09 February 2015
Taken from here: https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/120/1/140/45860
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The full paper
FROM 1923 TO 1935, DR. HUGO MARCUS (1880–1966) was among the leading German Muslims in Berlin. The son of a Jewish industrialist, and a homosexual, Marcus studied at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin in the first decade of the twentieth century. To support his family after financial reverses caused by World War I, he tutored foreign Muslim doctoral students in German. This led to his conversion to Islam, and for a dozen years, under the adopted name Hamid, he was the most important German in Berlin’s mosque community. Nevertheless, he did not terminate his membership in the Jewish community, nor his ties to friends in the homosexual rights movement.
The Nazis incarcerated Marcus in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as a Jew in 1938, and he claimed to have remained there until a delegation led by his imam, Dr. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (1889–1956), gained his release. Abdullah obtained a visa for Marcus to travel to British India, where a sinecure at a Muslim organization awaited him. Just before the outbreak of World War II, using travel documents secured by the imam, Marcus was able to escape to Switzerland instead, where he intended to establish an Islamic cultural center.
Hugo Marcus with fellow German and South Asian Muslims in front of the mission house attached to the Berlin mosque, ca. 1930. Dr. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (1889–1956), the imam of the mosque, sits on Marcus’s left. Others in the photo include convert Fatima Beyer, the future wife of convert Hikmet (Fritz) Beyer; Conrad Giesel, who converted to Islam on October 1, 1924 (top row, right); and assistant imam Dr. Azeez Mirza (1906–1937) (top row, with turban). Photographer unknown. Copyright MJB-Verlag & Mehr.
These facts alone challenge many deeply ingrained preconceptions about Muslim attitudes toward Jews, and even toward homosexuals. Who were these tolerant Muslims who created an intellectual and spiritual home for Marcus and allowed him to rise to be the representative of their community? What was their understanding of Islam and religious conversion that attracted German intellectuals yet offended the Nazis? Why did they risk the standing of their community in Nazi Germany to save Marcus’s life? Hugo Marcus and Muhammad Abdullah do not figure in academic and popular narratives of Muslims during World War II. Why is their extraordinary story of Jewish-Muslim interaction practically unknown? What are its implications for the history of Muslims in Europe?
The history of the Berlin mosque community and the life of its leading convert shed light on two interconnected topics: Muslim responses to Nazism and Muslim-Jewish relations. Largely because of the tendentious politics of history and memory produced by the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, we do not yet have a complete answer to the question of how Muslims responded to Nazism and the persecution of Jews. Until recently, few academic and popular responses to this question have focused on Muslims who came from Germany or had resided there for decades; most look at Muslims in the Middle East or those who were temporarily located in Berlin during World War II. In fact, research on Muslims in Nazi Germany has overwhelmingly focused on Arabs, and for that matter on a single Palestinian, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni (1897–1974), who was the guest of Hitler in Berlin and whose notoriety for working closely with the Nazi regime has overshadowed the activities of all other Muslims in Germany, and indeed elsewhere as well.1
For seven decades, scholarship on Muslim-Jewish relations has been seen as part of Middle Eastern history, shaped by the conflict in Palestine.2 Immediately after World War II, supporters of the establishment of a Jewish state began campaigning to delegitimize the competing Palestinian national movement by claiming that al-Husayni’s antisemitic views and collaboration with the Nazis were representative of the sentiment of all Palestinians, and consequently of all Arabs.3 Referring to the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Peter Novick notes, “The article on the Mufti is more than twice as long as the articles on Goebbels and Göring, longer than the articles on Himmler and Heydrich combined, longer than the article on Eichmann—of all the biographical articles, it is exceeded in length, but only slightly, by the entry for Hitler.”4 After recognizing nearly 25,000 people over fifty years, only in 2013 did Yad Vashem accept its first Arab “righteous gentile,” Dr. Muhammad Helmy, an Egyptian physician who saved the lives of several Jews in Berlin.5 Such preconceptions about Arabs—and Muslims—still prevail even in academic circles today. A recent study uses Al-Husayni’s actions to implicate all Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims in the perpetuation of the Shoah. Its author depicts Arabs as uniformly pro-Nazi and antisemitic, citing the “fateful collaboration” of Arab exiles in Berlin with the Nazis and the alleged widespread acceptance of Nazi ideology in the Middle East, then and even now.6 The appetite for biographies of the Mufti of Jerusalem and conspiracy theories about ties between Nazis and Islamists appears insatiable.7
Other scholars have rejected such a one-sided depiction, finding that Arab intellectual elites—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—overwhelmingly rejected fascism and Nazism as ideology and practice and condemned the persecution of European Jewry, and that al-Husayni’s views were peripheral in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and North Africa.8 Moreover, they have presented evidence that Arabs—especially Jewish Arabs—were also victims of the Nazis.9 Yet by focusing on the Arab Middle East, and Arabs in Germany, this scholarship, too, implicitly takes the Arab experience to represent the Muslim experience more generally.
In fact, al-Husayni did not reach Berlin until 1941, eight years after the Nazi seizure of power. Pro-Nazi Muslim exiles did not take over the Berlin mosque and leadership of the only recognized Muslim organization in the Third Reich until 1942, twenty years after Muslims had first established Islamic institutions in the city. Few have yet asked how those who built the mosque responded to the Nazis and antisemitism.10For what has been largely missing from the debate until now is a “pre-history” of al-Husayni’s collaboration, an introduction to the diverse Muslim groups present in the city beginning in the 1920s, a discussion of how their rivalries affected their responses to the Nazi takeover, and a narrative of the spectrum of Muslim responses to Nazism in Germany from 1933 until al-Husayni’s arrival, including that of German converts to Islam.
The Muslim encounter with the Holocaust is not just a Middle Eastern story, nor one that concerns only Middle Easterners in wartime Europe.11 It also is not limited to Muslims of the majority Sunni denomination. After World War I, the Muslim population of Berlin included Afghans, Arabs, Persians, Tatars, Turks, and South Asians, Germans and other Europeans, Sunnis and members of other Islamic confessions, secularists and Islamists, nationalists, and socialist revolutionaries.12Too little attention has been paid to the non-Arab Muslims who first established Islam in Germany, especially South Asians, including those of a minority Islamic confession, the Ahmadi. That they were not Arab, Sunni, or Middle Eastern, not connected to any nation-state’s politics of memory, and not in conflict with Israel are among the many possible reasons for that neglect. Moreover, South Asia is not the usual focus of research into the relations between Muslims and Jews.13 None have yet asked whether they were victims, resisters, accommodators, or collaborators during the Nazi era. Also obscured in the debate is the crucial role played by German converts in the establishment of Islam. Just as not all Muslims in Germany were Arabs, nor were they all foreign. And not all German Muslims were former Christians. A question previously unexplored is the fate of German Muslims of Jewish background during the Nazi reign of terror, and how other Muslims responded to their persecution. Answering this final question enables us to simultaneously explore both Muslims and the Holocaust and Muslims in the Holocaust.14
An analysis based on an examination of the publications and archival records of the first German Muslim communities and the personal documents and private correspondence of their leading members can address these lacunae and add something new to the literature on Muslims in Germany. As the most prominent German Muslim, Hugo Marcus played a leading role in Berlin’s mosque community. The city’s first and only mosque established by Muslims was built and, from 1923 to 1939, controlled by the Ahmadi, made up of South Asians of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaʿat-e-Islam (Ahmadi Movement for the Propagation of Islam), an Islamic confessional minority based in British India, and German converts. From its establishment, the Ahmadi mission in Berlin attracted German avant-garde intellectuals, partly by promoting conversion as a kind of double consciousness, preaching interreligious tolerance, practicing inclusion of homosexuals, and speaking out against racism, nationalism, and war. When German society was Nazified, the Ahmadi—like the other Muslims in Berlin—found themselves needing to make accommodationist overtures to the regime. Yet in helping Marcus to escape from Germany, they managed to thwart the Nazi reign of violence. Their actions in saving the life of their formerly Jewish co-religionist call into question the claim that Muslims shared the Nazis’ deep-rooted antisemitism.
A close examination of Marcus and his mosque community thus moves the debate away from the Sunni Arab al-Husayni, sheds light on the history of the diverse Muslims of prewar Germany, and contributes to a growing body of literature focusing on the “lost stories” of European Muslims and Muslims of Europe who saved Jews from Nazi persecution.15 By acknowledging Marcus’s life, we can help change not only how the Muslim encounter with Nazism is depicted, but also how the history of the Muslims in Europe is portrayed—when it begins, and who it includes.16
A focus on Marcus also provides insights into two broader issues. First, it offers historians a methodological approach to the broader issue of relations between Muslims and Jews. Scholars have been inclined to examine the Muslim-Jewish encounter in terms of “cultural interaction” and “religious exchange,” and the impact of that exchange across the border between different faiths. Positing clear-cut religious borders but nonexistent cultural boundaries, they have often focused on the ideas, practices, innovations, and “goods”—the secular and religious culture—that passed back and forth between the two groups.17 Studying religious texts, language, law, ritual, sacred spaces, intellectual and spiritual movements, art, architecture, and literature, many scholars have concluded that the Muslim-Jewish relationship can be characterized as “creative coexistence,” “cultural symbiosis,” or even a common “Judeo-Islamic civilization.”18 The most recent example of this approach is the impressive collection of state-of-the-art research edited by Abdelwahab Meddeb and Benjamin Stora, who present “points of intersection and mutual influence” between Jews and Muslims.19 Their aim is to enable readers to figuratively cross borders, to break free of communitarianism and nationalism and think about Jews and Muslims not in isolation but as two peoples engaged in an intimate historical relationship. Such an aim raises the question, however, of why historians should visualize Jews and Muslims crossing imaginary borders when we can look at the actual experiences of those originally of one faith who converted to the other. The liminal space between religions is also a “crossing point for people.”20
By examining the post-conversion lives of formerly Jewish Muslims instead of framing the interrelated histories of Jews and Muslims as an encounter between two distinct groups or civilizations, we can contribute to an emerging field of scholarship that renders more complex the lines that have traditionally shaped historiographical accounts of the nature of their interaction.21 Studying religious conversion and its aftermath is a useful strategy for moving “beyond religious borders,” seeing the history of Jewish-Muslim relations from within, and recognizing the literal points of convergence between these two faiths, as well as the unexpected outcomes of that encounter.22 Conversion opens a window into the historical experience of individuals and groups of men and women within the larger framework of intercommunal relations.
Including Jewish converts to Islam and their descendants within the history of Muslim communities helps break down the reified frameworks of “Muslim” and “Jew” in two ways. First, recognizing the significant role these individuals could play despite their background brings the diverse creative forces that forged Islam and Islamic history into focus, making it possible for us to recognize the full participation of Jewish converts in Muslim political, intellectual, and religious life. Studying them also helps us move beyond borders because converts played a historical role out of proportion to their limited numbers. As leading Muslims, they formulated Islamic thought and practice through lectures and publications on Islam. Through their Qurʾan translations and commentaries—still in wide use today—they have had an impact on successive generations of Muslims.23
Second, exploration of the new spiritual and social lives that converts created changes how we think about religious, cultural, and national boundaries. The fact that converts adopted a mix of Jewish and Muslim beliefs, practices, and identities challenges their conventional depiction. This historical approach addresses issues that cut across disciplines, illuminating the complex social and historical processes behind ontological classifications.24 Hugo Marcus, who was one of the most prominent German Muslims in interwar Europe yet remains largely unknown to historians, can be used to illustrate both of these points. Marcus was not an isolated case. Other Jewish intellectuals, including Muhammad Essad Bey alias Kurban Said (Lev Nussimbaum, 1905–1942) and Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss, 1900–1992), converted to Sunni Islam in Berlin in the 1920s.25 Unlike these men, however, Marcus became a prominent Muslim in Germany while retaining membership in the Jewish community.26 His religious identity should give us cause to rethink where the boundary between “Muslim” and “Jew” lies, especially in historical eras when the definition of belonging was a matter of life and death.27
AFTER WORLD WAR I, DURING WHICH millions of Muslims fought for the European powers and Germany launched a “jihad” together with the Ottoman sultan, Muslims established their first institutions in Europe, including mosques in London, Paris, and Berlin.28 Muslims—especially Bosnians and Tatars—had lived in Germany and given their lives in Prussian wars since the eighteenth century; Ottoman diplomats, soldiers, and war college students had likewise had a presence for two centuries, concentrated in Berlin and Potsdam.29 What was new was Berlin’s non-diplomatic civilian Muslim population, numbering two to three thousand Germans and foreigners—businessmen, physicians, doctoral students, anticolonial activists, intellectuals, and university lecturers.30 Despite constituting only a tiny percentage of the population—less than 1 percent of the four million residents of the metropolitan region known as Greater Berlin—Muslims became visible in the early 1920s. They established Muslim institutes, libraries, publishing houses, schools, and clubs, and more than a dozen Muslim journals and newspapers, published in German, appeared.31 Nile Green describes Muslims as making German into “a new Islamic language,” with Germany becoming “a Muslim publishing center,” and parts of Berlin transformed into “Muslim space” through the establishment of a mosque.32While Green is correct in noting Islam’s new linguistic, spatial, and geographical configurations, he flattens diverse interpretations of Islam into one generic category, and fails to consider the confessional diversity and political differences of Muslims in Berlin.
The Muslims who established themselves in Berlin after World War I were highly heterogeneous and divided into a number of camps, most prominently the two self-described as Ahmadi and Sunni. They competed to build and then control the Berlin mosque, to gain public recognition as the single group representing Muslims, to disseminate their interpretation of Islam through preaching and publishing journals and a Qurʾan translation and commentary in German, and to gain converts. Their disputes and differences spilled from the street into the courtroom and forced the reluctant involvement of German authorities.
The messianic missionaries of the Ahmadi and their German converts were the most significant group, yet they are the least-remembered. The Ahmadi believed that Muslim reformer Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839–1908) of Qadian, near Lahore, Punjab, in British India, was Jesus Christ reincarnate and a prophet.33 After his death, followers took his message to the colonial metropole, where they established a mission at the mosque at Woking, near London, in 1913.34 In 1914 the movement split into two branches. The leader of the branch of the Ahmadi that rejected Ahmad’s claims to prophecy, Muhammad Ali (1879–1951), sent Sadr-ud-Din (1881–1981), who had been imam at the Woking mosque during World War I, to Berlin as a missionary in 1922.35 Within two years of his arrival, he laid the foundation stone of the city’s first mosque, completed in 1927 in a well-to-do district.
The year of Sadr-ud-Din’s arrival also witnessed the establishment of the Islamische Gemeinde zu Berlin (Islamic Community of Berlin), founded by Abdul Jabbar Kheiri (1880–1958) and Abdul Sattar Kheiri (1885–1953), who were also Muslims from British India.36 The Kheiri brothers were Sunni Muslim socialist revolutionaries who, while earning Ph.D.’s at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin during World War I and introducing Islamic studies there, worked with the German government to promote independence for the Muslims of British India.37 Archenemies of the Ahmadi, they used their German-language journal, Islam (1922–1923), to attack the legitimacy of the group’s mission and its right to build a mosque.38 The Kheiris and their organization, which was led from its founding to 1930 by one or the other of the brothers, and which never had a building constructed specifically for prayers, promoted normative Sunni Islam.39 They challenged the Ahmadi’s Islamic credentials, considering them sectarians who sowed discord among Muslims by promoting heretical beliefs. As anticolonial activists, the Kheiri brothers labeled the Ahmadi British agents.40 In campaigning to have Muslims in Berlin boycott the Ahmadi mosque, or to have other Muslims take possession of it, they were joined by Egyptian nationalist Mansur Rifat, who quoted from the Qurʾan (9:107–110) in condemning “those who build a mosque to cause harm and for unbelief and to cause disunion among the believers,” urging Muslims “never to stand in it.”41 The Ahmadi rejected these charges, noting that such differences did not prevent individual Sunni Muslims from praying at their mosque and celebrating the major Muslim holidays in it, or from publishing in their journal.
The Ahmadi had their sights set on larger goals, seeing themselves as “missionaries” devoted to propagating Islam around the globe. This modern religious movement is an example of conversion emerging out of the colonial encounter not as “a unidirectional process of cultural influence and adaptation,” but rather “as resistance to ideological domination,” for its members viewed it as a counter-response to Christian missionizing.42 The first of their missionaries to Europe was the barrister Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (1870–1932), a leading disciple of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to have been on the verge of converting to Christianity before he joined the Ahmadi. After arriving in England in 1912, he established the mission and began to publish its journal, the Islamic Review. He also took over the Woking mosque. Built in 1880 by Dr. Gottlieb Wilhelm Leither (1840–1899), a Hungarian Jew who taught Arabic and Sharia at King’s College, London, and served as principal of Government College in Lahore, Britain’s first purpose-built mosque had fallen into disuse before being converted into the headquarters of the Muslim Woking Mission in 1913. The mission had many influential converts, and used its journal “not only to spread the message of Islam but also to inform and encourage the converts in their new religion.” As of 1924, of the estimated 10,000 Muslims in England, 1,000 were converts—all of Christian background, they claimed.43
Interested primarily in encouraging conversion, and seeking the same success elsewhere in Europe, the leader of the Ahmadi, Muhammad Ali, “resolved to extend its work of the propagation of Islam to Germany,” and accordingly “sent two missionaries to Berlin.” One of them was Sadr-ud-Din; born in Sialkot, Punjab, British India, and companion of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, he was a member of the first Ahmadi council (1914), the second missionary to England, and editor of the Islamic Review (1914–1917) and the Ahmadi English translation of the Qurʾan (1918).44 Sadr-ud-Din explains how Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s “enthusiasm for Islam and its propagation lit a fire in the souls of those who followed him,” such that his disciples “aimed to spread knowledge of Islam to the whole world.”45
The Ahmadi missionaries in Germany followed the same strategy they had followed in England: establish a mosque and a journal in the local language, win over high-profile converts, set up an organization headed by converts to propagate their vision of Islam, and translate the Qurʾan into the local language. They built their mosque in the well-to-do Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, and it remained the only mosque built by and for Muslims not just in Berlin, but indeed in all of Germany.46 In 1924, Sadr-ud-Din established the Moslemische Revue, modeled on the Islamic Review, with the express aim of “explaining the teachings of Islam to Germans” in German.47 Many articles in both journals were written by converts, including the Qurʾan translator Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (1875–1936, conversion 1917) in the Islamic Review, and Professor and Baron Omar (Rolf) von Ehrenfels (1901–1980, conversion 1931) in the Moslemische Revue. Converts played a leading role in the Deutsch-Muslimische Gesellschaft (German Muslim Society), a mosque-based organization whose aim was “to promote understanding of Islam through educational work, lectures, and intensive community life in Germany.”48 For the entire eight years of its existence, converts were always in the majority on its board.49 Since the society “mostly consisted of new German Muslims,” it “played an effective role in making the activities of the mission vibrant and known to Berlin’s literary circles.”50
All of these efforts served to proselytize. In 1925, the Islamic Review boasted that in the new “mission field” in Berlin, “twenty-five converts have already turned to Islam.”51 By 1932, the missionaries claimed that one hundred Germans had converted, all of whom except Hugo Marcus were apparently of Christian background.52 Just as significant is the Ahmadi understanding of religious conversion, something that has largely escaped scholarly analysis.
Borrowing Christian proselytizing techniques—especially autobiographical conversion narratives—the Ahmadi deployed double consciousness as a strategy to win over converts in Europe.53 Sadr-ud-Din did not demand that converts make a clean break from their former religious beliefs and practices. On the contrary, he asserted: “No ceremony is required in order to become Muslim. Islam is not only a rational, widespread, and practical religion, it is also fully harmonious with the natural human disposition. Every child is born with this disposition. This is why no one needs to convert to become a Muslim. One can be a Muslim without telling anybody. Committing to Islam is merely an organizational formality.”54 At the same time, however, using a technique favored by British missionaries in India, the Ahmadi boasted of the new converts the community had won, splashing their photos and conversion narratives across the opening pages of the same journal that declared in every issue from its founding in 1924 through 1929 that one did not need to convert to become Muslim.
The autobiographical conversion narratives of these new Muslims, which promote the self-identity they and the missionaries aimed to create, reveal this understanding of conversion.55 For example, the founder of the Ahmadi Mission Vienna, the Austrian convert von Ehrenfels, was described by the Ahmadi as a “great success achieved,” inasmuch as he and his wife were “members of an aristocratic family.” According to von Ehrenfels,
The Islamic teaching of successive revelation implies in my opinion the following: The source from which all the great world religions sprang as one. The founders of these great paths, prepared for peace-seeking mankind, gave witness to one and the same basic divine teaching. Acceptance of one of these paths means searching for Truth in Love, but it does not imply the rejection of any other path, i.e., another religion … The acceptance of Islam and the path of the Muslims by a member of an older religion thus means as little rejection of his former religion as, for instance, the acceptance of Buddha’s teaching meant the rejection of Hinduism to Buddha’s Indian compatriots … The differences of religion are man-made. The unity is divine.56
Similarly, Marcus wrote: “Islam is the only religion that recognizes all prior revelations of all other peoples likewise as divine. For example, for a Muslim, the Vedas, the teachings of Buddha and Zoroaster, the Old and the New Testament are likewise holy and binding books. And for a Muslim, Buddha, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are also prophets sent on a divine mission.”57 “In the Berlin mosque,” he confirmed, “adding the Muslim religion which I embraced to my Judaism was permitted … since there are no fundamental doctrinal differences between the two confessions.”58The foreign Muslims in Berlin formed an “Islamic middle class.”59 Most of them were university students financially supported by their homelands, professors, diplomats, businessmen, journalists, doctors, and other professionals.60 The leaders of the Ahmadi and the Islamic Community—South Asian Muslims with Ph.D.’s—used German middle-class values such as simplicity, practicality, a thirst for knowledge, reason, and intellect to attract members of the middle class and intellectuals, who were facing severe financial and spiritual distress.61 As a result, German converts who came from the same educated middle class as the missionaries made up a significant proportion of the Muslim population.62 Natalie Clayer and Eric Germain claim that a third of Germany’s Muslim population in the 1930s consisted of converts, despite the fact that the exact numbers of Muslims and converts cannot be determined, since Islam was not a recognized religion in Germany given community status.63 As Germain notes, the social status of the aristocrats, professionals, and scientists who did convert was of greater importance than the number of converts.64For as Humayun Ansari points out, they were best able to establish “consonance” between Islam and the “native” religions (Christianity and Judaism), making Islam “indigenous.”65
Hugo Marcus, referred to by the Ahmadi as “the most valued prize of our Mission in Berlin,” was one of those converts.66 A poet, philosopher, political activist, and writer, Marcus committed to several communities, movements, and ideologies over the course of his eighty-six years. His choices speak to a desire to find a utopia, or to join universal “brotherhoods.” After completing Gymnasium in 1898, he migrated to Berlin, and around that time—before his parents arrived in 1901—he joined the first organization in the world to campaign for the rights of homosexuals, the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific Humanitarian Committee), founded by his friend Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935), who was also of Jewish background.67 Like many other scions of German Jewish provincial families in imperial Germany, Marcus then studied philosophy at Berlin’s university, where he befriended Kurt Hiller (1885–1972), another leading homosexual rights activist of Jewish background, whose 1922 book § 175: Die Schmach des Jahrhunderts! (Paragraph 175: The Disgrace of the Century!) is a seminal work in the homosexual rights struggle, aimed at winning “the liberation of a human minority that, although harmless,” is “oppressed, persecuted, and tormented.”68 Their academic mentors included Georg Simmel (1858–1918), himself the son of Jewish converts to Christianity, who, although renowned today as the founder of sociology, in his day was known as “the philosopher of the avant-garde” and played a leading role in the left-wing, pacifist, feminist, and homosexual rights movements.69 A countercultural iconoclast, Simmel “sought to undermine the status quo by social critique, opposing accepted tastes, hierarchies and conventions”; “believing there was no such thing as self-evident and universal Truth,” he sought “to construct a new morality and spirituality.”70Marcus first joined the George-Kreis (George Circle), a quasi-religious group composed of the rapturous disciples of the poet and “prophet” Stefan George (1868–1933), who thought of themselves as an avant-garde waging a cultural and spiritual war of redemption to renew Germany. He was probably inspired to do this by Simmel, who was George’s close friend. Then, however, he went on to join the Ahmadi, apparently becoming the only Jewish member.71 Prior to World War I, Marcus earned some renown with a half-dozen well-received philosophical works.72In one of these, Meditationen (Meditations)—written while the precocious twenty-four-year-old was still a doctoral student, and whose major themes, like those of George’s works, include pederasty and the master-disciple relationship and a search for a new utopia—we catch a hint of his openness to joining a new spiritual community.73 Marcus’s utopia includes “a new, lay priest order devoted to the purpose of spreading a uniform worldview and a truthful social doctrine.”74
Marcus did not have the luxury of being able to devote himself to philosophical and poetic pursuits alone. Like other Jewish youths sent to the capital to seek higher education to facilitate their families’ social climbing, he was expected to work in the family business. The First World War would change that. During the war, Marcus worked with Hiller in the latter’s pacifist organization, the Aktivistenbund, and served on the staff of his pacifist-socialist journal, Das Ziel: Jahrbuch für geistige Politik (1916–1924).75 After the war, Marcus’s family lost their home and factories when Prussian Posen became Polish Poznán, freeing him from the burden of having to follow in his father’s footsteps.
It was also as a result of this that he found Islam, presented to him as a universal brotherhood that united men of all nations and races, and that, as he quickly discovered, promotes homosocial bonds. To support his family, he began working as a German tutor to young Muslim men from the Ahmadi mission, a community not unlike the George Circle, in that both consisted of disciples who were devoted to the teachings of a charismatic master originally seen as a prophet, and who perceived themselves as waging a war to redeem the soul of Germany. In 1923, the Ahmadi community hired him as editor of all of its German-language publications. He formed an especially close bond with the chic, handsome bachelor Sadr-ud-Din. Inspired by the imam, Marcus converted to Islam in 1925. As the Ahmadi boasted, “The West is destined sooner or later to witness the sunrise of Islam, and we hasten to congratulate Dr. Marcus on his being one of the few chosen ones who are the harbingers of that sunrise.”76 That same year, he helped craft and signed a petition that was organized by Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science and sent to the justice minister urging repeal of Paragraph 175 of the criminal code, which penalized, in the law’s language, “unnatural sexual acts” between men.77
Marcus shared the intellectual reasons for his conversion, stating that he was drawn to Islam by “the absolutely rational and at the same time lofty construction of Islamic doctrine.” At the same time, we see in his conversion narrative, as in that of von Ehrenfels, conversion as a kind of double consciousness. Converting to Islam “deprived me of nothing,” Marcus wrote, “for it allowed me to preserve the worldview that I had formed for myself. But in addition it gave me several of the most pathbreaking human thoughts that have ever been conceived.”78 This interpretation may explain why Marcus did not leave the Jewish community of Berlin for nearly a dozen years after his conversion, and then did so only when he thought it might save his life.79 Nor did he sever ties with Hiller and Hirschfeld, accompanying the latter to an art exhibition six months after his conversion in 1925 to show the famous sexologist a portrait of Marcus done in the mission house of the Berlin mosque by the Jewish feminist painter Julie Wolfthorn (1864–1944 [Theresienstadt concentration camp]).80 It is also significant that being of Jewish background, and retaining membership in the Jewish community, did not hinder Marcus from becoming the leading German in the Ahmadi mosque community’s intellectual and administrative life.
Marcus’s impact was significant throughout the time the missionaries were active in the city. For over a decade and a half, he helped shape the expression of Islam and presented it to the German public. He edited all of the mosque’s German-language publications and served as the chief editor of and the major contributor to the Moslemische Revue (1924–1940), which had a circulation of at least 1,000, and in which he published nineteen articles between 1924 and 1933, the most by far by any German author.81 He was also the editor of the Ahmadi German Qurʾan translation and commentary, published in 1939 in several thousand copies. Marcus was the chairman of the German Muslim Society from its founding in 1930 to 1935.82 He gave dozens of lectures at the society’s “Islam Evenings” at the mosque, which attracted between 250 and 400 attendees, including two of his acquaintances from homosexual rights and literary circles, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, and other German intellectuals.83 The “Islam Evenings” were, along with Muslim holidays, not for Muslims to celebrate alone, but mass media events as well; the Eid al-Fitr sermon in 1931 was broadcast live on radio. The mosque was an “in” place to see and be seen, and the events it hosted were frequently written up in the German press, including the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, which had a circulation of nearly two million, and in society papers.84 Marcus introduced foreign Muslim dignitaries at the mosque to crowds of German guests and embassy officials from Muslim-majority lands.85 He was on good terms with politicians of the Weimar Coalition—Social Democrat, Liberal, and Catholic—as well as with Protestant and Catholic clergy and German royalty.86 According to the last imam of the mosque, Sheikh Abdullah, Marcus “made our community life bloom through many new endeavors and his broad initiative.”87
Marcus and the Ahmadi consistently presented Islam as a tolerant religion that allowed its members to rise above national and racial sentiment.88 From the founding of the mission, the Ahmadi used their public message to stress interreligious tolerance, emphasizing the unity of humankind—based on the idea that all people, no matter their race or nationality, are created by the same God—and pointing out the similarities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and the affinities between members of the three religions.89 The Ahmadi claimed that as progeny of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were related by blood—in the language of the day, Christians, Jews, and Muslims were all “Semites.” Displaying a complete lack of anti-Jewish sentiment, they appealed directly to Jews to convert to Islam and join their community.90
Throughout the Weimar era, the Ahmadi spoke out against nationalism and racism, condemning Europeans for being blinded by hatred and prejudice. According to Sadr-ud-Din, when people accepted that the same God is lord of all people, that no one people is favored or preferred by God, they would be freed of the curse of national pride and prejudice and promote the international brotherhood of man.91Asserting that the world had seen enough of “the bitter consequences of national hatred and religious prejudice,” Sadr-ud-Din condemned Christians’ persecution of Jews and antisemitism.92 He argued that Europeans should heed the suffering that hate begets, as witnessed in the misery of World War I. In a report on the mosque’s opening ceremony on Eid al-Fitr in 1925, an Ahmadi newspaper proclaimed: “It is on such occasions that you see Muslims from all parts of the world, of all shades of complexion from the white European to the dark African, embrace one another like members of the same family. It is such scenes that in these days of racial hatred present a broad silver-lining to an otherwise dark over-clouded horizon.”93 If these were their values, how did Ahmadi respond to the rise of the Nazi regime of violence and its targeting of “racial mixing” and Jews? If “tolerance is the main feature of Islam,” as Sadr-ud-Din claimed at the groundbreaking ceremony for the mosque in 1925, and if the mosque was open to all, then what happened to it while it was controlled by the Ahmadi between 1933 and 1939, as the Nazis consolidated their power?94 Did the society remain “equally open to members of all confessions and races”?95 It was easy for these Muslims to practice what they preached in Weimar Germany, but how did they act after the Nazi takeover, and how did they respond to the persecution of one of their own?
DESPITE THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF conversion and religious belonging, Marcus and the Ahmadi were compelled by the Nazi takeover to rethink this Muslim’s membership in the Jewish community and his relationship to homosexual activists. In 1922, Hiller had written that “a German Kaiser” “had named antisemitism as the shame of his century. Yet when were the Jews in Germany ever as persecuted as the homoerotics? Does the criminal law contain an exceptional provision against that racial minority as with the notorious exceptional provision against this sexual minority? The shame of the century is anti-homoeroticism; the shame of the century is Paragraph 175.”96 Hiller could not have foreseen what would occur after 1933: he was beaten nearly to death in the Oranienburg (Sachsenhausen) concentration camp and then took refuge in England. Hirschfeld fled to France; his Institute for Sexual Science was looted and plundered, and its library, as he related, was “thrown into an auto-da-fé and burnt to cinders.”97 Marcus lost one of his two brothers, who was hounded by Nazis and driven to suicide in 1933; his other brother would be murdered by the Nazis a decade later.98 He also had to confront the new reality in his mosque community.
The tone and content of the Moslemische Revue changed. For the first time, articles expressed antisemitic sentiment, claiming that Islam and Nazism shared basic principles.99 In an article that was published in 1934, convert Faruq Fischer argued that National Socialism and Islam shared the same “modern” values.100 He wrote that Islam rejected Judaism’s claim that there is “a chosen people,” which had “created much bad blood and made Jews unjustifiably egotistical and conceited.”101He asked how Islam could be considered “arrogant” when “it is the Jews who repudiated and libeled Jesus and crucified him for being a false prophet,” whereas Muhammad declared him a prophet sent by God. He concluded by arguing that “Islam recognizes the Führer of each nation.” And “just as the Qurʾan declares, ‘For every nation there is a messenger’ (10:47), one can also claim that the political Führer of a nation is chosen by God.”102 That issue also included a congratulatory letter from Muhammad Ali, the Ahmadi world leader based in Lahore. Ali welcomed “the new regime in Germany” because “it encourages the same simple life principles that Islam emphasizes.”103 He claimed that “the new Germany” and Islam were of the same mind, and he predicted that someday all of Europe would follow the German model.
German converts who belonged to the Nazi Party also became more visible in the mosque community. In 1934, Fischer attended the German Muslim Society’s annual meeting for the first time and was also elected to the board.104 That same year, Nazi Party member and convert Hikmet Beyer (b. 1907) received the second-highest number of votes for chairman, initially receiving only one vote less than Marcus, who had been chairman of the society since its founding.105 Marcus obviously still had the support of society members, despite his Jewish background, but there was significant and increasing preference for converts who were Party members.
The Gestapo reported that rather than being closed down due to “subversive activities,” as was rumored, the mosque actually featured an imam (Deputy Imam Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah) who, while conducting tours of the mosque, spoke “only glowingly” about the Nazi seizure of power and expressed goodwill toward the regime.106 Abdullah also made a crucial change in Sadr-ud-Din’s 1925 lecture “What Has Islam Given to Humanity?” when he presented it at the mosque after the Nazis came to power: he replaced the word “democracy” with “Volksgemeinschaft” (national community).107
As the mosque community began to succumb to the Nazification of society and then to the new antisemitic legislation, Marcus resigned as chairman and member of the board of the German Muslim Society.108 Before the election was held for a new president in 1935, the prominent members of the organization were summoned “to renounce their membership in a society that still tolerated Jews, or bear the consequences, for their careers and political lives, if they remained.” So Marcus relinquished his positions “to save the Society from further troubles.”109
Despite an atmosphere in which “antisemitism became a principle governing private life as well as public,” Marcus participated in the society’s annual meeting barely a week after the notorious 1935 Nazi Party Rally, where the Nuremberg Laws were proclaimed.110 The board needed a new member. Disregarding the antisemitic laws, another non-German member of the society, Assistant Imam Dr. Azeez Mirza (1906–1937) of British India, proposed that Marcus again play a leadership role.111The board also proposed that Marcus give two of the monthly “Islam Evenings” lectures to be held at the mosque the following year. Were they not aware of the laws separating Jews from other Germans? Were they defying them?
It is unlikely that Marcus actually gave any lectures at the mosque in 1936, since Jews were being attacked both in print and in person.112 In March, at the behest of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, a Nazi press release declared that the German Muslim Society “should not be acknowledged, as first and foremost it is made up of Jews.”113
As Jews were increasingly isolated and made to feel like unwelcome guests in their own land, Marcus, having converted to Islam eleven years earlier, finally gave notice in May of his withdrawal from membership in the Jewish community of Berlin, effective that summer.114 Having officially renounced his connection to the Jewish community, Marcus appeared at the society’s annual meeting in autumn 1936.115Attendees included senior civil servants of the Third Reich. It is remarkable that he participated in the event, for a recent decree for civil servants had prohibited them from “consorting with Jews.”116 Even more astounding, one vote was cast for Marcus as chairman.117 Did he vote for himself? Or was it another member? Was it a silent act of resistance?
The fellow convert whom Marcus had chosen to succeed him as chairman died suddenly in September 1936.118 He was replaced instead by convinced Nazi and convert Hikmet (Fritz) Beyer.119 During his two years as the society’s head officer, Beyer used National Socialist racist principles to reinterpret a crucial Islamic tenet that promotes interracial harmony. Muslims had always endorsed the idea that what matters to God is not one’s origins but one’s piety. Qurʾan 49:13 states that God divided humankind into different peoples so that they might know one another, not because any is better than the rest; the best are those who are most pious. Referring to this verse, Beyer proclaimed instead that “the sign of a truly advanced culture is not its interbreeding, but rather its recognition of [different] peoples!,” pledging that “the German Muslim Society will act in the coming year with this in mind.”120
In 1936, the society “had to redouble its efforts to prove its right to exist anew” and control the only mosque in Germany in the face of a sustained campaign by the Islamic Community of Berlin, which continued to challenge the Ahmadi’s Islamic credentials.121 After 1933, the Islamic Community was led by supporters of the Third Reich: by 1934 its executive director was Habibur Rahman, a Sunni Muslim journalist from India who later became a major figure in Nazi broadcast propaganda.122 In the new climate, the Islamic Community reframed its attacks against the Ahmadi, attempting to convince Nazi authorities that the society was a Jewish Communist organization, unworthy of any claim to the mosque.
Unfortunately for the society, the ensuing period brought continued conflict with the Islamic Community and scrutiny by the police, the Nazi Party, and the Gestapo.123The Berlin police reported on the society to “special representatives” charged with “monitor[ing] the spiritual and cultural activities of Jews in the German Reich.”124The Nazi Party reported to the chief of police in spring 1937 that “the Society is made up of members from the most varied races and nations,” claiming that at their gatherings, “when the participants believe they are among comrades, they have apparently made derogatory comments about National Socialism and its Führer.” In addition, “quite a few Jews belong to the Society. Most notably, the Society became a lair and flophouse for Kurfürstendamm Jews, especially in the years 1933–4.”125 The Kurfürstendamm, where Jews made up a quarter of the population, and Berlin West, where the mosque was located, had long been targets of Nazi rhetoric.126
Since only members and Muslims could attend the German Muslim Society’s functions at the time, it is apparent that German converts or Muslim members were reporting to the Party or the Gestapo. Fischer? Beyer? The Nazis seem to have believed that many Jews were members of the society, although the only known one, Marcus, had ceased playing any public role in the organization, and even attending its meetings, the previous year. He does not appear in a photo taken on the front steps of the mosque on the occasion of Eid al-Adha in 1936.127 Perhaps he continued to show up at the mosque out of the public eye; we know that he maintained a relationship with the imam. Whether or not Marcus surreptitiously continued to visit the mosque, the report that it was a flophouse for Jews has been misinterpreted by Muslims in Germany, who claim that, like the members of the Grand Mosque in Paris, Muslims at the Berlin mosque saved Jews during the Shoah. But Nazi rhetoric should not be mistaken for fact. Nor were Jews in mortal danger in 1933–1934 such that they would have sought refuge.128 During this period of scrutiny, Sadr-ud-Din, the founder of the mosque and community and the architect of its tolerant interreligious and interracial message, left Berlin.129
The new head imam was Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. Born in British India, in Rasul Nagar, Punjab, he had earned a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. at Forman Christian College in Lahore.130 After serving as joint secretary of the Ahmadi in Lahore in 1927, he was appointed deputy imam of the Berlin mosque in 1928, and subsequently earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at Berlin University in 1932.131 Imam Abdullah praised the regime while leading public tours of the mosque, and he made important changes to stock lectures, incorporating Nazi neologisms. He made further overtures to the Nazi regime in the summer of 1938. He offered to give lectures sponsored by the Kulturpolitisches Archiv of self-proclaimed Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg (1892–1946 [executed at Nuremberg]), proving that there were “numerous points of contact between the Islamic and National Socialist worldviews.”132 This attracted the agency’s attention.133 The Reich Foreign Ministry certified that he posed no danger to the state, and the Public Education Agency approved him as a lecturer for winter 1939.134 But the Kulturpolitisches Archiv was tipped off by a Gestapo agent that Abdullah “in his capacity as leader of the Muslim Society had been under Communist influence until the Nazi takeover, and until recently under Jewish influence,” specifically “the Jew Dr. Hugo Markus [sic],” who “had founded the society, and who had played a not insignificant role in society life until 1936.”135
Abdullah’s overtures may reflect a change in philosophical orientation, or a strategy for survival in the face of a totalitarian regime that brooked no dissent. At any rate, in those years the Moslemische Revue published articles that reflected the former, such as “The New Germany According to a Muslim: Hitler Is the Appointed One,” which appeared in the August 1938 issue and was written by Dr. Zeki Kiram (1886–1946), a member of the rival Islamic Community.136 Kiram was a former Ottoman army officer and a longtime Berlin resident.137 A Turkish citizen who maintained close relations with the Turkish embassy, he was employed as an interpreter of Turkish in the Reich Foreign Ministry and worked for the Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS (the SS Intelligence Agency) for years, but his main job was dealing German arms.138 In 1936 he wrote an ecstatic letter to Adolf Hitler, his “highly esteemed Führer.”139 In the 1938 article, Kiram asks, “Is this man not sent by God to save the German people from the trap that the Jews and their various organizations, established ostensibly in the name of humanity, have set? These Jewish organizations, which appear to bring benefits, in fact pursue destructive ends.”140
Reflecting this sentiment, on November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed the nationwide pogrom, signaling the beginning of the Shoah. Fellow Jewish convert to Islam Essad Bey had fled to Italy earlier in the year, but Marcus, defined as a Jew according to the Nuremberg Laws, was among the six thousand Jewish men from Berlin and northern and eastern Germany who were subsequently imprisoned at Berlin’s main concentration camp, Sachsenhausen.141 After arriving, the fifty-eight-year-old was forced by the SS to stand absolutely still on the roll-call ground for twenty-four hours. He and the others were “crammed into the ‘small camp,’” recently built to handle the influx of Jewish prisoners, “where they suffered continual mistreatment.”142 Marcus was held in prison block 18, an overcrowded wooden barrack.143
Fortunately, he did not have to remain there long. Most Jews arrested following the November pogrom were released by spring 1939, although two thousand died in detainment. They were freed on condition that they would leave the country immediately. Marcus was slated for release on November 19, 1938, and inmates with release orders were typically let go the following day.144 Like other former detainees, he was given a stern warning about the horror that awaited him should he remain in Germany. As he recalled after the war, “On the day of their release, former detainees were urged to leave Germany posthaste, because otherwise they would disappear forever in a concentration camp.”145
Facing this reality, Marcus asked Imam Abdullah to defend him, which might seem an odd choice, as Abdullah had earlier praised the regime and promoted the idea of the consonance between Nazism and Islam. But to whom else could Marcus turn? Abdullah, probably responding to the shock of the November 9 pogrom—when the flames of burning synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses would have been visible from his residence in the mission house at the mosque—and Marcus’s incarceration, worked on an exit plan.146 It quickly bore fruit. Within a week of his release from Sachsenhausen, Marcus was informed by the Albanian consul in Bern, Switzerland, that he could obtain an entry visa for the Muslim-majority yet secularizing kingdom, still an independent monarchy at that time, if he submitted a valid passport to Albanian authorities in Switzerland.147 British India, the headquarters of the Ahmadi, for whom Marcus had worked for fifteen years, was a better option. Abdullah sought to help Marcus obtain a visa for India. On December 1, 1938, he wrote the British passport control officer in Berlin, assuring him that Marcus “is known to us personally and intimately.”148
By January 1939, the Nazi Party was “increasingly and ever more openly” emphasizing that its principal duty was “the solution of the Jewish question.”149German news reports broadcast Hitler’s Reichstag speech of January 30, in which he “threatened the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”150 In February, a Gestapo agent repeated a claim he had been making for years: that the society was “without a doubt an international organization wholly under Jewish-Communist influence.”151Moreover, according to the agent, “even today the Muslim Society, and especially Dr. Abdullah, maintain close relations with various followers who due to their political views have had to leave Germany.” Accordingly, he opposed any “domestic recognition” of the society.152
In this atmosphere, new rivals to the society emerged. Foremost among them was the Maʿhad al-Islam (Islam Institute).153 Unlike the German Muslim Society, the Islam Institute was outspoken in its Nazi sentiment. Its board members included a variety of Muslims who served as Nazi propagandists and agents.154 And while the society had never included such language in its constitution, despite having had the opportunity to do so, the Islam Institute’s constitution contained the following provision: “A German who applies to be a member must present documentation that he is not a Jew, in accordance with the fifth decree of the Nuremberg Laws (of 30.11.1938).”155 The organization was on such good terms with authorities that in summer 1939, the Nazi Party’s foreign policy office informed the Berlin police that it had no objections to the Islam Institute, or to its board members.156 Its chairman would soon be Habibur Rahman, one of the Islamic Community’s earliest members, and its leading member after the departure of the Kheiri brothers.157 Rahman continually urged Nazi authorities to view the Ahmadi as false Muslims and the German Muslim Society as a Jewish organization, in part motivated by a desire to take over their mosque.158
The situation worsened for Marcus. Having already surrendered his German passport, on March 16, 1939, he was fingerprinted like a criminal and given a new identity card under the name “Hugo Israel,” marked with a large “J” for Jude(Jew).159 And with an earlier decree having declared that Jews who converted to Christianity were still Jewish by race—from which one could infer that the same would be true for conversion to other religions—he would no longer be able to escape the consequences of his origins.160 Remarkably, however, in spite of the fact that his life was in danger, that same day Abdullah asked the British to postpone the date of Marcus’s Indian entry visa, so that he could stay in Berlin to finish editing the German translation of the Qurʾan: “Mr. Hugo Marcus has been indispensable for this work and thus his presence here in Berlin has been unavoidable. The climatic conditions in India combined with the above mentioned work entrusted to him here in Berlin, necessitated his departure to be postponed.”161
Was it better to remain in the eye of the storm in Berlin and avoid the heat of India? Was this Marcus’s wish, or Abdullah’s? Abdullah may have been aware that others who employed Jews on similar projects were able to save their colleagues from deportation at that time.162 But why would Marcus choose to remain in Berlin at a time when talk of impending war filled the air, war measures were already being taken, and converted Jewish contemporaries were wondering, “Will they beat us to death … Will they come for me tonight? Will I be shot, will I be put in a concentration camp?”163 Was Marcus so single-mindedly determined to edit the Qurʾan that he considered nothing else, that he was able to look past the violence and humiliation to which he had already been subjected? As a Jew, he was completely isolated from the rest of society. He would have had no interest in attending the segregated Jewish cultural activities, for he had renounced his attachment to the Jewish community. He was forced to surrender all assets, cash, securities, and valuables.164 Had it not been for his salary from the mosque community, which he received until August 1939, and for the one-time fee he was paid for editing the Qurʾan, he would have been destitute.165
We can gain insight into Marcus’s seemingly irresponsible decision to stay when we compare him to other German Jews of his generation. A majority of the Jews who remained in Germany at that time were over the age of fifty and—like Marcus, who was fifty-nine—could not imagine leaving their homeland, for despite everything they had experienced in the past five years, they remained German patriots and still considered themselves Germans.166 In any case, even if they had wanted to flee, there were few countries willing to take them in, especially since they would arrive penniless, as Jews had to forfeit all their wealth and property when they left Germany.167 Like other German Jewish men of his age, Marcus had been honored as a veteran of World War I, despite having served in only an honorary capacity at a desk job for nine months in the heart of Berlin and offering his services in the city as a voluntary nurse.168 In recognition of this minimal wartime effort, in April 1936 the Wilmersdorf police personally delivered a swastika-stamped document to his home: he had been awarded the Honor Cross for War Veterans by Reich president and war hero Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, “in the name of the Führer,” while he was still officially a member of the Jewish community.169 Perhaps thinking that such recognition could protect him, Marcus sat in his room and improved the Qurʾan translation, delaying his departure by six months. Yet even remaining in his home was no guarantee of safety: as of the end of April 1939, Jews were “stripped of their rights as tenants, thus paving the way for their forcible ghettoization. They could now be evicted without appeal.”170 Marcus was most likely forced to vacate his apartment and move into a “Jews’ House,” denied access to radio, telephone, and typewriter.
In April the Ahmadi invited Marcus “to stay permanently” at their headquarters in Lahore, India, offering to be responsible for his maintenance and defraying all expenses.171 Assured that he would be gainfully employed translating Ahmadi literature into German, several weeks later the British Government of India granted him a visa.172 But he remained in Berlin, working on the Qurʾan translation, which was finally published a month before World War II broke out. In its foreword, Sadr-ud-Din wrote, “Throughout the entire duration of my work on the translation, a great German friend exerted himself working for me, bestowing upon me the greatest help imaginable. His assistance was both indispensable and invaluable. His love of Islam is boundless. And accordingly the labor was his sacrifice and duty. May God bless and reward him.”173 That “great German friend” was Marcus.174
Marcus may not have been mentioned by name in the Qurʾan translation, yet in light of the context in which it was published, it was a remarkable accomplishment. The commentary that accompanies the Qurʾanic text often takes up to 90 percent of a given page, with one line of Arabic text and German translation accompanied by more than fifty lines of commentary. The commentary for the verse “there shall be no compulsion in religion,” for example, expresses the conviction that one should not be persecuted for confessing a particular religion, including having one’s wealth and property confiscated and being targeted for belonging to a particular faith.175Moreover, explaining the verse that refers to people protecting churches, monasteries, and synagogues from destruction by others, the editors state their hope that Europe will take this verse to heart and act upon it, to protect the houses of worship of all believers in which prayers are made to God.176 This is an astonishing statement in the wake of the November 9 pogrom and the persecution of Jews. Such commentary passages and others that condemn racism and blind submission to leaders show the Ahmadi’s perseverance in articulating their core beliefs despite living in the Nazi metropolis: “Goodness and excellence must be promoted, in whatever race and community they are found; on the other hand, evil and maliciousness must be combated, wherever they are found. Help the one who does good, even if he is a non-Muslim! And whoever proves himself evil, refuse to assist him, even if he is a Muslim!” and “Even if you are led astray by a Führer, you will also be punished, for you have followed him blindly.”177
Ten days before the outbreak of war, the imam submitted a certification of Marcus’s good character.178 With this testimony, Marcus was permitted to leave Germany, just one week before the Nazi invasion of Poland. He left not on the long and precarious journey by ship to India, however, which may have been a life-saving decision, but rather for Switzerland.179 The plan was for him to open an Ahmadi “cultural center” in Lausanne and publish the Moslemische Revue there, serving as the editor. He accomplished neither of those objectives, however; nor did he continue on to India.180Had he traveled there, he would have been arrested as an enemy alien and spent the war in a British internment camp, sharing the fate of fellow converts von Ehrenfels and Asad.181 His entry into Switzerland was facilitated by the intervention of a German convert to Catholicism, wartime European director of U.S. radio station NBC and postwar monk Dr. Max Jordan (1896–1977).182 Jordan and Marcus were acquaintances from the homosexual rights movement and the early years of the mosque, when Jordan, who like Marcus wrote for the Berliner Tageblatt, covered the German Muslim Society’s “Islam Evenings” as a journalist.
After World War II erupted, Abdullah, who was a British citizen and thus an “enemy national,” had to leave the country or face incarceration.183 In October he traveled to Copenhagen, and a month later to India.184 Even in mid-November, after his departure, the mosque community was still promoting the brotherhood of man, regardless of race or religion, as in the Eid al-Fitr sermon given by the imam appointed by Abdullah before he left the country, the Egyptian Dr. Ahmed Galwash.185Refuting the 1936 lecture by Nazi Party member and German Muslim Society chairman Beyer, Galwash gave the traditional Islamic interpretation appreciating human diversity, based on Qurʾan 49:13, which states that if any people can claim to be superior to others, it is only by virtue of their piety. Galwash concluded by beseeching “the God of all people and nations” to fill the hearts of all people “with respect toward one another so that peace and well-being for all will yet remain on earth.”186
“SLICES OF LIVES” CAN BE USED “as tracers, to illuminate aspects of the past that would otherwise remain obscure, hidden, or even misunderstood,” just as the histories of individuals, no matter how unique, can “yield global stories that challenge conventional narratives.”187 Hugo Marcus may have been an idiosyncratic historical character—homosexual, Jewish, and Muslim—yet the questions raised by his life are salient for understanding the interrelated issues of Muslim responses to Nazism in Germany and the history of Muslim-Jewish relations.188 Like Christians, Muslims responded to Nazism and its persecution of Jews in a variety of ways. They expressed opinions ranging “from outright refusal to fascination [with Nazism], with sympathy and scepticism often being voiced by one and the same person.” Everywhere Muslim responses were conditioned by local conditions and conflicts.189
The religious and political rivalries that dominated Muslim life in Berlin contributed to German Muslims’ response to the Nazis in the 1930s. Ahmadi beliefs about prophecy and the messiah were condemned by Sunni Muslims centered in the Islamic Community of Berlin, who challenged the Ahmadi’s Islamic credentials and labeled its members British agents. Throughout the 1920s, the Islamic Community of Berlin tried to wrest control of the city’s only mosque from the Ahmadi for these two reasons. When the Nazis rose to power and presented themselves as liberators of Muslim-majority lands, protectors of Islam, and enemies of British, French, and Soviet imperialism, they found a natural ally in the Islamic Community, just as the Ahmadi, seen as too pro-British and too cosmopolitan to fit Nazi aims, began to voice alleged affinities between Islam and Nazism in order to survive as an organization.190 The Islamic Community, which was founded by socialist revolutionaries and had once boasted Jewish converts among its ranks, appealed to the Nazis by portraying the Ahmadi as a Jewish Bolshevist organization.
The Ahmadi’s accommodationist statements and actions after 1933 demonstrate that the mission failed to live up to many of its Weimar-era promises. Most of these actions were meant to curry favor with the regime by adopting its terminology so that the organization could continue to exist and hold on to the mosque. Yet even if not based on ideological rapprochement, such actions as publishing antisemitic material and dismissing a Jewish officeholder did subject them to “personal liability for the interaction with a totalitarian and racist regime” and for crimes of the era, for they facilitated the Nazi project of separating “Jews” from “Germans.”191 Moreover, they betrayed their own principles by distinguishing between Muslims based on “racial” categories.
Yet like other foreigners in Nazi Germany, the Ahmadi responded in contradictory ways, for other actions they took successfully opposed Nazi racism. Marcus continued to head the German Muslim Society and remained editor of the mosque’s publications for several years after he was prohibited from doing so by Nazi law. Some members of the community supported his continuing role in the organization and, astonishing in the face of the new racial statutes, the public life of the mosque. They maintained social relations with him long after they were forbidden to do so, and they supported him financially until 1939; otherwise he would have been destitute. The society and mosque resisted pressure to merge with pro-regime organizations and withstood Gestapo and Nazi Party inquiries. Sermons at the mosque—republished in its journal—continued to call for interreligious and interracial harmony until the end of 1939. The Qurʾan translation published that same year condemns religious persecution and racism and offers rejoinders to those wishing to escape culpability for following leaders such as Hitler. These actions in context and the choices made by other Muslims stand as proof of Ahmadi open-mindedness.
When it mattered most, the Ahmadi, Imam Abdullah, and the international leader of the organization, Muhammad Ali, converted their profession of interreligious harmony and condemnation of persecution of Jews into life-saving action. Even as their accommodation to Nazi ideology helped contribute to the antisemitic atmosphere in Berlin, they ultimately frustrated the Nazis’ attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe, if only by saving one life. They brought together a diverse group of men—one Protestant, one Catholic, and one Muslim, a “Weimar coalition” that had formed interconfessional affinities at the mosque during the 1920s—to save Hugo Marcus from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1938. As Marcus revealed after the war, “The united efforts of Superintendent Joachim Ungnad and Father Georg, Crown Prince of Saxony—both men had visited our ‘Islam Evenings’—and our Imam Dr. Abdullah managed to free me.”192 The Ahmadi created a sinecure for Marcus in Lahore, and the imam got him a visa to India, testifying to Marcus’s good character and obtaining certification that he was not a danger to the state. As a result, he was granted an exit permit that enabled him to leave Germany just one week before the outbreak of World War II, and thus to escape the brutal end meted out to his brothers. The story of Hugo Marcus sheds light on relations between Muslims and Jews as part of world history, of a history connecting Europe and South Asia.193
Research for this article was carried out during extended periods of research leave granted by Carolyn Boyd, Robert Moeller, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, successive chairs of the History Department at the University of California, Irvine. I conducted research in Berlin and Zurich initially under the auspices of a Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2006 and 2007, thanks to my academic hosts, Maurus Reinkowski at the University of Freiburg and Gudrun Krämer at the Free University, Berlin, and subsequently thanks to a fellowship at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin, directed by Ulrike Freitag, from 2009 to 2011. A follow-up visit to Berlin in 2013 and 2014, thanks again to the Humboldt Foundation and renewed affiliation with the ZMO, allowed me to complete the research and write the article. I am especially indebted to Bekim Agai, Umar Ryad, and Mehdi Sajid for including me in the International Symposium on Islam in Inter-War Europe and European Cultural History at Leiden University, the Netherlands; to Jasmin Khosravie, who invited me to participate in the International Research Colloquium, Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften, University of Bonn, BMBF Research Group “Europe from the Outside”; to the participants at these workshops as well as audiences at the University of Bonn and the University of Tübingen in Germany and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. The following colleagues based in Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. offered insightful critiques of this article at various stages of its development: Corry Guttstadt, Heike Liebau, Nils Riecken, Peter Wien, Dietrich Reetz, Ulrike Freitag, Gerdien Jonker, Mehdi Sajid, Stephan Conermann, Jasmin Khosravie, Şevket Küçükhüseyin, Manfred Backhausen, Stefan Heidemann, Umar Ryad, David Motadel, Moez Khalfaoui, Robert Moeller, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Matthias Lehmann, Rachel O’Toole, and Winston James. I am grateful for the assistance of Muhammad Ali, Imam of the Berlin Mosque; Dr. Zahid Aziz, webmaster of the Berlin and Woking Ahmadi missions; Father Placidus Kuhlkamp, Order of Saint Benedict, Librarian at Beuron Abbey, Germany; Robert Parzer, archivist, Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten, Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen; Thomas Ripper, Librarian, Bibliothek ZMO; and the directors and staffs of the Handschriftenabteilung, Zentralbibliothek Zürich; the Landesarchiv Berlin; and the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. I am especially indebted to the AHR‘s Editor and Editorial Board members and the anonymous reviewers commissioned by the journal for their critical reading of several revisions of the article.