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British Journal of Holocaust Education
ISSN: 0966-095X (Print) (Online) Journal homepage:
‘Jews Out!’ Anti-Semitic Film Propaganda in Nazi
Germany and the ‘Jewish Question’
David Welch
To cite this article: David Welch (1992) ‘Jews Out!’ Anti-Semitic Film Propaganda in Nazi
Germany and the ‘Jewish Question’, British Journal of Holocaust Education, 1:1, 55-73
To link to this article:
Published online: 19 Feb 2015.
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Date: 25 October 2017, At: 18:19
'Jews Out!' Anti-Semitic Film
Propaganda in Nazi Germany
and the 'Jewish Question'
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It was during the beginning of 1933 that Joseph Goebbels began to
finalise his plans for a Ministry of Propaganda. Since Goebbels was
closely involved in the elections due on 5 March, it was decided to delay
any announcement about the new Ministry until after the Nazis'
electoral success was guaranteed. From Goebbels' own account of his
rise to power, it is quite clear that the decision to create such a Ministry
had been agreed for some time: 'we are thinking of a Ministry of Public
Education within which film, radio, art, culture and propaganda
would be combined. Such a revolutionary organisation will be under
central control and firmly embody the idea of the Reich. This is a really
big project, as big as the world has seen. I am to start at once working
out the structure for this Ministry' .1
At first, Goebbels is said to have been unhappy with the open use of
'Propaganda' in the title on the grounds that it was psychologically
counter-productive. Given his voluminous writings on the subject and
that he felt confident enough to form the Nazi Party Reich Propaganda
Directorate in 1930, this claim, which is based on little substantive
evidence, seems out of character to say the least. The Ministry for
Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda (Reichsministerium fur
Volksaufklarung und Propaganda - RMVP), was established by a
Presidential decree, signed on 12 March 1933, and promulgated the
following day. This defined the task of the new Ministry as the
dissemination of 'enlightenment and propaganda within the popuThe British Journal of Holocaust Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 1992, pp.55-73
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lation concerning the policy of the Reich Government and the national
reconstruction of the German Fatherland'. In June, Hitler was to define
the scope of the RMVP in even more general terms, making Goebbels
responsible for the 'spiritual direction of the nation'. Not only did this
vague directive provide Goebbels with room to out-manoeuvre his
critics within the Party, it also gave the seal of legitimacy to what was
soon to be the Ministry's wholesale control of the mass media. The
creation of the RMVP in March 1933 was a significant step towards
the merging of the Party and State. Goebbels continued to be Head of
Party Propaganda, but he greatly strengthened both his own position
within the Party and the scope of propaganda by setting up this new
Ministry- the first of its kind in Germany.
Two days after his appointment as Propaganda Minister, Goebbels
outlined his view of the role of the new Ministry in a revealing speech to
representatives of the German press:
we have established a Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and
Propaganda. These two titles do not convey the same thing.
Popular enlightenment is essentially something passive. Propaganda, on the other hand, is something active. We cannot be
satisfied with just telling the people what we want and enlightening them as to how we are doing it. We must replace this
enlightenment with an active government propaganda, that aims
at winning people over. It is not enough to reconcile people more
or less to our regime, to move them towards a position of
neutrality towards us, we would rather work on people until they
are addicted to us. 2
With the creation of the RMVP, propaganda became primarily the
responsibility of the State, although its departments were to be supported and reinforced by the Party's Central Propaganda Office
(Reichspropagandaamt), which remained less conspicuous to the
general public. Indeed, the two institutions would often merge into one
apparatus: not only would their respective organisations and responsibilities correspond closely, but many of the leading positions in the
Ministry and the Reichspropagandaleitung were held by the same
officials. Goebbels saw the RMVP as the main policy and decisionmaking body, providing directions and delegating responsibilities to
the numerous subordinate agencies that lay under its control. The most
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important of these was the Reich Chamber of Culture (Reichskulturkammer - RKK).
Kulturpolitik (cultural policy) was an important element in German
life but the Nazis were the first party to systematically organise the
entire cultural life of a nation. As the RMVP ominously proclaimed
when it announced the Theatre Law of 15 May 1934, 'the arts are for
the National Socialist State a public exercise; they are not only
aesthetic but also moral in nature and the public interest demands not
only police supervision but also guidance'. The Reich Chamber of
Culture was set up by a law promulgated on 22 September 1933. It
represented a triumph for Goebbels in his bitter struggle with the Nazi
ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg, who before 1933 had claimed responsibility for cultural matters through the establishment of his 'Combat
League for German Culture'.
The Reich Chamber of Culture allowed the Minister of Propaganda
to organise the various branches of the arts and cultural professions as
public corporations. Seven individual areas were organised as separate
chambers: Literature, Theatre, Music, Radio, Film, Fine Arts, and the
Press. Goebbels was designated President of the RKK with power to
appoint the presidents of the subordinate chambers. The creation of
the RKK is an excellent example of the process of Gleichshaltung, the
term employed by the Nazis when they came to power to signify the
obligatory assimilation within the State of all political, economic, and
cultural activities. The RKK acted as an agent of this 'co-ordination' in
that it allowed the RMVP to exert its control over almost all aspects of
German cultural life. As Propaganda Minister, Goebbels acted as
President of the seven chambers, and through him their jurisdiction
spread down to both the nation's regional administration (Lander) and
the Party's own specifically political areas (Gaue). This not only
facilitated the RMVP's control over individual chambers but, equally
importantly, it also allowed the Ministry to co-ordinate its propaganda
The chief function of each chamber was to regulate conditions of
work in its particular field. This involved the keeping of a register and
the issuing of work permits. Nobody refused such a permit could be
employed in his or her profession, and refusal therefore meant professional ruin. To those sympathetic to the regime, on the other hand,
enforced membership of such an immense organisation represented
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financial security and public recognition. The law which established
the RKK conferred on Goebbels the power to exclude all those who
were considered racially or artistically objectionable.
After the Nazi 'seizure of power', and corresponding to its importance as a medium of propaganda, film was immediately recognised
when a Reich Film Chamber (Reichsfilmkammer - RFK) was established on 14 July 1933. This was some two months before Goebbels
decided to extend the idea to the whole of German life and form the
Reich Chamber of Culture. Apart from regulating the finances of films,
one of the main purposes of establishing the Reichsfilmkammer was
the removal of Jews and other entarte Kunstler (degenerate artists)
from German cultural life, since only racially 'pure' Germans could
become members. Whoever wished to participate in any aspect of film
production was forced to become a member of the RFK. Goebbels was,
however, given the power to issue exemptions to these conditions
should he require to do so.
By 19 36, the Kulturpolitische Abteilung of the NSD AP Film Department had published its new illustrated magazine, Der Deutsche Film.
Its main aim was to spread the Party policy relating to the film industry
through consciously anti-Semitic film propaganda. Statistics were
published in film magazines and books which purported to expose an
overwhelming Jewish influence in film production. The standard Nazi
work on the German film industry purported to show the situation on
the eve of the Nazi seizure of power: 70 per cent of all scripts were
written by Jews, 50 per cent of all directors were Jewish, and 70 per
cent of all production companies were owned by Jews. 3
Although the German film industry had been heavily dependent
upon Jewish artists and executives, these figures were a gross exaggeration. However, because Nazi propaganda identified Jewish influence
with the downfall of German culture, it was only to be expected they
would use the struggle in the film industry to stir up racial hatred. The
man entrusted by Goebbels for the Entjudung (removal of Jews) was
Hans Hinkel, who in May 1935 was given overall responsibility for all
matters relating to RKK personnel policy. Hinkel radicalised RKK
policy. By arranging for the Jews to have their own separate cultural
organisation (a sham organisation called the ]udische Kulturbund, the
showpiece for which was a theatre in Berlin), Hinkel justified the total
elimination of Jews from German culturallife. 4 Not surprisingly, the
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result of such policies was the emigration of all those who either could
not or would not submit to these conditions. The loss of talent was
naturally severe, but the Nazis were able to retain the services of many
highly qualified technical and artistic staff, and a veritable reservoir of
talented actors.
Perhaps the most outstanding stylistic device in film propaganda is
the use of contrasts. Not only do strong contrasts contain a greater
emotional intensity than the more subtle nuances, but they also guide
the audience's sympathies with more certainty. This aspect of film
propaganda is full of confrontations between good and evil, beauty
and the beast, order and chaos. In each case, the contrast serves to force
the individual into the desired and firmly established commitment. In
this ultimate purpose, propaganda is aided by man's psychological
need for value judgements in simple black and white terms. This is
especially so if a country is in a state of crisis or war, when there is a
corresponding need for a simplification of the issues.
Even under National Socialism and the relentless fanaticism
demanded by such a regime, some form of diversion was needed as a
focus for national unity. Hatred of the enemy was manipulated to fulfil
this need. To succeed, this, the most spontaneous of all reactions,
needed to be addressed to the most simple and violent of emotions and
through the most elementary means. All misfortunes, shared in common unity by the nation, were attributed to 'outsiders' such as the
Bolshevik, the Jew, or the Anglo-Saxon.
The Nazi attitude to the Jews is an excellent example of this facet of
propaganda. It cannot be argued rationally that anti-Semitism was a
result of National Socialism, or that the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels made Germans anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, the fact remains that
the Third Reich was responsible for an attempt at genocide of unparalleled scope and brutality. This may be attributed partly to the effects of
propaganda itself which could depend upon widespread latent antiJewish feeling, and partly also to the close political environment within
which that propaganda worked. Thus, when Hitler came to power, he
needed the Jews as a permanent scapegoat on which those in the
movement could work off their resentment: the Jew was manipulated
to fulfil a psychological need for Germany. Nazi propaganda simply
used the historical predisposition of the audience towards an antiSemitic explanation for Germany's cultural, economic, and political
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grievances. Thus, an important negative function of anti-Semitic
propaganda was to divert the population from the economic and social
measures that the regime had promised but had failed to deliver. It
proved increasingly significant for retaining the loyalty and unity of the
Party that, in the absence of positive features, the administration could
still point to negative goals being fulfilled.
Prejudice against Jews derived largely from a profound ignorance.
Forming less than one per cent of the population, Jews had for the most
part been successfully assimilated into the German community for
generations. In 1933, only 20 percent of Germany's half a million Jews
still retained their distinctive Jewish garb and these so-called 'Eastern
Jews' tended to live together in certain quarters of major cities like
Frankfurt, Berlin, and Breslau. Only a relatively small percentage of the
German population therefore came regularly into contact with Jews.
The Nazis, nevertheless, claimed that Jews had dominated the cultural
and economic life of Germany.
While it is true that Jewish artists were prominent in the cultural life
of the Weimar Republic, Jewish involvement in commercial and
professional life does not bear out such claims. In certain professions,
there was a higher proportion of Jews than Aryans. For example, just
under 17 per cent of all lawyers were Jews (but rarely was a judge
Jewish); 17 per cent of all bankers - a percentage that had declined
since the end of the nineteenth century; and almost 11 per cent of all
doctors were Jews. While it is true that in the clothing and retail trades,
Jewish influence was pronounced, statistics show quite clearly that
Jews did not exert a disproportionate dominance. However, because
Nazi propaganda identified Jewish influence with the downfall of
German culture and economic life, it was only to be expected that they
would grossly exaggerate Jewish influence to stir up racial hatred.
Some recent works on this topic have controversially maintained
that anti-Semitic propaganda was by no means as effective as had
previously been assumed. 5 The relative success of elements within the
Catholic Church in forcing the regime to suspend its secret euthanasia
campaign has been cited to support the claim that Christian and
humanitarian values had not been entirely destroyed by the regime. 6
While the 'euthanasia issue' did prompt an unparalleled episcopal
protest against 'mercy killings', the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) reports
throughout the country revealed that the campaign was not without its
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supporters. The fact that 'mercy killings' were only spasmodically
continued after the Fuhrerbefehl of late 1941 is attributable not only to
the forceful reaction of the Catholic Church, but perhaps more importantly to the military reverses that were shortly to occur and the fact
that it coincided with the preliminary stages of the 'Final Solution to
the Jewish Question'. Moreover, the 'euthanasia issue' involved not
Jews but 'unhealthy' Aryans.
Although anti-Semitism was in principle unacceptable to the
Churches, latent anti-Semitic prejudices shared by clergy and
parishioners in both the Protestant and Catholic Churches, continued
to undermine their defence of Jews. While anti-Semitism may have
involved many Germans who could not find any rational argument for
Jew-baiting in a crisis of conscience, such revisionist interpretations go
perhaps too far. The Sopade reports (the underground reports to the
Social Democratic Party's headquarters in exile) confirm that a
plurality of attitudes towards Jews - ranging from virulent hatred to
apathy and indifference - continued to exist during the Third Reich
and that these attitudes were shaped as much by geographical, class,
and religious affiliations as by propaganda. 7 There is also evidence to
suggest that in the early years of the regime, Nazi propaganda encountered some resistance from Germans who were not entirely persuaded to break off commercial or professional contacts with Jews. 8
Anti-Semitism was not only the core of Nazi ideology, but the Jewish
stereotype that developed from it provided the focal point for the
feeling of aggression inherent in the ideology. Before 1939, antiSemitism was propagated chiefly by means of the educational system
and the press. Three major campaigns were waged in 1933, 1935, and
1938. By the late 1930s, the increasingly fanatical tone of propaganda
reflected the growing radicalisation of the regime's anti-Semitic
policies. Not only had racial propaganda convinced the population
that a 'Jewish Question' existed, a point acknowledged by Sopade as
early as 1935, but Jews were now being openly driven from public
posts and their property confiscated. The Jewish stereotype depicted in
Nazi propaganda served to reinforce anxieties about modern developments in political and economic life, without the need to question the
reality of the Jewish role in German society. The massive increase in the
circulation of the obnoxious and virulently anti-Semitic Der Sturmer
was an indication of this trend.
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An important function of Nazi propaganda was to disseminate Nazi
racial ideology. Press directives had ensured that racial issues would
figure prominently in the daily newspapers. Goebbels had even suggested that not a week should pass without a discussion of racialpolitical questions. Emphasis would often be placed on Jewish aspects
of 'criminality' against German interests. Before the proclamation of
the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, for example, a 'public
enlightenment' programme had been instigated to demonstrate the
history of Jewish 'crimes' and 'conspiracies'. A similar campaign
followed the Reichskristallnacht ('Night of Broken Glass') of 9-10
November 1938 when Party activists unleashed by Goebbels and the
RMVP, burnt down synagogues and vandalised thousands of Jewish
shops. Nothing illustrates this intention more clearly than the use the
Nazis made of film. To this end, a number of films were prepared in coordination with campaigns in the other media in an attempt to make
the German people aware of the 'dangers' posed by Jewry and also to
rationalise any measures that were, or might be taken, by the administration, either publicly or in secret.
Anti-Jewish characters and themes recur throughout the cinema of
the Third Reich. The features attributed to Jews in film propaganda
can be classified as follows: they are cruel and heartless; sly and
ridiculous; avaricious; unscrupulous; they fail to respect their own
religion; and they seek to rule the world. In the early Kampfzeit (time of
struggle) films, the Jews are shown to have deliberately fragmented
German society by creating a rift between worker and government (SAMann Brand, Hitlerjunge Quex, and Hans Westmar- all 1933).
However, the first two anti-Jewish films, Robert und Bertram and
Leinen aus Irland (both 19 3 9), caricature the subhuman Jew within the
framework of comedy. In the same year, Goebbels forbade the term
'anti-Semitic' and replaced it by 'defence against Jews' or 'opposition
to Jews'. 9 In Hans H. Zerlett's Robert und Bertram, the farcical
pretensions of the Jewish nouveau-riche are ridiculed. The Jewish
characters are made to look ridiculous, they are shown to be cunning
and deceitful but unable to conceal their ghetto origins. The central
character is an embezzling Jewish councillor, Ipelmeyer, who is himself
duped and robbed by two Aryan heroes of the film who are portrayed
as likeable characters. Robert und Bertram was released after the
Reichskristallnacht and the central message that it was permissible to
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steal from Jews as they had acquired wealth only through theft and
embezzlement, would not have gone unnoticed by German film
audiences. When a guest at a masked ball in lpelmeyer's palace admires
its splendour and speculates on its cost, the reply is that 'it cost a
fortune, but not to Herr Ipelmeyer, it has been paid for by the people he
has embezzled'.
In Herbert Selpin's Carl Peters (1941), set in the 1880s, the colonial
pioneer Peters (played by Hans Albers) is constantly obstructed by
short-sighted Jewish politicians who require him to justify his ideals to
parliamentary committees and Jewish bureaucrats in the German
Foreign Office. In a scene where his Jewish adversary in the Foreign
Office refuses to support his expansionist policies, Peters remarks: 'I'm
in a better position to do so. Bismarck and I speak the same language.
We are both from the Elbe where we were baptised. I'd rather not
discuss where you were baptised'.
It is a Jew who attempts to assassinate the Iron Chancellor (Bismarck, 1940). It is the Jews who prompt the Poles to commit atrocities
against German minorities (Heimkehr, Homecoming, 1941). A brief
exchange between the heroine in Heimkehr, Marie, the ethnic German
teacher, and Salomonsson, the Jewish shopkeeper, gives some indication of how the archetypal cowardly and rootless Jew was portrayed in
Nazi films. In the market-place where Marie is shopping, Salomonsson
solicits her to buy from him. He is an old man with a hooked nose,
wearing a long kaftan-like robe typical of all Jews. He proclaims the
cheapness and quality of his goods in strong Yiddish tones, but Marie
waves him away indifferently:
'No. Salomonsson, you know very well we don't buy from
SALOMONSSON: 'How can you be so hard, when I enjoy doing business
with Germans. And why? Because you're honourable! German people
are great people, a proud race. And the Fuhrer, Hitler is a great manit's only a pity he wants nothing to do with us Jews!'.
MARIE: 'I'll write to him about it!' [She then brushes him aside].
'How can you make such fun of us poor Jews, when I'm
always friendly to you ... Vengeance shall come upon you!'.
Nazi propaganda could permit itself the luxury of depicting in
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every detail a situation that was an analogy of the Jewish tragedy,
without risking being misunderstood by a critical and unprejudiced
film audience. In reality, 'vengeance' was being heaped not on 'ethnic'
Germans, but the Jews. Deportation of the Jews from Austria and
Czechoslovakia to Poland had begun in October 1939 and by February
1940, some Jews were being deported as a result of 'local initiatives'
from Germany to the east, although this was stopped for a while due to
the strains on limited food supplies in the Generalgouvernement (the
remainder of German-occupied Poland governed by Hans Frank). In
1940, three major anti-Semitic films, Die Rothschilds, ]ud Suss Uew
Suss, and Der ewige Jude (The Eternal/Wandering Jew), were released
to justify these measures and to convince the German population that a
'Jewish Question' did exist and needed to be 'solved'. These films,
together with an intensification of anti-Jewish accusations in the radio
and press, were intended to inflame and justify such a situation. They
achieved their purpose by the grotesque distortion of Jewish characteristics while bluntly declaring themselves to be 'merely factual reportage' and by no means intended as propaganda. In May 1940, Goebbels informed all film-makers and critics, 'films in which Jews appear
are not to be labelled as anti-Jewish. We want it to be made perfectly
clear that such films are not determined by any tendentious considerations, but reflect historical facts as they are'.
Die Rothschilds was first released in 1940 and rewritten and rereleased a year later with the new title, Die Rothschilds Aktion von
Waterloo (The Rothschilds' Shares in Waterloo). In its final form,
Erich Waschneck's film is as virulently anti-British as it is anti-Semitic.
The Nazi press referred to the 'wholly historical facts' that explain the
rise to power and wealth of the Rothschild family and the emergence of
the 'Jewish-British Plutocracy' based on the Rothschilds' ethos that
'blood always pays off'. In accordance with the propaganda aim, the
whole film is structured around the theme of Stock Exchange
manoeuvres in which English bankers and the Rothschilds speculate at
the expense of brave soldiers. England is shown to be a decaying society
dominated by Jews, but a society that deserves to be robbed by the
Jews. When Nathan Rothschilds's secretary, Bronstein, suggests 'I
want to learn to be an Englishman like you', Rothschild replies:
'Nonsense! All week I'm an Englishman. On the Sabbath, I'm a Jew
and do business with God!'. International business relations are por-
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trayed in the film as a global conspiracy by Jewish finance which filters
large sums of money from the emancipated European Jewish merchant
('We are the branches of Jerusalem') to the ghetto Jew who is seen to be
the 'real' Jew. If German audiences failed to grasp the appropriate
message, the final scene in the film, in which Nathan demonstrates the
extent of Rothschild influence, heavily underscores it. He uses a map of
Europe to illustrate the centres of Rothschild power and draws a family
tree which, when its branches are drawn together, forms the Star of
David. The film ends with the flaming star superimposed over a map of
England and a final caption that declares: 'as this film was being
completed, the last members of the Rothschild family are leaving
Europe as refugees and escaping to their allies in England'.
In Die Rothschilds, Jews are seen to pose an economic as well as a
racial threat. British plutocracy, based on the capitalist ethos, is shown
to be dependent upon Jewish financial support. By rejecting such an
economic system and by exposing the 'Jewish problem', the film
highlights the fundamental conflict between Germans, Jews, and the
British, and suggests that under National Socialism these two enemies
of the Reich are receiving their just deserts.
The second film in this trilogy is ]ud Suss (Jew Suss), a story of Jewish
machination in eighteenth-century Wiirttemberg which ends with the
hanging of Siiss after he brutally rapes the Aryan heroine, and the
banning of all Jews from Stuttgart. It was hailed in the press as a
'decisive breakthrough in creating cinematic art out of our National
Socialist ideology' and was referred to by Goebbels as the 'first genuine
anti -Semitic film'. 11 Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler was so impressed that he ordered every SS man and the police to see ]ud Suss. 12•
Directed by Veit Harlan, the film combines Martin Luther's religiously
motivated hostility towards the Jews, with Nazi racism. In an early
scene, Sturm, a Councillor, warns the Grand Duke ofWiirttemberg of
the Jewish 'menace' by reading aloud from Luther: 'Your Excellency
should heed Luther's advice. Know dear Christ, you have no more
venomous enemy than the Jew. Hear my advice. First the synagogue
and then the schools should be burnt. Second, ban their prayer books.
They preach idolatry and lies. Third, they should be forbidden usury.'
The rest of the film details the folly of the Duke's failure to take this
advice. Siiss is appointed Finance Minister and he institutes a penal
system of taxes, duties, and tolls, causing great suffering among the
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people of the Duchy. Suss increasingly extends his power, obtains more
and more privileges and eventually persuades the Duke to throw the
city open to Jews who arrive in their thousands to the disgust of the
German inhabitants.
The parallel between Wiirttemberg in 1738 and Germany in 1940
could not have been missed by German film audiences. According to
SD reports on the reception of the film, it succeeded in bringing
together themes and archetypes that created the desired antipathy
towards Jews- and it did so under the guise of entertainment that
resulted in a great box-office success. Newspapers reporting on the film
referred to 'a phantom that was caught in time', while the Party
newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter, saw it as a fight to the end
between the 'polluting Jewish spirit and a healthy German national
core'. In his diary, Goebbels commented favourably on the reception of
the film and held Jud Suss to be an example of the power of the cinema
to persuade. 12b The SD report of 28 November 1940, for example,
noted that, 'among the scenes singled out- apart from the rape sceneis the entry of the Jews and all their belongings into Stuttgart. This
scene has repeatedly prompted demonstrations against Jews. In Berlin,
for example, there were shouts of "drive the Jews from the Kurfiirstendamm!" and "throw the last of the Jews out of Germany" '.U
Some teachers and parents felt the film should not be shown to
children because of its 'extremely powerful psychological after-effects'.
However, these objections were overruled by the Propaganda Ministry
which encouraged the film to be exhibited during the 'Film Hour for
the Young' (jugendfilmstunde) arranged by the Hitler Youth for its
members. These Jugendfilmstunden were in addition to the compulsory film events in the schools. Here, special performances of selected
current feature films, invariably with overt political themes, were
shown in ordinary commercial cinemas. 14
At the post-war Auschwitz trial, former SS-Rotenfuhrer Stefan
Baretzki confessed that the effect of showingJud Suss was to instigate
maltreatment of prisoners. 15 The film was also shown to 'Aryan'
populations in eastern Europe where concentration and extermination
camps were being established, to elicit hatred against evacuated Jews
and in order to prevent any sympathy from being shown to them. Jud
Suss was always shown in these territories when a new deportation was
imminent. 16
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However, the most notorious of all anti-Semitic films is Der ewige
Jude (The Eternal!Wandering Jew), described by the Allied Commission after the war as 'one of the most striking examples of direct Nazi
anti-Semitic propaganda, probably the most vilest and subtlest of its
kind ever made for popular consumption'. The film received its
premiere two months after Jud Suss in November 1940. It was
subtitled, 'A cinematic contribution to the problem of world Jewry'.
Produced by the Deutsche Film-Herstellungs und Verwertungs, a
euphemism for the Reich Propaganda Department, this documentary
film was directed by Fritz Hippler, Head of Film Section of the RMVP,
from an idea and with a commentary by Dr Eberhard Taubert.
The concept of the 'eternal or wandering Jew' was older than
National Socialism. It derived from the Christian legend of Ahasver, a
Jew who prevented Jesus from resting while he was carrying the cross
on His final journey. Since then, he had to travel the world without
release of death. Nazi propaganda saw in this proof that other races
had already persecuted the Jews. In 1937, they mounted in Munich an
exhibition of 'degenerate art' under the heading of the 'Eternal Jew'.
The point of resurrecting and amplifying this old legend was to
demonstrate that Jews had no feelings or civilised qualities. These
accusations are repeated in Der ewige Jude. By appealing to primitive,
medieval conceptions of a wandering Jew bearing great epidemics of
the plague in an effort to desecrate other races, the film attempts to
strengthen existing prejudices and to create new ones. Since it was
believed that the Jew never revealed his true face, the facts could be
distorted and presented as revelations. The film runs through the whole
gamut of Nazi allegations against Jews and these can be seen as a fivepronged attack which begins with scenes of the Warsaw Ghetto
designed to show the reluctance of Jews to undertake creative labour;
the migration of Jews and their attempts to assimilate with European
peoples; the development of Jewish banking houses; the destructive
influence of Jews in the Weimar Republic; and an attack on the nature
of Jewish religion and its teaching, culminating in the slaughter of
animals for Kosher meat.
Like most effective propaganda films in documentary format, Der
ewige Jude moves from the general to the specific. Thus, by the time the
film has come to make detailed allegations against the Jews, the
audience is already in an anti-Semitic frame of mind and entirely
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receptive to the virulent ending. By a mixture of half-truths and blatant
lies, the spectator is gradually won over to at least a passive receptiveness to Nazi racial theories. Context is thus important to the internal
structure of the film, but it is also important in terms of the material
used. Scenes of the Warsaw Ghetto are accompanied by a commentary
claiming that the Jews have always lived like that. In fact, those scenes
were shot in Warsaw and !.Odz where the Nazis had herded together
almost half a million Jews, sometimes 13 or more to a room, en route to
extermination at Auschwitz and Treblinka. The ghetto life depicted in
this film is thus entirely a creation of the National Socialists themselves. The cynicism of the exercise is confirmed by evidence that the
more ruthlessly realistic shots of the ghettos were excised from the
finished film lest they should arouse sympathy for the suffering Jews
amongst the German population. Writing in his diary before the film
had been completed when it was referred to as the 'Ghetto film',
Goebbels wrote: 'and then footage of the Ghetto film. Never seen
anything like it. Scenes so horrific and brutal in their explicitness that
one's blood runs cold. One shudders at such barbarism. This Jewry
must be eliminated' . 17
Those not convinced by these 'rational arguments' cannot fail to be
affected by the thoroughgoing emotional exploitation of the film's
conclusion. The culminating theme of the final section is the Jewish
slaughter of animals for Kosher meat. After a title warning 'all sensitive
Volksgenossen' not to look, the audience is shown 'original' film of
Jewish ritual slaughter. The emotional effect of its presentation quite
overshadows the scenes of violence and the final execution in ]ud Suss.
The slaughter scenes are introduced by a narrative which claims: 'the
following pictures are genuine. They are among the most horrifying
that a camera has ever recorded. We are showing them even though we
anticipate objections on the grounds of taste. Because more important
than all objections is the fact that our people should know the truth
about Judaism'.
Press cuttings from the 'Jewish controlled press' show how, before
1933, the National Socialist campaign against ritual slaughter was
hindered by liberal and socialist newspapers who defended such
'dubious practices'. The solution to Kosher slaughter is shown as a
rationalisation for the Nuremberg Race Laws which are read out in
some detail, followed by Hitler's speech to the Reichstag on 30 January
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1939: 'if international financial Jewry inside and outside Europe
should succeed in pushing the nations once more into a world war, then
the result would not be a victory for Jewry but the destruction of the
Jewish race in Europe'. The film ends with an idealised sequence of
blonde Nordic stereotypes against a background of sky, Nazi salutes,
and close-ups of flags and banners with a final warning that the Aryan
race will only triumph if racial purity is preserved: 'the eternal law of
nature, to keep the race pure, is the legacy which the National Socialist
movement bequeaths to the German people in perpetuity. It is in this
spirit that the nation of German people march into the future'.
One interesting aspect of Der ewige jude is that by using the extract
from Hitler's notorious Reichstag 'death threat' of 30 January 1939,
the Party appeared, publicly for the time, to be associating Hitler with a
radicalisation in the 'Jewish Question', without mentioning details of
the 'Final Solution'. Throughout the 1930s, Hitler's public pronouncements on the 'Jewish Question' are cautious and surprisingly few and
generally confined to the more popular 'legal' type of discrimination
found in State legislation. He had, in fact, taken great pains to distance
himself from the violent and generally unpopular pogrom associated
with the Kristallnacht of 1938. At the height of his popularity, Hitler's
hatred of the Jews, although well known, was of secondary importance
to the fact that he was widely perceived as an outstandingly successful
politician. So far as the general public was concerned, Hitler's views
were more closely associated with legal measures that attempted to
exclude Jews from economic and social life. Party activists, on the other
hand, interpreted his writings and speeches as 'ideological metaphors'
that provided authorisation to implement a 'final' solution to the
'Jewish problem'. By allowing himself to be shown in 1940 in such a
virulently anti-Semitic film as Der ewige Jude, Hitler appeared to be
deliberately associating himself with the more radical elements in the
movement. 18
By means of alleged 'documentary proof', Der ewige Jude was
intended as definite evidence to support not only the racialist theories
expressed in films such as Die Rothschilds and ]ud Suss, but also the
more vehement anti-Semitism found in magazines such as Julius
Streicher's infamous Der Sturmer. By contrasting Jewish individualism
and 'self-seeking' with the National Socialist ideal of a 'peoples' or
'national community' (Volksgemeinschaft) and by showing that Jews
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were only motivated by money, it was possible to demonstrate that
Judaism was the total antithesis of the cherished values of the German
cultural tradition as interpreted by Nazi ideology. But more importantly, the constant analogy made with rats and parasites in the film
was intended to suggest, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that not only
did the Jew differ from the Aryan in body, but more significantly in
soul, for the Jew had no soul. The implication was that here was a
menace which had to be 'resisted'. Thus, the conclusion to be drawn
from watching the film was that the killing of Jews was not a crime but
a necessity. After all, Jews were not human beings but pests which had
to be exterminated. Der ewige jude represents a form of National
Socialist 'realism' depicting not what was, but what ought to have
been, in accordance with the preconceived notions of Nazi racial
ideology. In a State which openly compared human beings to rats, the
logical consequence of such propaganda was mass murder.
The use of film for this purpose- to prepare rather than to justifywas a new departure in propaganda techniques and a measure of the
success theN azis felt they had achieved in attaining their main purpose
of mobilising mass support of the population for the Party and its
Leader. Reports from the Secret Police to the Propaganda Ministry,
however, suggested that the Germans were rather tired of anti-Semitism by the time The Eternal jew was released. ]ud Suss had been very
effective, but it had also been enough. In the event, The Eternal jew was
shown mainly to the populations of the occupied countries and to
guards at the extermination camps before new batches of victims
arrived for 'processing' and extermination. It would not have done for
them of all people to think of the Jews as human beings.
The purpose of illustrating anti-Semitic propaganda by means of
film is to demonstrate that propaganda had its limitations, even when it
could depend upon the existence of extensive latent anti-Jewish feeling
for its campaigns. The public's reaction to anti-Semitic films reveals
that propaganda had considerable success in persuading the population that a Jewish 'problem' existed, but equally that there was a limit
to the type of virulently anti-Semitic propaganda to be found in films
like Der ewige Jude and publications such as Der Sturmer. Germans
did not wish to visit the cinema to be 'entertained' by films like Der
ewige jude- and they made this perfectly clear. Moreover, although
years of Nazi propaganda had unquestionably hardened anti-Jewish
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feelings, there still remained a question mark in Goebbels' mind as to
whether such propaganda had convinced Germans to condone open
violence against the Jews.
To the extent that Goebbels thought it unnecessary to repeat such an
exercise, the trilogy of anti-Semitic films released in 1940 achieved
their purpose. From the Nazi point of view, the Jew provided an
important escape valve from serious political and economic problems.
The 'image' of the Jew portrayed in the mass media as 'self-seeking'
and 'parasitic' was outside the range of serious intellectual analysis,
and that was its strength. In this way, racial propaganda was able to
rationalise any doubts that may have existed, minimise possible dissent, and at the same time provide the emotional basis for a totalitarian
solution to the 'Jewish problem'. In fact, the only evidence of antiSemitism to be found in film propaganda during the final years of the
war can be seen in the Deutsche Wochenschauen (German newsreels).
Occasionally the newsreels would contain some element of anti-Jewish
propaganda, but generally such propaganda was not propagated
through this medium.
The explanation as to why overtly anti-Semitic propaganda did not
figure so prominently after 1941 is closely related to the wider policy
decisions that had been taken by this time. The nature of the German
public's reaction to the largely unplanned Kristallnacht of 1938 had
convinced the Nazi leadership that during 1940, anti-Jewish propaganda would have to be intensified in order to prepare people for the
future treatment of Jews in Germany and in the occupied territories. At
the same time, anti-Jewish policy would have to be better co-ordinated,
more centralised and less public in its vulgar 'rabble-rousing' attempts
to solve the 'Jewish Question'. Once it was agreed that there was a
Jewish 'problem', solving it could be carried out by the SS with the
public largely excluded.
It may well be true that the 'Final Solution' did not follow a more or
less 'programmed' development and that Hitler was not its prime
mover. 19 What remains unchallenged, however, is that the culmination
of such a policy resulted in a network of concentration and extermination camps where hundreds of thousands were confined without trial
and six million Jews were slaughtered during the Second World War.
Precisely at the time when persecution of the Jews was being intensified
and final details of the 'final solution' arrived at (that is, in the summer
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and autumn of 1941), the SD reports were noting either boredom with,
or massive indifference to, the 'Jewish Question'. Such indifference
proved fatal. Interest in the fate of Jews had in fact rapidly evaporated
after the Kristallnacht. Ian Kershaw has written that 'the road to
Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference'. 20 It was no
longer necessary after 1941 to 'publicise' the threats posed by Jews,
and as a result the 'Jewish Question' became no more than of marginal
importance in the formulation of popular opinion within the Third
Reich. Film, the mass medium of the first half of the twentieth century,
had helped to create such apathy and indifference by persuading people
that they could retreat into the safety of their depoliticised private lives
and leave the 'solutions' to such 'problems' to others.
Goebbels, Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei (Munich, 1935), entry of 22 January
Speech to representatives of the press on 15 March 1933, taken from Wolffs Telegraphisches Buro (WTB) press agency report of 16 March 1933 deposited in the
Bundesarchive, Koblenz (hereafter, BA).
C. Belling, Der Film in Staat und Partei (Berlin, 1936).
Hans Hinkel had worked his way up to the rank of SS-Gruppenfuhrer by 1943. For
further information of the ]udische Kulturband, see H. Freeden, ]udisches Theater in
Nazi Deutschland (Leo Baeck Institute, Band 12, 1964).
For recent interpretations of public reactions to the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns, see 0.
D. Kulka and A. Rodrigue, 'The German Population and the Jews in the Third Reich.
Recent Publications and Trends in Research on German Society and the "Jewish
Question"', Yad Vashem Studies, 16 1984), pp.421-35; 0. D. Kulka, 'Major Trends
and Tendencies of German Historiography on National Socialism and the "Jewish
Question" (1924-1984)', Yearbook of the Leo Baeck Institute, 30 (1985); I. Kershaw,
'The Persecution of the Jews and German Popular Opinion in the Third Reich',
Yearbook of the Leo Baeck Institute, 16 (1981); K. Kweit and H. Eschwege, Selbstbehauptung und Widerstand. Deutsche Juden im Kampf um Existenz und Menschenwurde 1933-45 (Hamburg, 1984); S. Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the 'jewish
Question' (Princeton NJ, 1984); H. Mommsen, 'The Realisation of the Unthinkable:
the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" in the Third Reich', Chapter 6 in G.
Hirschfeld (ed.), The Policies of Genocide (London, 1986), pp.97-144.
See I. Kershaw, 'How Effective Was Nazi Propaganda?', in D. Welch (ed.), Nazi
Propaganda: the Power and the Limitations (London, 1983), pp.193-94. For detailed
reconsideration of the question of popular attitudes towards the 'Jewish Question', and
particularly the question of 'public indifference', see Kershaw's contributions, 'German
Popular Opinion During the "Final Solution": Information, Comprehension, Reactions', in Y. Gelber (ed.), Comprehending the Holocaust (New York, 1987). For a wellresearched overview of the literature on euthanasia in the Third Reich, seeM. Burleigh,
'"Euthanasia" in the Third Reich: Some Recent Literature', The Society for the Social
History of Medicine (1991), pp.317-28.
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7. Deutschland-Berichte der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands (Sopade) 19331940, 7 vols. (Frankfurt-am-Main 1980).
8. See H. Muth, 'Jugendopposition im Dritten Reich', Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte
(hereafter VfZ), 30 (1982), pp. 369-417; and the excellent historiographical survey by
K. Kweit, 'Zur historiographischen Behandlung der Judenverfolgung im Dritten Reich',
Militargeschichtliches Mitteilung (1980), Heft 1, pp.149-92.
9. Zeitschriften Dienst (ZD), Issue 6, Nr. 222, 13 June 1939.
10. Bundesarchiv Koblenz, BA, Zsg. 102/62 (Sammlung Sanger), 3 May 1940. ZD, Issue
Nr. 2390, 17 May 1940.
11. F. Taylor (ed.), The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41 (London, 1982), p.43, entry for 9
November 1939. Cf. also Goebbels diary entry for 15 December 1939, p. 67.
12a. The order is dated 30 September 1940, and is reproduced in J. Wulf (ed.), Theater und
Film im Dritte.n Reich. Eine Dokumentation (Giitersloh, 1964), p.405. Goebbels later
wrote in his diary: 'Himmler is at the moment carrying out the transportation of Jews
from German towns to the ghettos in the east. I've ordered that extensive film
documentation be made of this. We'll use this material to great effect in the subsequent
education of our people': Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, Munich (hereafter IfZ), Goebbels
Tagebuch, 27 April 1942.
12b. Taylor (ed.), Goebbels Diaries, 259, entry for 8 March 1941.
13. BA. R.58/156 (Akten des Reichsministerium fur Volksaufklarung und Propaganda), 28
Nov. 1940.
14. For more detailed information regarding film education in the Third Reich, see D.
Welch, 'Educational Film Propaganda and the Nazi Youth', in D Welch (ed.), Nazi
Propaganda. The Power and the Limitations (London, 1983), pp.65-87.
15. Quoted in E. Leiser, Nazi Cinema (London, 1974), p.85.
16. See J. Wulf (ed.), Theater und Film, pp.405-6.
17. Taylor (ed.), Goebbels Diaries, 23, entry for 17 Oct. 1939.
18. For an excellent summary of Hider's personal role in the genesis of the 'Final Solution',
see I. Kershaw, 'Hider and the Holocaust', The Nazi Dictatorship. Problems and
Perspectives of Interpretation (London, 1985), Ch. 5, pp. 82-105. See also the well
researched article by D. Bankier, 'Hider and the Policy-Making Process in the Jewish
Question', Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 3 (1988), pp.1-20.
19. See Martin Broszat's devastating critique of D. Irving's Hitler's War (London, 1977),
'Hider und die Genesis der "Endlosung". Aus Anlass der Thesen von David Irving',
VfZ, 25 (1977), pp. 737-75. English translation, 'Hider and the Genesis of the "Final
Solution". An Assessment of David Irving's Theses', in H. W. Koch (ed.), Aspects of the
Third Reich (London, 1985), pp.390-429. See also the outstanding essay by H.
Mommsen, 'The Realisation of the Unthinkable', op. cit.
20. I. Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent. Bavaria 1933-1945 (Oxford,
1983), p.277.
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