Despite Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial claim — that a Palestinian leader gave Adolf Hitler the idea to exterminate Jews — a representative of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germans know that responsibility for the Holocaust is "very much our own."
"All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert says, according to ITV News.
Netanyahu's statement came in an address to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Tuesday, in which he described a 1941 meeting between former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini and Hitler — who Netanyahu said, "didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews."
Years before al-Husseini helped frame the Nazis' notorious Final Solution, Netanyahu said, he had urged deadly attacks on Jews in British-ruled Palestine.
From the official transcript of Netanyahu's statement:
"And this attack and other attacks on the Jewish community in 1920, 1921, 1929, were instigated by a call of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was later sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution. He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, 'If you expel them, they'll all come here.' 'So what should I do with them?' he asked. He said, 'Burn them.' "
Responding to the statement, Isaac Herzog, the Israeli leader of the opposition Zionist Union party, said the remark was "a dangerous distortion of history (that) trivializes the Holocaust, trivializes the Nazis and the share of the terrible dictator Adolf Hitler's terrible tragedy of our people during the Holocaust."
After his comments caused a stir — and just before leaving for a trip to Germany for an annual meeting with Merkel — Netanyahu clarified his view Wednesday during a brief media appearance at a Tel Aviv airport.
"Netanyahu said he had no intention of absolving Hitler of his crimes," reports Jerusalem Post. "Hitler, he said, is responsible for the Final Solution. But by the same token, he said, it is 'absurd' to ignore the role played by the mufti in encouraging Hitler and his henchmen to murder the Jews."
Reporting on the controversy in Germany, Der Spiegel notes that several months before Hitler met with al-Husseini, the German SS had already killed tens of thousands of Jews in Lithuania and Ukraine. The newspaper also cites two Israeli history professors who disagree with Netanyahu — including one, Meir Litvak, who says Hitler was already planning a genocide in 1939.
"Al-Husseini was an enthusiastic Nazi supporter who helped recruit Bosnian Muslims to their side and whose anti-Semitism was well documented," the AP reports. The news agency also cites historian Moshe Zimmermann of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, who said the mufti was a "lightweight" whose offer to form a formal treaty was rejected by Hitler.
Wednesday, Netanyahu said of the mufti, "Unfortunately, Haj Amin al-Husseini is still a revered figure in Palestinian society, he appears in textbooks and it is taught that he is one of the founding fathers of the nation, and this incitement that started then with him, inciting the murder of Jews — continues."
With his remarks about Hitler, Der Spiegel says, Netanyahu echoed some of the sentiments of historical revisionists and Holocaust deniers who have said Hitler's main intention had been to expel Jews from Germany.
During the years of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany killed some 6 million Jews along with millions of other people. Today in Germany, denying the events of the Holocaust is a criminal offense that's punishable by a jail term.
Merkel spokesman Seibert says there is a good reason the Holocaust is taught in German schools: "it must never be forgotten."