As The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS details, for years before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, fought strenuously against Jewish settlement in the Holy Land, which had accelerated after Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration calling for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.
Beginning in 1919, al-Husseini began organizing jihad attacks against Jews, as well as riots in Jerusalem in 1920 during which six Jews were killed and two hundred injured. The following year, British high commissioner Herbert Samuel responded to al-Husseini’s instigation of jihad violence by appointing him mufti of Jerusalem, hoping that this gift would lead al-Husseini to be “devoted to tranquility.”
Instead, al-Husseini continued to incite violence, including riots in Petach Tikvah and Jaffa just weeks after he became mufti; forty-three Jews were killed. A British government report stated that “the Arab majority, who were generally the aggressors, inflicted most of the casualties.”
This continued to be true as Muslim Arabs attacked Jews over the next two decades, largely at al-Husseini’s instigation. Instead of confronting its mufti, in May 1939 the British government limited Jewish settlement in Palestine to seventy-five thousand over the next five years, thereby rewarding jihad violence by giving the mufti part of what he wanted (if it had been up to him, Jewish entry into the Holy Land would have been halted entirely, and the Jews there expelled) and condemning to death in the Holocaust untold numbers of Jews who might have escaped.
From 1941 to 1945, al-Husseini lived in Berlin, where he became close friends with Adolf Eichmann and Heinrich Himmler, and met with Adolf Hitler. Eichmann’s assistant, Dieter Wisliczeny, testified at the Nuremberg Trials that the mufti had been a central figure in the planning of the genocide of the Jews:
The Grand Mufti has repeatedly suggested to the Nazi authorities—including Hitler, von Ribbentrop and Himmler—the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this a comfortable solution to the Palestine problem….The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan. He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard him say, accompanied by Eichmann, he had visited incognito the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Eichmann denied this, but in any case, there is no doubt of the fact that the mufti was openly calling for the mass murder of Jews. In a broadcast on July 7, 1942, the mufti exhorted Muslims in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine to kill Jews, basing his exhortation on a flagrant lie:
A large number of Jews residing in Egypt and a number of Poles, Greeks, Armenians and Free French, have been issued with revolvers and ammunition in order to help them against the Egyptians at the last moment, when Britain is forced to evacuate Egypt….
You must kill the Jews, before they open fire on you. Kill the Jews, who have appropriated your wealth and who are plotting against your security. Arabs of Syria, Iraq and Palestine, what are you waiting for? The Jews are planning to violate your women, to kill your children and to destroy you. According to the Muslim religion, the defense of your life is a duty which can only be fulfilled by annihilating the Jews. This is your best opportunity to get rid of this dirty race, which has usurped your rights and brought misfortune and destruction on your countries. Kill the Jews, burn their property, destroy their stores, annihilate these base supporters of British imperialism. Your sole hope of salvation lies in annihilating the Jews before they annihilate you.
Al-Husseini also actively intervened on numerous occasions to ensure that Jews were not deported from Europe—thereby ensuring that extermination was the only option left for the fanatical Nazi Jew-haters. As late as July 25, 1944, al-Husseini wrote to Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German minister for foreign affairs:
I have previously called the attention of your Excellency to the constant attempts of the Jews to emigrate from Europe in order to reach Palestine and asked your Excellency to undertake the necessary steps so as to prevent the Jews from emigrating. I had also sent you a letter, under date of June 5, 1944, in regard to the plan for an exchange of Egyptians living in Germany with Palestinian Germans, in which I asked you to exclude the Jews from this plan of exchange. I have, however, learned that the Jews did depart on July 2, 1944, and I am afraid that further groups of Jews will leave for Palestine from Germany and France to be exchanged for Palestinian Germans….It is for this reason that I ask your Excellency to do all that is necessary to prohibit the emigration of Jews to Palestine, and in this way your Excellency would give a new practical example of the policy of the naturally allied and friendly Germany towards the Arab Nation.
Al-Husseini was a committed collaborator with the Nazis, traveling from Berlin to Bosnia in 1943 to raise up a Muslim SS company, which was responsible for killing ninety percent of the Jews in Bosnia, as well as for the burning of numerous Serbian churches. He noted the convergence of the goals of Islamic jihad and those of the Nazis. “It is the duty of Muhammadans in general and Arabs in particular to…drive all Jews from Arab and Muhammadan countries…. Germany is also struggling against the common foe who oppressed Arabs and Muhammadans in their different countries. It has very clearly recognized the Jews for what they are and resolved to find a definitive solution [endgültige Lösung] for the Jewish danger that will eliminate the scourge that Jews represent in the world.”
In a 1944 broadcast, he made that “definitive solution” explicit: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion.” His call was an echo of the Qur’an’s call to “kill them wherever you find them” (2:191, 4:89) and to “kill the idolaters wherever you find them.” (9:5)
Al-Husseini was arrested by French troops in May 1945, but the French refused requests from the British to turn him over to their custody. The British may have wanted to put him on trial, as he was a British citizen (of their Palestinian mandate) and a collaborator with the Nazis. Instead, the French put him on a plane to Cairo, where he resumed his jihad against the Jews. The Muslim Brotherhood successfully prevailed upon the Egyptian government to grant him asylum. He died peacefully in 1974.
“Photographic Evidence Shows Palestinian Leader Amin al-Husseini at a Nazi Concentration Camp,” by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Tablet, April 7, 2021:
In 2017, Jerusalem’s Kedem auction house posted three of six previously unknown photos on the internet, in which the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, inspects a Nazi concentration camp along with Nazi senior officials and government figures. According to the auctioneers, an expert was of the opinion that these inmates performed forced labor at the Trebbin camp near Berlin, which was, from 1942 to 1945, an SS artillery training place with a branch of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg. Built after World War I as a Christian “City of Peace,” it was taken over by the SS in 1935. Among the prisoners were Jews from Hungary. Forced labor, terror and violence characterized their daily lives. Kedem hoped viewers would help identify men in the photos.
As it turns out, I can now shed light on five of the foreign guests in the pictures—global leaders whose presence reflects the transregional history between Europe, the Middle East, India, and America. The photographs also provide irrefutable proof that all of the men present had precise knowledge of the fate of Jews in Hitler’s Germany—and of the likely fate of Jews in their own home countries under Nazi rule. According to Kedem, the photos are stamped “Photo-Gerhards Trebbin.” This stamp indicates that they were probably photographed in Trebbin, 30 kilometers south of Berlin, “around 1943.” The six photos were auctioned for $12,300 to a private individual who, I would argue, should post the remaining three images on the internet as a humanitarian gesture to families of the prisoners.
Only three of the seven men pictured survived World War II and its immediate aftermath. The two German officials in uniform were both directly involved in the Holocaust. Before and after their trip to the camp, Adolf Hitler met separately with each of the foreign guests, who included the Palestinian leader al-Husseini, the former Iraqi Prime Minister Ali al-Kailani, the Croatian Ustasha ideologue Mile Budak, and the Indian Hindu leader Subhas Chandra Bose. So who were they?
Mile Budak was the ideologue of Croatia’s ethno-radical, anti-Semitic Ustasha party, which ran a Nazi satellite state formed in 1941. On the left is Dr. Fritz Grobba, a former envoy to Kabul, Baghdad, and Jidda. He was a Protestant and not a member of the Nazi Party. He had been in charge of the Middle East in the German Foreign Office since early 1942.
Grobba and the two Arab leaders pictured had supported the anti-British coup in Iraq, which was followed by the al-Farhud pogrom in mid-1941. In it, 179 Jews were killed and many stores looted. Masterminds like al-Kailani and al-Husseini wanted to signal, there in a 2,500-year-old community, how Arabia’s Jews should be treated.
In the second photo is the politician Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who presided over Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and two years later served as commissioner for the occupied Netherlands. In the process, he oversaw the deportation of 100,000 Jews to death camps and the enslavement of half a million Dutch people, half of whom were forced to go to Germany as slave laborers.
After the Nuremberg trials in 1946, Seyss-Inquart ended up on the gallows for his crimes against humanity. Budak shared this fate a year earlier in Zagreb, where he was hanged as a war criminal for his policy of sending Jews, Serbs, Sinti, and Roma to death camps.
On the other hand, both Arab leaders continued their anti-Jewish and Islamist policies unimpeded after the end of the war: al-Kailani until 1965 and al-Husseini until 1974. Outside of Israel, Nazism had hardly been delegitimized in the Middle East, and its adherents often came to power after the war ended. The Iraqi al-Kailani staged a coup in Baghdad but failed. He was sentenced to death, then exiled to Beirut.
Al-Husseini also found himself in Beirut, where he was active in the World Islamic Congress, which he founded in Jerusalem in 1931 (he opened a Berlin branch a year later). With robust backing, he rose to become the first “Global Grand Mufti.” A mufti is a religious and legal authority who hands down rulings on everyday issues to believers in his jurisdiction. His late half-brother Kamil was the previous grand mufti of Jerusalem. Al-Husseini received the title in 1921, and in order to preserve and expand his transregional “Mideast-Europe” legacy after 1945, he chose as his representatives Said Ramadan for Europe, in Switzerland, and Yasser Arafat in the Middle East. The Mufti advised Arafat in 1968 to take over the Palestine Liberation Organization (which he headed until 2004) and “to liberate Palestine,” operating out of Gaza with Fatah troops.
Unmentioned, but visible in photo 1—though the angle and quality mar it—is almost certainly Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose. Also called Netaji, Hindi for “The Respected Leader,” he probably died in a mid-1945 plane crash near Taiwan. Controversy over his role diminished in 1997 when he was given his place in the Indian pantheon of liberation leaders. However, questions linger about his close Nazi contacts and meetings in 1942 in Berlin with Hitler and SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Since the first photo shows flowering plants, it probably dates from the second half of 1942, when Bose was still in Berlin—making the identification all the more likely….
Born in 1886, Fritz Grobba survived WWII and 10 subsequent years in the Soviet gulag. After his release in 1955, he advised Bonn on Middle East policy as a retiree until 1973. Another German diplomat who appears in the pictures but is not mentioned in the Kedem catalog is Martin Luther, who served as undersecretary of state in the Foreign Office. He conspired against his boss, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and as a result was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in early 1943. He died shortly after the end of the war.
During WWI, Luther served with an army railroad regiment up to the Balkans, where he heard about the Armenian genocide. Two decades later, as head of the German Department of the Foreign Office, he was one of 15 Nazis at the Wannsee Conference who coordinated the “logistics of mass murder.” About 100 “Asia fighters” who served alongside Germany’s Ottoman allies during WWI rose to Nazi leadership after 1933, many of whom served the West German government in Bonn after 1950.
The auction text mentions al-Husseini, the other key figure in this group. Some see al-Husseini’s Nazi contacts as reflecting a pragmatic interest in obtaining a strong foreign ally for Arab national goals. Others link the mufti’s enthusiasm for Nazi plans for the Final Solution to his additional desire to bring genocide to Palestine and the Middle East. The new pictures are important evidence in this debate.
What is certain is that al-Husseini rose to become the primary non-European aide and activist for Hitler’s Middle East. Interrogated by the Soviets in 1946, Grobba confirmed Hitler’s and von Ribbentrop’s plans for genocide in the Middle East. Some say the mufti embodied the Palestinian national consensus, a claim that rests on the supposition that a Palestinian “nation” existed prior to WWII. Surely, not all Palestinian Arabs should be associated with al-Husseini, whatever his titles and ambitions; some of them worked against the Axis powers.
As officers, Grobba and al-Husseini were brothers-in-arms in 1915, including in areas where Armenians were deported. Both men spoke Turkish. They met during the 1930s in Iraq, where the German envoy Grobba dealt with Iraqi state representatives and grew to dislike al-Husseini. In his eyes, a cleric without a state styling himself the “grand mufti” should not act as a politician. Their mutual dislike increased after the failed Baghdad coup against the British in mid-1941.
A British adviser in Iraq, Archibald McDougall defended Grobba in The Times, saying he was not a “Nazi Lawrence of Arabia” stirring up Muslims but rather a hard-nosed career diplomat. Berlin then grew suspicious of Grobba. Rumors circulated that he had invited Jews to his receptions, that he was a Freemason, and that he preferred al-Kailani to the mufti. His career faltered, as he was caught between the two Arabs frequently arguing over “who would be the real leader.”
Hitler’s choice was clear: al-Husseini. He saw in the mufti a principal actor in the Middle East, and a “realist.” Benito Mussolini followed Hitler’s lead and recognized the mufti as the most competent spokesman for the Arabs who could help the Fascist-Nazi alliance in reshaping North Africa.
It was against this political backdrop that SS chief Heinrich Himmler invited select Nazis and their guests to visit his concentration camp system. At the end of June, Grobba noted, the two Arabs each instructed two of their aides to join an SS training course that included a visit to a concentration camp. Al-Kailani wanted to go along to see if this system could be a model for Iraq, where there was a large Jewish community. Grobba agreed: The assistants were going anyway, so there was nothing wrong with it. Still, the SS asked the German Foreign Office to sign on….