Jews.”

    This is simply false and suggests that Mr Cohen is rather ignorant of the relevant historiography (if he wishes, I can suggest a bibliography so that he can engage in some remedial reading). First, historians have long been aware that the targeted mass killings of Jews and Gypsies had been on-going on the eastern front by Mobile Killing Units since the summer of 1941. Indeed, from July 1941 Jews were classified as ‘partisans’ and murdered. Heydrich had, in the same month, been ordered by Goering to organise the ‘total solution of the Jewish question’. All of this predated the meeting between the Mufti and Hitler and historians are well aware of this. There is a huge preponderance of other evidence I could suggest, all well documented by historians.

    • Robert Weintraub

      What difference does it make whether Hitler or the Mufti said whatever first or second? the important fact is that both were responsible for killing Jews everywhere they found them Next in importance is that the Mufti is an honored figure today among Palestinians

    • Please respond to Mr. Sherman’s comment. Are you sure the Mufti (may his name be blotted out) did not lobby Nazi leaders to move toward a policy of genocide during the years (not weeks) preceding the Wanssee Conference?