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Anti-Semitic Propaganda in Nazi Germany
An interview with Professor Waclaw Dlugoborski

Waclaw Dlugoborski

Waclaw Dlugoborski

Stefan Wilkanowicz: We should start with the basic question: Where did Hitler's anti-Semitism come from?

Waclaw Dlugoborski: Hitler's stay in Vienna before the First World War had a decisive influence. This is where he came into contact with the anti-Semitic ideology propounded by Leopold Ritter von Schönerer and the mayor of Vienna, Dr. Karl Lüger. Above all, he encounte red Jewish immigrants from Galicia who made up around two-thirds of the city's 180,000 Jewish residents. They fixed in Hitler the stereotype of "the Jew from the East" (Ostjude), dirty and living on the margins of society yet never the less shrewd.

There were also the Jewish professors at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts who, failing to understand Hitler's supposed artistic talents, planted in him the stereotype of the Jew as the powerful, influential "enemy of the German nation".

Then come the war, the defeat of Germany and the legend of the so-called stab in the back that the German army had not lost the war, but rather the war effort on the home front had been undermined by Marxists and Jews who were therefore responsible for the debacle. This obviously reinforced Hitler's anti-Semitism.

When he went into politics and became head of the NSDAP, a new element appeared: the instrumental exploitation of anti-Semitism in the struggle for power. The concept of the enemy comes naturally to radical right-wing parties. They need it. The Jews became such an enemy. This was a rather easy manipulation, because after the defeat, in a time of depression, inflation and unemployment, German society was deeply frustrated and needed some sort of explanation of the way things were.

Anti-Semitic propaganda fell on fertile ground, since the Jews played a significant role in banking in Germany. The rapid development of department stores chains after the First World War was also largely their work. Therefore it was easy to stir up resentment and even hatred against them by accusing them of usurious interest rates and of ruining the petty merchants and craftsmen who could not stand the competition from the big department stores. Combined with the stereotype of "parasitic capital" (trade and finance) as opposed to "creative capital" (industry), this propaganda also appealed to many workers, particularly those who had lost their jobs, as well as to the broadly-conceived margins of society, including all of those who had experienced downward mobility as a result of economic and political shocks.

Anti-Semitic propaganda had also existed in Germany before Hitler came to power, but he was the one who combined economic with racist anti-Semitism, having taken over the racism from some of its turn-of-the-century ideologues. They treated Jews as an inferior race to the Aryans.

Furthermore, this propaganda was marked by a certain characteristic ambivalence: it presented the Jews on the one hand as a power dangerous to Germany and intent on controlling the world, as depicted in the notorious, "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and on the other hand as parasites on the margins of society. This was due to the fact that Jewish society in Germany consisted of two different groups: the assimilated Jews who had melted into German economic life where they played an important and creative role, and the so-called Ostjuden, immigrants from Russia and the Ukraine (following the pogroms and the Bolshevik revolution), who did in fact live on the margins of society - in the spatial sense as well, in the so-called barn districts (Scheunenviertel) of Berlin, known as cradles of poverty but also of the Jewish "parasites" and "subhuans". This theme recurs during the Second World War, when the alleged necessity of 'getting rid' of millions of Jews in the East was rationalized by their parasitical mode of life and the danger they were claimed to represent to others as supposed mass carriers of lice and typhus.

S. Wilkanowicz: This ambivalence is wholly logical: when you want to destroy someone it is best to evoke fear and revulsion. The rich Jews served to evoke fear, and the poor ones revulsion.

W. Dlugoborski: One ought perhaps to add here that the assimilated Jews were extremely averse to their immigrant co-religionists, of whom they felt ashamed. Anti-Semitism had also existed in Germany before the First World War, but then it had been dominated by the image of the assimilated, cultured Jew, a German citizen and often a patriot. For instance, Jews tried to figure as German patriots in the Wielkopolska region around Poznań, in Pomerania and in Upper Silesia. They declared their anti-Polishness. Even Gustav Mahler, the great Austrian composer of Jewish descent, and the re fo re far from German or Austrian chauvinism, pointed out the chasm separating him, a Europe an and man of culture, from his supposed brothers from the East. He therefore regarded racism as nonsense.

S. Wilkanowicz: We have indicated the reasons for and goals of anti-Semitism. Now let's go on to the methods. Which methods were used in propaganda, and especially in the mass media?

W. Dlugoborski: From the start, the Nazis attached a great deal of importance to the methods of ideological propaganda. Aside from their main propaganda mouthpiece, the "Voelkischer Beobachter", there was a special publication, "Der Stürmer", devoted to anti-Semitism. Its publisher, Julius Streicher, was one of Hitler's closest and most trusted collaborators. The journal was published until the end of the Third Reich, and Streicher committed suicide in Nuremberg.

Anti-Semitic slogans were voiced at the mass meetings that the Nazis were so good at orchestrating. Books, brochures, flyers and posters were published, especially during election campaigns. Visual images, principally caricatures, were used widely. They were also a permanent feature of "Der Stürmer", but another method was characteristic of that publication, namely a wide network of correspondents all over Germany who informed the editors about alleged crimes by Jews or about the Jews' hostility to Germans. Readers were also encouraged successfully to write letters to the editor. These letters were written at first by genuine anti-Semites, but over time writing them became a method of sucking up to the authorities and aiding one's own career... This correspondence fills several volumes.

S. Wilkanowicz: The magazine thus created the impression that all of German society was anti-Semitic, that the Jewish danger was obvious... And that the editors were only "the voice of the people". This was very convenient from all points of view.

W. Dlugoborski: That, of course, was the point. Upon coming to power, Hitler took control of the radio and turned to film. The social indoctrination directed by Goebbels became a great, organized project. Anti-Semitic propaganda intensified notice a bly. There were calls to boycott Jewish shops, for instance. There was no abatement until the lead-up to the 1936 Olympic Games, when they wanted to give the impression that Germany is a civilized country under the rule of law. Jewish athletes were even included in the national team.

At the same time, however, the Olympics brought an intensification of the Nazicult of the body muscular, statuesque, Aryan presented to excess in both of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympic films (and in others as well) and in the work of the regime's leading sculptor, Arno Brecker. The strong, splendidly Germanic body imposed itself naturally in opposition to the bodies of other, inferior races, especially the Jews, who were represented in caricatures and in carefully chosen photographs as sickly, squalid subhumans. After 1936 came another intensification of that propaganda, culminating in 1938 in the deliberately provoked and centrally directed campaign of the spontaneous sacking of Jewish shops and even apartments, the be acting of Jews and burning of synagogues - the campaign known as "Kristallnacht". Aside from organized activity by the SA, we had a well-organized witch-hunt in the press, especially after the murder of an attache from the German embassy in Paris by a Jewish refugee. The press screamed: "Look, that's what the Jews are like!" and succeeded in enraging the Germans.

Anti-Semitic films started coming out, as well as those directed against other nations according to political requirements. The anti-Polish film, Heimkehr (The Rturn), showing the alleged bestial persecution of Germans in Poland before the war, was brought out after the conquest of Poland for the propagandistic justification of the harsh treatment and repression of that country's inhabitants. 1943 saw the premiere screening of Jud Suess ("The Sweet Jew" - here rather in the meaning of false, perverse) based on real events, the story of a Jewish banker convicted of abuses at the court of the Prince of Wittenberg. In the film, he is the embodiment of evil: he insinuates himself into the favor of the ruler, advances his co-religionists, speculates, rapes Christian girls, throws people into the dungeons... At the end, he meets his just punishment - as a typical Jew, of course. This film was shown in Germany and all the occupied countries (except for Poland). It drew large audiences and achieved the intended result. And this was in the time of "the Final Solution".

S. Wilkanowicz: Was it supposed to justify "the Final Solution"?

W. Dlugoborski: In the same way that Heimkehr was supposed to justify brutal policies towards the Poles. But we should note here that there were practically no Jews left in Germany then. The majority had been deported to the ghettoes or death camps in the East. Nazi propaganda was directed against American and English Jews. This is also when the stereotype of "the Commie Jew" that we know so well was formed. The Kremlin and Wall Street were presented as two centers of Jewry working hand-in-hand. The Nazis enumerated the Jews in Stalin's entourage, in the English establishment and among Roosevelt's advisors. Together, they constituted an anti-German conspiracy by world Jewry. And not only anti-German, but against the whole world, because communism and Marxism were a Jewish conspiracy to destroy the world. The fact that Marx was after all Jewish played into the hands of such propaganda. Jews were therefore singled out among the members of the communist parties in Germany and in other countries - which was not a difficult task, since there were indeed many.

Such were Goebbels' instructions, scrupulously carried out.

S. Wilkanowicz: Were they carried out in occupied Poland as well?

W. Dlugoborski: Propaganda on the German model and coordinated with steps taken against the Jews functioned in the collaborationist "reptile" press printed by the occupation authorities. Before the ghettoes were set up and the Jews resettled there, for instance, there were frequent mentions of a Jew stealing something or robbing someone, and so on. There were also posters bearing the slogan "Jew-louse-filth" or "The Jew is your enemy" accompanied by the appropriate drawings to justify the supposed impossibility of the co-existence of Poles (or so-called Aryans) with Jews. One must also bear in mind that the great majority of Jews in Poland lived in their own settlements and that most were tradition a lists whose mother tongue was Yiddish. They were contemptuously termed "chalaciarze" in reference to their distinctive dress. Most Jews were engaged in crafts or wholesale and retail trade. They dominated these branches of the economy in many small towns of central and eastern Poland, which led inevitably to antagonism between them and the Polish population, especially the petty- bourgeoisie and the peasants. In such circumstances, anti-Semitic propaganda - both the pre-war "radical nationalist" and Nazi occupation varieties - fell on receptive soil in some social groups. Tomasz Szarota pointed out recently that there was a pogrom in Warsaw in 1940 inspired by the Nazis but organized by several members of the pre-war "Falanga" nationalist movement. They allowed themselves to be exploited for Nazi propaganda: the Germans filmed the disturbances and used the images as proof that Polish society is hostile to the Jews, and that the Jews must therefore be eliminated. A tragic dimension of the incident is that one of its principal organizers, Konrad Swietlicki, was later arrested and shot by the Germans in Palmiry.

It is worth adding here that the Germans did not create a fascist party in Poland even though they would have found willing collaborators, such as Boleslaw Piasecki, early in their occupation. Such parties existed and abetted the German anti-Semitic propaganda in other countries. This was obviously quite convenient for the occupation authorities - the propaganda came not from them but from Belgians or Frenchmen... The anti-communist theme was of course also exploited, and the stereotype of "the Commie Jew" propagated.

S. Wilkanowicz: It is quite difficult to assess the effectiveness of this propaganda, but it must have had some influence. One might suppose that in Poland it contributed to some degree to the post-war pogroms.

W. Dlugoborski: As research and symposia among Polish historians have shown, especially in relation to the Kielce pogrom, there was a whole complex of causal factors. Anti-Semitic propaganda was combined during the Occupation with the extermination of the Jews and this in turn created opportunities for taking possession of Jewish property, moving into abandoned apartments, and so on. This was especially true in small towns and, shtetls. I believe that active anti-Semitism was a marginal phenomenon, but I cannot prove this.

S. Wilkanowicz: Unfortunately, the marginal sometimes suffices to create an image of the whole. Let us return to propaganda. Did the Nazi methods have any sort of analogues in other countries, in relation to the Jews or other religious or ethnic groups?

W. Dlugoborski: Yes, of course, especially in totalitarian systems where there were centrally controlled mass media. Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union was propagated in a quite similar way. "The anti-Zionist" campaign was characteristic. It died out in Poland after 1968, but developed in the Soviet Union in the nineteen-seventies through both the press and through books unmasking "the Jewish conspiracy" involving all the Jews in the world and in the state of Israel. The analogies are quite distinct here, although they concern only the ideological assumptions of the propaganda and its methods, and not the very policies employed in relation to the Jews. Anti-Semitic propaganda in the Third Reich was intended to justify not only the harassment of Jews and pressure for them to emigrate, but later the extermination of the whole nation as well. Soviet "anti-Zionist" propaganda, while it did indeed contain clear anti-Semitic accents, was intended to justify "only" the harassment of the Jews. It certainly had nothing to do with exterminating them, with a few exceptions - the Stalinist campaign in the late 1940s aimed at the physical liquidation of the most outstanding Jewish cultural figures in the USSR, or the campaign against "the Zionist" conspiracy of the Kremlin doctors, interrupted by the dictator's death. However, the brutal methods employed in the struggle with Russian and international Jewry were not accompanied by publicity in the mass media. In Brezhnev's time, on the other hand, the propaganda was particularly sharp and aimed at winning influence in the Middle East, where the Arabs had to be supported. Propaganda "justified" political moves, as in Nazi Germany.

Similarly, "anti-Zionism" was an element in the struggle for power in Poland in 1968 and "justified" removing Jews from various positions and forcing them to emigrate. Finally, independent of any sort of immediate needs, a totalitarian system needs a hate campaign every so often.

S. Wilkanowicz: Are there any signs that today's anti-Semitic propaganda in Poland or elsewhere is adopting the old models, for instance from "Der Stürmer"?

W. Dlugoborski: When one examines the unfortunate "Jewish Humor" books put out by the Polish publisher and would be presidential candidate Leszek Bubel, the affinity is striking... Thankfully, this is a marginal phenomenon. To return once again to the Polish anti-Zionist campaign of 1968, it is worth noting that the propaganda employed then was neither downright anti-Semitic nor racist. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, there were clear allusions in the 1970s to "Der Stürmer". There were also instances of particular originality, like a satirical drawing showing the leader of an Israeli unit fighting the Palestinians in Lebanon. The Israeli commander is holding a blue print of the Auschwitz concentration camp, implying that the Israelis were planning to put the Palestinians into such camps.

S. Wilkanowicz: Does such propaganda still exist? What forms does it take with, for instance, Vladimir Zhirinovsky?

W. Dlugoborski: Zhirinovsky is hardly the most dangerous - some groups are much more radical than he is, and they use direct copies of "Der Stürmer" in their propaganda.

S. Wilkanowicz: Thank you for the interview.