Hitler loved Islam.* If you didn’t know that he loved Islam, you might think that Hitler, with his race-based obsessions, would have been hostile to a religion primarily centered on a Semitic people. To Hitler, though, Islam was a manly religion that shared his goals: the eradication of the Jews coupled with world domination. That abiding respect for Islam as practiced by the world’s Muslims, led him to ally himself closely with Muslims whenever possible:
As David Motadel writes in “Islam and Nazi Germany’s War,” Muslims fought on both sides in World War II. But only Nazis and Islamists had a political-spiritual romance. Both groups hated Jews, Bolsheviks and liberal democracy. Both sought what Michel Foucault, praising the Iranian Revolution in 1979, would later call the spiritual-political “transfiguration of the world” by “combat.”
By late 1941, Germany controlled large Muslim populations in southeastern Europe and North Africa. Nazi policy extended the grand schemes of imperial Germany toward madly modern ends. To aid the “liberation struggle of Islam,” the propaganda ministry told journalists to praise “the Islamic world as a cultural factor,” avoid criticism of Islam, and substitute “anti-Jewish” for “anti-Semitic.” In April 1942, Hitler became the first European leader to declare that Islam was “incapable of terrorism.” As usual, it is hard to tell if the Führer set the tone or merely amplified his people’s obsessions.
The above historical fact is important to know because it explains one of the most amazing Holocaust survival stories I’ve ever heard. My learning the story came about in a peculiar way, too. I was speaking with a friend about our memories. His is and always has been excellent, but is failing ever so slightly with age. Mine has always been idiosyncratic, in that I can remember anything that interests me, but have almost no success with brute force, rote memorization (explaining why I’ve never been able to master a language in a classroom). This conversation about memory reminded my friend of the story behind his Jewish relatives’ survival in wartime Paris.