In February 1945, Major Denis Hills, an officer of the British Eighth Army in Italy, was given command of a POW camp at Taranto containing 8,000 men of the 162 Turkoman Infantry Division, classified as ‘repatriates’. His charges had been conscripted into the Red Army, been captured on the Eastern Front by the Germans, and had endured starvation and cannibalism under arrest before volunteering for service with the Wehrmacht. Having sailed with them to Odessa, whither they were transported under the terms of the Yalta Agreement, he had no doubts that all such Soviet repatriates were being sent home to be killed.

In subsequent assignments, Hills repeatedly faced the age-old dilemma of a soldier whose conscience did not match his order. In the case of the SS Fede, which was trying to leave La Spezia for Palestine with an illegal shipload of Jewish emigrants, he advised his superiors that regulations should be waived to let them sail—which they did. ‘I had wished to extinguish a small glow of hatred before it grew into a flame.’

During Operation Keelhaul (1946–7), Hills was given 498 ex-Soviet prisoners for screening in a camp at Riccione. His orders were to repatriate to the USSR (1) all persons captured in German uniforms, (2) all former Red Army soldiers, and (3) all persons who had aided the enemy. By inventing spurious categories such as ‘paramilitaries’ and by privately urging people to flee, he whittled down the number of repatriates to 180. When they left, the Russian leader of the group told him: ‘So you are sending us to our deaths … Democracy has failed us.’ ‘You are the sacrifice’, Hills replied; ‘the others will now be safe.’

In the case of Ukrainians from the Waffen-SS Galicia Division held at Rimini, Major Hills was one of several British officers who personally rebuffed the demands of the Soviet Repatriation Commission. When the Division was reprieved, he was sent a letter from the division’s CO, thanking him ‘for your highly humane work … defending the principles in the name of which the Second World War has been started’. According to international law, the Galicians were Polish, not Soviet citizens.

Hills admitted that he ‘bent the rules’. Shortly afterwards, he was court-martialled and demoted on a charge of unseemly conduct, having been caught doing cartwheels and handsprings at dawn in the city square of Trieste.

The Allied policy of forcibly repatriating large numbers of men, women, and children for killing by Stalin and Tito has been called a war crime. In the Drau Valley in Austria, where in June 1945 British troops used violence to round up the so-called Cossack Brigade and their dependants, it provoked mass suicides. But it was well hidden until a report written by Major Hills came to light in the USA in 1973, and the opening of British archives. Solzhenitsyn called it ‘The Last Secret’. It only reached the wider public through books published thirty and forty years after the event.

More recently, an unusual libel trial in London awarded £1.5 million damages against Count Nikolai Tolstoy, author of The Minister and the Massacres, who had written of an official British conspiracy and cover-up. The plaintiff was not the minister accused of ordering the handover of the Cossacks, but a British officer who, faced with the same problem as Hills, had pursued a different policy. He did not receive a penny of his award, as the defendants fought on in the European courts.

POWs – A Comparison of Treatment

The Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS took 232,000 British, Commonwealth, and American prisoners during the war, most in the course of the last year of fighting in Italy and France. The short duration in captivity of most, along with the prospect of pending Allied victory in the west, meant they enjoyed relatively decent conditions in the Stalags in 1944–1945. That permitted most Western prisoners to survive captivity, though there were individual cases of brutality and murder of Westerners by German or other Axis guards. The Germans shackled over 1,000 Canadian POWs after the failed Dieppe raid, during which the Germans discovered British orders to bind the hands of prisoners to prevent destruction of documents. The British and Canadians retaliated immediately by chaining German prisoners, leading to a riot by several hundred Germans in Canadian POW camps. Mutual shackling lasted for a year before everyone backed down. More deadly abuse of British prisoners by the Germans followed a commando raid on the Channel Islands. That led to Hitler’s issuance of the commando order of October 18, 1942, to shoot all commandos taken prisoner. Still, only about 3.6 percent of Western prisoners died while in Axis captivity, a rate that was highly favorable compared to other classes of Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS prisoners and which included captured wounded.

It is noteworthy that Jews in the armies of the Western Allies, in particular captives from the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, were not singled out or killed, not even after the Schutzstaffel ( SS) took over the Stalags. That was not the case for Jews in the Red Army, who along with Communist political officers ( politruks and Commissars ) were pulled out and murdered from the first days of the war in the east. The main reason for the discrepancy was that the Germans were desperate to arrange a prisoner exchange with the Western powers for several thousand Wehrmacht medics and doctors held by the British and Americans, whom they needed to treat mounting numbers of German wounded. Four large prisoner exchanges occurred between the Western Allies and the Germans during the war. They were carried out using the Swedish passenger liner “Gripsholm,” with the physical exchanges made in Lisbon and Goteborg. Germany proposed a still larger exchange, looking to recover men for combat on the Eastern Front. The British were interested in helping long-term captives in German camps, but the Americans rejected the offer: they had few prisoners in German hands before June 1944. The worst experiences of these Western prisoners came in 1945, when they were force marched westward to prevent their liberation by the Red Army.

Yugoslavs, Greeks, and other minor Allies suffered harm commensurate with their ethnic ranking in the perverse Nazi racial view of Europe, and with the degree of resistance offered to Nazi occupation of their home countries. The worst treatment of enemy prisoners, by far, was reserved for enemies of Germany wearing the uniform of the Red Army. BARBAROSSA saw the capture of millions of Red Army prisoners, then their deliberate starvation, massive ill-treatment, and malign neglect by the Wehrmacht. Out of 5.7 million Red Army men taken prisoner during the war about 3.3 million died in German captivity, most in the first eight months of the war in the east: 2.8 million of the first 3.5 million captured died, or 10,000 per day over the first seven months of the German–Soviet war. Some 250,000 were shot outright. Many of the executed were Jews and Communists pulled out of primitive enclosures for immediate murder. Ukrainian and Belorussian peasant conscripts were encouraged by German guards to point out politruks and identify Jews. The selection process led to several hundred thousand executions by the end of 1941. The rest were left to huddle together against killing-cold temperatures in barbed-wire enclosures left open to winter elements, to sleep on frozen ground without shelter beyond hard-packed snow, and to perish en masse from hunger and virulent camp epidemics. Starvation was so extensive in the eastern Dulags and Stalags —POW transit and holding camps, respectively—that there were outbreaks of cannibalism in some. Non-Slavic prisoners fared somewhat better than Slavs, mainly because of spurious Nazi race theories that saw non-Slavs as a higher class of humans. In addition, the Germans pursued a policy of deliberate extermination through starvation of most of the Slavic population of occupied territories. The mass deaths of Soviet military prisoners in its care was the single greatest war crime of the Wehrmacht, and perhaps the gravest war crime in all military history: total deaths of helpless soldiers in German hands was exceeded only by the mass murder of unarmed Jews.

The Germans generally respected the Geneva Conventions with regard to Western prisoners, but refused to honor its provisions concerning Soviet POWs. Among the first experiments using poison gases to “exterminate” large populations were those carried out on Red Army prisoners of war. Some German officers worried that such gross mistreatment of prisoners in the east would have negative military consequences. And so it did: Red Army men fought increasingly desperately, often to the death, once they learned what surrender and German captivity really meant. By mid-1942 the Germans also realized that Soviet prisoners represented a huge pool of potential forced laborers. Therefore, even after the worst excesses of malign neglect over the winter of 1941–1942 stopped, more prisoners were worked to death as slaves. Altogether, about 55 percent of all krasnoarmeets taken prisoner from 1941 to 1945 died in German hands. As German casualties mounted in the east through 1943 the Wehrmacht looked to recruit low-grade military replacements and frontline workers among anti-Soviet prisoners. Men agreed to serve as “ Hiwi ” (Hilfswilliger) in return for food and shelter, or to join so-called “legions” of Baltic, Cossack, Georgian, or Turkmen fighters as Osttruppen, or to serve with the Waffen-SS. Until the great military reverses of 1943, Red Army prisoners were kept near the German front lines. By the end of the war, over half were no longer crammed into Stalags but worked on German farms, in mines or factories, or served as Hiwis with Wehrmacht units. During 1944–1945 German treatment of POWs improved as larger numbers of Landser were captured by the Red Army, and fear of reprisal mounted within the Wehrmacht as defeat clearly loomed in the east.

After the Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept 17, 1939, the NKVD murdered many thousands of captured Polish Army officers at Katyn, Kharkov, and Tver. From the start of the German–Soviet war in mid-1941 the Red Army and NKVD also murdered or badly mistreated many German POWs, usually spontaneously and quickly in hot blood, before they got to rear area camps. Official Russian figures thus record that only 17,000 German prisoners were in Red Army hands in June 1942, a figure reflecting a low survival rate in captivity. Killing and mistreatment was more selective from the end of 1942 through 1945, a period in which the Red Army took ever larger numbers of German and other Axis prisoners. By mid- 1943 there were nearly 540,000 German and Axis prisoners in Soviet POW camps. By mid-1944 another 340,000 were added, with 950,000 more taken prisoner in the second half of 1944. German historians have calculated that of the 3,155,000 Germans taken prisoner by the Soviets, about 1,186,000 died in captivity. Most of those died of cold, disease, and hunger, for a death rate of about 38 percent. Prisoners from the lesser Axis states fared no better: of 49,000 Italians taken by the Red Army, 28,000 died in some NKVD camp. Unlike the Germans, who recruited prisoners for combat or combat-support units, the Soviets recruited among Axis prisoners primarily for propaganda purposes. An exception was the “Tudor Vladimirescu Division,” which was formed from Rumanian POWs and saw extensive fighting against Germans and Hungarians. The Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland (NKFD) served a mainly propaganda function, with some late-war air drops of small espionage and guerrilla units into East Prussia. The NKFD comprised hundreds of captured Wehrmacht officers, including many generals and Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus.

Hundreds of thousands of German POWs, and some Allied prisoners and civilians liberated from the Germans, were detained in the Soviet Union for many years after the war; in some cases for the rest of their natural lives. German prisoners were kept as a form of unilateral reparations, put to forced labor beyond the Urals or in reconstruction work in the western Soviet Union. Winston Churchill predicted this would happen in a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt in November 1944: “[Stalin] certainly contemplates demanding two or three million Nazi youth, Gestapo men, etc. doing prolonged reparation work.” He added: “and it is hard to say that he is wrong.” Many Germans died in postwar captivity in Soviet work camps. Most were not allowed to return to Germany for upwards of 10 years, until after Stalin died in 1953. Others married local women and settled down somewhere in the Soviet Union, lost to earlier lives and families. Stalin’s treatment of his own returned men was not much better. Having suffered severe torments in German captivity, liberated krasnoarmeets faced draconian punishment at the hands of the NKVD upon going home. Some Americans and Western civilians were kept by Moscow for narrower reasons pertaining to Soviet policy in Poland and the Baltic States, and refusal to recognize a legal right of expatriation and foreign naturalization. Those questions related to the start of the Cold War rather than to animosity from World War II. The Western Allies also retained Germans for forced labor. The Americans released most fairly quickly. The British and French retained German prisoners to clear up the vast disorder left by the war, to de-mine and perform other necessary, dirty postwar tasks.

The greatest travesty to befall World War II prisoners was suffered by Soviets returning home upon liberation in 1945. In the desperate days of massive losses and surrenders by Red Army men in August 1941, Stalin issued Order #270 decreeing that surrender was treason. As he later put it: “There are no Russian prisoners of war, there are only traitors.” Neither time nor looming victory tempered the brute in the Kremlin’s lust for vengeance on those who dared surrender during the vast Kesselschlacht (“cauldron battles”) of 1941–1942. The Soviet constitution was even rewritten during the war to make surrender a capital crime, although the men of the NKVD hardly required legal justification for their many summary executions. On May 11, 1945, two days after the German surrender to the Red Army, Stalin issued a decree establishing 74 clearing camps for former prisoners of war liberated in what became Soviet-occupied eastern Europe, with a further 69 camps ordered erected inside the Soviet Union. These camps and others were used to detain liberated Red Army POWs until Smersh and the NKVD could vet them (“filter” was the official term) for anti-Communist or anti-Russian nationalist views, and for other suspect categories of political or social “crimes” defined by the Soviet state. About 1.8 million returning POWs (“repatriant”) were being processed in Smersh “filtration camps” (“filtratsionnyy lager”). Out of five million surviving Soviet prisoners repatriated from Nazi captivity after the war, including hundreds of thousands liberated by the Western Allies and forcibly returned to Stalin’s grasp at gunpoint, some 1.1 million were either executed or sent directly to forced labor camps in Siberia. Others were sent back into the Army. Only 18 percent were allowed to go home. All suffered social and economic discrimination for decades, as did their families, until they were finally and officially “rehabilitated” in 1994, three years after the state they served and saved had itself expired.

Barbarossa – German Arrogance

On 22 June 1941, at 0330 hours, mechanised Wehrmacht divisions, supported by Luftwaffe fighter-bombers, poured across the Niemen River into Russia. The date had been carefully chosen for its historical significance. Exactly 129 years before, on 22 June 1812, an apparently invincible Napoleon Bonaparte had also crossed the Niemen to attack Russia. However, Hitler should have studied his history a little more closely; Napoleon was forced to begin his disastrous retreat only six months after invading, eventually losing 95 per cent of his troops to combat and the Russian winter. Although it would take longer, and cost even more lives, a similar fate would befall the German invaders.

Despite its having started late – the original launch date was May – ‘Operation Barbarossa’ initially made fantastic progress, raising expectations of a repeat of the Blitzkrieg against Poland. Hitler’s plan, which he had been formulating since shortly after the signing of the Russo-German Pact, called for 120 German divisions to annihilate Russia within five months, before the onset of the winter. Hitler wasn’t the only one so confident of a German victory. In July, the American General Staff had issued ‘confidential’ memoranda to US journalists that the collapse of the Soviet Union could be expected within weeks.

But Russia, a vast country tremendously rich in natural resources, manpower, and a fierce patriotism, was far from finished. If unprepared for the precise moment of the German attack, the Red Army was neither as small, as ill-equipped, nor as lacking in fighting spirit as the Nazis’ ideology proclaimed it to be. A month and a half into the campaign, on 11 August, the Chief of the German General Staff, Franz Halder, wrote in his diary:
‘It is becoming ever clearer that we underestimated the strength of the Russian colossus not only in the economic and transportation sphere but above all in the military. At the beginning we reckoned with some 200 enemy divisions and we have already identified 360. When a dozen of them are destroyed the Russians throw in another dozen. On this broad expanse our front is too thin. It has no depth. As a result, the repeated enemy attacks often meet with some success.’
Not only had the Germans underestimated the sheer number of forces available to the Red Army, they had also underestimated how well equipped it was. Many of the Wehrmacht’s best generals reported with astonishment and a large amount of fear on the appearance of the Russian T-34 tank, the existence of which German intelligence had not an inkling. So well-constructed and armoured that German anti-tank shells bounced off it, the T-34 instilled in the German soldier what General Blumentritt later called ‘tank terror’. These kinds of intelligence miscalculations would plague the Germans throughout the rest of the war.

But possibly the Germans’ greatest miscalculation was their ideologically driven belief that Slavic soldiers would be no match for the ‘Aryan’ Germans and that the Soviet Union, once attacked, would disintegrate into chaos and revolution. ‘We have only to kick in the door,’ Hitler assured his generals, ‘and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.’ Instead, the German invasion – launching what the Russians still call ‘the Great Patriotic War’ – loosed among the peoples of the Soviet Union a tremendous surge in patriotism, both Soviet patriotism and Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and other national patriotisms. At this point, nearly a quarter century after the revolution, and just after the terrible purge years of 1934 and 1940, there could have been little naiveté about the nature of the Communist regime. Despite a tremendous amount of resentment and antipathy towards the Communist leaders, the peoples of the Soviet Union remained, for the most part, passionately committed to the sovereignty of the state, as well as to the individual nations of which it was made up. This was a fact which westerners have never properly understood, and the Germans were to pay dearly for their misunderstanding.

Posted in PoW


A generic term for partisans and intelligence agents actively opposed to Axis occupation. Winston Churchill initially placed great hopes in local resistance to Nazi occupation, but this rarely materialized in the West. For instance, in Belgium the main emphasis was on providing intelligence to the Western Allies and aiding downed pilots and crews, not on occasional shootings of Wehrmacht or Schutzstaffel (SS) personnel—that only brought swift Gestapo reprisals. In Norway, Italy, and the south of France armed resistance was marginally more than an minor irritant to the Wehrmacht or to local fascists, though it had psychological and political importance postwar as a vehicle of restoration of collective dignity and national pride. That was true decades later even in Germany, where individual and isolated acts of resistance came to be seen by some as salvaging a glimmer of national conscience about the events of the war and the daily and active collaboration of so many Germans with evil. Everywhere in Western Europe, damage done by active resisters was strategically minor and paled when compared to the price the Gestapo or SS exacted in savage and often indiscriminate reprisals.

Resistance was more extensive but still largely ineffective for most of the war in Yugoslavia. In that ethnically torn country massacre, reprisal, and active armed resistance was hardly distinguishable from civil war. The only strategically significant resistance in the German rear occurred along the Eastern Front, where large partisan units formed locally or were joined by thousands of former Red Army troops, cut-off by the Germans during earlier campaigns. . The Polish Home Army and Ukrainian nationalist resistance groups also carried out many acts of military sabotage and ambush. The Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS retaliated everywhere in the most savage manner they could imagine, making German rear areas a world unto themselves, places shorn of pity or mercy on either side, with only torture, mutilation, and abundant death.

Soviet subjects in German-occupied territory recruited into the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS, mostly from among prisoners of war but some directly from the civilian population. Most of the Soviet citizens who served in the German armed forces in some capacity were non-Russian: Cossacks, Tatars, Turkmen, Armenians, Georgians, and men from several Muslim communities from the Caucasus; along with Balts, Belorussians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Perhaps 800,000 served the Germans in some military capacity. Most were formed into battalions and assigned to German divisions, although some division-sized units fought in the Waffen-SS. Some Osttruppen battalions fought partisans in Italy and Yugoslavia. Sixty battalions faced the Western Allies in Normandy. Most were used by the Germans as cannon fodder on the Eastern Front.

Armenians, Azeris, Georgians, Tatars, Turkmen, and others from several small Muslim ethnic groups from the Caucasus who fought in “legions” alongside the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS.

Auxiliary police drawn from the local, non-German population who worked with German occupation authorities in eastern Europe, especially the Sicherheitspolizei.

Book Review: The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years, 1941-1945.

Klaus Gensicke. The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years, 1941-1945. Edgware: Vallentine Mitchell, 2010. 256 pp. $74.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85303-844-3.
Reviewed by Norman Goda (University of Florida)
Published on H-Judaic (December, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

The Riddle of the Mufti

The enduring nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the attacks of September 11, and the antisemitic rhetoric of Mahmud Ahmadinejad and other extreme Islamists has produced contemporary interest in the history of antisemitism in the Arab/Muslim world. Specifically, scholars and journalists have asked whether there exists a link between Nazi thinking on the Jewish question and current discourse in the Arab/Muslim world on Jews and on Western modernity. These questions are of great importance. Current “anti-Zionist” rhetoric is said to center on anticolonial narratives, which carry moral authority with many on the political left in Europe and in formerly colonized regions. But this moral authority would vanish should the roots of anti-Israel thinking be shown to have its roots in Nazism.

Scholars have tackled the problem from many angles.[1] But a key piece to the puzzle is Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948. In 1941 the mufti, having triggered failed revolts against the British in both Palestine and Iraq, gravitated to Berlin, where for four years he tried to tighten bonds between Nazi Germany and the Arabs and Muslims of the Middle East. After Germany’s defeat he fled to Paris, then Cairo, then Beirut, while styling himself as a nationalist and anti-imperialist. Was the mufti’s policy in Berlin simply a question of anti-British pragmatism? Or was he the missing link between the Nazis’ war against the Jews and more extreme forms of Muslim antisemitism today? And whom did the mufti ultimately speak for in the Middle East?
The complex of issues is the subject of Klaus Gensicke’s Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten (2007), now translated and updated as The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis. The book is based primarily on German and British records and shows that the mufti’s role in Berlin was multilayered yet telling. On the one hand, he never convinced the Germans to back his geopolitical aim of an independent Middle East under his own leadership. On the other, he endorsed Nazism’s war against the Jews on ideological grounds, and contributed where he could to the Jews’ destruction.

Amin al-Husseini was initially a clan leader and uncompromising political agitator. He worked against the Balfour Declaration from the moment it was issued in 1917 and helped trigger riots against the settlement of European Jews in the 1920s. The British hoped to co-opt him and the Husseini clan by making him the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. The position made Husseini responsible for Islamic holy sites, but Husseini used it to argue that the Jews were trying to control the al-Aqsa Mosque and to augment his political standing. By 1936 he was head of the Arab Higher Committee, a position from which he claimed to speak for all Arabs. The revolt he triggered in Palestine from 1936 to 1939 sought to end British rule and to eliminate the mufti’s more moderate Arab political opponents.

Husseini adopted an uncompromising antisemitism that viewed Jews not just as Western interlopers in Palestine and not just as religious infidels, but as an existential threat as per the modern European antisemitic tradition. He rejected British partition schemes for Palestine in 1937 as well as the 1939 White Paper, which sharply limited Jewish immigration and was accepted by the more moderate Nashishibi faction. Instead the mufti courted Nazi Germany from the moment Hitler came to power in part because Hitler, at least when it came to Jews, spoke his language. Husseini argued to German interlocutors that, “Current Jewish influence on economics and politics is injurious all over and has to be combated” (p. 29). Living in exile in Baghdad after his failure in Palestine, he further demanded the expropriation of the 135,000 Jews there–who were hardly part of the European Zionist movement–and he instigated the pogrom that eventually erupted in Baghdad after the failed anti-British revolt in 1941.

Most crucial is the mufti’s period in Berlin from 1941 to the end of the war. On the one hand, Husseini hoped to win Hitler’s support for an independent Middle East while outflanking his Arab rivals in Berlin, namely Rashid Ali al-Kailani, who led the coup against the British in Iraq and whom the Germans hoped they might return to power there. On the other, he hoped to enlist the Germans to help with the eradication of the Jews in the Middle East. It was one of the mufti’s great disappointments that Hitler, realizing Italian aims in the Middle East and viewing the Arabs as another inferior Asiatic race, refused to back Arab independence openly. Husseini was sure that such a statement would deliver the Arab world to the Axis while cementing his own position in the Arab world. But Hitler and the mufti were in full accord that when Germany defeated the British, the Jews of Palestine would be destroyed. The mufti knew what this meant. When he met personally with Hitler in November 1941, Nazi propaganda on the Jews had been clear for two decades, and the Germans, with local help, had been killing Jews in the Soviet Union for four months.

Here indeed was the crucial link between the mufti and the Nazis. Unable to agree on Middle Eastern geopolitics, they could agree that Jews controlled the governments in Moscow, London, and Washington, and that murder was a desirable policy by which to eradicate Jews from the Middle East. The mufti was pleased to broadcast this message to the Arab world through the use of German radio facilities, and the Germans were pleased to have him do so, particularly after June 1942 when it looked as though the Afrika Korps, with an attached SS murder squad, would break through British defenses. As late as December 1942, with the Allies having taken the offensive in North Africa, Husseini, on the opening of the new Islamic Central Institute in Berlin, proclaimed that “the Holy Koran … is full of evidence of Jewish lack of character and their insidious lying and deceitful conduct” and that the Jews “will always remain a divisive element in the world … committed to devising schemes, provoking wars, and playing people off against one another” (p. 108). As scholars have pointed out, the tone and content of Arab propaganda from Berlin, speaking as it did of Jewish global conspiracies, has much in common with extreme Arab narratives today.

Gensicke points out, however, that the mufti was more than a propagandist while in Berlin. He conducted his own diplomacy, acting as a mediator between Berlin and King Farouk of Egypt in 1942. He tried to create an Arab legion with French POWs from North Africa to help the Germans and he also helped with the recruitment of the Bosnian Muslim SS division in 1943 that fought against Josef Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia. Berlin’s desire to use him for German ends rather than place him at the head of an Arab independence movement infuriated him. Yet as Gensicke points put, the mufti openly committed himself to the Germans past the point of no return. Besides, the German Foreign Ministry kept him in opulent comfort, providing him with immense sums for his work and living expenses.

And regardless of the mufti’s frustrations with Hitler, the Jews remained his existential enemy. In spring 1943 when gas chambers in Poland murdered Jews from all over Europe, the mufti engaged in quiet diplomacy with the Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian governments, urging them not to allow a few thousand Jewish children to travel to Palestine as was then being discussed in London. The Jews would be better off, the mufti said, in Poland where the Germans could keep an eye on them. Husseini enjoyed a close relationship with Heinrich Himmler and knew what awaited deported Jews. The mufti never drove the Final Solution–Himmler was unwilling to allow Jews to escape in any event–but he worked to ensure that as many Jews were killed as possible. In the meantime he tried to fuse Islam with Nazism, creating seven new “pillars” that included the thesis that, “In the struggle against Jewry, Islam and National Socialism come very close to one another” (p. 149).

Gensicke points out that Husseini could easily have been tried for war crimes, particularly in Yugoslavia where Bosnian Muslims he recruited engaged in various excesses. But following his escape to France in the war’s final days, neither then French nor the British wished to inflame radical Arab opinion by extraditing him. The mufti’s apologists in Palestine and Egypt could thus claim that he tried to use the Germans for anticolonial aims rather than collaborating with them. Moreover, his role in the Final Solution did not come up in postwar trials. The distortion had immediate effects in Cairo, where Arab nationalists launched a pogrom to celebrate his arrival in 1946. It also had effects in Palestine, where as a hero with bona fides he effectively agitated against 1947 UN partition schemes, called for the immediate destruction of the Jews once the British left, and branded Arabs who accepted the partition as traitors. It all backfired. “The Mufti,” concludes Gensicke, “bore much of the blame for the naqba,” by which the attack on Israel in 1948 created throngs of Arab refugees (p. 189).

After 1948 the mufti waned into political insignificance. The new generations of Arab leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser were committed to destroying Israel. So was the new generation of Palestinian students who came of age in the 1960s and formed the PLO. A former clan based-leader Arab leader whose Nazi collaboration sullied an anticolonial narrative and was surely yesterday’s man. Still none openly condemned the connection between Husseini and Hitler. Yassir Arafat was among Husseini’s mourners when he died in exile in 1974, and he referred to Husseini as “our hero” as late as 2002 (p. 203). And as Gensicke shows in this important book, the mufti threw a long shadow as a precursor to the Arab and Muslim factions who reject all compromise with Jews in the Middle East and whose brand of antisemitism borrows much from the Western traditions that they otherwise despise.

[1]. See especially Matthias Küntzel, Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 (New York: Telos, 2007); Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine (New York: Enigma, 2010); Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Boston: Hoghton Mifflin, 2010); Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (reprint, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); and Jeffrey Herf, ed., Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in Historical Perspective: Convergence and Divergence (London: Routledge, 2006).

Posted in SS

Himmler and Vlasov

On 16 September 1944 Himmler, now commander of the Reserve Army, came to an agreement with General Vlasov on the deployment of Russian troops alongside the Wehrmacht. The photograph taken afterwards showing the men shaking hands was purely for show, as in private Himmler had never concealed his contempt for the general.

Prisoners of war were also Himmler’s responsibility as commander of the Reserve Army, though he delegated this area to Berger. Now that Soviet POWs fell within his field of responsibility the Reichsführer-SS was once more confronted with an initiative that he had hitherto rejected vehemently, namely, the recruitment of Soviet POWs as a separate auxiliary force of the Wehrmacht. In his speech in Posen on 6 October the previous year he had called General Vlasov, the main advocate of this idea among the Russians, the ‘Russian swine’. In July 1944 he nevertheless decided to cooperate with Vlasov as a result of mediation on the part of Gunter d’Alquen, the editor-in-chief of Das Schwarze Korps and commander of the SS-Standarte for war reporting. That same month, after his first contact with Vlasov, Berger set up a ‘Russian operations centre’, the head of which acted as Himmler’s liaison officer with Vlasov.

On 16 September Himmler received the Russian general personally for talks. At the very beginning of the interview Vlasov raised the matter of Himmler’s theory of subhumans; the latter was evasive and immediately declared himself willing to have the brochure entitled The Subhuman that he had had circulated withdrawn (and indeed, Himmler did shortly after issue an internal instruction for all propaganda against subhumans to be stopped). Himmler and Vlasov agreed to establish a ‘Committee for the Liberation of the Russian Nations’, and Himmler made Erhard Kroeger, former leader of the ethnic German population in Latvia, who had been in command of an Einsatzkommando in 1941, political appointee responsible for the Vlasov initiative and put Gunter d’Alquen in charge of psychological warfare. He then had himself photographed with Vlasov.

Vlasov, whose activities were supported by Ribbentrop and Goebbels, was given the opportunity on 14 November 1944, in a ‘Prague Manifesto’, of issuing a call to liberate his homeland. Meanwhile Himmler cannily had Vlasov’s troops established under the umbrella of the Wehrmacht, by contrast with the Galician or Ukrainian SS volunteer units; he had not revised his position so radically that he was willing to integrate them into his Waffen-SS. In April 1945 Vlasov, who on 28 January 1945 was officially appointed supreme commander of the Russian forces, would have more than 45,000 men at his disposal. As far as the course of the war was concerned that was no longer of any significance.

Vlasov and the Nazis

By 1944 defeat stared Germany in the face. Goebbels’s propaganda machine did its best to counter the deterioration of morale, especially emphasizing the bleak prospects with which the “unconditional surrender” slogan confronted the German people. On July 20 a few army officers and government officials attempted to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime, but the plot miscarried and merely resulted in the liquidation of the chief non-Nazis anywhere near the summit of power.

Opportunely for Goebbels came Allied publication of lists of “war criminals,” the mass proscription of the German General Staff, and the approval of the “Morgenthau Plan,” which envisaged the destruction of German industry and the conversion of all Germany into “a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character,” at the second Quebec conference in September 1944. Goebbels declared, “It hardly matters whether the Bolshevists want to destroy the Reich in one fashion and the Anglo-Saxons propose to do it in another.” Doubtless the Morgenthau Plan did much to confuse those Germans who might be thinking of surrendering to the West while holding out against Stalin,, and thus Stalin could only profit by its dissemination by the U.S. and Britain.

At virtually the same moment that the Allies were endorsing the Morgenthau Plan at Quebec, the Nazi regime turned in desperation to a weapon which, if used earlier, might indeed have had great effect on the outcome of the war, but what the Nazis did with it in 1944 was too little and much too late. General Vlasov, who had been captured two years earlier, was to be transformed from a pawn of Nazi propaganda into the leader of a real Soviet anti-Stalinite army and government.

Vlasov, who was born in 1900, the son of a peasant family of Nizhnii Novgorod, had risen in Red Army ranks. A Party member since 1930, he had been Soviet military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1938-1939, decorated in 1940, and in the autumn of 1941 one of the chief army commanders in the defense of Moscow. Apparently he possessed great personal magnetism, integrity, and ability. Not at all the opportunist and Nazi hireling he was accused of being, Vlasov “stressed his nationalism and strove to preserve the independence of the Movement,” writes the most recent Investigator. Of the most influential men who joined his cause, probably the ablest was the brilliant but mysterious Milenty Zykov, who said he had been on the staff of Izvestiia under Bukharin and for a time had been exiled by Stalin. When captured he claimed to be serving as a battalion commissar, but it was suspected that he was much more.

By the end of 1942 Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt of the German army propaganda section was planning to establish a Russian National Committee led by Vlasov at Smolensk. The plan was vetoed from above, but in December the formation of the committee was proclaimed on German soil Instead. Vlasov published a statement of his aims, and he was allowed to tour occupied Soviet areas, meeting a considerable popular response. In April 1943 an anti-Bolshevik conference of Soviet prisoners opposed to Stalin’s regime was held in Brest-Litovsk. After Vlasov declared that if successful he would grant Ukraine and the Caucasus self-determination, Rosenberg was persuaded to support the committee. However, in June 1943 Hitler ordered that Vlasov was to be kept out of the occupation zone, and that the movement was to be confined to propaganda—that is, promises which Hitler could ignore later—across the lines to Soviet-held territory.

During 1943 Vlasov’s circle, under the protection of Strik-Strikfeldt’s section at Dabendorf just outside Berlin, was allowed to carry on remarkably free discussions about a future non-Communist government for Russia and to publish two newspapers in Russian, one for Soviet war prisoners and another for the Osttruppen. The political center of gravity at Dabendorf fluctuated between the more socialist-inclined entourage of Zykov and the more authoritarian-minded group close to the emigre anti-Soviet organization, N.T.S. (Natsionalno-Trudovoi Soiuz or National Tollers’ Union). Of course political arguments among Soviet emigres were nothing new; what was new was the hope of imminent action, utilizing the five million Soviet nationals in Germany, to overthrow Stalin—either with Hitler’s support or, if he should fall, perhaps in conjunction with the Western Allies. Despite arguments, a fair degree of harmony was maintained among the Russians at Dabendorf. Especially noteworthy was the extent to which Vlasov and his followers succeeded in preventing themselves from being compromised by Nazi Ideology and in maintaining the integrity of their own effort to win Russian freedom.

Until 1944, however, the Vlasov circle was confined to discussion and publication. Although the phrase, “Russian Liberation Army,” and Its Russian abbreviation, ROA (for Russkaia Osvoboditel’naia Armiia), were much used in propaganda— with Hitler’s approval—there was in fact no such army. “ROA” was only a shoulder patch which the Osttruppen, scattered in small units throughout the Nazi army, were permitted to wear. In the summer of 1944 the ablest Intellectual of the Vlasov group, Zykov, was abducted and almost certainly murdered forthwith by the SS.

Nevertheless it was Himmler, chief of the SS, who not long afterward achieved the reversal of Nazi policy toward Vlasov. In a meeting with Vlasov in mid-September 1944, Himmler agreed to the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossii or K.O.N.R.), which would have the potentiality of a government, and an actual army. It appears that Hitler consented to Himmler’s new policy chiefly because his suspicion of other Nazi officials who opposed it was by 1944 greater than his fear of arming enemy nationals—a fear which, it must be said, was justified from the Nazi standpoint. The concrete results of Himmler’s decision were meager, largely because the Russians could not, amid the disintegration which overtook the Nazi system during the last months of the war, obtain the material aid they needed to implement their plans.

However, in November 1944 in Prague the K.O.N.R. was officially established at a meeting which issued the so-called “Prague Manifesto.” This document, declaring that the irruption of the Red armies into Eastern Europe revealed more clearly than ever the Soviet “aim to strengthen still more the mastery of Stalin’s tyranny over the peoples of the USSR, and to establish it all over the world,” stated the goals of the K.O.N.R. to be the overthrow of the Communist regime and the “creation of a new free People’s political system without Bolsheviks and exploiters.” It proclaimed recognition of the “equality of all peoples of Russia” and their right of self-determination as well as the intention of ending forced labor and the collective farms and of achieving real civil liberties and social justice. If such a document had been widely disseminated two or three years earlier and given some substance in Nazi occupation policy, the results might have been important or even decisive; coming in 1944, it had no observable effect on the Soviet peoples.

The Prague meeting did stimulate certain Nazi officials to make efforts to put the minorities into the picture with political committees and armies. A year earlier the Nazis had finally organized a Ukrainian SS division which bore the name “Galicia,” but although it fought hard and well at the battle of Brody, on the Rovno-Lvov road, in July 1944, when it was finally overrun there, it dispersed to join Ukrainian partisan forces behind Red lines. In October an SS official, Dr. Fritz Arlt, attempted to secure the consent of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders to the formation of a Ukrainian national committee. To avoid being overshadowed by Vlasov, Bandera and Melnyk agreed to the setting up of such a committee, nominally headed by General Paul Shandruk. Melnyk protested the Prague Manifesto, but many Ukrainians nevertheless joined the Vlasov movement, along with representatives of other minorities.

In January 1945 the formation of the Armed Forces of the K.O.N.R. was announced; however, only two divisions were actually activated and mobilized. The First Division, under the command of a Ukrainian, General S. K. Buniachenko, was committed in April on the front near Frankfurt on the Oder, but the unit refused to fight under existing circumstances, and amid the Nazi military collapse moved south toward Czechoslovakia. At the call of the Czech resistance leaders in Prague, the division moved into the city and on May 7, with Czech aid, captured it from the Nazis.

However, in the Europe of the spring of 1945 there was no place for an anti-Soviet Russian army. The generals, including Vlasov, were turned over to the Soviet command by American and British forces, with or without authorization to do so. In February 1946 the remainder of the army was handed over by U.S. authorities without warning to Soviet repatriation officers at Plattling, Bavaria. In August Pravda announced the execution of Vlasov and his fellow officers, describing them as “agents of German intelligence” and failing to inform the Russian people that they had organized a movement to overthrow Stalin.

Forced labour

The Nazis planned to make the eastern colonies an agrarian appendage of the German empire. They preserved kolkhozes, believing that agrarian reform could disrupt production, whereas the collective farm system might ease the transfer of peasants from Communist to German serfs. German Minister of Agriculture Herbert Backe remarked that had the Soviets not established collective farms, Germans would have had to invent them. An agrarian reform announced by the Reichsminister Alfred Rosenberg in February 1942, as Alexander Dallin writes: 
… was nullified by procrastination in application and by the impression of deceit that it evoked. … The very plan for making the East into a gigantic colony, and the corresponding methods and attitudes of the German officialdom doomed the agrarian policy to failure. … Both by their plans and their practices the occupying authorities aroused against themselves the largest segment of the Soviet society. 
Because few kolkhozes existed in the frontier provinces, the German failure to eliminate them affected the borderlands less than the old Soviet territories. However, in western Ukraine and Belorussia, the new invaders set higher taxes than had the Soviet regime and they engaged in endless requisitions. Erich Koch, Reichskommissar of Ukraine, believed that “if this people [Ukrainian] works ten hours daily, it will have to work eight hours for us.” In many regions, the Germans doubled the 1941 Soviet quotas of obligatory agricultural deliveries.  
The German administration established a mandatory two-year labour duty in Germany. Initially, it recruited young labourers on a voluntary basis, but as that flow quickly dried up, it resorted to the conscription of whole age groups. This caused universal resentment and draft evasion. In Ukraine and Belorussia, Germans burned down entire villages if men and women failed to report. In total, 2,792,669 Soviet labourers were shipped to Germany; including 2,196,166 from Ukraine – of those, 400,000 were from its western regions. This draft affected all but the Polish farmers more than the Soviet deportations of 1940–1941. By July 1944, 75,000 labourers were conscripted in Lithuania, four times as many as the Soviets had deported in 1941, and 35,000 in Latvia, twice the number of Latvians exiled by the Soviets.
The Germans quickly wasted the amount of the good will they enjoyed initially. Having found themselves in the midst of a fierce fight between two totalitarian states, the people of the borderlands had to choose sides. While most focused on their own survival, a part of the politically active minority collaborated with the Germans, another part attempted to pursue nationalist goals, and some supported the Red partisans who increasingly penetrated the borderlands beginning in 1942. The proportion of those who collaborated with the Germans, the Soviets, and the nationalists varied by region and time and depended on the contrast between Soviet and German regional occupation policies, the strength of local nationalism, the social strain accumulated before World War II, the relative prosperity of the people, and the situation on the fronts. Despite the disappointment with the Germans, many Ukrainian and Lithuanian nationalists and most Latvian, Estonian, and Belorussian nationalists cooperated with Germany throughout the war. Although some did so wholeheartedly, most simply regarded the Nazis as the lesser evil.