As part of its heightened wartime attack on Jews, the Ministry of Propaganda turned to motion pictures as a medium for antisemitic messages.
Fritz Hippler, the president of the Reich Film Chamber, directed the film Der ewige Jude, with input from German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. A pseudo-documentary, it included scenes of Jews shot in the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos by propaganda company crews attached to the German military. This film was quite popular with audiences in Germany and throughout occupied Europe.
One of the film’s most notorious sequences compares Jews to rats that carry contagion, flood the continent, and devour precious resources. Der ewige Jude is distinctive not only for its crude, vile characterizations made worse with its gruesome footage of a Jewish ritual butcher at work slaughtering cattle, but also for its heavy emphasis on the alien nature of the East European Jew. In one of the film’s sequences, “stereotypical” Polish Jews with beards are depicted as shaven clean and transformed into “western-looking” Jews. Such “unmasking” scenes aimed to show German audiences that there was no difference between Jews living in East European ghettos and those inhabiting German neighborhoods.
Der ewige Jude ends with Hitler’s infamous speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939: “If international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the…victory of Jewry but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.” The speech appeared to herald a radicalization of the solution to the “Jewish Question” in the coming “Final Solution,” and provided a foreshadowing of mass murder.
Critical Thinking Questions
- How did Nazi antisemitism build on previous beliefs and attitudes?
- How was Nazi antisemitism different than previous hatreds of Jews?
- Why might propaganda be successful?
- How can societies and individuals resist propaganda?
- How can governments control the spread of propaganda? Should they?