Germany insisted on Wednesday that history continue to hold the Nazis responsible for the Holocaust and said there was no reason to offer an alternative narrative, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to blame a Palestinian official for goading Adolf Hitler into the extermination of Jews.
Netanyahu, who is in Berlin on a state visit, has been roundly denounced for claiming during a speech Tuesday that Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist widely acknowledged as a fervent Jew-hater, suggested to Hitler the idea of exterminating the Jews of Europe during World War II.
“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in response to questions about Netanyahu’s statements the day before, Reuters reported.
“This is taught in German schools for good reason; it must never be forgotten,” Seibert said. “And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”
Netanyahu on Wednesday morning defended his comments, which he said were misconstrued, noting al-Husseini’s “key role” in the Holocaust.
Critics have colored the comments as inaccurate at best and, at worst, as a tailwind for Holocaust denial. Implying that the mufti planted the idea for the Final Solution in Hitler’s mind was seem by some critics as tantamount to absolving Hitler and the Nazis, at least partially, for orchestrating the unprecedented, systematic genocide of the Jews.
An overwhelming majority of Holocaust historians reject the notion that Husseini planted the idea of a “final solution” for Europe’s Jews in Hitler’s mind.
The head historian at Yad Vashem responded to Netanyahu’s remarks saying that they “were completely incorrect. There is no connection between the beginning of the Final Solution and Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”
“The mufti,” Dina Porat told Army Radio, “wanted the Jews of the land of Israel and Arab lands to be included in the Final Solution, but he didn’t conceive of the idea.”
The Anti-Defamation League cautioned against Netanyahu’s version of events and said in a statement that “history has made clear: [The] Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a virulent anti-Semite, but we must always be careful in talking about the Holocaust.”
“Even if unintended, the prime minister, by his words, plays into those who would trivialize or understate Adolf Hitler’s role in orchestrating the Final Solution [the extermination of Europe’s Jews],” said ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt. “We appreciate his clarification on the point. At a time when there is hateful incitement against Jews spreading across the Internet, it’s important to stay focused on the issues at hand today.”
President Reuven Rivlin, in Prague on a state visit, said he was not familiar with the details of Netanyahu’s comments but was sure of Hitler’s evil.
“I know both of them hated the Jewish people, but there never was and never will be a man that caused the extermination of our people, the Jewish people, like Hitler,” he said.
In a statement on Wednesday morning, Netanyahu asserted that his comments had been misconstrued.
“It is absurd. I had no intention to absolve Hitler of responsibility for his diabolical destruction of European Jewry,” he said. “Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews. He made the decision. It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, for encouraging and urging Hitler, Ribbentropp, Himmler and others, to exterminate European Jewry.”
Netanyahu departed early on Wednesday for a visit to Germany where he is to meet with Merkel.
During an address Tuesday to delegates at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Netanyahu posited that the Nazi fuehrer did not initially intend to annihilate the Jews, but rather sought to expel them from Europe. According to the prime minister’s version of the events, Hitler changed his mind after meeting with Husseini — who was grand mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948, and president of the Supreme Muslim Council from 1922 to 1937 — in Berlin near the end of 1941.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time [of the meeting between the mufti and the Nazi leader], he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here [to mandatory Palestine],’” continued the prime minister.
“‘So what should I do with them?’ He [Hitler] asked,” according to Netanyahu. “He [Husseini] said, ‘Burn them.’”
Netanyahu was speaking in the context of enduring Palestinian accusations — the mufti was one of the first to peddle such allegations against Jews in Mandatory Palestine — to the effect that Israel is seeking to change arrangements at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to bolster Jewish access.
The charges have been fueling a recent wave of attacks against Israelis in and around Jerusalem. Israel has repeatedly denied allegations that it wishes to change the status quo on the Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and is holy to both Jews and Muslims. As per the status quo, Jews may visit the Temple Mount but not pray there.