What do Turks think of Hitler?
Islam under National SocialismFor leaders and prophets
Andreas Main: Here and now it is about a strange alliance: the alliance of the Nazis with the Muslims. A young historian researched them. His name is David Motadel. He was born in Detmold in 1981 - as the son of Iranian-German parents with roots in many religious communities. Today he teaches in England as Professor of International History at the London School of Economics. His book on the alliance of the Nazis with the Muslims was first published in the United States and England. Now three years later also in German. It is entitled "For Prophets and Leaders. The Islamic World and the Third Reich".
Ian Kershaw, one of the most important researchers on National Socialism, has described it as "outstanding", which the publisher also - legitimately - advertises with. The criticism in Germany was also extremely positive. I can only add: This is a book that makes your blood run cold. Extremely exciting - precisely because it is so sober and factual. I am now connected to David Motadel. Welcome and hello, David Motadel.
David Motadel: Hello Mr. Main.
Main: Mr. Motadel, let's fall into the house with the door. Today's neo-Nazis hate everyone equally: Jews, yellows, browns, blacks, and Muslims too. This is in contrast to the original. Leading Nazis of the so-called Third Reich apparently admired Muslims. Wrong world?
Motadel: Yes, some leading Nazis, especially Hitler and Himmler, were actually fascinated by Islam. And they have also repeatedly expressed their sympathy for Islam. That means, for example: Whenever Hitler criticized the Catholic Church during the war years, he compared it at the same time with Islam as a kind of positive counterexample.
That is, while he condemned Catholicism as a weak, effeminate religion, he often praised Islam as a strong, aggressive warrior religion. So there was a certain fascination with Islam.
"Pragmatism towards Muslims"
Main: That sounds absolutely unlikely at first: a racist dictatorship on a cuddle course with Islam. How did the Nazis manage to put their racial madness aside?
Motadel: Yes, before the war Hitler - and of course Himmler and other Nazi greats - had indeed repeatedly expressed contempt for non-European peoples such as Indians and Arabs. During the war, however, the Nazi regime was surprisingly pragmatic here. In principle, Turks, Iranians and Arabs, insofar as they were not Jewish, were explicitly exempted from any official racist discrimination shortly before the war, after the governments in Tehran, Ankara and Cairo had intervened because they wanted to make sure that the German racial laws do not affect the citizens of their countries. During the war, the Germans then showed a similar pragmatism towards Muslims from the Balkans or the Turks in the Soviet Union.
All in all, it was strategic, pragmatic reasons and not ideological motives that were behind the attempts during the war to win Muslims for the 'Axis'. So, in the end, Islam was primarily a means to an end for the Nazi regime.
"Military calculation: mobilizing Muslims"
Main: Before we go into more detail on these pragmatic reasons, first of all the flat question: Who loved whom more - the Muslims the Nazis or the Nazis the Muslims?
Motadel: Overall, of course, one cannot generalize on either side. First of all, one must take into account that at the height of the Second World War, i.e. in 1941/1942, German troops marched into Muslim areas in the Balkans, North Africa, the Crimea, the Caucasus and, of course, at the same time also the Middle Ages East and Central Asia were approaching, i.e. large areas populated by Muslims, and it was just then that Berlin began to perceive Islam as politically significant.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin Al-Husseini, visited a Bosnian volunteer division of the Waffen SS on January 13, 1944. (AFP PHOTO / AFP ARCHIVES)
And the Nazi regime increasingly tried to mobilize Muslims to fight their supposedly common enemies, that is, against the British Empire, the Soviet Union, America and the Jews. The reason for this policy was initially of a pragmatic nature that German troops were confronted with Islamic populations in many of the areas in which they were now fighting.
And at the same time - this is perhaps even more important - the military situation deteriorated in 1941. The Blitzkrieg strategy had failed, especially in the Soviet Union, and German troops came under increasing pressure. At the same time, the partisan war escalated across the continent. And Berlin therefore endeavored to win new allies, often for short-term military reasons. And Muslims were among them. The acquisition of Muslim allies through a - well - skilful Islamic policy seemed to be a way of mobilizing support.
"Jews disguised themselves as Muslims"
Main: So much for the overture to this conversation. We'll talk soon. David Motadel, for all those who cannot believe how close they seemed to be, Nazi leadership and Islamic dignitaries, we have compiled a few quotes from your book. Rainer Delventhal next to me read Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS among others, in January 1944 - what he had to say at a Silesian military training area when a group of Muslim officers from Bosnia was received:
"It was clear. What should separate the Muslims in Europe and around the world from us Germans? We have common goals. There is no more solid basis for living together than common goals and ideals. Germany has been with Islam for 200 years had not the slightest friction surface. "
Main: And then Himmler continues that Germans and Muslims have common enemies, the "Bolsheviks, England, America, all driven again and again by the Jews." And a few days later at a conference in front of functionaries of the "Racial Politics Office of the NSDAP" said the same Himmler:
"I have to say, I have nothing against Islam. Because in this division he educates his people for me and promises them heaven when they have fought and have fallen in battle. A religion that is practical and sympathetic for soldiers."
Main: It is well known that Hitler thought nothing of religion. On the other hand, he has repeatedly emphasized his admiration for Islam. And in Hitler's words it sounds like this:
"Mohammedanism could still inspire me for heaven."
Main: David Motadel, you've been dealing with this closeness for around a decade. The Nazi image of Islam was also one-sided. It probably coincided with reality, but it was also distorted. At which points did it fit? Which didn't fit?
Motadel: Yes, it actually didn't fit in the front and back. During the war years, of course, there was always friction. The attempts of the Nazi regime to win Muslims as allies were more often by no means straightforward. German politics, as designed by the bureaucrats in Berlin and perhaps also conceived by some Nazi leaders, often has little to do with the realities in the front zones.
Has received a lot of praise for his work so far: Historian David Motadel (private)
A well-known example, which I also discuss in detail in the book, is that in the first months after the attack on the Soviet Union, SS Einsatzgruppen shot thousands of Muslims, especially prisoners of war, because they assumed that circumcision meant it are Jews. And that ultimately led to Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Security Main Office and thus responsible for the task forces, issuing an order in which he warned the SS leaders on the Eastern Front to be more careful.
And yet: In the frontline areas, the Germans encountered heterogeneous religious and ethnic populations, including Muslim Roma or Jewish converts to Islam. So many Jews in mixed areas, Muslim-Jewish mixed areas tried to save their lives by converting to religion. In Sarajevo alone, the metropolis of the Balkans, in the first months after the German invasion between April and October 1941, around 20 percent of the Jewish population converted to Islam or Catholicism and the majority to Islam - for various reasons, including circumcision . Others managed to escape disguised as Muslims. So, some women and men even hid themselves under the Islamic veil.
"Muslims Were Not Persecuted as Muslims"
Main: However, those Muslims who fell victim to the Nazi regime did not become victims because they were persecuted as Muslims.
Motadel: No, Muslims - unlike Jews - were not persecuted because of their religion, i.e. not as Muslims. And of course that is an important difference that we have to take into account.
Main: The search for allies on the part of the Nazis, as you have just described, one could put it quite bluntly, the Nazi regime needed cannon fodder.
Motadel: Absolutely. From 1941 onwards, both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS recruited tens of thousands of Muslim volunteers, including Bosnians, Albanians, Crimean Tatars and Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia. In principle, to put it bluntly, it was hoped that this would save German blood, that is, to compensate for the losses on the Eastern Front. Muslims ended up being used on all fronts. They fought in Stalingrad, in Warsaw, defending Berlin at the end, so everywhere.
"Around 250,000 Muslims in the service of the Nazis at weddings"
Main: How many were there at the top who served in the Wehrmacht and SS?
Motadel: Yes, since the numbers fluctuated very strongly, we don't have static, clear numbers. But at weddings there were around 250,000, i.e. tens of thousands, who fought for the Wehrmacht and SS. And what is interesting is that these recruits were given extensive religious concessions.
Islamic rituals and practices, such as prayer or slaughter, were permitted in these units. And slaughtering, this is a particularly clear example, because slaughtering has always been a big topic for anti-Semites in Germany. This Schacht debate, which of course was directed against Jews, had existed since the 19th century. And so it came about that in one of the first laws of the Nazi regime in 1933, the Reich Animal Protection Act, slaughtering was forbidden. In 1941 this ban was lifted to allow Muslims who fought in the Wehrmacht and SS to slaughter.
"All the powers that be tried to recruit Muslims"
Main: To complete the picture, however, we must also add that not only the Nazi regime recruited Muslims, but also its opponents.
Motadel: Yes, at the end of the war there really is a certain Muslim momentum in which all the powers, all the major powers of the war are trying to recruit Muslims. Including the British, the French, also the Soviets. So, the Nazi regime wasn't the only power trying to find support in the Muslim world.
As early as 1937, Mussolini had declared himself the patron of the Muslim world. Japan, another Axis partner, made similar efforts through an Islamic policy to mobilize Muslims in Asia against Great Britain, the Netherlands, China and the Soviet Union. But also the Allies.
In their propaganda after the US troops landed in North Africa, the Americans called for jihad against Rommel's army. London also made use of such propaganda. And even the Kremlin, which brutally suppressed Islam in the interwar period, i.e. suppressed Stalin in 1927 through various religious laws, Islam and other religions in the Soviet Union, changed its policy in 1942.
New mosques were built, Muslim congresses were organized and the Mufti of Soviet Muslims, Abdurrahman Rasulev, "Stalin's Red Mufti", as German propaganda called him, then repeatedly called on the Soviet Muslims to wage holy war against the German invaders.
We should not forget, however, that especially in the Soviet Union, many Muslims - and over 20 million lived in the Soviet Union - naturally had little sympathy for this new policy of the Soviet Union due to Stalin's brutal suppression of Islam. And at the same time, after the occupation of the Caucasus and Crimea, the Nazi regime tried to exploit this with a clever policy of Islam.
The German occupiers rebuilt mosques and Koran schools that had previously been destroyed in the hope of undermining Soviet rule. And - well - that's a phenomenon that we see everywhere, so an Islamic policy was also pursued in other Muslim areas. That is, Islamic clergymen were recruited, for example.
German propagandists politicized religious texts, such as the Koran, or religious imperatives, such as the concept of jihad, in order to incite Muslims to use religious violence against the Allies. At the same time, the German soldiers in these war zones were instructed to treat Muslims well. And the Wehrmacht even published a knapsack in 1941 with the title "Der Islam" to instruct the German soldiers on how to deal with Muslims in war zones.
"Thank Allah and Adolf Effendi!"
Main: David Motadel, who teaches in London as a professor of international history, on Deutschlandfunk in the program "Day for Day - From Religion and Society" about his book "For Prophet and Leader". Mr. Motadel, so far we have mainly looked at the phenomenon with NS glasses. Now let's put on our Islamic glasses. How the Muslim side reacted to the kindness you have just described can be read from the field post letters from Muslim soldiers on the German side, from which Rainer Delventhal now quotes. They are letters from Crimean Tatars from 1942.
"Thank Allah and Adolf Effendi! We are fine. - If Allah protects us, we will not endure a year, but ten years of war. Allah and Adolf Effendi may give the German army strength to achieve victory. - We pray to Allah for the health of Adolf Effendi, day and night. - Thank Allah, now we will soon be freed from the criminal Bolsheviks, whom we will chase out of our country like mangy dogs. '
"The German Islam policy lacked credibility"
Main: Mr. Motadel, how would you summarize, to what extent did Nazi propaganda fall on fertile ground on the Muslim side?
Motadel: Yes, these letters in particular naturally show that some of the soldiers actually put all their hopes in the Germans. Interestingly enough, they also show a strikingly strong religiousness.
And nonetheless, of course, we have to read these fieldpost letters with particular caution. On the one hand, there was undoubtedly a certain amount of self-censorship among the Muslim soldiers, who for decades had been used to being monitored by a police state in the Soviet Union. So, the soldiers had to assume that the Germans would read their letters. In addition, only a few field post letters survived the war. And the letters that I have evaluated were written exclusively or primarily by Crimean Tatars and, moreover, during a phase of the war in which the Germans had relatively many military successes. And it is relatively difficult to use these letters to infer the attitudes of all Muslims in German.
Overall, it can be said that most of the Muslim recruits who fought in the German army had no religious motives. Many were recruited into prisoner-of-war camps, and their main concern was to escape the hunger and epidemics in the camps. And many simply hoped, in principle, that a German uniform would enable them to survive the war.
Overall, German propaganda and German policy towards Muslims were less successful than Berlin had hoped. In other words, it began much too late in principle, in 1941/1942. Then the military situation changed and Germany no longer seemed as strong as at the beginning of the war. At the same time, German politics also lacked credibility to a certain extent.
Many Muslims knew that in principle they should only be recruited, or that their support was only needed in the context of the war. Nevertheless, we must of course see that tens of thousands of Muslims fought in the German armies and that many Muslims placed their hopes in the Germans, who were initially perceived as liberators.
"A sensitive topic that is often politicized and instrumentalized"
Main: Let me say quite frankly that in the meantime - for reasons of efficiency - I wanted to skew a few passages of your book, but then I couldn't help myself: I read every detail, right down to the annotation apparatus, 150 pages long. So, are you so meticulous because you fear that there will be contemporaries who question your research?
Motadel: Yes, the subject is a sensitive one, because of course relationships, i.e. between Muslims and Jews, but also the history of Islam in Germany is an issue that is often politicized and instrumentalized from all sides. And that's why it was important to me to do research there that was waterproof and clear. In addition, of course, it is a scientific work and therefore the annotation apparatus in this context is in principle not that special.
"The Islamic Propaganda of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in Berlin"
Main: Few of them are probably aware that there was this strange alliance between Muslims and Nazis. How do you explain the fact that - unlike the relationship between National Socialism and the churches - so little is known about the relationship of the Nazis to the Muslim world?
Motadel: Yes, that is indeed astonishing, especially since Muslims were one of the largest population groups that Germans were confronted with in war zones during the war. Now it has to be said that historians of the Second World War have shown, I would say, an increasing interest in Germany's relations with the Islamic world over the last - well - ten years. Much of the publications we have or had, however, deal with the Arab world and in particular the collaboration of the Mufti of Jerusalem.
Main: Mohammed Amin al-Husseini.
Motadel: Yes, exactly.
Main: He is famous because - to put it bluntly - he sat permanently on Adolf Hitler's lap as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
Motadel: Yes. He would like that ... well, he was one of the most important collaborators, so to speak. Yes, Amin al-Husseini was quite powerful in Palestine in the interwar period. And in 1921 the British trustees also appointed him "Mufti of Jerusalem". And yet he soon became one of the most powerful opponents of the British mandate in Palestine and, above all, of Zionist migration to Palestine.
Adolf Hitler and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin Al-Husseini at a meeting in Berlin in November 1941. (HO / AFP)
During the war he came to Berlin and was involved in German Islamic propaganda. Al-Husseini's activities in Berlin have been researched quite extensively. However, one problem with these biographical studies is that they often overestimate the influence of the mufti in Berlin. In the end, his influence was strictly limited and his goal of obtaining concrete concessions and guarantees for Arab and - for him even more important - Palestinian independence from the Germans, he did not achieve. Then he reached his limits.
His proposals in Berlin were particularly successful if they were in line with the goals of the Germans. But of course it was important as a propaganda tool for the Germans in the Arab world. And above all, his speeches and his propaganda broadcasts on German radio, on German radio, in the Arab world gave the whole of Islamic politics an - well - anti-Semitic tinge.
"Religion can be instrumentalized politically"
Main: What can we learn, whether Muslims or Jews or Christians or non-denominationalists, when we look at this alliance of politics and religion that we have discussed for 20 minutes?
Motadel: What can we learn Yes, we can learn that religion can very easily be instrumentalized politically, even for profane, non-religious purposes. And that is exactly what the Nazis tried and not only the Nazis, but also the other great powers during the war - and not only that - Islam was repeatedly tried to instrumentalize, most recently in the Cold War as the West tried to support Muslim anti-communist movements. And that is just an episode that ended with the support of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, where the Americans not only distributed stinger missiles, but also religious pamphlets and propaganda.
Main: Assessments were made by David Motadel. He teaches as Professor of International History at the London School of Economics. His book "For Prophets and Leaders. The Islamic World and the Third Reich" has been published by Klett-Cotta. 568 pages cost 30 €. David Motadel, thank you for taking the time to visit the studio and thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
David Motadel: "For Prophets and Leaders. The Islamic World and the Third Reich"
Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 2017, 568 pages, 30 euros
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