When Hitler became Abu Ali
Written by Julian Schvindlerman   

Forty years ago last week, SS-Oberstumbannfuehrer Adolf Eichmann was executed in Israel. He had been arrested at the end of World War II and confined to an American internment camp, but he managed to escape to Argentina. He lived there for 10 years under the name Ricardo Klement until Israeli secret agents abducted him in 1960 and spirited him to Israel.

Eight months after his trial opened in Jerusalem, Eichmann was found guilty of crimes against humanity and the Jewish people and was sentenced to death. He was executed on May 31, 1962; his remains were cremated and the ashes scattered over the Mediterranean Sea -- outside Israeli waters. This is the only case in which the death penalty has been carried out in Israel.

Eichmann's record is notorious. He was the head of the Department for Jewish Affairs in the Gestapo from 1941 to 1945 and was chief of operations in sending three million Jews to the extermination camps. After the war, he became one of the most sought-out Nazi fugitives.

The international community condemned Israel's kidnapping of Eichmann, but it was nonetheless able to see the justice in, and legitimacy of, Israel's action. The trial itself, marked by strict adherence to legal procedure, elicited worldwide admiration, and the Nazi's execution was seen everywhere as a crucial vindication in the post-Holocaust era.

Everywhere, that is, but in the Arab world. There, Eichmann's capture, trial and execution were condemned, and Eichmann was venerated as a "martyr." The Jordanian daily A-Ra' ai praised him for exterminating "members of the race of dogs and monkeys." The Saudi periodical Al-Bilar saluted him for his courage. The Lebanese newspaper Al-Anwar published a cartoon lamenting the fact that the Nazi officer had not killed more Jews.

But let us view this Arab beatification of Eichmann in its proper historical context.

When Hitler took power in 1933, telegrams of congratulations were dispatched from Arab capitals. In 1937, Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels praised the Arabs' "national and racial conscience," noting that "Nazi flags fly in Palestine and they adorn their houses with Swastikas and portraits of Hitler." In 1943, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, spoke highly of the "natural alliance that exists between the National-Socialism of Great Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the world."


Pro-German parties and youth movements attuned to the trappings of National-Socialism sprouted in Syria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Even Nazi slogans were translated into Arabic. A Mideast song popular in the late 1930s crooned: "No more Monsieur, no more Mister. In Heaven Allah, on Earth Hitler." The F├╝ehrer himself was even Islamicized under the new name of Abu Ali.

Love of Nazism spread like wildfire in the region. Among the many Nazi sympathizers at the time were Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and president of the Arab Higher Committee; Ahmed Shukairi, first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization; Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, who became presidents of Egypt; Islamic fundamentalist leaders; and the founders of the Pan-Arab socialist Ba'ath party, currently ruling Syria and Iraq. (One Ba'ath leader proudly recounted: "We were racists, admiring Nazism, reading their books and sources of their thought. We were the first who thought of translating Mein Kampf.").

Praise for Hitler among Arabs did not vanish after the war. In 1965, a Moroccan commentator on Middle East affairs wrote this in the French magazine Les Temps Modernes: "`A Hitlerian myth is being cultivated on a popular level. Hitler's massacre of the Jews is eulogized. It is even believed that Hitler did not die. His arrival is longed for."

In mid-2001, an Egyptian columnist wrote in the government-sponsored Al-Akhbar: "Thank you, Hitler, of blessed memory, who on behalf of the Palestinians avenged in advance against the most vile criminals on Earth." Two months later, Egypt's Press Syndicate awarded this writer its highest distinction.

Since Hitler's ascent to power in 1933, the Arabs have been adulating Nazism. It seems that some things never change -- or perhaps some things do. Now the Arabs accuse the Jews of being Nazis. In this way, Hitler's loyal fans are equating the primary victims of his genocide with the Nazi executioners themselves.

The defining expression of chutzpah is a man who murders his parents and then begs the jury for pity on the grounds that he is an orphan. But the Arabs' perverse historical and moral inversion requires a new definition for the term. For chutzpah cannot sufficiently represent this incredible gall.

Julian Schvindlerman is a political analyst
and journalist in Washington, D.C.

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