Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, appreciated the importance of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda. Early in the war, he repeatedly called the conflict a “Jewish war,” initiated by the Jews for their own economic benefit and their ultimate objective of world domination, noted historian Saul Friedländer.
Jews: A Satanic Force
Jews were considered a satanic force, explained historian Bernard Lewis, and the cause of virtually every evil in the world. Jews were allegedly involved in an eternal plot to control the world, using any nefarious methods necessary. Communism and capitalism were said to have been created as a means to manipulate the world and dominate its people. Jews were accused of infiltrating modern society and using their skills to direct the government, the stock exchange, the press, the theater and literature.
World War II
The war would enable the Germans to destroy the power of “international Jewry,” which controlled the enemies of Germany (France, Britain and the U.S.), and facilitate their removal. as Hitler’s stated goal, articulated already in 1919, historian Yehuda Bauer points out. Thus, the obvious conclusion, Bauer said, is that antisemitism was one of the two primary ideological motives influencing the Nazi leaders to start a war in which tens of millions of people lost their lives and produced endless misery.
The Jews were not merely victims, Bauer said. They are a people, a community and a nation, “which was in some significant ways, central to the self-understanding of European and not just German society.” This is why the Jews became the focus of an unprecedented assault that has transformed the Western, and progressively also the non-Western world’s “perception” of itself. The essence of National Socialism is not its bureaucratic culture or “modernistic structures”—which clearly contributed—but an ideological commitment to abolish not just a government or a political system, “but the basic order of the world.”
Goal of Propaganda
As pointed out elsewhere, the notion that propaganda means the “art of persuasion,” calculated only to transform attitudes and ideas, is clearly one of its objectives, but frequently a partial and secondary one, historian David Welch claims. “More often, propaganda is concerned with reinforcing existing trends and beliefs, to sharpen and focus them.” Another fundamental misunderstanding is the belief that propaganda is based primarily on lies and fabrications. In reality, it functions on a variety “of kinds of truth—the outright lie, the half-truth, the truth out of context.” To a certain extent, some view “propaganda as essentially appeasing the irrational instincts of man,” and they are correct. Yet since decisions are the result of one’s “rational decisions, propaganda must appeal to the rational elements in human nature as well.” Thus, propaganda “is ethically neutral—it may be good or bad,” Welch concludes.
Goebbels Visits Poland
After a visit to Poland, Goebbels met with Hitler on November 2, 1940, and described the Jews as a “waste product,” a “clinical issue more than a social one.” They decided to increase anti-Jewish propaganda throughout the world, Friedländer said: “We consider,” Goebbels noted, “whether we should stress the Zionist Protocols [sic] in our propaganda in France.” Throughout the war, and particularly toward the end, Goebbels’ plans to employ the Protocols continually recur.
Response of Average German To Jewish Control
The German political theorist Hannah Arendt found that, in terms of propaganda, the Nazis discovered that average Germans were not as apprehensive of Jews ruling the world as they were curious about how this would be accomplished. The “popularity of the Protocols was based on admiration and eagerness to learn rather than of hatred, and that it would be wise to stay as close as possible to be certain of their outstanding formulas, as in the case of the famous slogan: ‘Right is what is good for the German people,’ which was copied from the Protocols. Everything that benefits the Jewish people is morally right and sacred.”
The idea of a worldwide conspiracy attracted most of the German population to the Protocols because it reflected their new political reality, Arendt said. Only global states appeared capable of maintaining their independence, and the Protocols suggested an alternative approach that depended not on irreversible situations, but on the strength of organization.
The Nazis, she continued, assured their citizens that “the nations that have been the first to see through the Jew and have been the first to fight him are going to take his place in the domination of the world.” The fantasy that Jews already dominated the world allowed for the “illusion” that Germans would soon replace them. Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS, made this clear: “We owe the art of government to the Jews,” especially the Protocols, which “the Führer [had] learned by heart.”
The Protocols thus exposed Germans to the real possibility of world conquest, suggested that it was merely an issue of “inspired or shrewd know-how,” and that only the small Jewish nation impeded German victory. Since the Jews did not possess adequate means to defend themselves, they were quite vulnerable, especially once their secret became known, and their system replicated on a great scale. Arendt concludes that this totalitarian propaganda elevated the belief in Jewish world domination from a debatable assumption to the primary “element” of Nazi reality. The Nazis “acted” as if the Jews controlled the world, and a counter-conspiracy was therefore essential to protect themselves.
Friedländer found the Nazi myth remarkably inconsistent. On the one hand, the Jews were a “waste product” and a “clinical issue,” yet the Germans also claimed to confront “the mortal danger of a Jewish domination of the world.”
Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.