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Denial of Holocaust nothing new in Iran

Ties to Hitler led to plots against British and Jews

Edwin Black
San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle
Sun­day, Jan­u­ary 8, 2006

Mah­moud Ahmadine­jad has shot to the fore­front of Holo­caust denial with his rab­ble-rous­ing remarks last month. But it’s more like self-denial. The pres­i­dent of Iran need only look to his coun­try’s Hitler-era past to dis­cov­er that Iran and Ira­ni­ans were strong­ly con­nect­ed to the Holo­caust and the Hitler regime, as was the entire Islam­ic world under the lead­er­ship of the mufti of Jerusalem.

Iran’s axis with the Third Reich began dur­ing the pre­war years, when it wel­comed Nazi Gestapo agents and oth­er oper­a­tives to Tehran, allow­ing them to use the city as a base for Mid­dle East agi­ta­tion against the British and the region’s Jews.

Key among these Ger­man agents was Fritz Grob­ba, Berlin’s envoy to the Mid­dle East, who was often called “the Ger­man Lawrence,” because he promised a Pan-Islam­ic state stretch­ing from Casablan­ca to Tehran.

Rela­tions between Berlin and Tehran were strong from the moment Hitler came to pow­er in 1933. At that time, Reza Shah Pahlav­i’s nation was known as Per­sia. The shah became a stal­wart admir­er of Hitler, Nazism and the con­cept of the Aryan mas­ter race. He also sought the Reich’s help in reduc­ing British petro-polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion.

So intense was the shah’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Third Reich that in 1935 he renamed his ancient coun­try “Iran,” which in Far­si means Aryan and refers to the Pro­to-Indo-Euro­pean lin­eage that Nazi racial the­o­rists and Per­sian eth­nol­o­gists cher­ished.

The idea for the name change was sug­gest­ed by the Iran­ian ambas­sador to Ger­many, who came under the influ­ence of Hitler’s trust­ed banker, Hjal­mar Schacht. From that point, all Ira­ni­ans were con­stant­ly remind­ed that their coun­try shared a com­mon bond with the Nazi regime.

Short­ly after World War II broke out in 1939, the Mufti of Jerusalem craft­ed a strate­gic alliance with Hitler to exchange Iraqi oil for active Arab and Islam­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the mur­der of Jews in the Mideast and East­ern Europe. This was pred­i­cat­ed on sup­port for a pan-Arab state and Arab con­trol over Pales­tine.

Dur­ing the war years, Iran became a haven for Gestapo agents. It was from Iran that the seeds of the abortive 1941 pro-Nazi coup in Bagh­dad were plant­ed. After Churchill’s forces boot­ed the Nazis out of Iraq in June 1941, Ger­man air­crews sup­port­ing Nazi bombers escaped across Iraq’s north­ern bor­der back into Iran.

Like­wise, the mufti of Jerusalem was spir­it­ed across the bor­der to Tehran, where he con­tin­ued to call for the destruc­tion of the Jews and the defeat of the British.

His ven­omous rhetoric filled the news­pa­pers and radio broad­casts in Tehran. The mufti was a vocal oppo­nent of allow­ing Jew­ish refugees to be trans­port­ed or ran­somed into Jew­ish Pales­tine. Instead, he want­ed them shipped to the gas cham­bers of Poland.

In the sum­mer of 1941, the mufti, with the sup­port of key Iran­ian mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment lead­ers, advo­cat­ed imple­ment­ing in Iran what had failed months ear­li­er in Iraq. The plan once again was for a total diver­sion of oil from the Allies to the Nazis, in exchange for the accel­er­at­ed destruc­tion of the Jews in East­ern Europe and the Nazis’ sup­port for an Arab state. Through the Anglo-Iran­ian Oil Co., Iran had already been sup­ply­ing Hitler’s forces in occu­pied Czecho­slo­va­kia and Aus­tria.

Now, the mufti agi­tat­ed to cut off the British and the Allies com­plete­ly and sup­ply Ger­many in its push against Rus­sia.

In Octo­ber 1941, British, USSR oth­er allied forces invad­ed Iran to break up the Iran-Nazi alliance. Pro-Nazi gen­er­als and min­is­ters were arrest­ed, and the shah’s son was installed in pow­er. The mufti scam­pered into the Ital­ian embassy, where he shaved his beard and dyed his hair. In this dis­guise, he was allowed to leave the coun­try along with the rest of the Ital­ian del­e­ga­tion.

Once the mufti relo­cat­ed per­ma­nent­ly to Berlin, where he estab­lished his own Reich-sup­port­ed “bureau,” he was giv­en air­time on Radio Berlin. From Berlin and oth­er fas­cist cap­i­tals in Europe, the mufti con­tin­ued to agi­tate for inter­na­tion­al Jew­ish destruc­tion, as well as a pan-Islam­ic alliance with the Nazi regime.

He called upon all Mus­lims to “kill the Jews wher­ev­er you see them.” In Tehran’s mar­ket­place, it was com­mon to see plac­ards that declared, “In heav­en, Allah is your mas­ter. On Earth, it is Adolf Hitler.”

When the mufti raised three divi­sions of Islam­ic Waf­fen SS to under­take cru­el oper­a­tions in Bosnia, among the 30,000 killers were some vol­un­teer con­tin­gents from Iran. Iran­ian Nazis, along with the oth­er Mus­lim Waf­fen SS, oper­at­ed under the direct super­vi­sion of Hein­rich Himm­ler and were respon­si­ble for bar­barous actions against Jews and oth­ers in Bosnia. Recruit­ment for the mur­der­ous “Hand­schar Divi­sions” was done open­ly in Iran.

Iran and its lead­ers were not only aware of the Holo­caust, they played both sides. The coun­try offered over­land escape routes for refugee Jews flee­ing Nazi per­se­cu­tion to Israel — and lat­er flee­ing post­war Iraqi fas­cist per­se­cu­tion — but only in exchange for extor­tion­ate pas­sage fees.

Thou­sands of Jews jour­neyed to Israel via Iran both dur­ing the Holo­caust and dur­ing the years after the fall of Hitler, when Arab lead­ers, espe­cial­ly in Iraq, tried to con­tin­ue Ger­many’s anti-Jew­ish pro­gram. Iran prof­it­ed hand­some­ly.

Since the shah’s down­fall, Iran has become a cen­ter for orga­nized inter­na­tion­al Holo­caust denial and has helped ele­vate the endeav­or from fringe hate speech to a state-approved pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­al debate.

In inter­na­tion­al forums and on state-con­trolled radio, Iran­ian uni­ver­si­ty experts and jour­nal­ists help val­i­date the revi­sion­ist views that Jews were nev­er gassed or mur­dered in great num­bers dur­ing the Holo­caust.

Indeed, Iran has become a refuge for the biggest names in Euro­pean Holo­caust denial. When in 2000, revi­sion­ist author Jör­gen Graf was sen­tenced in Switzer­land to 15 months in prison for Holo­caust fal­si­fi­ca­tion, Graf fled to Tehran “at the invi­ta­tion of a group of Iran­ian schol­ars and uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sors who are sym­pa­thet­ic to Holo­caust revi­sion­ism,” accord­ing to the Insti­tute for His­tor­i­cal Review, a denial clear­ing­house.

What’s more, in May 2000, Iran’s embassy in Vien­na grant­ed asy­lum to Aus­tri­an Holo­caust denier Wolf­gang Fröh­lich, who tes­ti­fied as a so-called expert wit­ness dur­ing Graf’s 1998 tri­al. This saved Fröh­lich from Aus­tri­a’s severe anti-Holo­caust denial statutes. Fröh­lich argued that evi­dence proved no Jews were killed by Zyk­lon B gassing.

Ear­li­er, about 600 jour­nal­ists and 160 mem­bers of the Iran­ian par­lia­ment signed peti­tions sup­port­ing French revi­sion­ist Roger Garaudy, who was fined $40,000 by French author­i­ties for his book claim­ing the Holo­caust was a myth. When Garaudy land­ed in Iran, the coun­try’s supreme spir­i­tu­al leader, Aya­tol­lah Sayyad Khamenei, grant­ed him an audi­ence and laud­ed his work.

Iran has played a lead­ing role in the Holo­caust dra­ma and now tries to deny it. That should be very hard in a nation that was named for Hitler’s mas­ter race.