Between 1939 and 1945, shortwave radio transmitters near Berlin broadcast
Nazi propaganda in many languages around the world, including Arabic
throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and Persian programs in Iran.
English-language transcripts of the Arabic broadcasts shed light on a
particularly dark chapter in the globalization of pernicious ideas. The
transcripts’ significance, however, is not purely historical. Since
September 11, 2001, scholars have debated the lineages, similarities, and
differences between Nazi anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of Islamic
extremists. These radio broadcasts suggest that Nazi Arabic-language
propaganda helped introduce radical anti-Semitism into the Middle East,
where it found common ground with anti-Jewish currents in Islam.

In a 2007 book, Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11
(Telos Press), the German political scientist Matthias Kuentzel details how
Nazi ideology influenced Islamist ideologues like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid
Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as the Palestinian leader
Haj Amin al-Husseini. More recent examples abound. The founding charter of
Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, recapitulates conspiracy theories
about Jews that were popular in Europe in the 20th century. Al Qaeda’s war
against “the Zionist-Crusader Alliance” and the anti-Zionist rants of
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran also display a blend of anti-Semitic
themes rooted in Nazi and fascist, as well as Islamist, traditions. To be
sure, each of these movements and ideologies have non-European, local, and
regional causes and inspirations. But the formulation of Nazi propaganda
during World War II and its dissemination stand as a decisive episode in the
development of radical Islamism.

After Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, German embassies and
consulates were closed throughout North Africa and the Middle East,
hampering Nazi propaganda efforts. Between 1941 and 1943, as German forces
were engaged in heavy fighting in North Africa, millions of leaflets were
dropped from airplanes and distributed on the ground by propaganda units
operating with Rommel’s Afrika Korps. But in a region where fewer than 20
percent of adults were literate, radio was considered a much more effective
medium of communication. Radio stations like Radio Berlin and the Voice of
Free Arabism adapted Nazi propaganda to the circumstances of the Middle

Only a fraction of the Nazi regime’s broadcasts in Arabic survived the war
in the German archives. But in the fall of 1941, the American Embassy in
Egypt began to produce verbatim English-language translations of Nazi
broadcasts. Every week for the remainder of the war, the embassy sent a
digest, “Axis Broadcasts in Arabic,” to the secretary of state in
Washington. In the parlance of contemporary intelligence operations, “Axis
Broadcasts in Arabic” would be described as “open source” intelligence
gathering, that is, an examination of what adversaries say in public. As far
as I have been able to determine, “Axis Broadcasts in Arabic” comprise the
most complete record of Nazi Germany’s efforts to win the hearts and minds
of the Arab and Islamic world.

That task was made more difficult because of ideas about Aryan racial
superiority and purity that were central to Nazi ideology. Nazi diplomats
had long been sensitive to the fact that such views made it difficult to
garner Arab allies. Before the war, German officials went to great lengths
to reassure Arabs that Nazi policies, like the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935,
were aimed strictly at Jews, not non-Jewish Semites. In addition, Arab
leaders were given private assurances that the Third Reich opposed British
and French colonialism, as well as Zionist aspirations in Palestine. But
Mussolini’s imperial ambitions around the Mediterranean remained at odds
with an open declaration of support by the Axis powers for Arab
independence. By the summer of 1942, however, when Hitler and Mussolini
believed that they were on the verge of victory over the Allies in North
Africa, the two leaders publicly called for an end to colonialism in the
region. And for the remainder of the war, Nazi radio broadcast an
unrelenting flood of anti-British, anti-American, anti-Soviet, and
especially anti-Jewish propaganda into the Middle East. It was hate radio
with a vengeance.

The Nazi Arabic-language broadcasts were the result of a collaboration
between officials in the German foreign ministry and pro-Nazi Arab exiles
who found refuge from the British in Berlin, most notably Haj Amin
al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the most important Palestinian
religious and political figure of the era, and Rashid Ali al-Kilani, leader
of a pro-Axis coup in Iraq in 1941, which was quickly reversed by the
British military. Husseini’s and Kilani’s arrival in Berlin in 1941 provided
the Axis with a rare asset: Arabs who could communicate Nazi ideas in
colloquial, fluent, and passionate Arabic. Previously, the Arabic broadcasts
drew on the expertise of German Orientalists and the local knowledge of
German diplomats who had served in the Middle East.

Those early broadcasts tended to present the Third Reich as an ally of both
Arab nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists. Speeches by Hitler or Joseph
Goebbels, his propaganda minister, were generally omitted. Instead, the
programs combined commentary on political events in the Middle East with a
selective appropriation and interpretation of the Koran. The broadcasts
began with an incantation-“Oh Muslims”-and a call for listeners to return to
the words of the Koran. During the winter of 1940-41, several broadcasts
described Muslims as “backward” because they had “not shown God the proper
piety and do not fear him.” A return to traditional Islam, the broadcasts
suggested, would lead to victory over Islam’s enemies.

This appeal is indicative of the reactionary modernist character of Nazi
propaganda, which combined modern technology with calls to reject modern
liberal democratic values and institutions. The early Arabic-language
broadcasts created the perception of affinity between Nazi ideology and the

Following the arrival of Husseini and Kilani in Berlin, the broadcasts more
skillfully integrated the Nazi perspective on World War II with themes of
Arab nationalism, as well as rhetoric that we would now call fundamentalist
or radical Islamic. On July 3, 1942, as Rommel’s Afrika Korps advanced
toward El ‘Alamein, about 60 miles west of Alexandria, Egypt, a station
called Berlin in Arabic announced that German and Italian forces were coming
to “guarantee Egypt’s independence and sovereignty,” and “to liberate the
whole of the Near East from the British yoke.” Husseini, who came on the air
to celebrate Rommel’s “glorious victory,” declared that “the Axis powers are
fighting against the common enemy, namely the British and the Jews.”

In Germany, Nazi propaganda routinely blamed the Jews for starting World War
II. Hitler, for instance, famously boasted that the war would result not in
“the extermination of the Aryan race but rather the extermination of the
Jewish race in Europe.” In broadcasts to the Middle East, the Nazis repeated
that claim, arguing that Britain and the United States were stooges of the
Jews. An Allied victory, the Nazis warned, would mean Jewish domination of
the Arab world and the success of Zionism. Germans were reassured by the
regime that the process of “fulfilling Hitler’s prophecy”-to exterminate and
annihilate the Jews-was under way. In broadcasts to the Middle East,
listeners were called upon to participate in the massacre.

At 8:15 p.m. on July 7, 1942, the Voice of Free Arabism played a remarkable
program titled, “Kill the Jews Before They Kill You.” The broadcast began
with a lie: “A large number of Jews residing in Egypt and a number of Poles,
Greeks, Armenians, and Free French have been issued with revolvers and
ammunition” to fight “against the Egyptians at the last moment, when Britain
is forced to evacuate Egypt.” The broadcast continued:

“In the face of this barbaric procedure by the British we think it best, if
the life of the Egyptian nation is to be saved, that the Egyptians rise as
one man to kill the Jews before they have a chance of betraying the Egyptian
people. It is the duty of the Egyptians to annihilate the Jews and to
destroy their property.. You must kill the Jews, before they open fire on
you. Kill the Jews, who have appropriated your wealth and who are plotting
against your security. Arabs of Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, what are you
waiting for? The Jews are planning to violate your women, to kill your
children and to destroy you. According to the Muslim religion, the defense
of your life is a duty which can only be fulfilled by annihilating the Jews.
This is your best opportunity to get rid of this dirty race, which has
usurped your rights and brought misfortune and destruction on your
countries. Kill the Jews, burn their property, destroy their stores,
annihilate these base supporters of British imperialism. Your sole hope of
salvation lies in annihilating the Jews before they annihilate you.”

This broadcast, which combined secular political accusations with an appeal
to the religious demands of Islam, was unusual only insofar as it explicitly
voiced genocidal intentions that were merely implicit in other declarations
about the venality and power of the Jews. Two German historians,
Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, recently uncovered evidence that
German intelligence agents were reporting back to Berlin that if Rommel
succeeded in reaching Cairo and Palestine, the Axis powers could count on
support from some elements in the Egyptian officer corps as well as the
Muslim Brotherhood. Mallmann and Cüppers also show that an SS division was
preparing to fly to Egypt to extend the Final Solution to the Middle East.
The British and Australian defeat of Rommel at the Battle of El ‘Alamein
prevented that from happening.

How was Nazi propaganda received by Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East?
Research into this question has begun, but much more remains to be done by
scholars who read Arabic and Persian. It is clear, as Meir Litvak and Esther
Webman point out in their important new book, From Empathy to Denial: Arab
Responses to the Holocaust (Columbia University Press), that the revulsion
for fascism and Nazism that greatly influenced postwar politics in Europe
was not nearly as prevalent in the Middle East. In a June 1945 report, the
Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence
Agency, determined that “in the Near East the popular attitude toward the
trial of war criminals is one of apathy. As a result of the general Near
Eastern feeling of hostility to the imperialism of certain of the Allied
powers, there is a tendency to sympathize with rather than condemn those who
have aided the Axis.” The OSS concluded that there was no support in the
region for bringing pro-Axis Arab leaders like Husseini and Kilani to trial.

In the first months after the war, as the scope of the Jewish catastrophe in
Europe was being revealed, Arab and Islamic radicals showed no sign of
reconsidering their hostility to Zionism. On June 1, 1946, the OSS office in
Cairo sent a report to Washington about a statement made by Hassan Al-Banna
to the Arab League on the occasion of Husseini’s return to Egypt. Banna, the
leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, celebrated Husseini as a “hero who
challenged an empire and fought Zionism, with the help of Hitler and
Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the
struggle…. There must be a divine purpose behind the preservation of the
life of this man, namely the defeat of Zionism. Amin! March on! God is with
you! We are behind you! We are willing to sacrifice our necks for the cause.
To death! Forward March.”

Banna’s hope that Husseini would “continue the struggle” indicates that
Banna perceived the battle against Zionism as a continuation of Nazism’s
assault on the Jews. Sayyid Qutb, another extremely influential member of
the Brotherhood, incorporated anti-Jewish ideas from Europe to forge a new
jihadist ideology. In his essay from the early 1950s, “Our Struggle With the
Jews,” which became central in the canon of radical Islamist texts-the essay
was republished in 1970 and distributed throughout the world by the monarchy
in Saudi Arabia-Qutb argued that Jews are implacable enemies of Islam. As
such, Qutb wrote, Jews merited “the worst kind of punishment.” Qutb claimed
that Allah had sent Hitler to earth to “punish” the Jews for their evil
deeds. In so doing, Qutb justified, rather than denied, the Holocaust. This
paranoid analysis, in turn, influenced the authors of the charter of Hamas,
which blends Islamist fundamentalism with the Nazi ideology of mid-20th
century Europe. The Hamas Charter holds Jews responsible for the French and
the Russian Revolutions, World War I and World War II, as well as the
founding of the United Nations-all of which were, Hamas argues, orchestrated
for the purpose of furthering Jewish world domination.

Many decades and events stand between World War II and contemporary
expressions of radical Islam. Yet the transcripts of Arabic-language
propaganda broadcasts offer compelling evidence of a political and
ideological meeting of minds between Nazism and radical Islam. The toxic
mixture of religious and secular themes forged in Nazi-era Berlin, and
disseminated to the Middle East, continues to shape the extreme politics of
that region.

Jeffrey Herf is a professor of modern European and German history at the
University of Maryland at College Park and author of The Jewish Enemy: Nazi
Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard University Press,
2006). His latest book is Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, published this
month by Yale University Press.