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Colin Meade on The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust

Filed under: Antisemitism, International Law
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2 (Spring 2007)


Wartime Machinations

The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust, by Jeffrey Herf, Harvard Belknap, 2006, 390 pp.

Reviewed by Colin Meade

At first sight, the Nazi enterprise in World War II might seem to have functioned at two different levels: that of imperialist realpolitik and that of the war against the Jews, based on the ideology of racial anti-Semitism. However, as Jeffrey Herf shows in this book, “for the Nazi leadership and many millions of its followers, there were not distinct events, World War II on the one hand, and Final Solution on the other. Rather the war against the Jews was in their mind synonymous with World War II” (264).

Through a close study of the output of the Nazi propaganda machine, Herf vividly demonstrates how, from start to finish of the war, the Nazi leaders employed a “paranoid logic of innocence, irresponsibility and projection” (262). They attributed not only all their own aggressions and atrocities, but also all their blunders and defeats to the occult machinations of a global Jewish conspiracy bent on destroying the German people.

The Jews as All-Powerful

Whereas France’s defeat was inevitable since, according to an official directive to the press, “the French had placed leadership in the hands of the Jews,” British resistance was a result of the fact that “world Jewry…also exerts a controlling influence in England” (68). The invasion of Russia was necessary, according to Hitler in a speech in November 1941, because Stalin “was nothing other than an instrument in the hands of all-powerful Jewry” (121). As for President Roosevelt’s “senseless path of intervention,” it was due to “a very powerful clique of [Jewish] political and financial power holders” who wanted to “save Jewish, Anglo-Saxon democracy” (84).

Herf also reproduces and analyzes the message of a number of propaganda wall posters displayed in public places throughout the Reich devoted to “unmasking” the Jewish conspiracy behind the Allied powers. One shows Roosevelt, Hitler, and Stalin alongside a banner headline asking: “Who bears the guilt for the war?” A large white arrow cuts across the red background: “Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin bear the responsibility for the war: behind them stands the Jew.” The use of the singular connotes that Jews are not individual human beings but part of a single malignant organism.

To prove the existence of the conspiracy, all the rules of logic had to be abandoned. Another wall poster refers to a book by Theodore Kaufmann titled Germany Must Perish. Although Kaufmann held no public office and had been unable to find a publisher for his book in the United States, the Nazi propagandists presented it as an explanation of official Allied war aims.

Herf shows that the Nazi leaders believed fervently in their fantasies, however absurd. On 13 May 1943 the Führer told his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, that he had no doubts about the authenticity of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “No one could be so brilliant as to describe the Jewish striving for world domination as well as the Jews themselves” (213). Such credence toward the Protocols depended on a prior belief, impervious to evidence, in the existence of the “Jewish striving for world domination.”

The delusion of the Jewish conspiracy not only provided the justification for the war but also the motivation for the Holocaust. On 30 January 1939, eight months before the invasion of Poland, Hitler-threatening to annihilate the Jews as revenge for his own future aggression-stated that: “if international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into world war, the result will be not the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe” (52).

Although the primary purpose of the anti-Semitic propaganda documented in Herf’s book was to explain the regime’s actions to the German public, the Nazis also saw it as a means of winning international support and fomenting dissension in the enemy camp. A propaganda directive of 5 May 1943 warned Nazi Party activists that it was “dangerous and false” to drop the Jewish theme after the issue “had been solved in Germany…. For this war is a war of Jews against Germany and its allies. Just as the domestic struggle ended with the anti-Semitic revolution in Germany, so this war must end with an anti-Semitic world revolution” (208).

Sympathy among the Arabs

One area where the Nazi seeds found fertile soil was the Arab world. The mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the radical wing of the Palestinian national movement, Haj Amin al-Husseini, spent much of the war broadcasting anti-Semitic propaganda to the Arab world from Berlin.

To facilitate this promising alliance, the Propaganda Ministry instructed Nazi publicists to avoid the term anti-Semitism since it might offend Arab sensibilities. An article on “Zionism’s Postwar Program” in the magazine Die Judenfrage explained that world Jewry was preparing to “conquer Palestine for itself alone and thereby establish a position for world power in the future.” In a contribution to the same journal titled “Judaism and Islam as Opposites,” Johann von Leers,[1] author of several anti-Semitic works, praised the historical success of the Arabs and Muslims in keeping the Jews in a state of fear. “If the rest of the world adopted a similar policy,” he remarked, “we would not have a Jewish question today.”

As Herf notes, “beyond the strategic and short-term tactical issues of the North African campaign of summer and fall 1942, von Leers pointed to apparent intellectual and moral foundations for an alliance between the Third Reich and radicalized Arabs and fundamentalist Muslims.” Von Leers himself died a Muslim in Cairo, where he had worked for President Nasser as head of the Anti-Zionist Propaganda Service.

As Herf’s powerful book conveys, political leaders, like ordinary mortals, act on the basis of their ideas, and when that power is absolute and those ideas are deranged, the consequent actions may well be atrocious.

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[1] See the article by Joel Fishman in this issue.

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DR. COLIN MEADE lives in London, where he works as a translator and teacher of courses in international relations, international law, and modern European studies.