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The Conspiracy of an International Jewry
Book Essay on: Jeffrey Herf, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust
by Alberto Amarante
for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
About Alberto Amarante
I am a third year psychology and Spanish major who has taken various history and political science classes which briefly covered German history. For me, the most interesting period of history would have to be World War II. Since Germany played a huge role in both wars, I thought it would be interesting to learn about its history and the causes of the events leading to the war. I chose Herf's book because as a psychology major I am very interested in how some people were able to blindly obey authority and go along with the radical Nazi narrative.
Abstract (back to top)
In his book, The Jewish Enemy, Herf argues that Germanys antisemitic propaganda, and Nazi leaders belief in their own paranoid logic was integral to Nazi motivation and to the launching of the war. I argue that Nazi propaganda was indeed vital for the actualization of the war and the Holocaust, but the Nazi leaders belief in the antisemitic propaganda was not the driving factor of the events leading up to the war and the genocide.
Essay (back to top)
In The Jewish Enemy, Jeffrey Herf addresses the vital role that Nazi propaganda played in the actions of Nazi leaders and their interpretation of events during World War II and the Holocaust. Herf maintains that the Nazi leaders’ belief in their own paranoid logic is what drove them towards the annihilation of millions of innocent Jewish victims, and also to their eventual defeat by the Allies. Drawing his evidence from thousands of published newspapers and periodicals of the German Press, speeches by Nazi leaders, and press directives, as well as from private diary entries of Joseph Goebbels, one of the most famous Nazi leaders, Herf asserts that “Germany’s radical antisemitic propaganda during World War II was integral to Nazi motivation and to the launching of the war and perpetration of the Final Solution” (Herf, 9). I agree with Herf that Nazi antisemitic propaganda was crucial to Nazi motivation. However, I do not believe that the Nazi leaders’ belief in their propaganda about the “International Jewry” was the main cause of a policy for mass murder. Instead, I believe that Nazi policies were in fact influenced by antisemitic perceptions of the “inferior” race, and that pure hatred for Jews was also integral to Nazi motivation.
In the first chapter Herf addresses the issue of how traditional forms of persecution were transformed into a “warrant for genocide” (Herf, 2). He argues that traditional antisemitic sentiments created indifference and allowed for the oppression of the Jews, but not necessarily the policy of extermination. Herf rightly asserts that Nazi propaganda was crucial to the dehumanization of the Jewish population: “From beginning to end, the narrative of paranoia displayed in the propaganda accompanied and justified the Nazi regime’s grandiose war of aggression and its genocidal policies” (Herf, 6). Herf later states that the Nazi leaders convinced themselves and millions of Germans of the existence of an “International Jewry” and that their extermination was a justified response to war against Germany. As evidence of an “interpretive prism through which Nazi leaders misconstrued events,” Herf cites the repeated justification of every escalation of persecution by Hitler and the Nazi regime. Herf further contends that in the minds of the Nazi leaders, World War II and the Holocaust was a single war against Jews and their non-Jewish accomplices.
In the second chapter, Herf discusses the preconditions needed for the policies of the Nazi regime to be accepted by the German people. He adopts the intentionalist approach in trying to explain the events leading up to the genocide, and to World War II, stating that “Hitler was the central, decisive historical actor, driving events toward the war and the Holocaust” (Herf, 4). Herf contends that Hitler was able to directly influence public opinion through his daily meetings with Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich. The shaping of popular opinion, according to Herf, began with the destruction of the free press in January 30, 1933, when “About two thousand German journalists, including Jews, liberals, conservatives, political writers, Social Democrats, and Communists were driven from their jobs, arrested, or driven into exile” (Herf, 18). Next he emphasizes the importance of the hierarchical structure of the Nazi party, which was the main distributor of the propaganda. “This vast organizational weapon,” with the Secret Service (SD) monitoring public responses to policies, helped the diffusion of the Nazi messages (Herf, 20). The fact that Germany was “overwhelmingly a nation of pedestrians” also played an important role in public opinion (Herf, 29). Namely, the strategic placement of antisemitic posters made it difficult for the German population not to be exposed to the propaganda.
Herf also discusses how the antisemitic propaganda converted a conflict between classes into a conflict between races (Herf, 33). The connection between Bolshevism and Jewry is a frequent theme of Nazi propaganda: for instance, “On September 15, 1935, at the Party Rally against Bolshevism, Hitler laid the basis for the Nuremberg race laws” (Herf, 41). Nazi propaganda also focused on the supposedly dominant influence of Jews on politics and economics. Hitler and the director of the Propaganda Ministry, Joseph Goebbels, gave many speeches in which they addressed the “alleged Jew danger and the Nazi antisemitic ‘defense measures’” (Herf, 43). The pattern of justifying antisemitic policies due to prior acts of Jewish aggression is first seen when Hitler announced a boycott against Jewish businesses as a result of foreign criticism of the regime’s antisemitic laws. Hitler and the Nazi propaganda formed an antisemitic consensus which created an “indispensable reservoir of public hatred, contempt, and indifference towards the Jews that made it possible for the Third Reich to move on to the Final Solution” (Herf, 49).
Nazi propaganda was not only crucial for bolstering antisemitic support in Germany but it also played a crucial role in suppressing factual information about the extermination camps operating at that time. Although Nazi leaders often spoke bluntly about the extermination of Jews, the “intertwining” of military terms and genocidal terms was “a central feature of Nazism’s antisemitic propaganda” (Herf, 266). Furthermore, “Hitler repeated in several major speeches, printed in the press and broadcast on radio, his determination to exterminate and annihilate the Jews of Europe” (Herf, 138). However, not one fact about the atrocities performed by the Nazis at the death camps was printed in the press. When Allied media finally began publishing details about the atrocities being conducted at the death camps, Nazi propaganda responded by focusing on British atrocities against India, Egypt, and Iran. As Herf aptly puts it, “This absence of reports of any of the events of the Final Solution must be counted one of the major accomplishments of the Nazi leadership” (Herf, 140). Propaganda also played an important part in suppressing information about German casualties from the war. The numbers given to the German public were greatly underreported, which decreased public dissent against the war.
Near the end of the war, when defeat was becoming a clear possibility for Nazi leaders, propaganda began to focus on the theme of instilling fear into the minds of German people about the consequences of defeat: “Although the Allies sought to distinguish between the Nazi regime and the German people, Nazi propagandists suppressed these efforts and claimed that just the opposite was the case” (Herf, 186). This strategy of deceiving the German public into believing that their only options were victory or extermination created mass domestic support for the war: “The more Germans believed that the war would leave only the survivors and the exterminated the more German support for the war would grow” (Herf, 189). Nazi antisemitic propaganda shows how the lack of a free press facilitated the mass murder of millions of innocent people and the continuation of a senseless war.
Herf highlights a much debated issue when discussing one of the most frequent topics that antisemitic propaganda focused on from the mid 1930s up until the end of the war, International Jewry. After the annexation of Austria and the foreign appeasement for German control of the Sudetenland, Hitler gained much public support. During this time, the Kristallnacht or the night of broken glass, had eliminated any doubt in the Jews’ minds that the Nazi Regime was there to stay since “political opposition, free press, independent judiciary, and the rule of law had all been crushed” (Herf, 51). Hitler was leaning towards a policy of expansion and Czechoslovakia would be his first target. This was the first time that Nazi leaders blamed their invasion of a foreign country on “world Jewry.” One of Herf’s main arguments is that Nazi leaders believed their own paranoid propaganda: “However intelligent these men were they were in the grip of an obsession that profoundly distorted their understanding of reality” (Herf, 88). He argues that Nazi leaders truly believed that there was a real “Jewish threat” emanating from Czechoslovakia. However, I argue that it is not the belief in an International Jewry that motivated the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, but rather a hatred of Jews in general and a desire for world domination:
This illustrates that one of the primary concerns of Nazi political elites was expansion. Additionally, the invasion of Poland was provoked by a fabrication of border conflict as the Reich Press directives ordered editors to refer to the German invasion as a “response to Polish attack” (Herf, 57). This is further proof of the Nazis’ desire for world domination. On January 30, 1939, Hitler gave his prophecy that if a war broke out it would be the fault of International Jewry and that punishment would come in the form of extermination. In my view, this suggests that Hitler was planning a war and a justification for the extermination of European Jews before he even invaded Poland. Therefore, his desire to eliminate the Jews did not originate from his belief in Nazi antisemitic propaganda because at that time there was no conclusive evidence of an existing Jewish conspiracy.
Herf emphasizes one aspect of the Nazi antisemitic narrative that is evident throughout Nazi propaganda: “it was a closed system, immune to refutation or falsification” (Herf, 66). This can be seen with the signing of the non-aggression pact by Hitler and Stalin. If the Soviet Union was really dominated by Jews, then why would Stalin agree to sign the pact? As Herf states, “Part of the Nazi answer was to point to Jewish incompetence and still more interestingly to Hitler’s genius” (Herf, 56). Herf seems to consider that the Nazi leaders actually believed this, but I argue that they merely stated these beliefs in order to keep the myth of International Jewry alive. It seems that all Nazi propaganda had a purpose behind it; thus, they fabricated the myth of the International Jew to gain support for antisemitism and the German cause in the enemy countries. The antisemitic propaganda was effective in gaining some support in the Allied world, but its main influence was in the Arab world (Herf, 172). When Britain declared war on Germany, propaganda focused on Jewish domination in London. When the United States entered the war, the Nazis focused on American Jews “pulling the strings.” Even when it was Germany who broke the non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, the Nazi propaganda returned to the old theme of Jewish Bolshevism. In my view, the literature suggests that Nazi belief was strongly correlated with what was convenient for the regime rather than what was most logical.
Although I do not agree with Herf’s assertion that Nazi motivation towards mass murder was fueled by their belief in the antisemitic propaganda of the Jewish conspiracy, I do agree with him that the propaganda itself was crucial for the realization of the war and the Holocaust. Herf states: “They used their control over the press, radio, and other media to fan hatred of Jews, to offer repeated justifications for murdering Jews, and to prevent any factual details about the genocide from appearing in the press” (Herf, 234). Without the elimination of all democratic institutions, the policy of mass extermination would never have been exercised. The Jewish Enemy brings to light the importance of a free press and the traumatic consequences that can result from its absence.
Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/x/09)
Welch, David: American Historical Review. The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during WWII and the Holocaust. David Welch talks about the claims that Jeffrey Herf makes in his book The Jewish Enemy. He agrees with Herf’s view that anti-Semitic traditions in Germany created indifference and allowed for the oppression of the Jews, but he also states that some of Herf’s claims may be exaggerated. Welch does not stress the effects of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda as much as Herf.
Kaplan, Thomas Pegelow: Canadian Journal of History. The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during WWII and the Holocaust. In this article Thomas Kaplan discusses Jeffrey Herf’s view of anti-Semitic propaganda used by the Nazi regime. He also talks about Herf’s view and claims it adds on to the intentionalist approach of explaining Hitler and the Holocaust.)
Jon Von Leers “Solving the Jewish Question” (archive.org: Feb. 2007
last revised Feb 2008) http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/gercke.htm
“Nazi Propaganda” (archive.org: Jan. 2002, last revised Feb 2008) http://library.thinkquest.org/C0111500/ww2/german/naziprop.htm
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum “Nazi Propaganda” (archive.org:
April 2003 last revised Aug 2007) http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?ModuleId=10005202
Books and Articles:
Welch, David, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda ( London
New York: Routledge, 2002) 246 pages. UCSB Main Library DD256.5 .W4324
Browning, Christopher R. Lincoln: The Origins of the Final Solution
(Jerusalem: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), 615 pages. UCSB Main Library
D804.3 .B773 2004
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: