German and Italian fascists courted the Arab world in the 1940s, hoping to encourage Arab nationalists to revolt against British power in the region. Their work in Iraq paid off in 1941 when the new Premier, Rashid Ali, attacked a British air base in the country and called on Hitler to help him drive out the British, an uprising that was accompanied by a pogrom in Baghdad that left over 120 Jews murdered.
Haj Amin al Husseini, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, thought that a German victory would offer much greater hope for success in the Palestinians’ fight against Jews, and spent most of the war in Berlin coordinating German propaganda that was broadcast throughout the Arab world. In April 1941, shortly after the Iraqi rebellion had been crushed, he offered Hitler the active support of "the Arab nation" in bringing down the "English-Jewish coalition". Haj Amin was involved in the formation of Bosnian Muslims into "Black Legions", units that fought for Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front and were responsible for atrocities in the Balkans.
It was not until February 1945, when Allied victory was imminent, that Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia all declared war on Germany, mainly so that they would qualify for membership of the newly formed United Nations. However, this certainly did not mean that their leaders had joined the fight against fascism. When in 1953 a rumour spread that Hitler was still alive, the Egyptian newspaper Al Musawwar asked several leading Egyptian personalities to write him a personal letter. One of those who did so was Anwar Sadat. His message was this: "My dear Hitler! I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. Even if you appear to have been defeated, in reality you are the victor. You succeeded in creating dissentions between Churchill, the old man, and his allies, the Sons of Satan ... Germany will be reborn in spite of the Western and Eastern powers. There will be no peace unless Germany once again becomes what she was."
Nazis fleeing justice for war crimes they had committed often found refuge in the Arab world. Fritz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, lived in Damascus for several years before moving to Brazil, where he was finally caught and brought to Austria to stand trial. Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s aide who played a central role in the extermination of the Jewish communities of Slovakia and Greece, has spent virtually all the postwar years in Egypt and Syria, where he is still believed to live to this day.
Egypt in particular threw open its doors, and this was not merely a case of offering refuge or asylum: as the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser put it, "We will use the services of those who know the mentality of our enemies". Franz Bartel, previously the assistant Gestapo chief of Katowice, worked in the "Jewish Department" of Egypt’s war office, while Standartenfuhrer Baumann, who took part in the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, worked for the Palestine Liberation Front - based in Egypt - as did SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Wilhelm Borner. Several Nazi doctors found work in Egypt after the war, including Dr Herbert Heim, responsible for "experiments" on prisoners at Mauthausen camp, and Dr Willerman, who committed similar atrocities at Dachau. The fact that these Nazis were positively welcomed in Egypt is emphasised by Nasser’s repeated refusals to extradite them for war crimes, even to his East European and Soviet allies.
It was in the area of anti-Jewish propaganda that Nasser most desired Nazi expertise, and the Institute for the Study of Zionism, established in Cairo in 1959, employed several former officials of Goebbels’ propaganda ministry. Luis Heiden, one former Nazi propaganda official, prepared a pocket-sized Arabic translation of Mein Kampf which was issued as a gift to Egyptian army officers. The institute also played a role in another arm of Egypt’s anti-Jewish activities: building contacts with neo-nazis around the world. In 1962 Colonel Muhammad al-Shazli, the Military Attache at the Egyptian Embassy in London, held a series of meetings with (prominent British neo-Nazis) Colin Jordan and John Tyndall to discuss funding of £15,000 from the United Arab Republic for Jordan’s National Socialist Movement.
Elsewhere, Gerhard Frey of the far-right German DW visited Egypt in 1964 and Iraq in 1968, where he was received by the President of Iraq and the Prime Minister of Kuwait. Meanwhile the Arab League representative in Bonn, Hassan Fakoussa, maintained contact with several neo-Nazi writers in Germany. Hussein Triqi, the Arab League’s man in Argentina, openly admitted his close relations with local neo-nazi groups, inviting local neo-nazis to speak at rallies organised by his Arab League office.
As Holocaust denial became a central part of neo-Nazi propaganda, so it followed that Arab backing for neo-Nazi activity in the West increasingly involved denial of the Holocaust. The notion that Israel was formed by Western powers to purge their guilt for the Holocaust - and that Israel uses the Holocaust to justify occupation of Palestinian land - has encouraged the idea that Holocaust denial helps the Palestinian cause by undermining Israeli legitimacy. In March 1976 the Saudi Arabian representative to the United Nations even used Holocaust denial in a speech to the UN Security Council, claiming that Anne Frank’s diary was a forgery and gas chambers were an invention of "the Zionist mass media". The following year the Saudi government provided US$25,000 to American neo-Nazi William Grimstad of the National Alliance to write AntiZion, a collation of quotes from antisemites throughout history.
In 1981, Inamullah Khan, head of the Pakistan-based World Muslim League, put up the money for AntiZion and The Six Million Reconsidered - also by Grimstad - to be mailed to every British MP and members of the US Congress and Senate, and in the 1980s, Britain’s National Front received funding from the Libyan and Iranian embassies in London. Nor is this adoption of neo-Nazi propaganda limited to Holocaust denial. The notorious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is now much more widely available from Arab or Muslim publishers than from the far right, often masquerading under titles such as Jewish Conspiracy and the Muslim World or Zionism and Internal Security.
The French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy was feted in the Middle East when he was put on trial in France in 1998 for denying crimes against humanity. The Palestinian Writers Association, the Beirut Bar Association and Egypt’s Arab Lawyers’ Union were among those who supported Garaudy. Naim Tubasi, head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, spoke of "the Zionist tale of the victims of the Holocaust", while Lebanon’s Union of Arab Journalists applauded Garaudy’s "courage to divulge Zionist lies". Invited to Egypt by Farouk Hosni, Egyptian Minister for Culture, Garaudy was accorded an hour-long interview on Egyptian state television in which he discussed his views on the Holocaust at length and argued that "95% of the media in the western world are controlled by the Israel lobby". Senior Iranian politicians also rallied to Garaudy’s side: Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President of Iran until 1997, said that he was convinced only 200,000 Jews died during the war, while Ayatollah Yazdi, head of the Iranian judiciary, claimed that Garaudy "proved that the Zionists fabricated such a big lie in history so as to justify their occupation of Palestine".
Needless to say, it does the Palestinian terrorists and the Arab world no favours to be associated with something that, in the West, is the preserve of neo-Nazis and conspiracy cranks. Whether it is the official Palestinian newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida, calling the Holocaust a "deceitful myth" or the Syrian government daily Syria Times denying the existence of gas chambers, it is clear that parts of the Middle East, including the highest levels of government and the media, fail to understand the dangers of denying Nazi crimes.