March 4, 2024
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The Protocols Come to America

Part IV

Louis Marshall, a constructional and civil rights lawyer, a founder of the American Jewish Committee and one of the foremost leaders of the American Jewish community, argued that calling Bolshevism a Jewish movement “is as ridiculous as to say that the Jews are responsible for capitalism, or, because there are Jewish musicians, actors and poets, that music, drama and poetry are Jewish movements.”

Poet Charles Reznikoff said Marshall made these comments in a letter to Major Haven Putnam on October 28, 1920, after learning that Putnam’s publishing house, George P. Putnam’s Sons of New York, was set to publish editions of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and “The Cause of World Unrest,” which claimed that Jews and Freemasons conspired to cause the downfall of civilization and dominate the world. “It is these facts,” Marshall declared to Purnam, “that I denounce as falsehoods and as libels criminal in intent and criminal in their operation…. Whoever retails falsehoods and spreads them, whether be it orally or through the medium of the press, is responsible for those falsehoods in the eyes of God and man.”

In 1920, the first American edition of the Protocols was published in “The Protocols and World Revolution” by Boris Brasol, a leader of the Russian monarchist movement in the U.S., Reznikoff noted. By the end of the year, there were three editions from which to choose. It is Brasol who was responsible for convincing Henry Ford of the authenticity of the Protocols, which Ford then published in his series in the Dearborn Independent, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,”


Not Unanimously Accepted

Despite the acclaim garnered by “The International Jew” in the U.S., Europe and Latin America, and its translation into a number of languages, historian Leonard Dinnerstein pointed out that Ford’s work was not unanimously accepted. Prominent periodicals of the time, including Current Opinion, the Outlook, The Century, Harper’s Weekly and the Independent, condemned the Protocols, “The International Jew” and Ford himself.

The Nation observed the significant increase of antisemitism engulfing the world in 1920 and concluded that “the chief responsibility for the survival of this hoary shame among us in America attaches to Henry Ford.” Historian Norman Cohn believed that “The International Jew” “probably did more than any other work to make the Protocols more famous.” On the eve of World War II, the Protocols were more popular than they had been even in 1920 before being exposed as a forgery.

Historians Oscar and Mary Handlin said Americans believed what they read in the Dearborn Independent and “The International Jew,” in large part, because Henry Ford used images and stereotypes of Jews that had become familiar to the American public and had already been accepted as being accurate. This view of the Jews was reinforced by Ford’s enormous stature and prominence in the U.S.


Father Charles Coughlin: “Controversial and Revered”

The Protocols and “The International Jew” were also used by American antisemitic groups. From 1933 through 1941, more than 110 such groups existed in the U.S., compared to only five in all of American history until that point, according to Dinnerstein. Among the best known was Father Charles Coughlin, the Canadian American Roman Catholic “Radio Priest.” From 1926 to 1966, he was the pastor at the Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oak, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. In the past, the area had been a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan.

Coughlin was “the first mass media demagogue,” who was considered to be the “most notable hatemonger of the decade.” He was friendly with a number of leading antisemites like Ford and Joseph P. Kennedy. During the 1936 reelection campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, he joined with others and assumed a leading role in the attempt to prevent Roosevelt from securing another term. He and other antisemitic bigots concealed their beliefs with religious images, defended the anti-communist, and therefore the antisemitic policies of Adolph Hitler, and accused Roosevelt’s New Deal policies of having originated from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Dinnerstein declared.

Dinnerstein added that Coughlin intuitively understood that attacking Jews would enhance his status with Catholics and others seeking simplistic answers to explain their misfortunes. He obtained copies of the Protocols from individuals who had provided them to Ford several years before. In July 1938, Coughlin began reprinting portions of the Protocols in his weekly magazine Social Justice. In November 1938 The New Republic accused him of being “cynically aware that he is peddling falsehood,” and that there “was no editorial difference between the Nazi weeklies and Coughlin’s Social Justice,” which had a circulation of more than 1 million. Between 1940 and 1942, he had published 102 antisemitic articles.


30 Million Radio Listeners

Coughlin’s antisemitic diatribes, heard by close to 30 million radio listeners during his weekly broadcasts in the 1930s, caused much anxiety within the American Jewish community, and for good reason. Dinnerstein points out their support came not only from religious individuals who accepted the veracity of the attacks that Jews were answerable for the communist conspiracy to destabilize the U.S. government, but also from fearful American women and men who were suffering tremendously from the Depression. The tirades by these antisemitic rabble rousers were reminiscent of the medieval allegations against the Jews as well as those propagated earlier in the 20th century by Madison Grant and E.A. Ross, through their support of eugenics.

At a later period, Protestant religious periodicals and the fundamentalist media reported the persecution of the Jews in Germany but failed to communicate the dire nature of the pogroms, and were apathetic about Jewish distress, since they either considered Jews themselves partially responsible for the attacks or viewed the Jewish catastrophe as a response to God’s judgment.

Many readers agreed to all the reasons advanced to explain the plight of the Jews of Europe.

In 1937, Edward Cardinal Mooney, Coughlin’s superior, ordered him to stop all non-religious activities, unless he wished to be suspended from the priesthood. Aside from his spurious claim that Jews were responsible for starting World War II, and denouncing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Coughlin had published 88 articles in Social Justice backing the America First movement, which opposed American entry into war. Roosevelt decided his subversive statements were unacceptable during war time, and pressured Coughlin and Mooney to cease this seditious behavior. Coughlin acquiesced and concluded his public career in April 1942.

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.

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