PETER FARMER: THE HISTORY OF THE MOSLEM BROTHERHOOD PART 3 HITLER’S IMAM
After escaping Iraq ahead of pursuing British security forces and making his way to fascist Italy, Amin al-Husseini arrived in Germany in November 1941. Upon reaching Berlin, al-Husseini was treated as visiting royalty; a head of state in exile. The Nazi Party supplied him with several luxurious homes staffed with servants, a chauffeured Mercedes limousine, a monthly stipend equivalent to $10,000, and suites in two of Berlin’s most-prestigious hotels. He was also allocated a generous entertainment allowance, intended for his use in influencing the substantial Arab expatriate community then in Berlin.
Seeking support for Arab pan-nationalism and Muslim causes, al-Husseini had been in contact with members of the Nazi regime as early as 1933. He presented the Nazi leadership with a draft proposal of German-Arab cooperation, under which Germany would recognize the legitimacy of an Arab state encompassing Palestine, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Iraq, in return for Arab support of the Axis Powers in the Middle East. These views found favor in the highest reaches of the Nazi Party. On November 28, 1941, after meeting with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, al-Husseini was granted an audience with Führer Adolf Hitler.
In Hitler, al-Husseini found a soul mate. Although Hitler had written years before in Mein Kampf of the “racial inferiority” of Muslims, the Führer’s views had modified considerably since that time. Indeed, in the blond-haired, blue-eyed and light-complexioned al-Husseini, Hitler found a fellow Aryan. The Mufti and he shared a passionate hatred of the Jews and the British. Thus united, they formed a new strategic partnership.
In the months following his successful meeting with Hitler, al-Husseini formed a number of close relationships with members of the Nazi inner circle, including friendships with Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Hitler’s elite body guard and the chief paramilitary force of the Reich; and SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) Adolf Eichmann. The Grand Mufti remained close with Reichsminister von Ribbentrop. Soon, al-Husseini and these men discovered a shared passion for the extermination of Jews.
At al-Husseini’s request, Von Ribbentrop ordered that no Jews within German-controlled territory be allowed to leave Europe to enter Palestine. He also directed the formation of a special bureau within the Foreign Ministry devoted to extermination of Jewry abroad, called the “Anti-Jewish Action Abroad.”
With the assistance of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels, al-Husseini began pro-Axis Arabic-language radio broadcasts from Berlin to the Middle East as early as December, 1941. In these broadcasts, he called upon his Arab brethren to commit acts of sabotage against the British and to kill Jews and other infidels at every opportunity. Assisted by Iraqi fellow exile Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, the Mufti called upon Muslims worldwide to wage jihadagainst the Allies. In one such broadcast on March 1, 1944, al-Husseini urged his listeners, “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion.”
The Grand Mufti collaborated actively with Himmler and Eichmann in the conduct of the “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jews of Europe. He toured Auschwitz concentration camp with Eichmann, and according to later testimony at the Nuremburg Trials by top Eichmann aide and SS-Hauptsturmführer Dieter Wisliceny, al-Husseini constantly urged greater haste in the killing of the Jews.
In 1943, Himmler asked for al-Husseini’s assistance in recruiting Muslims into the SS for use in the Balkans; under the Mufti’s enthusiastic direction, the notorious 13th Mountain Division “Handschar” of the Waffen-SS was formed from some 20,000 Croatian Muslim volunteers. It later saw action against Yugoslav partisans under Marshall Tito, and participated in ethnic cleansing operations against Jews and other “undesirables” in the region. Over 800,000 Yugoslav Serbs, Jews and Roma (gypsies) were exterminated, many by the cruel members of the Handschar division.
At the conclusion of WWII, al-Husseini escaped to neutral Switzerland aboard one of the last flights out of the Third Reich. Unable to secure political asylum there, he fled to France – where he was placed under house arrest in a residence near Paris. The British, French and Yugoslav governments all considered criminal charges and/or extradition requests; despite overwhelming evidence of his complicity in numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity, these governments – for their own reasons – declined to press the issue. Moreover, despite being one of the few members of the Nazi inner-circle to have had definitive knowledge of the “Final Solution,” and testimony by Wisliceny and other captured members of the SS confirming his role in the Holocaust, al-Husseini managed to escape being brought before the bar of justice at the Nuremburg Trials.
When a series of investigative reports on his wartime activities – authored by New York Post reporter Edgar A. Mowrer – appeared in print in 1946, pressure mounted on al-Husseini to leave France.
Using a false identity and posing as a member of the Syrian diplomatic delegation, the mufti slipped out of France aboard a midnight flight bound for Cairo, where he received political asylum and a hero’s welcome from Egyptian King Farouk. Over the coming weeks and months, al-Husseini met with many friends and associates as he renewed old ties to such figures as Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, and influential commentator and theorist Sayyid Qutb. During this time, he also made the acquaintance of young firebrand and Cairo native Yasser Arafat. Arafat, the future leader of the notorious Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), was in fact a distant cousin to al-Husseini. The mufti quickly became the younger man’s mentor, a role al-Husseini welcomed and was to hold until the end of his life. Aware of his advancing years and the taint of the numerous intrigues in which he had been involved, al-Husseini sought to pass his vision to the next generation, even as he sought to re-establish his power in the region by reactivating the Muslim Supreme Council and Arab High Committee.
With the formation of the state of Israel in May 1948 and its subsequent diplomatic recognition by the United States and other powers, al-Husseini and his supporters devoted their energies to forming an all-Palestinian Arab government seated in Gaza, Palestine. In October, 1948, the governments of Syria, Lebanon and Egypt recognized the new government, but Jordan did not;
King Abdullah – who held a profound distrust and hatred of al-Husseini – told the other members of the Arab League that he would oppose utterly any government headed by the mufti, whom he saw as a threat to Jordanian control of Arab Palestine. Unable to obtain western recognition and approval for his unelected government-in-waiting, support for al-Husseini gave way. In May, 1949, over al-Husseini’s angry opposition and with the concurrence of the Second Palestinian Congress, Jordan assumed formal control over Palestine. King Farouk – his confidante and ally only two years earlier – ordered al-Husseini to leave Gaza, then under Egyptian control, and return to Cairo. Al-Husseini’s aspirations of national leadership had been dashed; he governed no territory and held no concrete power.
Despite the setback, al-Husseini remained influential within the Arab Muslim community during the post-war period and into the 1950s. In 1951, the mufti gained a measure of revenge against King Abdullah of Jordan, when the latter was assassinated by a member of the Husseini clan during a visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque. Protected by allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, the ever-elusive al-Husseini was able to avoid implication in the murder, despite his direct involvement in the plot. The mufti was also consoled somewhat by the increasing influence of protégé Arafat within the Muslim High Council, and he continued to meet and cultivate a who’s-who of current and future Middle East leaders, whose ranks included future Egyptian President and fellow Muslim Brotherhood member Anwar al-Sadat. Al-Husseini and Sadat had met during the war years, when Sadat had worked for the mufti and the Nazis as a spy against the British. The mufti also inspired a young Iraqi named Saddam Hussein, the future president and dictator of Iraq. Saddam’s uncle, Khairallah Talfah, had been one of al-Husseni’s most-trusted subordinates during the abortive pro-Nazi coup in Iraq during WWII.
In 1959, Amin al-Husseini left exile in Heliopolis, Egypt and moved to Lebanon. Two years later, in May, 1961, agents of the Israeli Mossad captured wanted Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and flew him to Jerusalem to stand trial. Despite efforts by Israeli interrogators to uncover the truth, Eichmann steadfastly denied his relationship with Haj al-Husseini, and lied on his behalf to hide the mufti’s role in the Holocaust. After Eichmann’s execution, daily newspapers throughout the Middle East and Arab world printed tributes to him penned by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Writing his memoirs, the Haj later thanked Eichmann profusely for his protection.
Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, Husseini remained an elder statesman figure within the Muslim world, albeit a sometimes controversial one. Overlooking the mufti’s role in the death of his grandfather, King Hussein of Jordan received Haj al-Husseini as an honored guest in 1967. The Haj lived to see his circle of protégés and acolytes attain considerable power within the Middle East; by 1970 – with al-Husseini’s consent – Yasser Arafat headed the PLO and assumed de facto leadership of the Palestinians; Anwar Sadat was Egyptian President and Saddam Hussein was president and dictator of Iraq. All, at various times, publicly-acknowledged the ideological debt they owed to al-Husseini and his beliefs (including those of National Socialism). The mufti, his hatred of the Jews undimmed, also lived long-enough to see the Black September/PLO terrorist attacks at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and the subsequent deaths of eleven Israeli athletes and a German policeman. Al-Husseini’s granddaughter married Ali Hassan Salameh (aka Abu Hassan), one of the founders of Black September. Haj Amin al-Husseini died in Beirut, Lebanon in 1974. Among the thousands of mourners at his funeral was a visibly grieving Yasser Arafat.
In the next installment of this series, we will examine the life of Muslim Brotherhood commentator and theorist Sayyid Qutb.
Copyright 2012 Peter Farmer
Peter Farmer is a historian and commentator on national security, geopolitics and public policy issues. He has done original research on wartime resistance movements in WWII Europe, and has delivered seminars on such subjects as political violence and terrorism, the evolution of conflict, combat medicine, and related subjects. Mr. Farmer is also a scientist and a medic.
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