It was the victory of the famed Desert Rats of Britain’s Eighth Army at El Alamein under the leadership of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery that saved the Jews in Palestine from annihilation. The turning point in the desert war signalled a reprieve from a planned German invasion of what was then the British Mandate of Palestine.
The Nazis stationed a unit of SS troops in Athens, tasked with following invading frontline troops in Palestine and then rounding up and murdering about 500,000 European Jews who had taken refuge there, according to historians at the University of Stuttgart.
But the unit, answerable to the Afrika Corps under Field Marshal Erwin “The Desert Fox” Rommel, never deployed.
It was designed to function like the Einsatzgruppen or “action squads” of the SS that followed the German army into Russia, shooting close to a million Jews and political enemies before the static killing centres such as Treblinka and Auschwitz were established in Poland.
Klaus-Michael Mallmann of the University’s Ludwigsburg research team and his assistant Martin Cüppers said they had spent three years studying German wartime archives, including those at the foreign office in Berlin which had hitherto remained sealed.
“The Allied defeat of Rommel at the end of 1942 had prevented the extension of the Holocaust to Palestine,” they said. If Rommel had beaten the Allies in the desert and invaded Egypt, a push into Palestine would have followed and the unit would have deployed there.
The researchers, whose findings appear in a new book entitled Germans, Jews, Genocide: The Holocaust as history and the present, said the Athens unit would follow the blueprint drawn by Nazi units that hunted for Jews in eastern Europe, massacring them on the spot or shipping them off to death camps. In Palestine, they say, it would have been more of the former than the latter due to the greater distances involved.
Mr Mallmann and Mr Cüppers said the Nazis had planned to exploit Arab friendship for their plans.
“The most important collaborator with the Nazis and an absolute Arab anti-Semite was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem,” they say in the book. He was a prime example of how Arabs and Nazis became friends out of a hatred of Jews.
Al-Husseini had met Adolf Eichmann, Adolf Hitler’s chief architect of the Holocaust, several times to settle details of the slaughter. In the academic work they draw on documents from the Reich Main Security Office showing “Einsatzgruppe Egypt” was standing by in Athens and was ready to disembark for Palestine in the summer of 1942.
The Middle East death squad was to be led by the SS Obersturmbannführer Walther Rauff.
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