W. Cohn: Critique of Saul Friedlander’s new book

W. Cohn: Critique of Saul Friedlander’s new book

What follows is excerpted from a lengthy review of Saul Friedländer’s “The Years of Extermination,” (New York, HarperCollins, 2007) by emeritus professor of sociology Werner Cohn and posted at Prof. Cohn’s Web site. It is the part that most interests us as a Zionist blog – ed.

Nowhere in Friedländer’s book is there a mention of the activities of Hitler’s one major Arab supporter during the “years of extermination”: the Mufti of Jerusalem at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

As I have already suggested, Friedländer is extraordinarily comprehensive in his list of social forces and individuals whom he considers as partially responsible for the Holocaust. He never loses sight, of course, of the major culprits, viz. Hitler and his immediate followers. But he also finds room, lots of it, for dishonorable mentions of many others: the German public, Christian religious institutions throughout the world, the governments of the West and of neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden, the anti-Semitic man-in-the-street in just about every European country, and many others. (But Friedländer fails to mention, in a minor but curious omission from his index of villains, that the French Communist Party in the era of the Stalin-Hitler Pact did not hesitate to engage in a spot of Jew-baiting.)

Perhaps more than other writers on the Holocaust, Friedländer is insistent and repetitive in his criticism and condemnation of Jewish shortcomings during these dark years. The Jews of Palestine, with Ben- Gurion as their leader, were selfish, narrow-minded, and lacked an adequate spirit of self-sacrifice (pp. 153, 305, 596, etc.). The Jews of Europe generally? A ” sauve qui peut ” mentality (pp. 192, 355, etc.). The Jewish leaders of Amsterdam? “A wealthy Jewish haute bourgeoisie” , oblivious of its human responsibilities (p. 181). American Jewish leaders? The less said the better (pp. 85, etc.) These critical comments border on the moralistic and ahistorical. In hindsight, yes, these men and women were blind, shortsighted, and less than fully courageous. But – need I say this to a historian? – there were constraints of the times in which they lived, constraints that are just a bit too often forgotten by Friedländer.

But while these Jews, including the Jews of Palestine, cannot escape the criticisms of Friedländer, another Palestinian at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem, enjoys the writer’s strange indulgence. Friedländer mentions the Mufti but once, on page 277, where we are told that Hitler informs him, the Mufti, that he, Hitler, would be “uncompromising” about the Jews, including the Jews of Palestine. But neither here, nor anywhere in his book, nor in the first volume of this book, does Friedländer give a hint about the Mufti’s words or the Mufti’s activities.

These activities, in brief, were pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic. There were anti-Semitic messages to Arabs who were enlisted in Allied armies, asking them to desert to avoid fighting for “the Jews” (2). The Mufti also interceded with the Germans to prevent the exchange of prisoners that could have saved thousands of Jewish children from the Holocaust. The Mufti spent the last years of the war in Berlin. While Arab writers have often tried to ignore the Mufti’s work for Hitler (3), at least one Arab scholar has written an influential study that presents the essential facts. (4)

In short, the Mufti of Jerusalem was a far more important player in the Holocaust than many of the minor figures that make up Friedländer’s index of villains. They are all given dishonorable mention – usually for good cause. But the Mufti, well known to Friedländer as we have seen, has escaped his censure. …

The Mufti’s collaboration with, and efforts for, the Nazi cause are even more damning than indicated by Prof. Cohn. During his years of exile from Palestine as a guest of Hitler during World War II, the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini made Arabic radio broadcasts advocating genocide against the Jews and victory for Nazi Germany, personally recruited Balkan Muslims to the SS and was a leader of an Iraqi rebellion in 1941 (directly supported by German and Italian air units) to attempt to push the British out of Iraq — an effort, that if successful, would have outflanked the British in North Africa and doomed the Jews of Palestine – Ralph Seliger.
Click here for the entire review.

By | 2007-08-03T12:27:00-04:00 August 3rd, 2007|Blog|0 Comments

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