Delving Into Nazi Germany’s Arabic Language Propaganda

A new study offers clarity and insight into the strange World War II propaganda alliance between Nazi Germany and nationalist Arabs in Palestine.

Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels (center) checking radio devices in 1938
Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels (center) checking radio devices in 1938
German Federal Archives,_Berlin,_Funkausstellung,_J._Goebbels,_H._Kriegler.jpg
Sven Felix Kellerhoff

BERLIN â€" The enemy of my enemy is my friend. There's a logic to the old proverb that's as simple as it is logical, and can sometimes lead to some very strange alliances.

Such was the case of the relationship, both before and during World War II, between Germany's Third Reich and the nationalistic Arabs of Palestine. The two parties had not just one, but two common enemies â€" the British and Jews â€" thus it "made sense" for Germany to support the potential allies, even if the Nazis saw the Arabs as racially inferior.

That contradiction is precisely what made Germany's radio propaganda in Arabic so interesting. It is a chapter of history, nevertheless, that had largely been forgotten until the release, in 2009, of the book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World by U.S. historian Jeffrey Herf. The author's most important findings were also published in an essay for the prestigious Journal for Contemporary History.

Herf's book was fascinating, but it also drew criticism for its limited range of sources: The author mainly used English-language summaries, filed between 1942 and 1945 by U.S. authorities, of Arabic-language broadcasts by Radio Berlin, the foreign radio station operated by Hitler's Ministry of Propaganda.

It was with that shortcoming in mind that Hans Goldenbaum, a PhD candidate at the Max-Planck-Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany decided to revisit the topic, only this time using a much more diverse range of sources.

The researcher looked at material from various government archives. He also delved into the personal collection of renowned Middle Eastern and oriental studies expert Gerhard Höpp (1942-2003). But what proved to be Goldenbaum's most important source of information are transcripts of the Arabic-language broadcasts that were translated into Hebrew by Jews in Palestine. The documents are housed mostly at the Zionistic Central Archives in Jerusalem. Goldenbaum also found some of the transcripts in the archives of the former underground organization Haganah.

After examining the various documents in detail, Goldenbaum penned his own essay for the Journal for Contemporary History. In it, the researcher revises Herf’s main findings and presents a treasure trove of previously unknown details on the subject.

Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler in 1941 â€" Photo: German Federal Archives

Until now, for example, it wasn't clear when exactly the broadcasts were first recorded. The best historians could do was say that it happened between early 1938 and the autumn of 1939. Goldenbaum, in contrast, came up with an exact date: Feb. 28, 1939. His source? The personal diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany"s infamous propaganda chief. "We are working on a system of radio broadcasts to hurt the British. In English, Arabic and Irish," Goebbels wrote.

The propaganda was designed as an answer to the BBC, which, to the Nazi minister's dismay, had increased its broadcasts to the Reich beginning in September 1938. Goebbels had high hopes for these new foreign-language broadcasts. "With this," he wrote, "the British will soon lose their taste for broadcasting into the Reich." Based on these primary sources, Goldenbaum was also able to prove that the radio shows were first aired on the week of Mar 20, 1939. This demonstrates that the Goebbels' Ministry for Propaganda established its basic structure for broadcasting very quickly.

But Goldenbaum did more than just clarify key dates. By comparing the broadcasting timetables to the transcripts and summaries done by Jewish organizations in Palestine, he also came up with a far clearer picture of the actual content of the broadcasts. Goldenbaum shows that the "news" portion of the propaganda, for example, selectively focused on German victories, mixed with highly anti-Semitic rhetoric about the supposedly Jewish-dominated political machinations of Britain.

Goldenbaum was able to prove, furthermore, that the texts were supplied by German personnel and not, as sometimes believed, by the reader of the Arabic broadcasts, Yunus Bahri, who claimed he wrote the material himself.

The vivacious Bahri, a secular Arabic nationalist who described his time in service to the Nazis in his memoir This is Berlin calling! Hail to the Arabs!, wasn't the only Muslim working for the Germans. Others included Mohammed Taqi ad-Din al-Hilali, a Moroccan and New Salafist whom Goldenbaum calls "an early Islamist."

The author also concluded, however, that the man who was long regarded as the Reich’s most important Muslim of all, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, did not play any particularly important role in this case. Despite the fact that his Arabic speeches were broadcasted by Radio Berlin and he was always presented as a role model, al-Husseini did not have any influence on the broadcasted content.

The Arabs in general did not seem to have been partners with equal rights. Instead they were secondary recipients of propaganda and orders, Goldenbaum concluded. Cooperation never went beyond the emphasized common battle against colonialism. The Germans also had some choice words, at times, for these enemies of their enemies. At one point they accused the pro-British regent of Iraq, Abd al-Ilah, of being a "Masonic Jew" â€" three enemies all rolled into one person.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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