‘Heil Rommel!’

23 May

Two German scholars have revised the virtuous image of Erwin Rommel in North Africa. According to a new documentary based on new research, Rommel was "[c]onsumed by ambition, he only thought of his own glory, and ignored the consequences of his campaign" in North Africa. Nazism struck a devil’s bargain with Muslims to drive Jewish refugees fleeing its brutality into another hell.

Behind the front line of Rommel’s Afrikakorps, a special unit was created in July 1942 to to plan the murder of Jews in the region. It was led by SS Obersturmbannführer, or Lieutenant Colonel, Walther Rauff, an experienced mass murderer who helped develop the mobile gassing vehicles the Germans used to murder Jewish people in their campaign in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Rauff and his men were empowered to "take executive measures against the civilian population", Nazi jargon for robbery, murder and enslavement.

The Jews of Palestine were spared that fate. In October 1942 the Allies halted the German advance at the Egyptian town of El Alamein and thereby destroyed the myth of Rommel’s invincibility. The Desert Fox had to evacuate his beaten army to Tunisia, back where his African campaign began.

The SS had established a network of labor camps in Tunisia. More than 2,500 Tunisian Jews died in six months of German rule, and the regular army was also involved in executions.

Rauff’s men seized silver, jewellery and sacred objects. On the Tunisian island of Djerba alone, 43 kilograms of gold was taken from the local Jewish population. The SS later deposited the treasure in the sea off the island of Corsica. Ever since, the undiscovered "Rommel’s Treasure" has attracted generations of treasure hunters.

Not to distract from the sinister nature of this strategy, I don’t understand how Rommel was complicit, beyond his enabling role as theater commander.

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