Grigoris Balakian, 1876-1934: “The German officers would often speak of us as Christian Jews and as blood sucking usurers of the Turkish people.”
by Andrew Bostom |
This past week I was privileged to receive an advance copy of the soon to be released (March 31, 2009, according to the publisher, Random House) first time English translation of Grigoris Balakian’s epic personal memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918, “Hai Koghkotan,” “The Armenian Golgotha,” originally published in Vienna, in 1922. The 1922 volume 1, and the second volume (which apparently “fell into a void for lack of funding,” was found among Grigoris Balakian’s sister Rosa Antreassian’s post-humous papers in 1956, and published in Paris in 1959) are presented in a very accessible, elegant English translation by Grigoris Balakian’s grandnephew, Professor Peter Balakian—an accomplished scholar of the Armenian Genocide himself—with the able assistance of two colleagues, Anahid Yeremian, and Aris Sevag.
Modern genocide historians who have been wont to re-examine the disintegrating Ottoman Empire’s World War I jihad genocide against its Armenian minority through the prism of The Holocaust, often cite a comment by Hitler that the mass killings of the Armenians served the Nazi leaders as an “inspirational” precedent for predictable impunity. During August of 1939, Hitler gave speeches in preparation for the looming invasion of Poland which admonished his military commanders to wage a brutal, merciless campaign, and assure rapid victory. Hitler portrayed the impending invasion as the initial step of a vision to “secure the living space we need,” and ultimately, “redistribute the world.” In an explicit reference to the Armenians, “Who after all is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?,” Hitler justified their annihilation (and the world’s consignment of this genocide to oblivion) as an accepted new world order because, “The world believes only in success.”
Grigoris Balakian’s eyewitness account of events from 1915-1918—recorded in his diaries during World War I, and already published by 1922—provide a unique, independent confirmation of this ideological, and genocidal nexus, and antedate The Holocaust by two decades. Specifically, Balakian’s striking observations (on pp. 280-281) from a chapter entitled, “The Treatment of the Armenians by the German Soldiers” capture attitudes of German military officers towards the Armenians that foreshadow, chillingly, the genocidal depredations they would inflict upon European Jewry during World War II.
The German officers on their way to Palestine and the Mesopotamian front had no choice but to pass before the Bagche [Asia Minor] station [train]. All of them used offensive language with regard to the Armenians. They considered us to be engaging in intrigue, ready to strike the Turkish army from the rear, and thus traitors to the fatherland…deserving of all manner of punishment.
Although most of the Armenians living in Turkey had been deported, scattered, and martyred in the spring of 1915, a few hundred thousand survivors still perishing in the deserts to the south—wasting away to nothing. Nevertheless the German officers’ Armenophobic fury continued, and not a word of compassion was heard from their lips. On the contrary, they justified the Ittihad government, saying, “You Armenians deserve your punishment. Any state would have punished rebellious subjects who took up arms to realize national hopes by the destruction of the country.”
When we objected, asking if other states would dare to massacre women and children, along with men, and annihilate an entire race on account of a few guilty people, they replied: “Yes, it’s true that the punishment was a bit severe, but you must realize that during such chaotic and frightful days of war as these, it was difficult to find the time and means to separate the guilty from the innocent.” This was also the merciless answer of the chief executioners—Talaat, Enver, Behaeddin Shakir, Nazim—and their Ittihad camarilla.
The German officers pretended ignorance of the widespread slaughter of more than a million innocent Armenians, irrespective of sex and age, and referred only to deaths by starvation and the adversities of travel during the deportations. Thus they exonerated the Turkish government, saying that its inability to provide for hundreds of thousands of deportees in a disorganized land like Asia Minor was not surprising. Meanwhile Turkish government officials prevented the starving refugees from receiving bread distributed by the Austrians and Swiss, stating, “Orders have come from Constantinople not to give any assistance. We cannot allow either bread or medicine to be given. The supreme order is to annihilate this evil race. How dare you rescue them from death?” The German officers would often speak of us as Christian Jews and as blood sucking usurers of the Turkish people.
What a falsification of the wretched realities prevailing in Asia Minor, and what a reversal of roles! Yes indeed, there was an oppressor. Either the Germans were consciously distorting the facts and roles, or the Turks had really convinced them that the Turks were the victims and the Armenians were criminals. How appropriate it is to recall here this pair of Turkish sayings: “The clever thief has the master of the house hanged” and “The one who steals the minaret prepares its sheath in advance, of course.”
Many German officers had no qualms about turning over to the Turkish authorities Armenian youths who had sought refuge with them; they knew full well that they were delivering them to their executioners. If an Armenian merely spoke negatively about a German—be he the emperor or [Baron] von der Goltz Pasha [a German military aide to the Ottoman Empire], or the average German—or dared to criticize German indifference toward the Armenian massacres, he was immediately arrested and turned over to the nearest Turkish military or police authority. And if the Germans found a certain Armenian particularly irritating, they pinned the label of spy on him.
Mistaking me for an Austrian, a few German officers boasted of having turned over several Armenians to the Turkish police, adding with a
laugh, “Only the Turks know how to talk to the Armenians.”
Wilhelm Harun-el-Raschid Bey, 1886-1963: The apotheosis of two conjoined, genocidal twentieth century ideologies—jihadism, and ethno-nationalism.
The career trajectory and personal attitudes of Wilhelm Hintersatz (born 1886; died 1963) epitomize these genocidal connections. Hintersatz achieved the rank of colonel serving the Kaiser’s Austrian armed forces in Turkey, during World War I, where he became an assistant to Enver Pasha—one of the ruling Ittihad (Young Turk) triumvirate architects of the Armenian Genocide—and converted to Islam, assuming the name Harun-el-Raschid Bey.
During World War II, he joined the Waffen SS as Standartenfuhrer (Colonel) of a unit that merged Waffen groups operating in the Ural Mountains, and Central Asia, from 1944-1945. As described by Professor Kurt Tauber in his meticulously documented two volume tome (published in 1967) on the post World War II era phenomenon of residual anti-democratic German nationalism, Beyond Eagle and Swastika, Wilhelm Harun-el-Raschid Bey wrote Aus Orient und Occident; ein Mosaik aus buntem Erleben [From the Orient and the Occident: A Mosaic of Varicolored Experiences], ostensibly “…about his personal experiences and travels, interlarded with his reflections,” which was published in 1954. However, as Tauber observes, cleverly avoiding strict German laws against the publication of overtly Antisemitic writings which were stringently applied during the early post World War II period, Harun-el-Raschid Bey concealed his Jew-hatred behind a “folkish” façade.
Yet, in doing so he presented a clear and penetrant racist orientation, masquerading as lighthearted story telling and simple good fun. Some of the descriptions of people and events have an almost Stürmer-like quality, including even the attempted seduction by a Russian Jewess!
Wilhelm Harun-el-Raschid Bey represents the apotheosis of two conjoined genocidal 20th century ideologies—jihadism, and ethno-nationalism. And as true believer in both, he remained seemingly unrepentant even in the aftermath of the genocidal killings these hatemongering ideologies provoked.
Ahmed Huber recounted a conversation with Mohammad Amin al-Husseini: the Nazi ideology was an inspiration from Islam
November 24, 2012 § 2 Comments
November 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Amin al-Husaini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, remains a controversial figure. The Palestinian leader, who was born in 1895 and died in 1974, first sparked controversy during his lifetime. As an officer in the Ottoman army during the First World War, he implemented the German idea of organizing jihad and terror behind enemy lines. (See my discussion here.) Later, he led the resistance against the British mandate authority in Palestine during uprisings in 1929 and in 1936. He fiercely opposed Jewish settlement.
But it is, above all, the Grand Mufti’s close ties to National Socialist Germany that are the subject of ongoing debates. From 1941 to 1945, he lived for the most part in Berlin as a guest of the German government. The Nazis provided office space, vehicles and money, so that the Mufti and his entire entourage could stay active. In return, the Mufti used his influence in the Middle East on the Nazis’ behalf and recruited Muslims for the Nazi war effort. On the airwaves of Nazi Germany’s Arab language radio service, he called for a Holy War, a jihad, against the Allies and the Jews.
Some German authors, like René Wildangel, claim that it is still unclear whether and to what extent Amin Al-Husaini was informed about the Nazis’ exterminationist policies toward the Jews. In a recent review of Klaus Gensicke’s biography of the Grand Mufti, John Rosenthal expresses some doubts as well: noting that the fact that members of the Grand Mufti’s entourage visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1942 is not sufficient evidence for concluding that he also knew what was transpiring in the death camps further to the East.
But in fact the full record of the available evidence, including both German and Arabic sources, leaves no room for doubt anymore. Indeed, the Grand Mufti’s own words provide the most compelling proof. Memoirs of the Grand Mufti, edited by Abd al-Karim al-Umar, were published in Damascus in 1999. (See cover photo below.) In the memoirs, al-Husaini openly discusses his close relationship to SS chief Heinrich Himmler.
According to his account, he often met Himmler for tea and during these meetings the Nazi leader confided some of the secrets of the German Reich to him. Thus, for example, in the middle of 1943, Himmler is supposed to have told him that German nuclear research had made great progress: In three years, Germany could have an atomic weapon that would guarantee its “ultimate victory.” As Rainer Karlsch’s recent book on “Hitler’s Bomb” has shown, this assessment was not far off. Himmler presumably confided this information to the Grand Mufti on July 4, 1943. That is the date on a photo of the two men with a signed dedication from Himmler: “to his Eminence the Grand Mufti — a Memento” (see below).
In the memoirs, the Grand Mufti also describes what Himmler said to him in that summer of 1943 about the persecution of the Jews. Following some tirades on “Jewish war guilt,” Himmler told him that “up to now we have liquidated [abadna] around three million of them” (p. 126 — see Arabic excerpt below).
There is evidence, moreover, that the Grand Mufti knew about the Nazis’ plans still earlier. In 1946, Dieter Wisliceny, a close collaborator of Adolf Eichmann in the “Jewish Affairs” division of the Reich Central Security Office, provided a written statement on the Grand Mufti to the Nuremberg Tribunal.
According to Wisliceny, at the beginning of 1942 Eichmann made a detailed presentation to al-Husaini on the “solution of the European Jewish question.” The presentation took place in Eichmann’s “map room” in Berlin: “where he had collected statistical graphics on the Jewish population in the various European countries.” The Grand Mufti, Wisliceny recalls, was “very impressed.” Furthermore, al-Husaini is supposed to have put in a request to Himmler to have Eichmann send one of his assistants to Jerusalem after Germany had won the war. The representative of Eichmann was to serve as the Grand Mufti’s personal advisor: i.e. when the Grand Mufti would then set about “solving the Jewish question in the Middle East.”
We can infer from other documentation that this was not just a vague idea. A declassified document on Nazi war crimes from the National Archives in Washington indicates that as of mid-1942 a special SS commando unit had plans to liquidate the Jews of Cairo following the capture of the city by German forces. (See detail below.) Gen. Erwin Rommel was supposedly disgusted by the proposition. The head of the SS unit, Walter Rauff, had earlier been involved in developing vans that served as mobile gas chambers. It should be noted that he was a German and not a Pole, as suggested in the U.S. government document.
In his memoirs, however, the Grand Mufti feigns astonishment at Himmler’s remark. On his account, Himmler asked him how he would solve the problem of the Jews in his country. Amin al-Husaini says that he answered that they should go back to where they came from. To which Himmler is supposed then to have replied: “Come back to Germany — we will never allow them to do that.” But the Grand Mufti is here white-washing his own role in history. After all, in Berlin on November 2, 1943, he publicly declared that Muslims should follow the example of the Germans, who had found a “definitive solution to the Jewish problem.”
Wolfgang G. Schwanitz is a historian of the Middle East and German Middle East policy. He is the author of four books and the editor of ten others, including “Germany and the Middle East, 1871-1945.” He grew up in Cairo and Berlin, and he teaches at Rider University in New Jersey. The above article had been adapted from a longer article that appeared on the German website Kritiknetz. The full German version is available on Kritiknetz here. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.