Saturday, October 24, 2015

New scholarly article by Michael Sells on Netanyahu's variety of Holocaust pseudohistory

Benjamin Netanyahu's very public whopper that the Arab Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was the one that gave Hitler the idea of killing the Jews of Europe (Speech at the 37th Zionist Congress) got a lot of press this past week, including commentary from historians like Yehuda Bauer, Dina Porat and Tom Segev about how the claim was baseless. By a coincidence of timing, the Journal of Religious Ethics just published a piece by Micahel Sells in its most recent issue (43:4/2105) tracing the lineage of this particular claim, "Holocaust Abuse: The Case of Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husayni." The Grand Mufti's name in English is also rendered as "al-Husseini."

A note from the author at the link just given says:

This article, which is the result of four years of research, dialogue, and critical peer review, happened to appear the same day that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu made headlines by claiming, during an address to the World Zionist Congress, that the former Palestinian mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni was the instigator of the Holocaust -- the claim concerning which my article exposes the history, sources, and promoters and offers an ethical as well as historiographical critique. The Journal of Religious Ethics has made the article available to non-subscribers for the period of one month. Those who click on the link given here will find the abstract as well as icons for the full text online and for downloading the full text in pdf form.
Sells' article does not address the specific melodramatic claim that Netanyahu made that Al-Husseini told Hitler, "Burn them." But it turns out there's a whole subset of pseudohistory propaganda that has been built around the core of the undisputed fact that the Grand Mufti was pro-Nazi. Sells quotes the historian Omer Bartov saying that all Holocaust research done right requires that "the historian place information in context, document claims and sources, [and] acknowledge possible bias or agendas in sources.” Actually, that's just a statement of the principles of responsible historical research in general. What Sells explains is that the tale that Al-Husseini inspired Hitler to commit himself to the extermination of the Jews of Europe is based on nothing but hot air. Not that it will stop people committed to lying propaganda from continuing to use it, whether their purpose is to smear "the Arabs" or to minimize the Hitler regime's responsibility.

This is a 25-minute program from Aljazeera English on the controversy Netanyahu's claim sparked, Inside Story- Why is Netanyahu trying to rewrite history? 10/22/2015:

As Sells explains, The main source of the claim asserted by Netanyahu was a document by Israel Rudolf (Rezcö) Kastner and Andre Steiner, who he describes as "two Zionist activists who had dedicated themselves to rescuing Jews of wartime Hungary and Slovakia from deportations," each submitted affidavits claiming that SS Col. Dieter Wisliceny that Al-Husseini had, in the words the Kastner attributed to Wisliceny, "repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry."

Wisliceny himself later agreed to the basic claims that Kastner and Steiner made, and added additional ones about Al-Husseini's role in the Holocaust. This is a classic case in which extraordinary claims should be asked to provide extraordinary proof. The Holocaust was an action decided upon and implemented by the Hitler government in Germany. They had collaborators, sympathizers and enablers, inlcuding the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The history of the Holocaust is extensively documented, with a background extending from Hitler's own rancid Jew-hating politics dating from his pre-First World War years in Vienna up to the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, immediately after which the Hitler regime began the systematic mass killing of Jews.

As Sells points out, the notion that Hitler would have adopted so momentous a policy based on the recommendations of Al-Husseini, who was an Arab was part of what Hitler regarded as an inferior race, is unlikely on its face. In this passage, he uses the term "Perish-Judea" to describe the propaganda narrative that gives the Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular a major role in Hitler's Holocaust against the Jews:

... no written Holocaust order from Hitler has been found and he may not have issued one; direct written or oral communication regarding the extermination program was discouraged; and a language of euphemism was used to keep the operations hidden from the outside world and from the targeted Jewish populations ... Historically accepted as well is the fervid ethno-nationalist character of Nazi Germany, which resulted in few non-ethnic Germans being privy to sensitive state matters. The new Perish-Judea literature, by contrast, presents Husayni, an Arab fugitive with no state, army, or organized constituency, as intervening in high Nazi circles, persuading or helping persuade Hitler to commit to the policy of extermination; receiving Himmler’s promise for a special advisor from Eichmann’s staff; receiving and approving lectures from Eichmann on the details of the final solution; actually instructing Eichmann on how to carry out the policy; and with or without his green turban and with or without his coterie, not only visiting Nazi camps, but entering into their most sensitive and highly guarded areas or even singling out the best crematoria workers for praise. ... no significant testimony from survivors or from witnesses other than Wisliceny has been cited in support of the core Perish-Judea narrative.
In words, it's an extraordinary claim, for which it would be generous to say that the evidence is threadbare.

Sells also looks at the political and ideological agendas of various players in promoting the narrative. Wisliceny's position at the time he made his allegations is especially important:

Wisliceny played an important role in the deportation of Slovakian Jewry and headed the Special Command for Jewish Affairs in Greece in 1943, which organized the ghettoization of Jews in advance of their deportation to death camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka. He also became known for extracting funds from Jewish communities in exchange for his promises to end or slow the deportation process in Eastern Europe. After Germany’s surrender he was arrested in Austria on suspicion of war crimes. He testified for the prosecution at Nuremberg, providing the major exposé of Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust. He also produced extensive accounts before, during, and after his January 3, 1946 testimony before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, but, with the three exceptions discussed below, made no mention of Husayni playing an important role in the Nazi genocide.
The three exceptions to which Sells refers are the two from Kastner and Steiner, respectively, and the subsequent set of claims directly from Wisliceny to which Sells refers as the "Kartenzimmer/Map Room" documents.

Wisliceny also faced potential war crimes charges from his role as a close associate of Adolf Eichmann:

It is likely that Wisliceny would have heard or been apprised that Rudolf Kastner was testifying on behalf of other Nazi officials, including Hans Becher and Hermann Krumey, who worked with Eichmann and were implicated in the Nazi extermination program, and who had escaped prosecution in large part as a result of Kastner’s intervention. As a desperate and crafty criminal, Wisliceny would likely have gathered or attempted to infer what kinds of information the Zionist activists might find of interest.
This in itself, of course, doesn't mean that the information he provided should be simply disregarded. But along with his uncorroborated assertions about the extraordinary claim that an Arab leader from the Middle East played a major role in getting Hitler to commit the Holocaust, it doesn't help the case.

And it's not as though the crimes of Eichmann and his circle haven't been extensively investigated:

The Holocaust is the most investigated crime in history, as has often been pointed out in response to deniers. Eichmann may be that crime’s most investigated criminal. Yet neither the intense effort of Eichmann-hunters to track down and gather every possible clue regarding Eichmann’s life, nor Eichmann’s multiple accounts of his role in the Holocaust, nor the interrogations of Eichmann between his capture and his arrival in Israel, nor the investigations by Bureau 06 established in Israel to prepare the Eichmann case for the prosecution, nor the testimony at the trial, nor the investigative journalism and historical studies that followed, have uncovered evidence that Husayni was a close collaborator of Eichmann, influenced his decisions, or inspected death camps with him.
In other words, we have no reason to regard Netanyahu's assertion on Al-Husseini and the Holocaust as anything but fake.

No comments: