Best Book on Nazi Germany (Part V-conclusion)
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 V.
To read Part I, click here.
To read Part II, click here.
To read Part III, click here.
To read Part IV, 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.
On May 5, 1943, the party's Reich Propaganda Directory sent a directive, “The Jewish Question as a Domestic and Foreign Policy Weapon.” It asserted that it was “dangerous and false” to allow the Jewish question to disappear from public consciousness after that issue had been “solved in Germany,” because it had emerged even more powerfully abroad.

“For this war is a war of Jews against Germany and its allies. Just as the domestic struggle ended with the anti-Semitic revolution in Germany so this war must end with an anti-Semitic world revolution.” The directive continued as follows:

In Germany, we made the whole nation anti-Semitic. We did so by repeatedly pointing our finger at the Jews, even as they tried to camouflage themselves. Again and again, we tore the masks from their faces.

Every German must know that everything he or she must endure—the discomforts, restrictions, extra hours at work, bloody terror toward women and children, and the bloody losses on the field of battle—is to be tracked back to the Jews. In every meeting, the following points must be treated: That the international Jew wanted this war, occupies the most important economic positions among the all the enemy peoples and countries, and ruthlessly uses his power to drive the peoples in to war.

Even today, he forms public opinion in the enemy countries, owns the press, radio, and film and presents them as the voice of the people. Nevertheless, knowledge about the essence of Jewry has gained a foothold and is growing: that there is no crime in which the Jew is not involved and that abroad today, as in Germany earlier, more than half of all economic criminals, swindlers, black marketers, and stock exchange speculators are Jews; that where the Jews do not themselves appear as power holders, they have bought personalities in public life who, as dependent and servile tools, do the Jews business; that the Jews profit from the war and thus have an interest in a long war.

However, scarcely a single Jew carries a weapon or earns his income by the labor of his hands; as was the case here earlier in Germany, the Jews leave fight and labor to others; that the Jews unleashed this war as a final attempt to assert their power in the world and to strike down those who had recognized them and their attentions; that this war will end with anti-Semitic world revolution and with the extermination of Jewry throughout the world, both of which are the precondition for an enduring peace. The core sentence is this statement: The Jews are guilty of everything!

The Jews are guilty of everything. This sentence sums up the paranoid fantasy that was the source of the Holocaust and the Second World War.

For the Nazi leadership and many millions of its followers, there were not two distinct events, World War II on the one hand and the Final Solution on the other. Rather, the war against the Jews was in their minds synonymous with World War II—that is, the war against the leading powers of the anti-Hitler coalition, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. These were accomplices and puppets of the Jewish wire pullers operating behind the scenes, according to the Nazis.

In private conversations and in speeches broadcast to millions, they asserted that Jewry was the driving force of World War II. They attributed seemingly unlimited autonomy, subjectivity, and power to the Jews, while denying these attributes to the political leaders of the most powerful nations in the world at that time, notably Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin.

The core ideological justification for the Holocaust, Herf concludes, lay in the depiction of Jewry as constituting a powerful international anti-Germany conspiracy that was the driving force behind the scenes of the world war. The paranoid logic of a war said to be waged by Jewry against Germany, and with the detailed

Since the formulation of the concept of ideology during the French Revolution, political sophistication in modern politics has meant looking beyond manifest statements for their latent or real meaning and viewing ideas as instruments used for other purposes. This rationalist bias prevented observers across the political spectrum from seeing Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda as anything more than a revolting bundle of rationalizations opportunistically seized upon by base and evil men.

Despite the vast literature on Nazis Germany, World War II, and the Holocaust, the rationalist bias about human motivation has persisted, reinforced by the positivism of the social sciences and challenges to intellectual and cultural history within the discipline of history. Resistance to grasping the power and impact of nonrational and irrational currents in Nazis Germany has been considerable.

The Nazis leadership pushed to the extreme the widespread human capacity for delusion and belief in illusions. The assumption that these men did not believe these fantasies relies on an optimistic view of the power of human rationality, justified neither by the events of modern history nor by our now widespread awareness of the role of nonrational forces in human experience.

The weight of evidence leads to the conclusion that members of the Nazis leadership viewed the world in the way that they said they did, and supplied a narrative of events that seemed to offer an iron-clad explanation of them as well as justification for uniting ideology and practice in war and mass murder.

From the diplomacy of expansion in the 1930's to the wars of aggression begun between 1939 and 1941 and then the Holocaust. Hitler's policies drove events forward. In these same years, Nazis propaganda asserted that precisely the opposite was the case, and that Nazis Germany was merely responding to threats and actual attacks launched against it by others.

Nazis propaganda presented more paranoia than grandiosity, more assertions of outraged innocence than blueprints for Aryan world domination. This is true even of the infamous prophecy of January 30, 1939, by Hitler. Knowing he was planning to unleash a war as soon as possible, he ordered his propagandists to assert that exactly the opposite was taking place—namely, that international Jewry was about to launch and implement a war of extermination against Germany and the Germans.

Hitler's violation of the elementary logic of chronology and cause and effect was so flagrant that it was and remains tempting to view his assertions as cynical tools that would work to convince only the most naïve of fanatics. Mutually contradictory though they were, grandiose visions of world domination by a master race coexisted with the paranoia of the righteously indignant innocent victim.

If sheer repetition, in public and private contexts, can be taken as proof of belief, then it appears that Hitler, Goebbels, Dietrich, their staffs, and an undetermined percentage of German listeners and readers believed that an international Jewish conspiracy was the driving force behind the anti-Hitler coalition in World War II.

If they regarded this aspect of their own propaganda with cynicism, they did not leave much trace of that skepticism behind. Yet the sources point to the presence of true believers. They certainly acted as if the Final Solution was Nazi Germany's punishment of the Jews, whom the Nazis found guilty of starting and prolonging World War II.

As E.H. Gombrich put it, the myth of an all-powerful enveloping conspiracy “becomes self-confirming. Once you are entrapped in this illusionary universe it will become reality for if you fight everybody, everybody will fight you, and the less mercy you show, the more you commit your side to a fight to the finish. When you have been caught in this vicious circle there really is no escape.

Hitler and Goebbels called their own institution the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and propaganda. Heirs to an age of suspicion of all ideologies, they were modernists of a crackpot sort who believed they had discovered the real truth lurking hidden behind the scenes. They believed that they understood the way the world really worked better than did the masses mired in contingency and trapped by common sense.