Convergence: The Classic Case Nazi Germany, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism during World War II

Jeffrey Herf. Journal of Israeli History. Volume 25, Issue 1. March 2006.

Despite granting permission for limited Jewish emigration to Palestine in the 1930s, the ideology and policy of the Nazi regime never supported establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. During World War II, Hitler’s ideologically consistent view that such a state would be a branch of an international Jewish conspiracy converged with shorter-term efforts to gain Arab and Islamic support for the Third Reich’s military goals in the Middle East. The ideological convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism found expression in the works of Nazi propagandists as well as in the speeches and radio addresses of Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, broadcast from wartime Berlin to the Middle East. Examination of the lineages, similarities and differences between Europe’s totalitarian past and its aftereffects in the Arab and Islamic world remains an important task for comparative historical scholarship.

In order to understand what divergence of anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism means, it is important to examine what convergence looked like. That, in turn, calls for a look at the most obvious case of convergence—namely, Nazi Germany during World War II and the Holocaust. Understanding the convergence of Jew hatred with rejection of the idea of a Jewish state in this limited case is important both because there remains much confusion about the Nazi attitude towards Zionism and because clarity is essential if we are to understand those other instances when anti-Zionism diverged from anti-Semitism. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies asserted that there was collaboration between Nazi Germany and Zionist leaders and that therefore the origins of the Jewish state were rooted in Nazi-Zionist cooperation. In fact, in Nazism’s entire history, though the Nazi regime allowed limited Jewish emigration to Palestine between 1933 and 1939, neither Hitler nor any other significant figure ever supported the Zionist goal of a Jewish state in Palestine or anywhere else.

Hitler’s hostility to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine was long-standing and consistent. In Mein Kampf he contemptuously rejected the “lie” that Zionism was primarily a movement focused only on a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.

For while the Zionists try to make the rest of the world believe that the national consciousness of the Jew finds its satisfaction in the creation of a Palestinian state, the Jews again slyly dupe the dumb Goyim. It doesn’t even enter their heads to build up a Jewish state in Palestine for the purpose of living there; all they want is a central organization for their international world swindle, endowed with its sovereign right and removed from the intervention of other states: a haven for convicted scoundrels and a university for budding crooks.

In the 1930s, Nazi support for emigration by German Jews to Palestine stemmed from the anti-Semitic motivation of removing Jews from Germany, not from a desire to see them found their own new state in Palestine. Under the terms of the Ha’avarah (Transfer) Agreement concluded in 1933 between the German Ministry of the Economy and Zionist representatives, Jewish emigrants were allowed to transfer part of their assets, and the export of goods from Germany to Palestine was facilitated. Between 1933 and 1939, about one hundred million marks were transferred to Palestine, and most of the 60,000 Jews who arrived there had some economic resources. Yet Nazi support for emigration to Palestine was not the same as support for the establishment of a Jewish state there. These and other measures described below were never intended to lead to the establishment of a Jewish state. The Third Reich was never pro-Zionist in that sense. With the coming of war, Nazi ideological postulates about the existence of an international Jewish conspiracy converged with the strategic demands of gaining support for the Arabs in the war against the Allies. This convergence in both ideology and policy comprised the classic case of convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Francis R. Nicosia has demonstrated that Nazi anti-Semitism was compatible with support for limited Jewish emigration to Palestine in the 1930s in the context of the transfer agreement.

Ambiguities before World War II

While Nazi ideology and policy never supported the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, there was a dualism in the Nazi approach to the idea of supporting Zionist efforts to encourage Jews in Germany to emigrate there. The distinction was important, though often blurred. The anti-Semitic ideologue Alfred Rosenberg exerted a significant impact on Hitler’s and Nazism’s views about Zionism. His key text on the subject was Der Staatsfeindliche Zionismus (Zionism hostile to the state), which he published in 1921 and which the main Nazi publishing house published again in 1938. Rosenberg both favored Zionist efforts as a means of removing Jews from Germany and feared that such a gathering could evolve into a “Jewish Vatican” in the Middle East that would become part of an international Jewish conspiracy. Yet he took reassurance from skepticism that the Jews were capable of forming a state at all. The text echoes the bitterness of Germany’s defeat in World War I and connects Zionism to England, to hostility to Germany and to Bolshevism. Though the Zionists had opted to work with the British empire, Rosenberg surmised that as the empire crumbled, “the Jews would turn to a new patron”—namely, the United States. There follows reference to the 3.5 million Jews in the United States, their heavy concentration in New York and, as Henry Ford had explained in The International Jew, their presumed control over the press, film, government and business.

Yet, Rosenberg’s central point—hence the title of the booklet—was that the Jews were incapable of statecraft. If a Jewish state in Palestine were established, it would collapse and the Jews would again be an “international nation.” Zionism, he wrote, was “the powerless effort of an incapable people to engage in productive activity. Mostly it was a means for ambitious speculators to establish a new area for receiving usurious interests on a global scale.” A Jewish state was a terrible idea but not a dangerous one. This was so because it was doomed to failure given Jewish incapacity for engaging in power politics. Francis Nicosia writes that “the dual nature of the National Socialist approach to Zionism”—that is, a wavering between rejection due to the conspiracy theory and support as a possible way of expelling Jews from Germany—”was clearly established by Hitler and Rosenberg during the early 1920s, and became the basis of the regimes’s policy on Zionism after 1933.” Actually, the evidence Nicosia and others offer demonstrates that the dualism to which he refers applied to a policy of encouraging Jewish emigration to Palestine rather than to the idea of a Jewish state there.

Nicosia documents that two sections in the German Foreign Office, the Referat Deutschland and the Orient Abteilung, “supported the Zionist objective of promoting Jewish emigration to Palestine” between 1934 and 1937. He further examines the evolution of the Ha’avarah Agreement which promoted Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine until 1939, which he describes as “a rather uneven six-year process whereby the Zionist movement was utilized by the Hitler regime to solve the so-called Jewish question in Germany.” He points to contacts between the SS and Revisionist Zionists based on shared support for Jewish emigration to Palestine at the same time, and to permission of Zionist organizations in Germany to continue functioning while the regime was restricting or dissolving Jewish organizations devoted to defending the place and rights of Jews within Germany.

Yet Nicosia’s argument and evidence from the archives of the Foreign Ministry do not support the conclusion that all of the above amounted to the Nazi regime’s support for Zionism’s goal of a sovereign Jewish state. Indeed, he notes that in response to the British government’s Peel Commission Report on Palestine of July 1937, which recommended partition of Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states, “the idea of an independent Jewish state revived [among officials of the Nazi regime] the specter of an international Jewish conspiracy operating from its own power base in Palestine” and of Zionism’s role in that conspiracy. In June 1937, Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath sent guidelines to the German embassies in London, Cairo and Jerusalem which stressed Germany’s opposition to the creation of an independent Jewish state, a state, he said, that would serve as a political base for international Jewry just as the Vatican did for Catholicism and Moscow for the Comintern. Another Foreign Ministry memo sent to all German embassies later than month argued that Jewish emigration to Palestine could adversely affect Germany’s strategic position by contributing to Jewish strength in Palestine. Nevertheless, in accordance with his vision of a racial reordering of Europe, Hitler himself continued to encourage emigration of the Jews in Germany to Palestine in 1937 and 1938. Nicosia plausibly concludes that the “removal” of Jews from Germany and Europe, not their mass murder, “was the only fixed aim of German Jewish policy prior to the war, and this is evident in the Nazi support for Zionist emigration to Palestine.” As war approached, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, which focused on the dangers such a state would pose to Germany, increasingly supplanted the view of Palestine as a place in which Germany could dump its unwanted Jews. With German aggression and expansion, Germany now had many millions of Jews in its grasp, rather than only Germany’s 500,000. Palestine was too small and now too inaccessible to offer a solution through deportation. War also meant a search for allies among the Arabs. The hostility to the goal of a Jewish state, which had been there from the outset and was now reinforced by a search for Arab allies, led to a pristine moment of convergence of anti-Semitism with antagonism both towards Zionism’s end goal and to any further emigration to Palestine.

War and the Ideologues of Convergence

On 28 March 1941 Rosenberg, then the publisher of the Völkischer Beobachter, the official daily paper of the Nazi regime, director of political education of the Nazi Party and founder of the Institute for Research on the Jewish Question (Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage) in Frankfurt/Main, spoke on “The Jewish Question as a World Problem.” He did so at a conference to mark the opening of this government-financed anti-Semitic think tank. The speech was broadcast on national radio and published the following day on the first page of the Völkischer Beobachter. It was evidence of the preeminence of the conspiracy theory over the view of Palestine between 1933 and 1939 as a welcome destination of Jewish emigration. He began with an attack on the “encirclement policy of Jewish-British high-finance” in World War I, denounced connections between Britain and Zionism and asserted that the roots of the Balfour Declaration lay in Jewish promises to place money and political influence in the service of Britain. “The Jewish world press” and “British-Jewish high-finance” from the Rothschild house had worked together with “[J.P.] Morgan” and a group of Jews around Woodrow Wilson led by Bernard Baruch (who “controlled all of industry in the United States”) to support the Allies in World War I. At home in Germany, Jewish leftists such as Paul Levi and the industrialist Walter Rathenau had joined Jews in “England, France and New York” to undermine Germany. Fortunately though, 1933 made possible “world-historical, revolutionary” developments such as the Nuremberg Laws which completed the destruction of “Jewish rule in Germany” and thus prevented a repetition of 9 November 1918.

Having painted this grim picture, Rosenberg then reassured his audience about the Jews’ prospects in Palestine. The Jews only knew how to engage in trade. Palestine was too small to house the world’s “15 to 16 million Jews” and thus could not serve as a solution to the world’s and Europe’s Jewish problem. Zionism, he argued, did not emerge to solve the Jewish question. Rather, it sought a Jewish state in Palestine to be able to participate in international diplomatic conferences, to form an “economic jumping-off point” for the economic penetration of the Middle East, and to offer refuge to “Jewish adventurers” who had been expelled from their own countries. There they could be provided with new names and passports to engage in new subversive activities. So the solution of the Jewish question was not a Zionist one but a “Jewish reservation” under police observation. He did not add, as he might have, that such a “reservation” would be in Europe, not in Palestine. Whether or not Rosenberg thought the Jews capable of actually establishing and sustaining a state, he continued to view it as part of a threatening international Jewish conspiracy and opposed it on those grounds as well.

Before and during the war, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry controlled the press through secret daily and weekly directives to newspaper and magazine editors. The Presseansweisungen (press directives) were known as the “word of the day” (Parole des Tages) or “word of the week” (Parole der Woche). They came primarily from the Reich Press Office directed by Otto Dietrich, with occasional input from Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and were sent to several thousand newspapers daily. Dietrich consulted with Hitler each workday morning, then passed on the Führer’s suggestions to his staff in Berlin. The directives concerned political themes as well as instructions about political vocabulary. A weekly Zeitschriften-Dienst (magazine service) gave similar instructions to editors of periodicals. On 13 June 1939 the Press Office instructed editors not to use the term “anti-Semitism” because doing so undermined efforts to establish friendly relations with the Arab world. Instead, the appropriate terms to describe Nazi policy were “defense against the Jews” or “hostility to the Jews” (Judengegnerschaft). Five years later, Dietrich’s staff again voiced concern that the term “anti-Semitism” was appearing with great frequency in the German press. This was to be avoided because its appearance there “could destroy our relationships with non-Jewish Semites, namely the pan-Arab world that is so important for us.” Therefore, the press was to replace the words “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Semitic” with expressions such as “opposition to Jews,” “hostility to Jews,” “anti-Judaism” and “antagonistic to Jews” or “anti-Jewish.” The linguistic turn was part of a broad strategic effort to woo the Arabs to the side of the Axis powers.

Nazi propagandists and anti-Semitic writers based in Nazi “research” institutions published an impressive array of works in which the convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism was apparent. A Propaganda Ministry directive in the Zeitschriften-Dienst of 26 August 1939 brought Heinrich Hest’s Palästina: Judenstaat? (the second volume of his Weltjude ohne Maske [World Jew without a mask]) to journalists” attention and strongly urged them to review it favorably. Hest was a pseudonym for Herman Erich Seifert, the author of several essays published by the Nazi Party (NSDAP), including Der Aufbruch in der arabischen Welt (Revolt in the Arab world) in 1941. The service praised the “excellent mastery” of material which allowed “Hest” to “clearly analyze the real line of Jewish politics, namely the striving for a new, perhaps decisive base for Jewish world power” in Palestine, accomplished with the use of terror against the Arab population. The journalists were further advised that the work was important not only for its information about the Palestine conflict. It also provided “new material about the fateful role of world Jewry” and about the “community of interests between England and Jewry.” Seifert’s Palästina: Judenstaat? linked anti-Zionism to Nazi Germany’s propaganda offensive against England. “English colonial policy” had become a “tool of world Jewry.” Confronting it was “the Arab’s heroic war of defense.” England was using “brutal power” and “terror” to secure rule in Palestine. The Arabs were defending themselves “against England’s terrorist mandate policy” and “against the attack by world Jewry” (Weltjudentums).

Seifert offered a quick overview of 5,000 years of Jewish history to demonstrate that the Jews were incapable of organizing a state. Plans for a Jewish state in Palestine were a basis of “striving for world power.” Like other Nazi propagandists, Seifert favorably quoted the opposition of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, to a Jewish state, and his assertion that English policy was dominated by the Jews and that there was no possibility for a compromise between Arabs and Zionists. He claimed that the confrontation between “world Jewry” and the Arabs in the 1930s was due to Jewish pressure on the English government to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland. The armed conflict of the late 1930s in Palestine was the result of England’s broken promises to the Arabs, which in turn had deepened Arab resistance to the Jews. “Today the colonial striving of the ‘humane’ democracies and the striving for power of world Jewry confront a united Arab population….” The driving force of British policy in the Middle East was the desire to secure oil and control of the Suez Canal (more important, as Spain and Italy threatened to control the Mediterranean). England tolerated Jewish immigration to Palestine because the Jews would be “the best guarantee against a successful Arab freedom struggle” and because England was “now under the pressure of the financial power of world Jewry and had long ago ceased to be free in its decisions. As a result of its policy in Palestine, it had become an instrument of world Jewry, the previously proud Albion!”

The Nazi Party publishing house published Seifert’s Der Aufbruch in der arabischen Welt in 1941. It presented Nazi Germany and fascist Italy as partisans for the Arabs in their struggle against British and French colonialism. Seifert presented Mohammed and Islam as antagonistic to the Jews. In the modern world, where the Jews struggled for dominance in the capitalist world, it was no accident that the Arab-Jewish conflict was sharpest where the Arabs were “dominated by the democratic, liberal states where the Jews are the unchecked beneficiaries of the plutocracies to which they closely linked.” He rejected the notion that there were any racial affinities between Arabs and Jews. Hence the gap between them could not be bridged. In French colonial North Africa, Seifert spoke of an “inner bond between Jews and the French since the beginning of the conquest of Algeria… because France’s victory rested not only on its weapons but even more on the secret but therefore all the more effective support of its campaign by the Jews.” The French repaid the debt by defending the Jews against attacks from Arabs and putting them in dominant positions in the colonial economy and administration. “The newspapers and public opinion of the Arab countries” were controlled by the Jews. Yet as serious as France’s “guilt” was for supporting Jewish “exploitation of the Arabs by the Jews,” England’s guilt was far greater for it had broken promises to the Arabs, imposed its rule with violence and “unleashed world Jewry” on the Palestinian Arabs. Seifert wrote that “the last mask fell” in England’s policy towards the Palestinians when, upon the outbreak of war in Europe, Chaim Weizmann wrote to Neville Chamberlain that the Jews in Britain “stand and fight on the side of the democracies” and Chamberlain replied to affirm shared goals. He viewed Weizmann’s statement as yet more evidence of “the clear bond between the English government and Zionists.” Nazi propaganda made a great deal of Weizmann’s affirmation of Jewish support for the Allies as evidence confirming the reality of an international conspiracy and of Jewish partisanship for England and France. The Arabs, however, were prepared “for a decisive struggle for freedom” and had learned that “English order is nothing but slavery. The Arabs want to be free!”

Giselher Wirsing was another of the Nazi propagandists who examined Zionism through the lens of Nazi ideology on the eve of World War II. He did so in Engländer, Juden, Araber in Palästina (The English, Jews and Arabs in Palestine), also published in 1939. The Zionist goal in Palestine, he wrote, was the “establishment of a Vatican of world Jewry. A firm base is to be built on which in later years Jewish world policy can rest.” A Jewish state in Palestine would not offer a “solution to the world Jewish question” (Weltjudenfrage) because at most a third of the Jews in the world could live there. Instead it would foster cooperation between the Jews in Palestine and the assimilated Jews in finance and banking in Western Europe and the United States. Since most Jews would not be living in Palestine, the real goal of a Jewish state was to establish a “Vatican of world Jewry, whose most important branches would build and strengthen their political and economic power in Western Europe and the United States.” The prevention of the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine was, from the Nazi perspective, an act of national security against a spreading international foe.

On 8 November 1940 a directive of the Zeitschriften-Dienst requested that “all magazines that reviewed political books” should review Wolf Meyer-Christian’s Die englisch-jüdische Allianz (The English-Jewish alliance). The officials wrote that “the book shows the wide-ranging identification between the English and the Jews and presents the essential presuppositions for understanding the deeper reasons for the current war, one that is simultaneously an English and a Jewish war.” It offered an “intellectual framework for the definitive confrontation with the English-Jewish world power.” Meyer-Christian’s work came equipped with full scholarly apparatus. He explained England’s opposition to German foreign policy in 1939 as well its support for a Jewish homeland as the result of what he saw as the inordinate influence of Jews in English history: Germany was threatened not by the English people but by British imperialism and a small upper class. “This stratum is as English as it is Jewish and Jewish as it is English!” While in Germany Jewry was “on the side of the fight against the existing order,” in England, “it supported the rule of the upper class, was part of it” and “as an inseparable part of this caste led the battle for its interests for wealth and for power over Europe.” Der englische-jüdische Allianz was devoted to exploring “this historically unique special case (dieser geschichtlich einmalige Sonderfall) of the process of the mixture (Vermischung) of the English leadership groups with those groups of the Jewish people in which the idea of Jewish world domination is alive and at work.” The Jewish question in Europe and in Germany would only be solved if it was first solved in England—that is, “if the alliance between the traditional English upper class and the leadership of world Jewry is broken once and for all. For this alliance is Europe’s deadly enemy.”

Meyer-Christian first examined “the Jewification (die Verjudung) of the English people,” which he saw as stemming from several factors. English individualism of the English upper classes led parents to allow their sons and daughters to marry Jews, indicative of their failure to understand the threat that “Jewry” as a group posed to England. As a result, by 1939 “no decision of the British government is possible which is not approved by the Jews participating in the leadership of the government.” Family ties and business links alone would not have produced the power position of Jews in England. “Puritanism, the specific English form of Christianity” was the deepest reason for the emergence of this alliance. It would not have come about without “the basic preexisting similarity of both peoples consisting in the capitalist way of thinking and the claim to world domination.” Indeed, “no one other than the Christian dictator, Oliver Cromwell, had first recognized this and made it the foundation of his politics. At their center was his decision to recall the previously banned Jews back to England in order to insure their help in the founding of today’s British Empire.” Meyer-Christian then offered stories of connections between Edward VII, Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill with English Jews including Disraeli and the Rothschild, Montefiore, Goldsschmidt and Sassoon families. All of this led to English support in the twentieth century for Zionism and the “arming of the Jews and expulsion of the Arabs.” It accounted for Churchill’s support as well. The “degeneration of the English upper stratum” was not the result of “accidental bonds of love.” Rather, it was due to a carefully planned effort by the Jews who “made the British aristocracy a fifth column of world Jewry.”

Meyer-Christian’s attack on Zionism was the longest part of the book. In the chapter entitled “Politics and Money in Palestine” he wrote that the expectation that England would bring about the Jewish state “forged the connections between the leading English statesmen and individual powerful Jews finally into a bond between world Jewry and English leadership.” By the end of the nineteenth century, Jewry in England had more prestige and power than in any other country. Hence, it was no surprise that London became the center of Zionism. Meyer-Christian’s narrative of the 1920s and 1930s was one of Jewish immigration to Palestine combined with forceful expulsion of the Arab population.

He rejected the idea of common interests between Zionism and those who wished a Europe free of Jews. National Socialism, he noted, had opposed the creation of a Jewish state precisely because “the Jewish intentions clearly are not aimed at a state which can incorporate all of Jewry or even its essential part. Even the Jewish leadership appears to understand that this goal is not realizable but also undesirable. This is so because the majority of the assimilated, less religious Jews will never move to Palestine but also because the Jewish state, in contrast to the German, Italian or other state founded on the totality of the people” was of a completely different nature. He quoted Moses Hess to the effect that the Jews in Europe would not give up their place in Europe should a Jewish state be established. Therefore a Jewish state would be “nothing other than an international power center over non-Jewish peoples, a state whose citizens did not live within its borders but rather were all over the world.” A Jewish state would be “only a key base for world Jewry” which would enjoy citizenship in this state without giving up citizenship rights in their states in Europe and the United States. There would be no “abandonment of the internationality of Jewry” or of the “positions of power it had gained in the past fifty years.” A “völkischer Staat” that encompassed the majority of world Jewry was not the goal. Rather, the mass of Jewry was to remain in other states “and in cooperation with the false state help to strengthen the power of Jewry as a world power.” A Jewish state “would not in any way offer a solution to the Jewish question. It would do just the opposite. Each of the 17 million Jews in the world would retain the positions they had conquered in England, France or America” in and outside government. Meyer-Christian interpreted Chaim Weizmann’s statement in 1919 that the Zionist movement would be recognized in the world as a political factor as evidence that a “Jewish state would be the power center of world Jewry.”

With the combination of faulty causal reasoning, leaps from bits of evidence to large generalizations and apparent detailed empiricism that characterizes conspiratorial explanations, Meyer-Christian offered his readers lists of actual persons and organizations. A section on “the Jewish Agency as the government of world Jewry” featured the increasingly familiar names of Weizmann, Rothschild, Warburg, Herbert Samuel and Albert Einstein, all of whom supposedly gave weight to the combined efforts of “17 million Jews” around the world favoring a Jewish state. The Jewish Agency, he continued, “encompassed for the first time in Jewish history all of world Jewry in a single, tightly ordered organization. It was in this way that the Zionist organization became a world power which no longer appeared to need England for a push for power.”

Meyer-Christian viewed the beginning of World War II as confirming his analysis. The “same clique” in Britain that was linked to “world Jewry” and was waging war against Germany now tilted toward the Zionists. In what may have been the first reference to a “Jewish war” from a Nazi propagandist, Meyer-Christian wrote in 1939 that “the English war is a Jewish war, a preventive war of the English-Jewish upper strata against the strengthening Reich and the völkische idea to which the Reich owes its strength. For the Arabs, Germany is the second common enemy of the English-Jewish alliance.” Weizmann’s statements of support for Britain in the first week of the war, as well as British Cabinet Minister Duff Cooper’s speech in Washington, DC on 6 January 1940, which revealed an English turn in favor of the Jews in Palestine, were taken as yet further evidence of the “English-Jewish alliance.” British efforts in 1940 to limit land purchases by Jewish organizations in Palestine and to restrict Jewish immigration were simply tricks to deceive the Arabs. The more Jewish leaders and organizations expressed support for British, and later American, efforts in the war, the more Meyer-Christian would be confirmed in his view that the “English war is a Jewish war.”

Meyer-Christian offered a kind of cultural historical element to his examination of the English-Jewish alliance. It rested not only on a transient convergence of interest but on a long-standing elective affinity between Puritanism and the Jews in England, what he called the “deeper connection between English and Jewish mentality … an intellectual affinity that bonds the English people with Jewry.” He found the answer to “the riddle of these mutual feelings of affiliation” in the argument that there was “a close connection between English Christianity and the Jewish religion.” First, both were outspokenly “capitalist religions. They affirm the accumulation of wealth as God’s command. Both are religiously articulated egoism.” Second, both “rest on the idea of a chosen people. Among Jews and the English, political superiority and unscrupulousness are grounded in this kind of religion.” Meyer-Christian’s interpretation of the links between the Jews and capitalism drew directly from Werner Sombart’s Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (The Jews and economic life). English imperialism drew its power and lack of scruples from its Puritan religious grounds, which in turn were “Jewish.” In its orientation to the Old Testament, Calvinism had distanced itself from Christianity and opted instead for a this-worldly life similar to rules required in Judaism. “Puritanism and Judaism are identical.” Political England in 1939 was “nothing other than a modernized Jewry” which “carries within itself the will to dominate the world.” The urgent conclusion “for the whole world must therefore be the equation of hostility to the Jews with hostility to England. Only if this is done can Europe be freed from the English-Jewish alliance.”

Works such as those of Seifert and Meyer-Christian clearly articulated the convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the Nazi regime in both ideology and policy in 1939. Despite willingness to allow modest Jewish emigration to Palestine up to 1939, the Nazi regime never publicly expressed support for creation of a Jewish state. With the publication of works such as those by Seifert and Meyer-Christian, the regime’s propagandists elaborated the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory at Nazism’s ideological core and applied it to an attack on Zionism. Though Britain was restricting the numbers of Jews it would allow to emigrate to Palestine before and during the war and the Holocaust, Nazi propagandists interpreted the fact that England was at war with Nazi Germany and gave any support at all to the idea of a Jewish state in part of Palestine as evidence of Jewish power in London. These policy choices were, for Meyer-Christian, the outcome of the several-century-long alleged affinity of Puritanism and Judaism. This explained the otherwise perplexing “riddle” of the emergence of Oliver Cromwell’s successor, Winston Churchill. With such an analysis, Meyer-Christian connected Nazi anti-Zionism both to anti-Semitism and to wartime enmity with England.

The Grand Mufti, Amin al-Husseini and Nazi Propaganda

Wartime pressures to gain support from the Arabs reinforced a perspective based on long-standing ideological postulates. The 26 February 1943 issue of the Zeitschriften-Dienst included a comment on “the British, helpers of Bolshevism” which presented them as being in league with Bolshevism from the days of the Spanish Civil War to the present, and a note on the United States in the Middle East, which discussed its plan to establish a “large Jewish state in Palestine under its leadership.” It instructed editors to remember that the Americans “did not have to take Islamic subordinates into account,” in contrast to the British, who were concerned about Islam in still colonial India. “Therefore they represented exclusively the interests of the Jews in Asia.” They wanted to exploit the region’s wealth and “enslave the native population, a policy that corresponds to their hostility to Islam as a religion. … In stressing the hostility to Islam of the United States, which is a consequence of Jewish domination, we must avoid giving the impression that English domination of the Near East would be better.”

As these directives suggest, the Nazi regime was making firm efforts to connect its interests not only to Arabs but to followers of Islam as well. A directive from the Zeitschriften-Dienst of 11 September 1942 urged deeper and sympathetic understanding for “the Islamic world as a cultural factor.” The Reich Press Office directives warned against the danger of underestimating the Orient’s cultural contributions. “Superficial discussions” due to “linguistic similarities between Arabs and Jews” had led to conflating them. Much of the discussion of Islam in Germany was out of date or inspired by church polemics. The editors must

strengthen and deepen existing [Nazi] sympathies in the Islamic world. We must draw this great cultural power, which in its essence is sharply anti-Bolshevik and anti-Jewish, closer to us. Through friendly, but not obsequious presentation, we must convince the Muslims of the world that they have no better friend than the Germans. In the treatment of this theme, the words semitism and anti-Semitism must be avoided.

Zionism and the conflict in Palestine were not frequent themes of front-page headlines in the Völkischer Beobachter, though when they appeared, in the midst of an anti-Semitic propaganda campaign of spring to autumn 1943, the narrative was familiar. On 20 March 1943 the paper led with “Appeal of the Grand Mufti against the deadly enemies of Islam, Arabs will fight for their freedom on the side of the Axis,” a report on a lecture delivered the previous evening by Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, in a Berlin mosque on the occasion of Mohammed’s birthday. The bonds between the Nazis and the Grand Mufti began in 1937 and remained firm throughout the war and the Holocaust. They drew on a convergence of anti-Semitic ideology, antagonism to Britain and opposition to Jewish emigration to Palestine. The report sympathetically described his appeal to the Islamic and Arab world and its fight against “occupation and cruelties by enemy oppressors.” He said it was “the duty of all Muslims to lead and conduct the fight against the enemy by all means. … With the help of the Jews, the enemies of Islam envisage the complete domination of the Holy Lands” in order to establish a base for exploiting the neighboring Arab countries. “Arabs and Muslims had the duty to defeat Jewish greed and insatiability.” The paper described the Grand Mufti as “one of the great personalities of the Islamic world who had led the struggle of the Palestinian Arabs against onrushing Jewry.” In the face of “the English and American promises to world Jewry to make Palestine into Jewry’s exclusive property and to expel the Arabs,” Palestine had become “a symbol of the Arab freedom struggle” against “British betrayal” and “the Atlantic swindle.”

The Völkischer Beobachter published several more lead stories about the Middle East in autumn 1943. On 6 October, in response to reports of Jewish brigades in the British 8th army, the paper led with “English-American conflicts in the Middle East, Jews present a change, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq are supposed to become Jewish-American colonies.” Illustrating the diffusion of the work of Nazi propagandists and anti-Semitic think tanks to a broader audience, the article expressed no surprise at this latest sign of British-Jewish cooperation. Churchill “his whole life long had been dependent on the Jews.” Now Churchill was returning the favor as he gave in to Jewish demands concerning Palestine and broke promises to the Arabs. In the United States, the article continued, the Jews were preparing to drive the Arabs out of Palestine. “Here is the truth of Jewish-American imperialism at work which hopes to gain important bases in the far and middle Orient to aid in future world domination.”

This article signaled a greater focus of attacks on Zionism’s links to the United States. From the earliest days of World War II the supposed power of the Jews in the Roosevelt administration was a central theme of Nazi propaganda. As American involvement in the Middle East grew in the course of the war and British power waned, German propaganda began to turn its fire at “USA imperialism” in the Middle East. The article was a typical, and failed, effort to use anti-Semitism to stir up tensions between the United States and Britain. The Völkischer Beobachter asserted that expansion of American involvement in Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad, Teheran, Istanbul, Algiers and Tunis was a policy “openly directed against England, which world Jewry had long since written off as a decisive factor in future world politics.” Roosevelt, “a tool” of the Jews, now viewed and treated England as a “kind of colony of the USA-Jewish state.” The outlines of a postwar convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism were also evident from this article. “World Jewry,” now having gained power in New York and in the Roosevelt administration, used the American government to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The state of Israel would become the base for the penetration of the Middle East as a whole by “Jewish-American imperialism.” The expansion of American power in the region would, for those who accepted this framework, appear to confirm the basic anti-Semitic conspiracy which conflated the growth of American power with that of Jewish power, just as earlier the existence of the British Empire had been linked to “world Jewry.”

Husseini’s connections to the Nazi regime led to private meetings with Hitler and Himmler and correspondence with Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. On 18 December 1942, when Husseini gave the above-mentioned speech at the opening of the Islamic Institute in Berlin, Joseph Goebbels was in the audience. The text had been shown to and approved by von Ribbentrop. Before the event Husseini wrote to Hitler to express his

friendship and sympathy to your excellency and to the German people. We are firmly convinced of the close cooperation between the millions of Mohammedans in the world and Germany and its allies in the Three Power Pact which is directed against the common enemies, Jews, Bolsheviks and Anglo-Saxons, and which, with God’s help, will lead to a victorious outcome of this war for the Axis powers. This victory will bring happiness and good fortune to the Axis powers, the Muslims and all of humanity.

His speech included the following extended attack on the Jews: “The Jews were the bitterest enemies of the Muslims. They had always expressed their antagonism with cunning and deception. Every Muslim knows how, from the first days of young Islam, the Jews have assaulted him and his beliefs and how much hatred… intrigues… conspiracies” the Jews directed at the Muslims. The Koran, he continued, was full of stories of Jewish lack of character, their lies and deceptions. Just as had been full of hatred against Muslims in the days of the prophet, so they were in modern times in Palestine which they sought to establish as “a base from which to extend their power over neighboring Islamic countries.” More generally, the Jews were “a destructive element on earth.” Citing Ranke, he accused the Jews of unleashing wars and playing nations off against one another. Husseini went further, however, and made clear that he shared Nazism’s anti-Semitic outlook on world politics.

The Jews’ essence, in this war as well, is to keep the world in turbulence. Their leader Weizmann said that this war was a Jewish war. … In fact, today world Jewry leads the allied enemies into the abyss of depravity and ruin, just as it did in the age of the Prophet. In England as well as in America, only Jewish influence is dominant. It’s the same Jewish influence that stands behind godless Communism. … It is Jewry who drove the nations into this war of attrition and from its tragic destiny only the Jews will benefit. The Muslims’ bitter enemies are the Jews and their allied English, Americans and Bolsheviks. Their British allies for example, who are directed by world Jewry and its capital, and whose history is filled with antagonism to the Muslims, today continue their persecution and oppression of Muslims in all countries. …

The Allied attacks in North Africa demonstrated that the Jews, Americans, English and the Bolsheviks were all an “irreconcilable enemy of Islam” and had “oppressed and persecuted 40 million Muslims…. This war which was unleashed by world Jewry offers the Muslims the best opportunity to free themselves from these instances of persecution and oppression if they will use this opportunity.” He concluded with a religious appeal to Muslims that God would help them to victory if they displayed sufficient willingness to sacrifice.

In a speech on 19 March 1943 in Berlin, Husseini repeated his view of the threat posed by Zionism. The Jews in England and America were driving the effort to dominate Palestine. The fact that a majority of the members of the House and Senate had urged Roosevelt to allow unlimited Jewish emigration to Palestine and support the establishment of a Jewish state was evidence of the great influence of the Jews in the United States. This “evil intention of the Allies” was directed “against Arabs and Muslims” and corresponded to the aims of the Jews. He spoke of “the Jewish danger, not only for the Arab countries but also for the other Muslim areas of the Magreb.” The Jews wanted to establish “a Jewish bridge between New York and Jerusalem” and posed a danger for the whole Muslim world by seeking to annex the Aksa Mosque and the Solomon Temple. The Arabs and Muslims in general should swear before God to “destroy this Jewish greed and insatiability and destroy the planned bridge [between Jerusalem and New York]. The Arabs should show evidence that the power of faith is more powerful than that of unjustly attained interest, yes, stronger than the despicable and devilish intrigues which world Jewry pursues.” He concluded by expressing the hope that “God will show Arabs and Muslims the correct path and endow them with the strength for united endurance against the arch enemies, the Jews and the Allies, until God helps us to victory. Then the Arabs and Muslims will be free in their own countries. “He who fights for God, also receives victory from him!”

The Grand Mufti’s cooperation with the Nazis extended beyond making speeches. He urged the Foreign Ministry as well as Adolf Eichmann not to allow Jews from Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to escape to Palestine and urged instead that they be sent to Poland. He worked with Himmler to establish an SS division of Muslims from Bosnia, appealed to the Germans to bomb Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and received financial support from the Nazi regime. On 10 June 1943, he wrote to Ribbentrop that the Jews wished to go to Palestine as part of a plan to dominate the world and were thus “a dangerous influence for the outcome of the war.” In working against Jewish emigration, he made a direct contribution to the Holocaust. On 27 July 1944, he wrote to Himmler to urge him “to do what was necessary to prevent the wandering of Jews to Palestine.” Doing so would be a “practical example of the natural allied and friendly stance of Germany to Arabs and Muslims.”

In his study of Husseini in Nazi Germany, the German historian Klaus Gensicke offers a detailed account of Husseini’s cooperation with Himmler to establish an SS division of Bosnian Muslim volunteers in 1943. In a speech to officers and Imams in the division, Husseini stressed that the “parallels” of National Socialism and Islam had become ever closer. These included: monotheism, defined as obedience to one spiritual, political and military authority; a stress on obedience and discipline; a view of battle as one of the most important expressions of faith; preeminence of community over individual self-interest; and praise for work. “Regarding fighting Jewry, Islam and National Socialism have moved very close to one another.” In the Second World War, “a victory for the allies would constitute a victory for Jewry and thus a great danger for the Muslims and for Islam in general. … Cooperation of 400 million Muslims with their real friends, the Germans, can have a great influence on the war. It is very useful for both.”

The Grand Mufti also broadcast radio addresses to the Arab world from Berlin. On 2 July 1942 he addressed “the Egyptian people” in the wake of Rommel’s initial victories in North Africa. They had “filled all Arabs in the whole Orient with joy” because the Axis powers had “common enemies, the English and the Jews” and defended against the Bolshevik danger. The address connected the Egyptian struggle against British imperialism with the struggle of the Palestinians against the “concentrated British power and its alliance with the Jews.” On 11 November 1942 he spoke over German radio to “the Arabs” about martyrdom. Before the war broke out, the Arabs had been fighting for twenty years against “the English and the Jews who were always hidden behind them.” The Arab peoples had shed “noble blood” for the freedom and independence of Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula. “The spilled blood of martyrs is the water of life. It has revived Arab heroism, as water revives dry ground. The martyr’s death is the protective tree in whose shadows marvelous plants again bloom.” The goal of “English-Jewish policy” was to divide Palestine and then to dominate the remainder of the Arab countries. “We Arabs” who have fought the English, he continued, “clearly should join the Axis powers and their allies in common struggle against the common enemy. Doing so for us means the continuation of the fight we have fought alone for the past twenty years. Today the powerful enemies of our enemies stand on our side.” Yet if England and her allies “God, forbid,” were to win the war “Israel would rule the whole world, the Arabian fatherland would suffer an unholy blow and the Arab countries would be torn apart and turned into Jewish colonies.” The Jews would seek Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the border areas of Egypt. But if England and her allies were defeated, “the Jewish danger” for the Arab countries would be defeated. Millions of Arabs would be freed and millions more Muslims would be saved. A defeat of the Soviet Union would also liberate millions more Muslims suffering under Soviet rule. America offered nothing to the Arabs as it too “was subject to Jewish will.” His efforts in Berlin combined short-term political alliances based on shared enemies with longer-term ideological affinities.

Later that month, on 26 November, in a radio speech over German radio aimed at North Africa, Husseini attacked the United States following the American landings there. It was a striking example of the translation of Nazi propaganda into Arabic and the idioms of the Arab world:

The strength of Jewish influence in America has clearly come to the fore in this war. Jews and capitalists have pushed the United States to expand this war in order to expand their influence in new and wealthy areas. The North Africans know very well what unhappiness the Jews have brought to them. They know that the Jews are the vanguard fighters of imperialism who mistreated North Africa for so long. They also know the extent to which the Jews served the imperialists as spies and agents and how they seek the energy resources of North African territories to expand their wealth …. The American intervention in North Africa strengthens the power of the Jews, increases their influence and doubles their misdeeds. America is the greatest agent of the Jews and the Jews are rulers in America.

The Grand Mufti was one of those who translated National Socialist ideology into Arabic and into the idioms of fundamentalist Islam. This is a dimension of World War II in North Africa and the Middle East that still needs considerable research.


Throughout its history, beginning with Hitler’s early speeches in 1920, Nazism was unequivocal in the ideological convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. At no point did Hitler approve of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Nazi regime’s support for limited Jewish emigration to Palestine in the 1930s did not mean that Hitler or the leading officials of the government supported the idea of a sovereign Jewish state. As war approached, and then when Hitler started World War II, the convergence between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism became even more pronounced. The theory of an international Jewish conspiracy aiming to establish a “Jewish Vatican” in Palestine completely subordinated limited efforts to allow Jewish emigration as a means of removing Jews from Germany. In the midst of this convergence an alliance borne of shared enemies and shared ideology emerged between the radical Islamist, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and the Nazi regime.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001 and of the Palestinian terrorist campaign launched in autumn and winter 2000 and 2001 against Israel at the moment when a compromise peace seemed within reach, there has been a flurry of commentary noting parallels between the ideology of the Islamic fundamentalists and that of twentieth-century European fascism and Nazism. For the first time since 1945, the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy is animating a significant political movement, that is, al-Qaeda and the various other groupings inspired by Islamic fundamentalism. It has been through this prism that the Islamists have understood the Allied victory in World War II, the founding of the State of Israel and its victories in the Arab-Israeli wars, the American and Western victory in the Cold War, and the wars with Iraq. Each was further demonstration of the validity of the paranoid conspiracy theory previously articulated by Hitler and the Nazi regime’s propagandists according to which the power of international Jewry was a dominant force in world affairs. From the perspective of fascist and Nazi ideology and its aftereffects, the preeminence of the United States after the end of the Cold War and the continued existence of Israel were yet further evidence that the international Jewish conspiracy had emerged victorious after 1989/90 yet again.

The scholarly examination of the convergence of a religiously based Islamic anti-Semitism with the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of National Socialism during World War II and the Holocaust remains in its early stages. The emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism it has inspired in recent years have fostered renewed interest in the similarities, differences and aftereffects of Europe’s fascist, Nazi and totalitarian ideologies in the ideology and policy of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah and Hamas, and aspects of secular Arab nationalism as well. Though the differences in language, historical experience and political context should be kept in mind to avoid facile analogies, the comparative historical imagination should not shrink from comparisons when merited. Paul Berman has trenchantly noted, in his discussion of lineages between Europe’s totalitarian past and radical Islam today, that “the world is full of exotic things; but not every exotic thing is a foreign thing.” More remains to be done on the paths and extent of such diffusion from the center and its reception, transformation and incorporation into wartime and postwar Islamic fundamentalism, and on the cultural and ideological aftermath of World War II in the Middle East. In the era of the fascist dictators, Germany, but also Italy and Japan, demonstrated that a “reactionary modernist” path to modernity, one in which modern technology was incorporated into an overall rejection of the values of liberal political institutions, was a theoretical and practical reality. Both within and outside Israel today, lively debate about government policy, for example, regarding settlements, takes place without venturing into the realm of anti-Semitism. It would be naïve, however, to assume that anti-Semitism is playing no role in denunciations of Israel in recent years. Reflection on the classic case of the convergence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism serves as one starting point for examining what kind of residues and aftereffects it left behind and for a clearer understanding of when Jew hatred converges with and diverges from a rejection of the idea and reality of the Jewish state.