Correcting the Picture
The Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust is considered to be one of the best reference works on the mass murder of Jews in Nazi Germany. It also contains a detailed entry about the Palestinian mufti Haj Amin al-Husayni. In fact, the encyclopaedia's entry on this cleric is longer than the one on Adolf Hitler.
Historian René Wildangel's recently published study may be considered to be a protest against the interpretation of history suggested by the respective lengths of these encyclopaedia entries.
Over the course of approximately 400 pages, Wildangel does more than simply offer new insights into contemporary Palestinian perceptions of National Socialism. What makes his study particularly interesting is his criticism of the existing body of research into the attitudes of the Palestinian public to National Socialism.
Wildangel positions his study quite clearly in this body of research by repeatedly addressing a publication that has to date been showered with praise, namely the study conducted by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers and published in 2006.
Criticism of existing research
In their work "The Crescent and the Swastika: The Third Reich, the Arabs, and Palestine" (Halbmond und Hakenkreuz. Das Dritte Reich, die Araber und Palästina), which is marketed as the "first comprehensive overview" of Arab-Nazi relations, Mallmann and Cüppers conclude that the only thing that prevented a "German-Arab mass crime" against the Jews was the defeat of the Germans in North Africa.
According to the two authors, the Arab population in both Palestine and other Arab countries was, after all ready to start slaughtering the Jews once the Germans marched into Egypt.
Wildangel makes no bones about his opinion of this theory. He states quite clearly that the policy of eliminating the Jews was first and foremost a German crime, pointing out that no-one would ever seriously consider talking of a "Franco-German mass crime" against the Jews in view of the collaboration of the French authorities with the Nazis.
Wildangel is also quite clear about the fact that there were indeed both collaborators and ideological rapprochement in Palestine – Amin al-Husayni being one prominent example. However, his evaluation of archive material in Germany, Great Britain, and Israel and, above all, of contemporary Palestinian sources demonstrates that not all Palestinians admired National Socialism.
He points out that Husayni's ideological and political contacts frequently met with explicit opposition in the Palestinian population. The resulting debates are reflected in reports and articles published in Arab newspapers, some of which expressed their support for and some of which expressed their opposition to National Socialism.
Rejection of National Socialism
Despite the publication of reports detailing Hitler's purported achievements, the prominent newspaper "Filastin" specifically spoke out in favour of a democratic form of society.
Moreover, the fascination with the national euphoria in Germany and Hitler's personal ability to mobilize the masses, did not prevent fundamental criticism of the ideological convictions on which National Socialism was based.
After the war, even radical Arab Nationalists distanced themselves ideologically from these convictions. "While they did partially embrace anti-Semitism and/or racism, they had nothing in common with the eliminating character of the Nazi regime."
Regarding the war years too, Wildangel's conclusions differ in significant points from assumptions that are generally made in other works of research in this field. He states, for example, that in sharp contrast to parts of Egyptian society, Palestine did not greet the German progress through North Africa with enthusiasm.
"The myth surrounding Rommel the Desert Fox," who is often seen as the symbol of Arab sympathies with National Socialism, "which grew out of the fact that Arabs in Egypt and other Arab countries were thrilled by the German General and the fact that war was being waged against the colonial power that was Great Britain never really developed in the Arab newspapers (of Palestine)."
There are a number of such assessments that correct the image of pro-German euphoria in Palestine in Wildangel's study. For this reason, his work comes at just the right time and makes an important contribution to the ongoing controversy about the ideological and political attitudes of the Arab movement to National Socialism.
Hopefully Wildangel's work will receive as much attention as the theories of Mallmann and Cüppers.
© Qantara.de 2007
René Wildangel:"Zwischen Achse und Mandatsmacht. Palästina und der Nationalsozialismus" (Between the Axis and the Mandate Power: Palestine and National Socialism). Klaus Schwarz Verlag, Berlin 2007, 444 pages
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan