Rauff vs. the Yishuv

Rommel opposed the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews of Egypt and Palestine

Shraga Elam, Dennis Whitehead
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Shraga Elam, Dennis Whitehead

Last year, German historians, Klaus Michael-Mallmann and Martin Cueppers, published a dramatic item. They maintain that German documents show that a team headed by Walter Rauff planned to exterminate the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, after capturing the country from the British. The 24-member Einsatzkommando Agypten was sent to Athens in July 1942 to prepare the operation. On July 20, Rauff flew to Tobruk to discuss the matter with Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. Presumably only the defeat of the Axis forces in the Battle of El-Alamein, in October 1942, saved the Yishuv.

The revelation stirred an international tempest, but from the documents it is difficult to know what Rauff's mission actually was. According to the documents, the team was authorized to take administrative measures against the civilian population. The German researchers found a similarity between the formulation of the order that Rauff received and those leading to the murder of Jews in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union, and concluded that the same goal was set for Egypt and Palestine. However, in North Africa these orders were applied more moderately, probably because of Rommel's opposition.

The German journalist Wolfgang Loehde interviewed Rauff's assistant, Theodor Saevecke, who confirmed that Rommel opposed the plan. According to an American memorandum in the CIA files, Rauff flew to Rommel's headquarters to discuss the annihilation of Cairo's Jews but Rommel was disgusted by the plan and sent Rauff packing.

In their first article the German historians did not refer to the memorandum, and in their detailed book they decided, without providing a reasonable explanation, that it was not credible.

Rauff's file in Britain, which was recently declassified, contains a report of his interrogation by the British in Italy following his arrest at the end of the war. According to the report, Rauff said he had flown to Tobruk in July 1942 for a talk with Rommel, in which it was agreed that the arrival of the Einsatzkommando in North Africa "had been too long delayed to be of any value." This is diplomatic language attesting to Rommel's objections as well as to the cancellation of the mission.



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