Islam and Nazi Ger­many’s War

David Motadel
  • Review
By – March 6, 2015

Islam and Germany’s War by David Motadel is an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to our under­stand­ing of the rela­tion­ship of Nazi Ger­many to the Islam­ic world. Motadel, a research fel­low in his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, notes that the efforts of Hitler, Himm­ler, and oth­ers in the Nazi hier­ar­chy to forge an alliance of Mus­lims against the Allies were based fore­most on strate­gic con­cerns, not ide­ol­o­gy. Unlike its anti-Semit­ic racial poli­cies, there was a lack of anti-Islam­ic atti­tudes among the regime’s lead­er­ship. In fact, in their efforts to win over the Mus­lim world, the Nazi lead­er­ship pro­hib­it­ed the use of the term anti-Semi­tism and made it clear that it did not apply to non-Jew­ish Semi­tes. Fur­ther­more, Hitler admired Mus­lims over Chris­t­ian devo­tees, due to their exhor­ta­tion to fight coura­geous­ly because they were promised a par­adise peo­pled with houris, where wine flowed in streams — a real earth­ly par­adise.” Chris­tian­i­ty, Hitler stat­ed, promised noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble: The Chris­tians… declare them­selves sat­is­fied if after their death they are allowed to sing Hal­lelu­jahs.”

Much of Motadel’s book describes the man­ner in which Nazi pro­pa­gan­da attempt­ed to recruit Mus­lims in the Balka­ns, South­ern Rus­sia, and North Africa. Repeat­ed­ly, the Nazi pro­pa­gan­da machine empha­sized that the Jews were behind the hat­ed Sovi­ets, the British, and the Unit­ed States, a refrain which con­tin­ued through­out the war. Empha­siz­ing the anti-Jew­ish pas­sages in the Koran, Nazi writ­ers stressed that Judaism had been the arch ene­my of Islam since ancient times. Draw­ing on their hatred of Jews, they con­nect­ed Judaism and Bol­she­vism and argued that, The Jew­ish men­tal­i­ty cre­at­ed Bol­she­vism and Bol­she­vism is the car­ri­er of the Jew­ish men­tal­i­ty. Made by Jews, led by Jews- there­with Bol­she­vism is the nat­ur­al ene­my of Islam.” Else­where, Nazi writ­ers point­ed out that the idea of the caliphate was noth­ing less than the Fuhrer of the believers.”

By focus­ing on Islam, the Nazi lead­er­ship ratio­nal­ized and avoid­ed the ide­ol­o­gy of Aryan suprema­cy. From the Ger­man per­spec­tive, it seemed most effi­cient to encour­age Islam­ic prac­tices, and to make wide-rang­ing pro­vi­sions for food and drink. Excep­tions were made for Mus­lims to per­form their reli­gious rit­u­als and oblig­a­tions, includ­ing the Mus­lim prac­tice of rit­u­al slaugh­ter. Himm­ler lift­ed the ban enact­ed in April, 1933 when, in attack­ing Jew­ish reli­gious She­chi­tah prac­tices, they decreed the anti-Semit­ic Law for the Pro­tec­tion of Ani­mals.

Were the Nazis suc­cess­ful in their efforts in recruit­ing Mus­lims? Some­what. In the Balka­ns the Mus­lim Handzar divi­sion was involved in the slaugh­ter of Serbs and Jews, where­as in the Crimea, the Cau­ca­sus, North Africa, and the Mid­dle East, the divi­sion was less suc­cess­ful. Fol­low­ing the War, for­mer Handzar sol­diers fought in the 1948 war against Israel.

Relat­ed content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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