Dan Michman, Bar-Ilan University and Yad Vashem
In recent years, with the aggravation of the Middle East conflict, the legacy of the history of the Holocaust and its repercussions for the relations in this region has been of increasing interest to both scholars and politicians. One of the claims raised from time to time in this context is that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Hussayni, convinced Hitler to embark upon (what the Germans called) the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” the comprehensive and systematic murder campaign against the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, during their meeting on November 28, 1941, prior to the so-called “Wannsee Conference” (which was actually a Besprechung, a working meeting of bureaucrats). Such a claim was made, for instance, by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz in their study Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Because the book was published by the prestigious Yale University Press, this thesis gained academic standing. The claim itself is not new and has been voiced in the past by others. In most cases, this claim was made on the basis of the postwar affidavits by two Jewish wartime activists who had negotiated with Dieter Wisliceny, a Nazi official belonging to Adolf Eichmann’s Bureau for Jewish Affairs in the SS Reich Security Main Office, and Wisliceny’s confirmation of one affidavit. The purpose of this essay is to examine the accuracy of this claim in light of the existing knowledge accumulated during several decades of research on Nazi anti-Jewish policies.
The discussion focuses on the following issues: (a) the development of the Nazi’s anti-Jewish policies and Hitler’s way of making decisions; (b) the way in which the “Final Solution” was shaped and evolved at both the decision-making level and at the level of its implementation in the field, and an analysis of the various phases of its evolution between the years 1941–1942; (c) The “Wannsee Conference” and its importance, and the difference between the evaluations in scholarly research and the public image of that event; (d) the Mufti, his relations with Nazi Germany, and the extent of his influence on the Shoah; (e) an analysis of the content of the conversation between Hitler and the Mufti at their meeting on November 28, 1941, based on firsthand sources—two lengthy summaries by the Germans officials present at the meeting, and a summary by the Mufti himself; (f) an analysis and evaluation of Dieter Wisliceny’s two divergent affidavits, dated 1945–1946. The appendix to the discussion presents several key documents (the originals and their translation).
Based on this discussion, our conclusions may be summarized by the following points:
- The comprehensive, systematic murder campaign of the Jews in Europe and, if the opportunity presented itself, of those beyond the borders of Europe, was the result of a critical development within the Nazi regime. It stemmed from the self-imposed mission to “solve the Jewish question“ by means of the “total removal of the Jews”—a goal that Hitler had already set in his first political writing in September 1919. This, because “the Jews” were carriers of a disastrous disease: the idea of human equality that polluted the minds of humankind, an idea which was opposed to and undermined the natural principle of hierarchy in general and racial hierarchy among humans in particular, according to the Nazi tenet. Killings, including by means of starvation, began with the occupation of Poland in 1939. The organized program of the “Final Solution” crystallized gradually over a period that lasted from the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, until the spring of 1942. A pivotal moment in this process, during a meeting in mid-July 1941, was Hitler’s apparent “signal” to his closest circle to embark on a comprehensive murder campaign. Many hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed in “the East”¾the occupied territories of the USSR¾since that moment during the second half of 1941.
- Reinhard Heydrich summoned a series of state officials from different offices to attend a working meeting in a building on the shore of Lake Wannsee, Berlin, which was initially scheduled for December 9, 1941, and subsequently postponed to January 20, 1942, due to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 and the ensuing entry of the United States into World War II. Even though Heydrich’s summons was issued the day after the Hitler–Mufti meeting, it explicitly relates to the authorization that Göring granted Heydrich on July 31, 1941, in the wake of the above-mentioned meeting in mid-July, to carry out “a comprehensive solution to the Jewish Question in Europe” and not to any order issued following the Hitler–al-Hussayni meeting.
- The meeting at Wannsee¾which is mistakenly called the “Wannsee Conference”¾was one of a series of important moments in the already evolving process of the “Final Solution,” but not the most important. It was definitely not “a moment of decision.” This point is explicitly indicated in the summary of the meeting. Moreover, it could not have been a moment of decision in light of the fact that the murder campaign had already been underway for many months, since the summer of 1941. Therefore, relating to this event as the formative moment in the decision-making concerning the “Final Solution” is fundamentally wrong.
- The well documented meeting between Hitler and the Mufti clearly demonstrates the power relations between the two personalities. The Mufti was not in a position to “convince” Hitler, nor did the Mufti actually suggest genocide on this occasion. In a recent study, the British historian David Motadel noted that “al-Hussayni had little influence on the decision-making process in Berlin. The Germans consulted and used him when necessary, but he had no power of his own.”
- The only historical source for the false claim that Hajj Amin al-Hussayni was involved in the decision-making process concerning the “Final Solution” is the postwar evidence regarding Dieter Wisliceny’s wartime talks with two Jews, both of whom were involved in rescue attempts, Endre Steiner in Slovakia in 1943 and Rezső Kaszner in Hungary in 1944: they both quoted Wisliceny in their statements. Wisliceny confirmed in his postwar comment on Steiner’s postwar affidavit of February 12, 1946, that that is what he had told Steiner. However, in his detailed affidavit of July 26, 1946, regarding his contacts with the Mufti, this claim is not suggested or even mentioned. That is, the fact that he had told this to Steiner and Kasztner does not mean that it was true—German officials often fooled Jews in encounters between them.
- Though not involved in the decision-making process concerning the “Final Solution,” the Mufti’s Middle East politics, political strategies, and visions, including his contempt for Jews, drove him to collaborate intensively with the Nazis. As he was in contact with many senior German officials at the time, among them those involved in implementing anti-Jewish policies, he must have known of the slaughter being conducted by Nazi Germany. While these factors are not unimportant for the history of the Middle East, and especially for Arab–Jewish relations, they do not constitute in any way involvement in the decision-making process concerning the “Final Solution.”
- A broad group of individuals, political movements, organizations, and states within occupied and non-occupied Europe and outside the European borders collaborated with Nazi Germany before and during World War II out of ideological affinity and agreement with some or many of its goals, or in the hope of achieving political and material benefits. All those incidents of active collaboration, which have for decades been and are still being meticulously researched by many scholars and inquiry committees and have led to official apologies and restitution processes, played a significant role in the larger picture of the successes of Nazi Germany and of the developments during World War II. This is especially true with respect to a variety of aspects of the Holocaust: the rapid implementation of the deportation and murder processes, the enormous extent of the murder campaign within an extremely short period, and the extent of the expropriation and spoliation. The role of the Mufti in pro-Nazi propaganda activities directed at the Muslim world, in encouraging the recruitment of Muslims into SS auxiliary troops, and in attempts to obstruct activities to rescue Jews should be viewed within this broader context of collaboration with the Nazis. It was driven by political considerations, but no less by an extreme anti-Jewish interpretation of Islamic traditions, and internalized and adapted general European and Nazi antisemitic concepts and traditions in particular. However, his actual involvement in the Nazi enterprise in general and the anti-Jewish scheme in particular should neither be inflated nor downplayed beyond what serious scholarship has carefully proven.