By Rafael Medoff/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: Haj Amin el-Husseini, better known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, with Nazi SS officers in November 1943. Credit: German Federal Archives.
Nazi Germany’s effort to recruit supporters in the Arab world is attracting new
attention among scholars.
With the 70th anniversary of a Palestinian Arab leader’s sabotage of a plan to
rescue Jewish children from Europe coming up next month, Israeli scholar Edy
Cohen spoke exclusively to JNS.org
about his current research on the role of Nazi and Axis propaganda in the
Middle East. Cohen, 41, is on the staff of the Israel State Archives.
During the Holocaust years, Haj Amin el-Husseini, better known as the Grand
Mufti of Jerusalem, lived in Berlin, where he recorded pro-Nazi radio
broadcasts that were beamed to the Arab world and recruited Bosnian Muslims to
join an all-Muslim unit of the SS. Seventy years ago, on May 13, 1943, Husseini
caught wind of a plan to permit 4,000 Jewish children, accompanied by 500
adults, to travel to Palestine in exchange for the release of 20,000 German
prisoners of war. Both the Germans and the British had agreed to the exchange,
but the Germans backed down when the Mufti objected.
The Mufti was the most prominent Arab figure to support the Nazis, but he was
not alone. “My research tracks the effort by the Germans, Italians, and Japanese
to spread their propaganda and influence in Palestine and various Arab
countries,” said Dr. Cohen, who was born and raised in Beirut and immigrated to
Israel in 1995. “They worked hard at it and, to a significant extent, they
succeeded.” Cohen has been combing through Arabic-language Nazi and Axis
leaflets and radio broadcasts that were collected and analyzed by Haganah
intelligence in the 1930s and 1940s.
Some of the leaflets found by Cohen feature stark headlines such as “Kill the
Jews and the British!” Some were printed on the back of facsimile British
pounds or American dollars, so that when they were dropped by German planes
over Arab regions of Palestine, they looked like money and immediately
According to Cohen, some of the Arabic-language Nazi propaganda promised that
those who attacked Jews would be rewarded by being given “the most beautiful of
the Jewish girls” after Palestine’s Jewish community was vanquished. “That sort
of language makes one think of the promise that Muslim terrorist leaders today
sometimes offer–that those who die while killing Jews will receive seventy
virgins in heaven,” Cohen said.
The text of the leaflets and broadcasts were composed by Nazi authors, and then
translated into Arabic by members of the Mufti’s entourage in Berlin. Some of
the Mufti’s men in Germany were more than writers: several parachuted into
Palestine in 1944 with vials of poison that they intended to dump in the Tel
Aviv water system. They were intercepted by the British police before they could
carry out the attack.
Cohen found an
internal memo from British police headquarters in Jerusalem in 1939 reporting,
“The Arab population in Palestine are listening to the Berlin Broadcasts in
Arabic most attentively, particularly in town and village coffee shops where
large crowds gather for the purpose.” The report stated that the “uneducated
classes are undoubtedly being influenced” by the Nazi propaganda.