Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East


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Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Barry Rubin, Wolfgang G. Schwanitz

During the 1930s and 1940s, a unique and lasting political alliance was forged among Third Reich leaders, Arab nationalists, and Muslim religious authorities. From this relationship sprang a series of dramatic events that, despite their profound impact on the course of World War II, remained secret until now. In this groundbreaking book, esteemed Middle East scholars Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz uncover for the first time the complete story of this dangerous alliance and explore its continuing impact on Arab politics in the twenty-first century.

Rubin and Schwanitz reveal, for example, the full scope of Palestinian leader Amin al-Husaini’s support of Hitler’s genocidal plans against European and Middle Eastern Jews. In addition, they expose the extent of Germany’s long-term promotion of Islamism and jihad. Drawing on unprecedented research in European, American, and Middle East archives, many recently opened and never before written about, the authors offer new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300140903
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 02/25/2014
Pages: 360
Sales rank: 1,297,642
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center of the Interdisciplinary Center, Israel. He is the author of many books and publishes frequently on Middle East topics. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. Middle East historian Wolfgang G. Schwanitz is visiting professor at the Global Research in International Affairs Center of the Interdisciplinary Center, Israel, and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum of Pennsylvania. He lives in New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East



Copyright © 2014 Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-14090-3


From Station Z to Jerusalem

It began as another normal summer day in June 1942 at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin, the place where SS trainees were taken to see how the Master Race's captive enemies should be treated. Three barracks in a separate section housed Jewish prisoners, mainly Polish citizens or men deported from Berlin. On that particular day, a squad of shouting guards ordered the Jewish prisoners of Barrack 38 to line up for four special visitors participating in an SS tour.

As a model SS facility Sachsenhausen was run with the utmost efficiency and discretion. Whenever a prisoner was murdered or died, the nearby town's officials filled out a routine death certificate, as if his passage from life had been an ordinary one. Only the wafting smell of death from the cremation chimneys suggested otherwise. Yet this visit was handled with even greater care. Fritz Grobba, the Nazi regime's chief Middle East expert and liaison with its Arab allies, emphasized the event's importance. Everything must be perfect. So seriously did the Reich's leadership take this occasion that SS chief Heinrich Himm ler personally drove to Sachsenhausen beforehand and took the planned tour himself.

The timing was carefully selected. In May, just one month earlier, the Germans had begun a new project in Sachsenhausen that they wanted to show off to their allies. It was codenamed Station Z. The choice of the letter "Z," the alphabet's last letter, was to symbolize that this place would mark the end of the road for Jews, not only in Sachsenhausen but throughout Europe.

For years, the Nazis had experimented with the best method for exterminating Jews and others. Starting with individual hangings, they moved on to shooting people in groups, more efficient but still slow. The breakthrough in mass producing death came in 1941 with the development of camouflaged gas chambers. These had just been installed at Sachsenhausen along with four new crematoria to speed up disposal of corpses. In May, Himmler ordered the killing of 250 Jews in the camp as a test run. The system worked flawlessly.

And so, in June 1941, four special Arab guests visited the prototype for future death camps. Their interest had a very practical purpose. One day, they planned to create their own Station Z's in the Middle East near Tunis, Baghdad, and Jericho to eliminate all the Jews in the region.

That goal had been set in a January 1941 letter that Amin al-Husaini, the Palestine Arab political and religious leader, sent German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Al-Husaini asked Hitler to help Arabs solve the Jewish question in their lands the way it was being done in Germany. To succeed they must learn the Nazis' techniques and obtain their technology.

This was why four officials from Germany's Arab allies were at Sachsenhausen in June 1942, preparing for the day they would return home behind Hitler's army. One interpretation of the documents has been that they were all aides, one of al-Husaini and three working for Germany's other main Arab ally, Rashid Ali al-Kailani, Iraq's former ruler who had been overthrown by a British invasion the previous year and fled to Berlin. The delegation's Palestinian Arab member would have been either al-Husaini's security adviser, Safwat al-Husaini, or another nephew, Musa al-Husaini, who handled propaganda and agitation.

Another interpretation, however, is more dramatic: the four visitors might have included Germany's two main Arab allies in person—al-Husaini and al-Kailani—each with one aide. The evidence points to at least al-Kailani's personal presence. Grobba had written, "There shouldn't be concerns about the participation of al-Kailani himself in this inspection." Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Martin Luther asked "Why al-Kailani and his entourage had visited that camp." The visitors most likely, then, included al-Kailani, an Iraqi and a Palestinian Arab whom their bosses had assigned to the SS course, along with either a second Iraqi assistant or, less probably, al-Husaini himself.

Whether or not he personally visited the death camp on that occasion, the grand mufti emerged as Nazi Germany's main Arab and Muslim ally. He and his entourage had first fled British arrest for stirring a bloody revolt in Palestine, and had then—after a stay as al-Kailani's guest in Baghdad—fled to Germany ahead of the British army. On November 28, 1941, Hitler gave al-Husaini a long audience as a mark of special favor, during which they agreed to cooperate in committing genocide against the Jews.

The path leading to that moment started in 1871, when Prussia led neighboring states into the creation of a united Germany. Arab intellectuals later saw this as a model for doing the same thing. Before World War I, Germany's monarch, the kaiser portrayed himself as patron of Muslims and Arabs. During the war, Germany fomented a jihad to encourage Muslims to fight on its side.

After the war, the thinking of Hitler and al-Husaini had developed along parallel lines. Both the grand mufti and Hitler developed the idea that only exterminating the Jews would let them achieve their goals. The two men each sought allies with a similar worldview. When Hitler became Germany's chancellor in 1933, the grand mufti visited the German consulate in Jerusalem to offer cooperation. That same year, Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf, was serialized in Arab news papers and became a best-selling book.

Nazi Germany and its ideology became popular among Arabs for many reasons. They, too, saw themselves as a weak, defeated, and humiliated people, much like the Germans after World War I. Germany was also an enemy of Britain (which ruled Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq); France (which ruled North Africa, Lebanon, and Syria); and the USSR (which had large Muslim-populated areas).

In addition, many Arabs hoped to copy Nazi Germany's seemingly magic formula for quickly becoming strong and victorious by having a powerful government mobilizing the masses by passionate patriotism, militant ideology, and hatred of scapegoats. That fascist Italy offered the same model reinforced the idea.

The grand mufti later wrote that many Arabs proclaimed, "Thank goodness, al-Hajj Muhammad Hitler has come." The regimes that would later rule Iraq for forty years, Syria for fifty years, and Egypt for sixty years were all established by groups and leaders who had been Nazi sympathizers.

The alliance between these two forces was logical. Al-Husaini's 1936–39 Palestinian Arab rebellion received weapons from Berlin and money from Rome. In 1937, he urged Muslims to kill all the Jews living in Muslim lands, calling them "scum and germs." But al-Husaini's ambitions went further. He wanted German backing not only to wipe out the Jews in the Middle East but also to make him ruler over all Arabs. In exchange for Berlin's backing, he pledged to bring the Muslims and Arabs into an alliance with Germany; spread Nazi ideology; promote German trade; and "wage terror," in his own words, against the British and French.

The Nazis were eager for this partnership. They established special relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ba'th Party, the Young Egypt movement, and radical factions in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. Berlin also hoped to build links with the kings of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In 1939, for example, Hitler met Saudi King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud's envoy, Khalid al-Qarqani, telling him: "We view the Arabs with the warmest sympathy for three reasons. First, we do not pursue any territorial aspirations in Arab lands. Second, we have the same enemies. And third, we both fight against the Jews. I will not rest until the very last of them has left Germany."

Al-Qarqani agreed, saying that the prophet Muhammad had acted similarly in driving all the Jews out of Arabia. A Muslim could make no more flattering comparison. Hitler asked al-Qarqani to tell his king that Germany wanted an alliance and would arm both Saudi Arabia and al-Husaini's men.

But first, Hitler had to decide precisely how "the very last" of the Jews were to leave Germany. As late as 1941, Hitler thought this could happen, in the words of Hermann Göring in July, by "emigration or evacuation." Yet since other countries refused to take many or any Jewish refugees, Palestine was the only possible refuge, as designated by the League of Nations in 1922. If that last safe haven was closed, mass murder would be Hitler's only alternative.

The importance of the Arab-Muslim alliance for Berlin, along with the grand mufti's urging, ensured that outcome. And al-Husaini would be present at the critical moment Hitler chose it. In November 1941, al-Husaini arrived in Berlin to a reception showing the Germans saw him as future leader of all Arabs and Muslims, perhaps even reviver of the Islamic caliphate. He was housed in the luxurious Castle Bellevue, once home to Germany's crown prince and today the official residence of Germany's president.

Al-Husaini was paid for his personal and political needs an amount equivalent to about twelve million dollars a year in today's values. The funds were raised by selling gold seized from Jews sent to concentration camps. Following this pattern, al-Husaini requested and received as his office an expropriated Jewish apartment. His staff was housed in a half-dozen other houses provided by the Germans. In addition, al-Husaini was given a suite in Berlin's splendid Hotel Adlon and, for vacations, luxurious accommodations at the Hotel Zittau and Oybin Castle in Saxony.

On the German side, Grobba was his guide and handler; Ernst von Weizsäcker, a state secretary and SS general, his liaison with the Foreign Ministry. Von Weizsäcker preferred courting Turkey rather than the Arabs since it had a large army—thirty-six brigades easily expandable to fifty—while all Arab countries combined had just seven, and those mostly under British officers.

But Hitler had a higher opinion of the grand mufti's value. All his other Arab or Muslim partners had followers in just one country; al-Husaini had transnational influence. The grand mufti sought to prove himself worthy of these high expectations. At the Bellevue, he met not only Arab politicians but also exiled Muslim leaders from the USSR, India, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.

Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was impressed, telling alHusaini, "We have watched your fight for a long time. We have always admired you, fascinated by your dangerous adventures...." Von Ribbentrop assured al-Husaini of the Reich's support. The Germans accepted al-Husaini's claim that the Arab masses would rally to their side if Berlin guaranteed independence from British and French rule as well as stopping all Jewish immigration into Palestine. In March 1941, Berlin secretly promised to support Arab independence. In October, Berlin and Rome publicly announced that policy.

Among themselves, German officials called al-Husaini the most important Muslim cleric and leader of the Arabs in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Transjordan (today Jordan), Iraq, and elsewhere. Hitler called him the "principal actor of the Middle East, a realist, not a dreamer." A contemporary U.S. intelligence assessment agreed, claiming al-Husaini was seen throughout the Middle East as "the greatest leader of the Arab peoples now alive."

In recognition of this estimate, Hitler gave al-Husaini a ninety- minute meeting on November 28, 1941. Hitler's preparatory briefing, written by Grobba, stressed that al-Husaini was in tune with Germany's ideological and strategic interests. The red carpet was rolled out with the Nazi regime's considerable talent for dramatic pomp. The grand mufti stepped from his limousine to see a two-hundred-man honor guard and a band playing military music. Hitler greeted him warmly, "I am most familiar with your life."

His Arab guest returned the compliments, pleased to find Hitler not only a powerful speaker but also a patient listener. Al-Husaini thanked the German dictator for long supporting the Palestinian Arab cause. The Arabs, he asserted, were Germany's natural friends, believed it would win the war, and were ready to help. Al-Husaini explained his plan to Hitler. He would recruit an Arab Legion to fight for the Axis; Arab fighters would sabotage Allied facilities while Arab and Muslim leaders would foment revolts to tie up Allied troops and add territory and resources for the Axis.

Hitler accepted, saying the alliance would help his life-and-death struggle with the two citadels of Jewish power: Great Britain and Soviet Russia. At that moment, the Third Reich was at the height of its victories. German forces were advancing deep inside the Soviet Union and nearer its border with Iran. General Erwin Rommel was moving into Egypt and many Egyptians thought Cairo might soon fall. When the day of German victory came, Hitler continued, Germany would announce the Arabs' liberation. The grand mufti would become leader of most Arabs. All Jews in the Middle East would be killed. When alHusaini asked for a written agreement, Hitler replied that he had just given him his personal promise and that should be sufficient.

For al-Husaini, the meeting could not have gone better. Not only was the might of triumphant Germany, Europe's master, sponsoring the Arab cause, but the world's most powerful man was backing him personally. Hitler was also pleased. Afterward, he called al-Husaini "the principal actor in the Middle East," a sly fox, a realist, and—with his blond hair and blue eyes—an Aryan, too. And so Hitler forgave al-Husaini what the German leader called his sharp and mouse-like countenance.

Germany's certification of the grand mufti as its candidate to be Arab and Muslim leader was confirmed in a uniquely Nazi manner. The day after the meeting, the grand mufti went to see a physician, Dr. Pierre Schrumpf, whose thorough physical checkup lasted six hours. The doctor concluded that al-Husaini was no mere Arab but a Circassian, thus a Caucasian, and hence an Aryan. His pseudoscientific diagnosis rested on distinctively unphysical reasoning. An Arab could never have kept up the battle against the British and Jews, the doctor explained, but would have sold out to them. Al-Husaini's steadfastness proved he was an Aryan. And since he was an Aryan he would be a faithful ally for Nazi Germany.

But there was another consequence of the al-Husaini–Hitler meeting to cement their alliance. A few hours after seeing the grand mufti Hitler ordered invitations sent for a conference to be held at a villa on Lake Wannsee. The meeting's purpose was to plan the comprehensive extermination of all Europe's Jews.

Considerations of Muslim and Arab alliances, of course, were by no means the sole factor in a decision that grew from Hitler's own anti-Semitic obsession. But until that moment the German dictator had left open the chance that expulsion might be an alternative to extermination.

When Hitler first told Heydrich to find a "final solution," the dictator had included expelling the Jews as an option. Already, the regime estimated. It had let about 500,000 Jews leave Germany legally during seven years of Nazi rule. Yet if the remaining Jews could only go to Palestine, and since ending that immigration was al-Husaini's top priority, emigration or expulsion would sabotage the German-Arab alliance. Given the combination of the strategic situation and Hitler's personal views, choosing to kill the Jews and gain the Arab and Muslim assets necessary for his war effort was an easy decision.

Consequently, Hitler ordered the Wannsee Conference to devise a detailed plan for genocide. Since this decision was linked to the alliance with al-Husaini he would be the first non-German informed about the plan, even before it was formally presented at the conference. Adolf Eichmann himself was assigned to this task.

Eichmann briefed al-Husaini in the SS headquarters map room, using the presentation prepared for the conference. The grand mufti, Eichmann's aide recalled, was very impressed, so taken with this blueprint for genocide that al-Husaini asked Eichmann to send an expert—probably Dieter Wisliceny—to Jerusalem to be his own personal adviser for setting up death camps and gas chambers once Germany won the war and he was in power.

Excerpted from Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by BARRY RUBIN, WOLFGANG G. SCHWANITZ. Copyright © 2014 Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

List of Archive Abbreviations xii

1 From Station Z to Jerusalem 1

2 A Christian Imperial Strategy of Islamic Revolution 11

3 A Jihad Made in Germany 32

4 An Islamism Sheltered in Berlin 60

5 Al-Husaini's Revolt 87

6 The Nazi-Arab/Islamist Alliance Prepares for Battle 109

7 Al-Husaini in Search of an Empire 122

8 Germany's Muslim Army 144

9 A Bid for Partnership in the Axis 175

10 The War After the War 192

11 The Arab States' Useful Nazis 209

12 How the Axis Legacy Shapes Today's Middle East 233

Notes 255

Index 325

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