It’s hard to know why I chose to read “Julius Streicher”, a biography of the Nazi publicist by Randall Bytwerk, published thirty years ago. I knew Streicher as the publisher of Der Sturmer, the virulent anti-Semitic newspaper of Germany of the 1930s and early 1940s, home of outrageous articles and outrageous political cartoons with all of the anti-Semitic caricatures with which we are all so familiar. But was there more to it than that? I wanted to find out.
The book, well organized and well written, certainly added to my knowledge. Streicher, who was executed after the Nuremberg trials in 1946, was an early adherent to Hitler’s Nazi ideology, and a consistent follower. He was also a coarse, rude, aggressive man who, by dint of his abrasive personality, could never rise in the Nazi hierarchy and pretty much remained stuck in his role as a regional leader and journalist (and occasional speaker).
This is not to say that Streicher was not important. Streicher became an early anti-Semite, perhaps because of the increasing prominence of Jews in upper levels of German business affairs, and the visibility of Jews in the creative arts and entertainment fields, and perhaps because of the number of Jews who were prominent in communist/Bolshevik movements, all of which he felt was not only threatening post-World War I Germany, but also being a cause of the terrible economic and employment conditions the country was facing.
Streicher found Hitler early; he was a co-participant in the 1923 attempted putsch in Munich. He became a regional Nazi Gauleiter and later paramilitary commander, and in 1924 started his newspaper.
What I did not realize was that Der Sturmer was not an ordinary newspaper. It was a newspaper whose major focus was anti-Semitism. You did not go there for the news. You went there to understand the dangers the Jews were to the country, and how the Jews were Satanic and beyond redemption. You went there to learn that the Jews must be disposed of, that only death was good enough for them. And you learned this well before the Germans formalized the “Final Solution”.
Sure, there was a tradition of anti-Semitism in Germany. But there was also a tradition of liberalism in Germany, of German welcoming the Jewish population as co-citizens, business partners and marriage partners, of accepting Jewish converts to Christianity. But, particularly in rural Germany where there were few Jews living, the population was ready to believe that the problems of the time and of the country were caused by the Jews, and were ready to accept as proof, the outrageous articles and cartoons printed in Der Sturmer.
Of course, in publishing its articles on the Jews, Der Sturmer was not inhibited by limiting itself to the truth. But everything was presented as the truth, and how do you counter it, if admittedly fake names and fake locations were used in the stories? And how do you counter gross extrapolations, such as when an actual case where a defendant (say of a sex crime or a business crime) was Jewish, and the article goes on to explain that, while this case might involve on one defendant, it was indicative of many, many (unidentified) cases involving Jews who committed the same crime, although worse? And who is there to explain that Jewish perfidy was not only common to the Jewish population, but that it was actually countenanced by and demanded by the Talmud, and that every Jew lived according to the laws of the Talmud, that invidious document? And how do you prove that the always present Bolshevik danger was not part of the plan of the Jews, as clearly identified in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? And once you believed all of this, how much of a stretch was it to realize that the Jews did need the blood of Christian children to put into their Passover matzohs?
Once this base was created and absorbed by so many, the question of racial defilement was not far behind. Why should a German buy from a Jewish store, since the profits would only assist the Jews meet their nefarious goals? Why should Jewish businesses be allowed to continue to prey on Germans? And how can a true German associate with a Jew, as friend or lover, since one of the overall goals of the Jews were to defile the pure German race, creating a mixed race which was even worse than a pristine Jewish race. And once defiled, you were defiled for ever, as were your children and their children.
So you had the Jews, out to destroy the German people genetically, to exploit the German people economically, to poison the morals and ethical standards of the German people culturally, and to compromise the German people politically by its support of Bolshevism.
And this paper was published every day, and hundreds of thousands of people subscribed to it. And it reached its apogee in the late 1930s. As time went on, as Jews left Germany (and especially were not to be found in the rural parts of the country), the Jewish danger seemed to recede in the minds of the populace (the Jews were being taken care of, through killings and deportations after all), and Der Sturmer actually lost readers and circulation in the early 1940s.
But by concentrating on the Jewish danger, Der Sturmer played a major role in the Germany of Adolf Hitler. Not only by identifying the Jews as the enemy, but by enabling the ethnic Germans to bind with each other, to feel closer to each other and part of a group, helping Hitler create the national mindset so important to his success.
Reading this book was informative, giving me one more perspective, increasing my understanding of what made Germany the very dangerous, depraved and destructive place it became in the years preceding World War II.