“There has never been an idea and there is no idea that is so repugnant or so absurd that it will not find believers.”
- Roberta Kalechofsky, 1985
Hitler’s ideology was rooted in deep anti-Semitism. However, during his election campaign, he toned down his attacks on Jews and instead stressed the need for national unity and strong leadership (Abzug, p.7). He portrayed himself as a peacemaker during the elections, but once in power, Hitler wasted no time implementing his hateful ideology. According to Jeffrey Herf (2006), the texts and images of wartime propaganda are a revelatory means of understanding why anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust (p. 1). The Nazi regime gained control of the printing industry under the Reich and used carefully crafted language in order to convince millions to follow its vision of anti-Semitism. While doing this, the Germans also sought ways to enhance its image in America, even going as far as hiring American public relations firms to assist them (Lipstadt, 1986, p. 6). At the forefront of Nazi hatred was anti-Jewish propaganda. The Nazis used pre-existing stereotypes to portray Jews as bacteria that fed off the host nation, poisoned its culture, seized its economy, and enslaved its workers (USHMM, n.d.). Other pre-existing images of ‘the Jew’ included parasites, leeches, devils, rats, bacilli, locusts, vermin, spiders, blood-suckers, lice, and poisonous worms, among many other un-human descriptions. Though these images were not new, they were now sponsored by the state (USHMM, n.d.). While Jews were certainly not the only group targeted by Hitler’s ideology, they were not supposed to live through the genocide. The “Final Solution” was the “answer” to the “Jewish Question.” As Elie Wiesel has said, “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.” Because there was already an underlying feeling of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, the Nazis were able to easily convince many to follow their ideology of hatred by using many printed forms of anti-Semitic propaganda.
Repetition was a part of Nazi rhetoric (Lang, 2003, p. 97). The saturation of Nazi propaganda into everyday life enabled ordinary people to rationalize the irrational. As Aronsfeld (1985) explains, “The incessant propaganda created, and was intended to create, an atmosphere in which the murder of the Jews was to be regarded as not only not a crime, on the contrary, as a meritorious deed performed in the service of the human race” (p. 59). Nazi propaganda was a tool, an instrument of domination, and an agent of deceit. Printed propaganda was an especially powerful in enabling the genocide to move from ideology to action.
In 1933, over 4,700 daily and weekly newspapers were published annually in Germany, more than in any other industrialized nation. When Hitler came to power, 81% of all German newspapers were locally owned. However, within a few months, the Nazis gained control of the press and were able to regulate the messages sent from Germany. Der Stürmer (The Stormtrooper) was the most notorious anti-Semitic newspaper in Germany. Founded by Julius Streicher in 1923, it published its hateful message for more than 20 years. As Aronsfeld (1985) notes, Streicher’s paper specialized in undisguised incitement to murder (p. 24). However, Hitler argued that Jews were even more diabolical than Streicher depicted them to be (keep that in mind when viewing the images and headlines below). Pages from Der Stürmer were used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials, including the one below:
Page of “Der Stuermer” showing an anti-Semitic photo montage, Germany, 1939.
The images below are just a few of the “news stories” covered by Der Stürmer.
The front page article below, titled “Who is the Enemy?” blames Jews for destroying social order and claims that Jews want war, while the rest of the world wants peace.
Below: The front page of the most popular issue of Der Stürmer, with a reprint of a medieval depiction of a purported ritual murder committed by Jews.
The front page article below depicts the “Jew” as a warmonger who looks on approvingly as the non-Jewish world is crucified on a cross.
Below: Danzig office of Der Stürmer, complete with a Jewish caricature in the front window.
Posters and advertisements
The Nazis also used posters and advertisements to manipulate the German people into supporting a regime of violence, mass murder, and genocide. Often, Jews were blamed for Germany’s problems.
The poster below states “He is guilty for the war!”
The poster below states “Behind the enemy powers: the Jews”
The Nazis used an exhibit called Der ewige Jude [The Wandering Jew or The Eternal Jew] to disseminate their anti-Semitic propaganda. According to the United States Holocaust Museum (n.d.), the exhibit attracted 412,300 visitors, more than 5,000 per day, during its run at the Deutsches Museum in Munich from November 1937 to January 1938.
The image below shows the cover of a 1937 publication advertising the Der ewige Jude exhibit.
Below: Nazi officials at the opening of Der ewige Jude in Munich, Germany, November 8, 1937.
Below: Entrance to Der ewige Jude exhibition in Vienna, Austria, August 1938.
The Der ewige Jude exhibit was inspiration for a film and a book filled with anti-Semitic propaganda. The image below shows a 1940 poster advertising the film.
Stürmer-Verlag, Streicher’s publishing house, also produced anti-Semitic children’s literature, including the infamous Der Giftpilz [The Poisonous Mushroom] and Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid [Trust No Fox in the Green Meadow and No Jew on His Oath]. These texts were used to indoctrinate the German youth with powerful anti-Semitic words and images.
The image below shows “Aryan” children reading Der Giftpilz [The Poisonous Mushroom].
Below: The cover of Der Giftpilz.
The image below shows a page of Der Giftpilz. The text at the bottom reads, “The Jewish nose is crooked at its tip. It looks like the number 6.”
Below: A page from an anti-Semitic coloring book, also published by Streicher’s publishing house.
Below: The cover of Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid [Trust No Fox in the Green Meadow and No Jew on His Oath].
The image below shows a page from Trust No Fox in the Green Meadow and No Jew on His Oath. Notice the difference between the image of ‘the Jew’ on the cover and the image of ‘Hitler’s Youth’ here.
The images below are pages from other anti-Semitic children’s primers, also printed by Streicher.
The headlines in the image below read: “Jews are our misfortune” and “How the Jew cheats.” Germany, 1936.
The sign in the image below reads “Jews are not wanted here.” Germany, 1936.
The Der ewige Jude exhibit was inspiration for a book filled with anti-Semitic propaganda. The image below shows a page from the book, Der ewige Jude. The caption reads “Eastern Jewish districts develop… What Kant called ‘a nation of cheaters’ moved to the promised land of Germany. Every day newspapers (even those not hostile to the Jews) report the dishonest dealings of Eastern Jews. The cleverness of Jewish criminality is astonishing. Just as astonishing is the patience with which the threatened population put up with these criminal activities” (as cited in Bytwerk, n.d.).
Below: A page from the book, Der ewige Jude. The caption reads “In Europe’s capitals. The Jews have a self-chosen ghetto in Berlin around Grenadier and Dragoner Streets. Only the height of its buildings separate it from his Eastern models. It’s the genuine article: the same unpleasant creatures, the same Hebraic shop signs, the same masses of playing children, the same bad smells and piles of filth” (as cited in Bytwerk, n.d.).
Below: A page from the book, Der ewige Jude. The caption reads “Grenadier Street. In this Jewish district of Berlin, a German feels as if he is in enemy territory. He is watched, surrounded, followed. A half dozen Hebrew newspapers are printed. Here the police uncover breeding grounds of criminal and political vermin” (as cited in Bytwerk, n.d.).
The language of genocide
The Nazis used a vocabulary camouflaged in deception as a tool to enable the genocide to move from idea to action. Words were now subject to political authority. Lang (2003) claims that language was both the victim of the Nazi genocide against the Jews and one of its many causes (p. 81).
Examples of Nazis’ distortion of language; what Lang (2003) calls “linguistic substitutions” (p. 92-96):
- “befriedungsaktion” = pacification
- “säuberung” = cleansing
- “abwanderung” = having been migrated
- “umsiedlung” = resettlement
- “aussiedlung” = evacuation
- “auflockerung” = thinning out
- “endlösung” = Final Solution (extermination policy)
- “sonderbehandlung” =special treatment
- “ausschaltung” = removal
- “badeanstalten” = bath arrangements (gas chambers)
- “figuren” = figures, pieces (victims)
The words listed above were used as euphemisms to conceal what was really happening to Europe’s Jews: deportation and mass murder. Lang (2003) explains that there was a disparity between the normal connotation of a word or phrase and its meaning within the Holocaust (p. 88). The Nazis used these words in their printed propaganda in order to focus the attention of the people on the goal (the “Final Solution”) rather than the means by which the goal would be attained.
The genocide was not only perpetrated by evil doers, but also by those who believed in the propaganda. The complacency of the public was a key component of Hitler’s ideology. The success of Nazi propaganda depended on constant repetition of the demonization of Jews. Printed propaganda reiterated the ideology that Jews were the cause of Germany’s problems and compared them to vermin in need of extermination. Newspapers ran headlines, articles, and images depicting Jews as foreign, deceptive, and dangerous to the well-being of the state. Posters caricaturized Jews as the root of all the world’s problems. Books promoted anti-Semitic ideology and children’s books ingrained this ideology into the youth. Camouflaged language featured euphemisms that tricked the public into ignoring the means behind the words. As Aronsfeld (1985) argues, Nazi propaganda helped to turn Hitler’s words into actions (p. 1). Printed propaganda was a powerful instrument used to deceive the public, diminish the atrocities, and enable the Nazi genocide against the Jews.