In a speech before the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stirred the pot by describing a meeting between Chief Mufti Muslim Cleric of Jerusalem Haj Amin Husseini and Adolf Hitler in November, 1941.
Netanyahu said in his speech: "Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, 'If you expel them, they'll all come here (to Palestine).'
According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: "What should I do with them?" and the mufti replied: "Burn them."
Netanyahu's remarks were quick to spark a social media storm, though Netanyahu made a similar claim during a Knesset speech in 2012, where he described the Husseini as "one of the leading architects" of the final solution.
Israel News noted that the argument concerning Husseini's role was recently mentioned in a book by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, "Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East." The authors, like Netanyahu, draw a straight line between the mufti's support of Hitler and the policy of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation under (the late) Yasser Arafat.
The article went on to explain that even these two researchers do not claim that the dialogue described by Netanyahu ever took place. They say Hitler reached the conclusion to exterminate the Jews because of his desire to nurture Husseini, who opposed the transfer of Jews to pre-state Israel.
Issues of dispute
It is important here to recognise where there is dispute and where there is no dispute. Perhaps a cursory look will help us work through these dilemmas.
There is dispute as to what was said as nothing was officially recorded as it seems to have been an impromptu meeting. The records show that it was suggested to Hitler that it might not be such a bad idea to meet Husseini in the sense, that a friend of this nature down the track might be good politic.
This was certainly an unusual meeting as Hitler saw himself as the world's number one political figure as he met with Kings and Presidents, certainly not a minor religious figure from one insignificant city in the middle east. In Hitler's military strategic eyes, Jerusalem was a far cry from say Paris, London and Moscow.
There is no dispute that the meeting took place in November 1941 and herein lies some time-line difficulties and what was decided when. The Mufti even inspected a guard. The famous Wannsee Conference of Nazi bureaucrats and SS leaders did not meet until January 1942 where the Holocaust was set out and approved by each and every station of the Nazi Government.
Mass shootings of Jews began in September 1941 in the Ukraine, but the idea of extermination by gas and then burning the corpses was not been fully worked through until well into 1942.
Therefore, generally, historians believe that events illustrate Hitler had set on a course of extermination of the Jews well before he met Jerusalem's Mufti.
The questions then remain are two fold.
There is no question that the nature of the discussion between Haj Amin Husseini and Adolf Hitler focused on geopolitical issues and this inevitably included the Jewish issue. Husseini was smart enough to recognise that any deportation from the Nazi empire meant an unsupportable economic and social problem for Palestine.
The second question, certainly a pragmatic one, and in line with middle east political thinking, that if these Jews were not going to be deported and the Nazi policy was to exterminate them, how might this be undertaken. It became a pragmatic issue. The political decision had already been made.
It took some months of indecision and haggling within the Nazi regime as to resolve this pragmatic problem. As the Nazi's themselves discovered, shooting masses of men, women and children has a serious deleterious effect on those carrying out such orders. Satellite state personnel were utilised first up but a far more reaching pragmatic decision was needed. In typical German efficiency, gassing and burning (cremation) was the pragmatic answer.
Syntax and tense
Haj Amin Husseini response according to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as evidence above by other academics and researches - was - "burn them".
Clearly it fits well with the discussion above given the pragmatic considerations at that time, therefore the query is not whether it was said, but in the syntax and tense, what it meant.
Historians agree that "burn them" was not a futuristic sentiment, that Haj Amin Husseini it appears didn't plant the idea in Hitler's mind.
But what if the syntax and tense (note that translators were involved) was a practical measure, a sound and thoughtful resolution to an ongoing and ever demanding issue facing the German Government policy and decision makers.
That question was – what do we do with these millions rounded-up - Jews and other undesirables. Haj Amin Husseini simply came up with a very practical outcome. Ash can be dispensed with very easily. Ash can tipped into rivers and the sea. Ash be spread across acres and acres of lands. Big winds can carry ash a huge distance.
The idea would have permeated around Nazi decision makers and by the time the decision was made, who would have remembered where such a practical solution was initially expressed, albeit a conversation months earlier. Benjamin Netanyahu remembered. For a full account of this story – The Mufti and the Holocuast.
Now we know from journalist Haviv Kanaan published in 1970 that the mufti's plan in 1942 was to build a huge Auschwitz-like crematorium in the Dotan Valley, near Nablus, to which Jews from Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and North Africa would be imprisoned and exterminated, just like the Jews in the death camps in Europe.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html