Review: Nazi Germany and the Arab World

What if Monty had lost in the Middle East?


By Francis R. Nicosia
Cambridge University Press, £60

What would have happened if Montgomery had lost at El Alamein and Hitler had defeated the Soviet Union? The Nazis would have marched into Iran and Georgia - and one German report dreamed of the possibility that a German-Arab force would have advanced from Basra in Iraq to link up with the Japanese heading towards Sri Lanka.

The author of this comprehensive work, the American academic Francis Nicosia, argues that, while there is no definitive answer as to how the Arab world would have treated their Jewish neighbours if the Nazis had been victorious, there is no doubt that Hitler would have extended the Final Solution to the Middle East - and added to the figure of six million. As in Eastern Europe, he would have expected local participation.

Many Arabs were pro-German because Hitler opposed their British and French masters. The Arabs, like the Germans, wished to reverse the post-First World War status quo imposed by the Allies and they were impressed by Nazi fervour. And Germany had not interfered in internal Arab affairs.

While the leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism, the Mufti of Jerusalem, had expressed his appreciation of Nazi anti-Jewish policies shortly after Hitler's accession to power in 1933, the Führer was uninterested in the Arab world and privately racist about its inhabitants. Hitler wanted to preserve the British and French empires while he controlled Europe - and this included maintaining British rule in Palestine.

On the one hand, Hitler wanted to expel all Jews from Germany; on the other, he ideologically opposed the prospect of a state of the Jews as envisaged in the Peel Commission proposals in 1937.

Moreover, he did not wish to antagonise his Italian ally, which harboured a thirst for territorial acquisitions in the region.

Such conflicting views resulted in an ongoing vagueness about Nazi intentions in the Middle East. This produced only a trickle of German arms to Iraq and meagre financial assistance via Saudi Arabia to Palestinian Arab rebels. Hitler used Arab aspirations to serve German policies.

When Hitler famously met the Mufti in November 1941, he sidestepped the proposal to issue a formal declaration of support for Arab independence, but was unambiguous in stating Germany's commitment to "an uncompromising struggle against the Jews".

The Mufti expressed his strong opposition to Jewish emigration from occupied Europe in May 1943 when he suspected that Nazi policy might be changing. He condemned the idea that 5,000 Jewish children should be allowed to go to Palestine in exchange for German nationals held by Britain since the outbreak of war.

The new Middle East would have consisted of a Greater Syria including Palestine, Lebanon and TransJordan, probably under the Mufti's rule. Iraq would have annexed Kuwait while Saudi Arabia would have taken Bahrein, Oman and the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Hitler remained reluctant to exploit Arab fury at the British. The Mufti was still trying to persuade the Germans to establish an Arab military force as late as October 1944 - even after Majdanek had been liberated by Soviet forces.

Francis Nicosia's book is a scholarly - and salutary - reminder of what was and what could have been.

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