Stig Hornshoj-Moller on Der ewige Jude

Introduction

Der ewige Jude ("The Eternal Jew") is the most famous Nazi propaganda film. It was produced at the insistence of Joseph Goebbels, under such active supervision that it is effectively his work. It depicts the Jews of Poland as corrupt, filthy, lazy, ugly, and perverse: they are an alien people which have taken over the world through their control of banking and commerce, yet which still live like animals.

Though unquestionably vicious, many would say that, by today's standards, it is also crude and transparent. The narrator explains the Jews' ratlike behavior, while showing footage of rats squirming from sewers and leaping at the camera. The film's most shocking scene is the slaughter of a cow, shown in bloody detail, by a grinning Rabbi - and it is followed by, of all things, three innocent (presumably German) lambs nuzzling each other.

These are not the only scenes which, seen with hindsight, are revealing about the propagandists themselves, rather than the Jews they would have us hate. As the Danish historian Stig Hornshøj-Møller comments in his book of scene-by-scene analysis: 1

The film produces spontaneous laughter when this collection of apparently sado-masochistic pamphlets is followed by a photo of Einstein, with the commentary: "The relativity-Jew Einstein, who concealed his hatred of Germany behind an obscure pseudo-science."

Photo 48: The Sexual Revolution  Photo 49: Love and Marriage (pornographic book)
Photo 50: The Whip Over the Woman  Photo 51: Einstein

Yet we must remember the potential of this film's hate. It was created to legitimize the exclusion, and ultimately the destruction, of an entire people. It is to this day considered such dangerous propaganda that it is banned in Germany except under tightly controlled circumstances. Legally distributed in the United States, it is marketed by neo-Nazi groups as "the best documentary ever made on Jews."

It seems almost impossible that the same film which, in 1940, produced the "shouts of disgust and loathing" 2 engineered by the Minister of Propaganda, is now greeted with laughter and - more importantly - insight. Can the greatest antisemitic film of all time now be a tool for greater understanding of prejudice, and for empathy with its victims?

We might also ask, from a more historical perspective: what can it teach us about the world-view of its creators - who include not only Joseph Goebbels, the mastermind behind its production, but also Adolf Hitler? Hitler not only approved the idea, he saw the very first edits, and gave Goebbels instruction on how to cut the final version.

Hitler also provides the emotional climax of the film, with footage of his speech to the Reichstag from 1939. When preceded by sixty minutes describing the Jewish problem, and followed by thunderous applause, Hitler's prophetic warning takes on even greater significance:

Wenn es dem internationalen Finanzjudentum in und außerhalb Europas gelingen sollte, die Völker noch einmal in einen Weltkrieg zu stürzen, dann wird das Ergebnis nicht der Sieg des Judentums sein, sondern die Vernichtung der jüdischen Rasse in Europa! If the international finance-Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!

The importance of this groundbreaking propaganda is often underestimated. Stig Hornshøj-Møller takes us inside the film, its making, its meaning in 1941, and its meaning today. The Holocaust History Project is pleased to present four of his papers and talks on the film, given at four conferences on the Holocaust.

Papers

March 2, 1997: Tampa

The paper discusses the possibilities and dangers of using authentic Nazi anti-Semitic film propaganda as a means of teaching the reasons behind the Holocaust. It argues that [Der ewige Jude] had a major impact on Hitler's final decision to launch the genocide because of its "reality-like" character. The main section of the paper consists of a report on almost 25 years of Danish and German experiences of the effects of showing the film to young people of today for educational purposes...

June 11, 1997: Montreal (oral presentation)

I would like to raise and discuss the highly complex question of the integration of non-written evidence into inter-disciplinary research, and I will try to argue why I consider the Nazi propaganda film "Der ewige Jude" to be an X-ray of the Holocaust decision-making process itself.

June 11, 1997: Montreal (written paper)

The paper presents a core summary of my Danish book "The Führer-Myth: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and the History Behind a Genocide." It argues the importance of a Nazi propaganda film, "Der ewige Jude," which is characterized as an X-ray of the decision-making process that led to the Holocaust.... The paper furthermore argues that the film can be seen as the official promulgation of Hitler's decision, and that it - together with the feature film Jud Süß - deliberately was used to prepare both perpetrators and bystanders for the extermination of the Jews.

November 17, 1997: London

"Der ewige Jude" ... gives us an X-ray of the legitimization of the Holocaust and challenges us individually with the uncomfortable moral question: What would you have done? How do you react to atrocities today, which you can follow almost live on television?

April 27, 1998: Millersville

Should we, who favor a democratic society, really still be so scared of an almost sixty-year-old hate-picture, that we pretend that it does not exist - and thus in practice leave it to those whose racism it confirms and strengthens?

Should we not instead dare to use the film actively, as part of Holocaust education, and dare to demonstrate the authentic poison in it in order to vaccinate future generations?

Also of Interest

Still images from the film, eighty-three in number, along with the text of the narration in German and English.

An audio clip of Hitler's prophecy, from near the end of the film, of the coming "annihilation" of the Jews of Europe. This speech provides the resolution of the crisis which is built up throughout the entire film; one might say that Hitler's promise to the German people is the denouement. A transcription, and translation into English, are provided. To hear the audio requires the free RealPlayer (also known as the RealAudio Player).

The film program, a description of what is found in the film, as written by the Illustrierte Filmkurier and, in Germany during the war, given to its viewers before they entered. In English und auf Deutsch.

Hilfsmittel für Lehrer. Teaching material prepared by Dr. Hornshøj-Møller: this includes a single-page (double-sided) handout for students to take home the day before seeing the film, a pre-questionnaire, a post-questionnaire, and more. Nur auf Deutsch.

More detail on the films described can be found at the Internet Movie Database:

Jud Süß aka Jew Suess (1940)
Der ewige Jude aka The Eternal Jew (1940)

About the Author

Dr. Stig Hornshøj-Møller (Danish mag. art.) has been studying the film The Eternal Jew since 1970. He is the author of Der ewige Jude: Quellenkritische Analyse eines antisemitischen Propagandafilms ("Source-Critical Analysis of an Antisemitic Propaganda Film"), Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen, 1995. (This work is also available in a special free printing, which interested readers can order from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Postfach 1369, 53111 Bonn.)

Notes

1. "Der ewige Jude": Quellenkritische Analyse eines antisemitischen Propagandafilms, Institut für Wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen, 1995, p. 134.

2. Montreal paper, footnote 31.