Best Book on Nazi Germany (Part III)
The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust
Jeffrey Herf
The editorial staff of the Library of Social Science has selected Jeffrey Herf’s The Jewish Enemy as the most significant book published on Nazi Germany in the 21st century. In a series of Newsletters, we present this book’s central ideas. This is Part III.
To read Part I, click here.
To read Part II, click here.
Jeffrey Herf is professor of Modern European History at the University of Maryland.
The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust

Publisher: Harvard U. Press
Author: Jeffrey Herf

For information on purchasing this book through Amazon at a special, discounted price, click here.

The term “Jewish Bolshevism” lay at the core of the ideology that generated the Second World War. Given Nazi claims about “Jewish Bolshevism,” Herf feels that it is important to take note of the actual role of Jews in Soviet political life. The historian Benjamin Pinkus (1988) assessed the statistical representation of Jews within the power institutions of the party—the Central Committee, Politburo, Secretariat, and government bureaucracies—and concludes that there was “no historical basis” for claims that the Bolshevik regime was the work of the Jews.

As of 1917, roughly 1,000, or about 5%, of the 23,000 members of the Bolshevik party were Jewish. The party census of 1922 showed 19,564 Jewish members, 5.21 percent of the total. By 1927, the 49,627 Jewish members comprised 4.34 percent of all party members. Pinkus estimated the percentage of Jewish members of the party in 1940 at 4.3 percent or less. Herf concludes that Nazi propaganda about Jewish domination of the Soviet regime had no basis in reality. “It was a complete fantasy.”

We now return to Herf's explication of the Nazi narrative that generated the Second World War: Nazi propaganda insisted that Jewish rule in Moscow was “the absolute ideal of the Jews” seeking “world domination resting on exploitation and terror.” What’s more, the defeat of the Western plutocrats would be “no less but no more a defeat of Jewry” than would the defeat of Bolshevism.

“Jewry,” in short, was conceived as controlling both Soviet communism and Western plutocracy. This fact, according to Nazi propaganda, provided an explanation for why two such seemingly distinct systems “stuck together through thick and thin.” Both “hated a single enemy,” Nazi Germany and its emerging Volksgemeinschaft.

On July 21, 1941, the party Reich Propaganda Directorate (RPL) Office distributed a pamphlet entitled Germany Has Entered the Fight to the Finish with the Jewish-Bolshevik System of Murder—to guide local Nazi party speakers, propagandists, and officials in relevant propaganda offices around the country. Officials and party speakers were to present the war as part of Germany's “great struggle for freedom,” which must destroy “a conspiracy among Jews, democrats, Bolsheviks, and reactionaries.”

Operation Barbarossa, Herf explains, represented a return to orthodoxy in two ways. It brought a renewal both of Nazism's long-standing hatred of “Jewish Bolshevism,” and of its argument that an international Jewish plot against Germany was evident in the unfolding events of the war. The pamphlet described Bolshevism as “a system of Jewish criminals and their accomplices whose purpose is the exploitation and enslavement of humanity.”

England's decision to ally with the Soviet Union was “a new piece of evidence of the absolute identity of plutocracy and Bolshevism.” Speakers needed to answer the “oft-posed question”—how was it possible that very wealthy English plutocrats and the moneybag dynasties of America were going hand in hand with the (supposedly) anti-capitalist Soviet power holders—For Moscow's victory would mean the end of these wealthy people and strata.

Nazi propaganda directly addressed this central paradox with the assertion:

Plutocracy and Bolshevism have one master, the Jews! The answer to this question (why the Soviets, British, and Americans were allied) is found in the idea that both plutocracy and Bolshevism are led by a power whose representatives shape the fate of the people in the same way in all three countries and subject them to its will. That power is international Jewry.

Bolshevism and Marxism, founded by “Karl Marx-Mordechai,” were the Jews' instrument to achieve the goal of world domination:

This system of chaos, extermination and terror was conceived and led by Jews. It is the action of the Jewish race. Through subversion and propaganda, world Jewry attempts to gather the uprooted and racially inferior elements of all peoples together in order to lead an extermination battle [Vernichtungskampf] [destruction/making into a nothing struggle] against everything positive, against native customs and the nation, against religion and culture, against order and morals. The goal is the introduction of chaos through world revolution and the establishment of a Jewish state under Jewish leadership.

Herf tells us that the pace at which anti-Semitic messages appeared in Word of the Week wall newspapers series quickened. An edition of fall 1941, “The Jews Wanted the War,” focused on England and the Jews. This edition conveyed to the reader or viewer the idea that “world Jewry” was, through its proxies, conducting the war against Germany. Therefore, Germany would conduct a war against Jewry—until it was “exterminated”:

In order to subject the world to domination by Jewish money and blood, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, as instruments of world Jewry, have opted for war. They have received war in return! The German army has already delivered decisive blows against its enemies and will not rest until it has achieved final victory and the Jew has been exterminated. Now the richly deserved fate of Jewry will be pitilessly realized. It will perish per its own law, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” along with those who do its business. Mr. Churchill belongs in the family tree!

In his essay, “The Jews are Guilty,” Joseph Goebbels explained that “every Jew is our enemy, whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or scrapes out his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows war trumpets in New York or Washington.” Owing to their birth and race, all Jews “belong to an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany. They wish for its defeat and annihilation and do everything in their power to help to bring it about.”

Herf explains that the millions of Germans who walked past the wall newspapers in the second week of December 1941 had no reason to doubt the factuality of the ideas being presented. For those immersed in the Nazi context, the newspapers conveyed the impression of a “complex, well-researched and compelling causal explanation of why it was that three of the most powerful countries in the world were at war with Nazi Germany.”

Surely not all the names could be fictional. Surely some part of this conspiracy must exist. The Propaganda Ministry had not pulled Bernard Baruch and Lazar Kaganovich out of thin air. Of course, to people outside Nazi Germany the wall newspaper would have appeared, as it appears today, to be crackpot realism based on a combination of mental derangement, political fantasy, unjustified hatred, pathetically erroneous casual connections, and inferences—all of which amounted to a sick grotesque falsification.