Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday at the 37th Zionist Congress that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler did not initially plan to exterminate the Jews and was convinced by the grand mufti of Jerusalem – but renowned historians said definitively on Wednesday that this was not the case.
Professor Dan Michman, a world-renowned expert who is the head of the Institute of Holocaust Research at Bar-Ilan University and Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem said Hitler did indeed meet the mufti – but this only occurred after the Final Solution began.
"He flew to Berlin," Netanyahu said of the mufti. "Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Hajj 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.'"
Netanyahu also said that the mufti was sought during the Nuremberg trials but managed to evade them.
He further noted that the mufti claimed Jews wanted to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque before the war, and "this lie is about a hundred years old."
Yad Vashem's chief historian, Professor Dina Porat, told Ynet that Netanyahu's statements were factually incorrect. "You cannot say that it was the mufti who gave Hitler the idea to kill or burn Jews," she said. "It's not true. Their meeting occurred after a series of events that point to this."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Wednesday on Netanyahu's remarks: "Of course Hajj Amin al-Husseini did not invent' the Final Solution to the Jewish question'. History clearly shows that Hitler initiated it. Hajj Amin al-Husseini joined him." He added that "the jihadist movements today are encouraging anti-Semitism and lean on known Nazi heritage."
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called Netanyahu's remarks "distortion of history" on his Facebook page.
"No one needs to teach me how much of an Israel-hater the mufti war," wrote Herzog. "He gave an order to murder my grandfather, Rabbi Herzog, and actively supported Hitler. But there was only one Hitler. Hitler did not need Husseini to order the murder of Jews just because they were Jewish."
Professor Meir Litvak, who teaches at Tel Aviv University's Department of Middle Eastern History, said the idea of annihilating the Jews came up in 1939. While the initial plan was to send Europe's Jews to an area north of the Ural Mountains so that they would die of disease, he said, the plan was nixed when the Soviet Union did not surrender in 1941. At that point, Litvak said, the extermination idea arose.
"Husseini supported the extermination of the Jews, he tried to prevent rescuing of Jews, he recruited Arabs for the SS," said Litvak. "He was an abominable person, but this must not minimize the scale of Hitler's guilt."
The PLO made its own statement on its Twitter page. "Netanyahu hates Palestinians so much that he is willing to absolve Hitler for the murder of 6 million Jews," the account quoted Saeb Erekat, former chief negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as saying. "On behalf of the thousands of Palestinians that fought alongside the Allied Troops in defense of international justice, the State of Palestine denounces these morally indefensible and inflammatory statements."
"I had absolutely no intention of absolving Hitler of his diabolical responsibility for the extermination of Europe's Jews," Netanyahu said as he prepared to depart for Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to murder six million, it was his decision.
"At the same time it is absurd to ignore the role played by the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, in encouraging and goading Hitler, Ribbentrop, Himmler and others to exterminate European Jewry.
"There are many testimonies to this, including the testimony of Eichmann's deputy at Nuremberg – not now, but after the Second World War.
"He said: 'The Mufti played a role in the decision of the German government to exterminate the European Jews, the importance of which must not be disregarded. He has repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution for the Palestine problem.'
"Eichmann's deputy added: 'The Mufti was one of the initiators of the diabolical extermination of European Jewry and was a partner and advisor to Eichman and Hitler in the carrying-out of this plan.'
"This attempt by certain researchers and certain people to give an apologetic to the central and important role Hajj Amin al-Husseini had is obvious. Many other scholars quote this testimony and other testimonies as to Hajj Amin al-Husseini's role.
"My goal was not to absolve Hitler from the responsibility that he bears, but rather to show that the father of the Palestinian nation at that time, without a state and without what they call "the occupation", without Palestinian territories and without settlements, already aspired to destroy the Jews through systematic incitement. Unfortunately, Hajj Amin al-Husseini is still a revered figure in Palestinian society. He appears in textbooks and is elevated as the father of the nation, and the incitement that began with him, incitement to kill Jews, continues. It's not the same format, but in another format, and it's the root of the problem. In order to stop the murder, we must stop the incitement."
The German government said regarding Netanyahu's remarks that responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Germans.
"All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said when asked about Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks.
"This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten. And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own."
The prime minister made similar statements three years ago in the Knesset, claiming that the mufti was "one of the leading architects of the Final Solution".
Reuters contributed to this report.