By late 1918, copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” were circulating at the highest levels of the American government, noted Judaica bibliographer/author Robert Singerman. The U.S. Attorney General invited Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, an ardent Zionist, to inspect the “Zionist Protocol.” There were dozens of copies at the Smithsonian Institution, and many more in other government and military agencies and foreign embassies. Several members of then-President Woodrow Wilson’s Cabinet received copies. The astonishing revelation of a Jewish plan to control the world and destroy Christianity by fomenting war and revolution made a profound impression on them.
By 1919, Singerman said, when the Protocols became public knowledge, Americans were in the middle of the “Red Scare,” an almost-frenzied fear of anarchism, radicalism, foreign spies, domestic sedition and Bolshevism. Yiddish-speaking Jews from New York’s Lower East Side were accused of having been summoned to Russia in 1917 to oust the Russian Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. The Protocols provided the needed proof of their involvement in this anti-Christian revolution.
Historian Leonard Dinnerstein added that the myth of Jews controlling the world resonated for those who knew past Christian teachings. Americans and Christians had been advised for centuries of conspiracies about Jews’ economic control, including all of the world’s gold, so the claim that Jews were scheming to destabilize Christian government did not appear to be preposterous.
On May 22, 1920, Henry Ford published an article entitled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. Dinnerstein said the article, which “dominated” the front page, mirrored the Protocols’ message. The Jew was portrayed as “the world’s enigma.” Though the Jewish masses were impoverished, yet the Jew controls the finances of the world. Though the Jews were dispersed without any country or government, yet they “present a unit of race continuity no other people has achieved.” The Jew lives “under legal liabilities” in practically every country in which he resides, but he has “become the power behind many a throne.” Ancient prophecies told of the Jew returning to his ancestral land, and from there ruling the world, but not until he has suffered an attack launched by all the nations in the world.
The articles began a series of condemnation of Jews that ran 91 consecutive weeks, Dinnerstein adds. When the first of these essays was published in 1920, the Dearborn Independent’s circulation was 72,000. In 1922, its circulation reached 300,000. By 1924, the readership had increased to 700,000, just 50,000 fewer than New York City’s Daily News. Millions of Americans, especially from rural regions, who knew little of Jews except through rumor or religious studies, were exposed to the Protocols’ myths about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
When asked in 1921 why he had chosen to publish the series, Ford explained that he was “only trying to awake the Gentile world to an understanding of what is going on. The Jew is a huckster, a trader who doesn’t want to produce, but to make something out of what somebody else produces.” He also blamed Jews for subversively instigating war behind the scenes for their own profit. Ford and The Dearborn Independent succeeded in taking established myths and adding an international component to them, Dinnerstein concluded. Had the subject not already resonated so strongly among such a wide range of Ford’s readers, he would have terminated the series. But a very large number of them, including college professors, Christian clergy and the uneducated, sent him money, praised him for assailing the Jews, and clamored for more information.
Adolph Hitler acknowledged that Ford’s “The International Jew” influenced him in writing “Mein Kampf,” and had a picture of Ford hung on the wall in his Munich office. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told a reporter for the Detroit News. In 1938, Hitler sent his personal greetings to Ford on the occasion of his 75th birthday and conferred upon him the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest honor that could be bestowed on a foreign national.
Though communism never became a major force in the U.S., asserted historian Arthur Hertzberg, either before or after the Russian Revolution, Jews nevertheless played a visible role in the movement. Of the approximately 15,000 members of the Communist Party in America, the Yiddish-speaking section represented one-tenth of the membership. In the English-speaking division, which in 1925 had 16, 325 members, 2,282 were Jews. Hertzberg said that in the 1920s there was considerable support for the Soviet Union among Jews who loathed communism and were angered by the persecution of their coreligionists. The increase in party membership also reflected the exclusion of Jews from other parts of American society and their initial enthusiasm for the Bolshevik Revolution. They viewed that regime as the only government in the world opposed to antisemitism and engaged in promoting Yiddish culture.
That Bolshevism was established by non-Jews, and that virtually all of its supporters were non-Jews was ignored, explained poet Charles Reznikoff. Despite the fact that a majority of Jews condemned and renounced the “so-called Jews” involved in the Communist movement, Jews as a people were branded as Communists. Yet when the few Communist Jews were mentioned in the press for “dramatic effect,” they were described as leading members of their community, and their opinions about American society were presented as those of all Jews. Overlooked were the 200,000 young Jewish men who had enlisted in the U.S. armed forces between April 1917 and October 1919, and did not share Bolshevik philosophy.
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.