Not long ago we published the story of the supportive telegram sent by Heinrich Himmler to the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, living in exile in Berlin, in 1943.
The good relationship between the Mufti and the Nazis in general, or Himmler in particular, comes as no surprise. The surprise was discovering the telegram in our own archives at the National Library.
How did this interesting and important document reach the library? How was it saved from the ravages of war to make its way to Jerusalem?
Who transferred it from the German capital, where they set out to destroy the Jewish people, to the capital of the rejuvenated nation in the post-Holocaust State of Israel?
The true answer to these questions is that we don’t know for certain. However, we have a pretty good theory.
The key figure in the story is Tuvia Arazi.
The Telegram Falls to the Americans
When the Allies entered the desolation of Germany after the war, they took back with them important documents that were not destroyed during the fighting.
Among these were also the Mufti’s documents. This we learn from the statement (Heb) written by Tuvia Arazi during the Eichmann Trial. In the statement Arazi tells how the Mufti’s last office in Bad Gastein in Austria fell to the Allied forces in 1945, where they found thousands of documents and photographs. It was to this office that Werner Otto von Hentig, a German officer and diplomat who ran the Near East Department at the Nazi foreign service, escorted the Mufti. On the day Germany surrendered, the Mufti flew from Bad Gastein to Switzaerland, and the Swiss handed him over to the French authorities.
The material found in this office was copied to 12 microfilms and handed to the Jewish Agency for Israel. The originals, according to Arazi’s report, were delivered to the US State Department.
According to a website dedicated to the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky, a psychoanalyst, thinker, and one of the founders of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the New York Post ran an article questioning a statement by US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who promised to publish the information collected regarding the activities of the Mufti in a book. The author of this article complains that no such information was published.
It is possible that the US administration prevented the publication of the data due to political reasons, and it is also possible that the administration no longer possessed the material.
In May of 1947 Freda Kirchway, Editor of The Nation, published a report on the High Arab Commission for her organization, The Nation Associates. This publication was made in response to the decision by the Political Committee of the UN Assembly General, to invite the High Arab Commission to testify on what was known as “The Palestinian Issue.”
Kirchway, who was highly impressed by past visits to Mandatory Palestine, was highly supportive of the establishment of a Jewish nation-state. She and her associates published this report in an attempt to oppose the Arab Commission and prove its ties with the Nazis during the Second World War. The Commission was headed by the Mufti, who bore the brunt of her attacks.
The report was printed in a booklet containing dozens of pages of documents and photographs detailing the Mufti’s efforts on behalf of the Nazis during the war. Kirchway described his propaganda efforts, his ties to Hitler, Himmler and others, his responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Jews in Iraq, his organizing Muslim units in the German army, his planning of attacks and fervent support of the annihilation of the Jewish people. She explained that the members of the Arab Commission were partners of the Mufti and mocked the UN for choosing to invite and honor “the worst of the Axis war criminals.”
The materials in the booklet were collected, she stated, from the Mufti’s villas and offices throughout Germany, and from official Nazi regime documents. She emphasized that most and perhaps all of these documents were in the possession of the US State Department.
“Most,” but perhaps not all?
She probably received the material from acquaintances at the State Department. She likely copied them and then returned them, but it is possible that a small number of documents remained in her possession.
An Israeli Diplomat Enters the Picture
Tuvia Arazi was born in Poland in 1913. He immigrated to Palestine in 1924, and attended the Herzliya Gymnasium and Hebrew University. He served in the Haganah and later in the Mandatory regime and the Jewish Agency. During the war, he was sent to Syria and Lebanon which were under Vichy French occupation, where he established a spying, propaganda and sabotage ring. After many successful operations, he was wounded and managed to escape back to Palestine.
The Jewish Agency sent him to the US on various diplomatic assignments. According to the Tidhar Encyclopedia (Heb) he managed on these occasions to find documents and photographs indicating the Mufti’s ties to Hitler and the Nazis.
How did he discover them? Did someone help him?
It is possible that Kirchway, who supported the Zionist endeavor, met with Arazi. It is further possible that she gave him the telegram and other documents which she received from her sources. A search of Freda Kirchway’s personal archive at Harvard University will yield more information regarding this matter.
The only thing we know for certain is that Tuvia Arazi delivered the telegram, a few photographs and another document to the National Library in 1952.
The telegram passed under the hands of the Library’s archivists in 2014, and again in 2016. Thanks to a cataloging note regarding the Balfour Declaration which is mentioned in the telegram, the librarians of the reference department discovered it upon searching for archived material ahead of the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The Library’s search system, known as the Merchav System, operates as a search engine on the Library’s collections. It allows for free searching through all the cataloged information, and that is how it also stumbled upon this important note.
Himmler’s telegram to the Mufti was not uncovered by the National Library. Kirchway distributed her informational booklet in 5,000 copies to all members of the UN and of Congress. President Truman also received a copy. The booklet includes a photo of the telegram alongside an English translation of its contents.
The contents of the telegram were also exposed during Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, as mentioned in this newspaper article (Heb) from June 1961. It was mentioned again in an article by Haviv Canaan In Haaretz in 1970, and by various scholarly works, such as this book by Tilman Tarach.
The telegram as is appears in Kirchway's booklet
It appears that all those who cited the telegram saw it in Kirchway’s booklet or in a photocopy thereof. One can see that in her booklet, Kirchway combined the two parts together, so that the telegram appears as a single document. As it happens there are two separate attachments, both of which are a bit torn. Any photocopy of the telegram in which both parts appear together was copied from the booklet.
Has the original telegram been used since Kirchway copied it?
It is interesting to know what they used at Eichmann’s trial. A copy of the booklet? A photo from the microfilm mentioned by Arazi?
The items displayed at the trial appear in the Adolph Eichmann Records file, at the Justice Ministry’s website dedicated to the subject. A copy of the telegram can be seen there.
This does not appear to be a photocopy from Kirchway’s booklet, for the two parts of the telegram appear separately, and one can see fold marks and slight tears absent from the booklet’s photo. In the Eichmann Trial copy the top of the first attachment includes the trial’s exhibit number – 1272/w (1272/ת in Hebrew). This marking does not appear on the original telegram in the Library, nor do the perforation marks which appear only on the trial copy.
It is possible that a copy of the microfilm mentioned by Arazi in his statement was used. He did not mention who created the microfilm nor when precisely this was done. It is possible that he himself photocopied the material he received from Kirchway, and handed it to the Jewish Agency.
It is likely that a copy was made from the Library’s original for the trial. On this copy the exhibit number was written and two holes perforated for filing. It was apparently Tuvia Arazi who suggested to use the document which he himself deposited in the National Library a decade earlier.
There are still open questions and room for fascinating research. We shall never know for certain precisely how this unique item traveled from the Mufti’s office to the Library’s archive. What is certain is that here, among the shelves of the National Library, it will be preserved in optimal conditions in order to safeguard this important chapter of history.
Written by Daniel Lipson, reference librarian at the National Library of Israel