Paper Presented at the Imperial War Museum, London, November 17, 1997
Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues in studying and communicating the terrible truth of the Holocaust - and also the moral lessons for mankind of today. On my own I have done the same thing for more than 25 years.
Having passed the equivalent to a B.A. in 1970, I was accepted by the Institute as a student, heading for the so-called mag. art. It should be stressed that the study is a research study, where you are on your own and must write four major topics from different periods of general history, supervised by a professor with full rights. On average it takes two years to write each of these papers, which had a length in my case between 75 and 250 pages. Then you pass an oral examination and end up with a public lecture on a topic which is handed out to you a week before. Therefore, as an intellectual test it has the same university traditions as the German Promotion (Ph.D.).
For technical reasons I had to write something on the history of the 20th century, which had no interest for me. I wanted to become a keeper of a cultural historical museum, doing research into the significance of medieval wall-paintings as historical evidence. I loved going to the movies and contacted a professor, Niels Skyum-Nielsen, who had a little study-group with film-freaks. I was admitted, and on the second Friday - September 12, 1970 - I saw "Der ewige Jude" for the first time. I got very little out of it, because I have had only very little German in school. Skyum-Nielsen was about to write an introduction for historians about source-critical analysis and needed good examples of different kind of manipulations.
Two student groups were formed: One for "Der ewige Jude", the other for "Why we fight." As you probably already have guessed I was assigned to the German group - and ever since I have been fighting the "Fatwah of The Eternal Jew." Each time I think I have closed the book, something new and important turns up - and I have to carry on.
I am not going to tell the story of my life. I would, however, openly stress that I have paid for the whole project out of my own pocket. I am not affiliated with a university - the Historical Institute in Copenhagen does not even answer my letters! - and it takes a lot of effort to find people like you, who are willing to listen and to discuss. I would therefore also use this opportunity to ask you of possibilities of other groups or organisations etc, which could be interested to discuss with me - or perhaps even invite me for an upcoming conference or a guest-lecture.
When I started my research on "Der ewige Jude," I applied the source-critical model that Niels Skyum-Nielsen had created. First of all the commentary was transcribed. Then at least one picture from each shot was taken - and the script has all-in-all 713 shots. You will find it in my source-critical edition in German, although with long descriptions of visuals. The publisher considered it to be too dangerous to have all the pictures from the film published.
I have analyzed the film in many different ways in order to establish the origins and authenticity of the visuals and the text (which was narrated by Harry Giese, the authoritative voice in the newsreels). In the first round it was simply a question of "true" or "not true."
The pictures were divided in two groups: Shots made specifically for the film, and archive footage. Regarding the archive material I searched for the source, in order to check possible manipulations and thereby evaluate why this particular shot was used in the film.
The analysis of the new footage was based on frame-to-frame observations concerning camera angle, setting of light, the semiotic expression of the motive chosen for the film. From contemporary sources as well as Hippler's autobiography we know that he went to Lodz on October 11, 1939, with a group of professional camera people. He returned to Berlin with footage which was developed the same day and shown to Goebbels in the evening. The pictures of half-an-hour with ritual slaughtering, deliberately staged as cruelty to animals. Goebbels was shocked by what he saw: "Dieses Judentum muss vernichtet werden."
After having shown these rushes at the Führer's dinner-table on October 28, he went to Lodz to see for himself. Again he was shocked
Just a note about my efforts to identify shots by weather. The ghetto scenes have partly sunshine, partly clouds before the sun. The weather report from Lodz disappeared during the war, but the meteorologists could reconstruct the general weather in Lodz between October 11 and 13. It was on the border between a major high pressure to the southeast and a major low pressure in the northwest, i.e. I could not use my observations for anything constructive. I was, however, able to find some shots which derived from earlier newsreels.
A handbook of the Propaganda Ministry from 1940 gave me the answer to where the other film clips came from: The Reichsfilmarchive. I have looked through a lot of films at the Filmdepartment of Bundesarchiv - at that time in Koblenz - and could identify a lot of my shots. Later I have been able to supplement my knowledge in the former GDR film archive. The two have now merged and are situated in Berlin.
Now the still photos were to be identified. This happened mostly during the time when I searched for the ideological roots of the spoken commentary. The Royal Library in Copenhagen has a department for Jewish Studies, which collected antisemitica during the 30s and 40s - and because of the Danish collaboration with Germany, it was never confiscated. It was simply a treasury, which made it clear to me how Goebbels and Taubert had worked out the concept.
In November 1937 there opened an exhibition called "Der ewige Jude" in Munich - and the film was conceived as a filmed version of this exhibition. The Royal Library had the booklet, which had been given out by Hans Diebow and contained a lot of the pictures. The Royal Library also had many copies of the book "Die Juden in Deutschland," which was a "scientific" report and also had given many ideas to the different topics, statistics, etc., in the film. This book came out in revised editions each year and was published by the Institut zum Studien der Judenfrage, which had been created by Eberhard Taubert in 1934.
Through an analysis of the rest of Nazi antisemitic propaganda in the Royal Library, I could identify almost all the rest - and because of its "scientific" appearance, I also got the clues of how to evaluate the truth in the claims. Because I could come very far with some parts of the film, I decided to try to crack it all in a systematic way, which - to my knowledge - had never happened in such a way before. This is the reason, why it has taken 25 crazy years to complete the source-critical edition, which came out two years ago at the Institute for the Scientific Film in Göttingen.
Was it worth the effort? I hope so - and I do hope that I have proven the necessity for historians to make such kinds of time-consuming and very difficult film analysis.
My research project started as a purely methodological task, given me by my Professor, who wanted pedagogical examples for his book on film and history. In my first summary I compared the opinions of film historians, who claimed that the film was intended as propaganda for the Holocaust, with that of contemporary historians, who based their opinion of the Genesis of the Holocaust on written evidence. I concluded that, for chronological reasons, the film could not have been deliberate propaganda for the mass killing of Jews - and started off to show that the opinions of the film historians must have been based on hindsight. Nothing in the film itself could be used as arguments for this notion.
But it became more and more problematic to explain certain details. The film is constructed down to the very last detail. The makers were
In short: the more I tried to find evidence against the film historians, the more I came up with documentation and elementary arguments which supported them.
Having just written an article for Historical Journal for Film, Radio and Television in 1991 (came out in 1992), I had one month with Serbian and one month with Croatian Television. My interest in propaganda made me watch a lot, and my wife - who speaks it fluently - translated some of it. However, also without her help it was easy to compare the whole programming and the reports etc. with the Nazi film production, which I know so well. It was shocking to see how nothing really had changed - and I suddenly understood the impact of "produced reality" in reality-like media such as film and television. This is a necessary condition for making people believe that they are doing something good for their society, when they exterminate the enemy who is dehumanized by this form of strong emotional propaganda.
The only difference between modern genocidal television and the Nazi version in "Der ewige Jude" was that the ultimate icon for dehumanization in Serbia and Croatia is mutilated bodies, whereas "Der ewige Jude" uses the ritual slaughter scenes for this purpose, before Hitler puts forth what is going to happen with the Jews.
I simply had to believe my own analysis and start to use the production of the film as the chronological structure for a new interpretation of the decision-making process. I have promised Jim not to go any deeper into the results of my latest research into this. If some of you are able to read Danish, I have written a thick book in Danish - which has just been transformed to a major TV-series, intended for the international market. However, you are welcome to ask me some questions concerning this afterwards.
Instead I would like to raise some crucial questions with regards to the film. Goebbels' diaries document that the decision to make an overall antisemitic propaganda film in the style of an extended newsreel was made on October 4, just after having seen the latest newsreel, which contained a longer story on Jewish life in Polish ghettos. He outlined his concept on October 5 to Fritz Hippler, Head of the Film Department, and Eberhard Taubert, who was an expert for anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic propaganda. Goebbels wrote in his diary, that the film should be finished within three or four weeks, but it took longer, since the first public screening took place on November 28, 1940.
There are many reasons for this delay:
First of all, Goebbels had underestimated the whole project. Anyone who has worked on a major documentary knows how one again and again has to cut and recut and rewrite and cut again and so on.
Equally important for the delay was that the Führer wanted to survey the film during the production and ordered several changes before giving his endorsement. This apparently happened on May 20, 1940, the day when German troops reached the English Channel, thus making the victory over France a matter of one month. The script for the film was then sent to Goebbels' archenemy, Alfred Rosenberg, who only had few comments (probably because he knew that it had already been accepted by Hitler).
A further delay came, because Goebbels wanted to launch a feature-film "Jud Süß" at the same time. The feature film should arouse anti-Semitic feelings, which then were to be "proven" by the so-called "documentary." The two films were also intended for different audience: Jew Süss for the general public - and Der ewige Jude for those, who were already anti-Semites or part of the Nazi establishment. Der ewige Jude should mobilize and legitimize. "Jud Süß" took, however, time to produce - and was finally finished in late August. It was then shown in Venice on September 6, 1940.
Two days later, Goebbels screened "Der ewige Jude" as part of an enlarged press conference. He talked about the need to make new and stronger war propaganda. The whole top-leadership of The Third Reich was present. However, there seems to have been a strong reaction against showing the ritual slaughter in public. After a week - he must have contacted Hitler, but there is no mention of this in his diary - he decided that the film should be shown in public cinemas, but in two versions. One without slaughtering for women and children during the afternoon - and the original one for men in the evenings.
Finally, on November 28, 1940, the film had its opening night. The Press had been asked to write big articles on the film on the political pages, not - as usual - on the film pages. Fritz Hippler gave an interview in the radio, where he concluded with Hitler's notorious prophecy, at the same time underlining, that the precondition for the fulfillment of the prophecy - the war - had occurred. And Hitler himself started to endorse this interpretation by referring to this prophecy from January 30, 1941 and later again and again.
On January 20, 1941, the SD wrote a report on the reception of the film. From this we learn, that the general population did not want to see it because of the "realistic presentation" of the Jews. The report also points to the fact that there had been oral propaganda against the film because of the slaughtering scenes. The audiences had primarily been political activists. From Goebbels' diary we know that he was pleased with the report, although it clearly indicated that only few had seen it. Goebbels knew well that effects depend on what kind of people you reach. And "Der ewige Jude" was intended for the future perpetrators - and also as a warning to the rest of the German population not to interfere with businesses of the state.
Goebbels believed so much in the effectiveness of the film, that it was obligatory for the Hitler Jugend at their Filmfeierstunden. During my different showings of the film in Germany I have met several who can remember it and tell about how and when they saw it. One came from the Sudetenland, where the whole village was forced to see both "Jud Süß" and "Der ewige Jude." He could not remember the year, but he could never forget the feeling he had, as he stepped out from the cinema and into spring with flowers, sun, humming bees, etc. It must have been Spring 1942. Other earlier members of the Hitler Jugend, however, swear that they never saw the film.
The film was also shown to the Wehrmacht and to the Einsatzgruppen. A Dane, who lived in Berlin until mid-1943, told me that he saw it in the early summer of that year in a cinema at Kurfürstendamm - apparently as ideological preparation to the deportation of the Berlin Jews.
Goebbels also had a Dutch and a French version produced - and in connection with the planned trial against Grynzpan as part of the cover-up around the Wannsee-Conference, he even produced an international version in German, where Hitler's prophecy had been cut out.
After the war it was forbidden to show in public, and the Allies took it back to their own country. But Kennedy, visiting Berlin, gave the rights back as a symbolic gesture: now the Federal Republic of Germany had become a well-functioning democracy and could also take care of this black chapter of its history. The rights are now with the Federal Archives, which has transferred the users' right to a state-owned company, Transit-Film in Munich. It still belongs to the so-called Forbidden Films - and television companies are only allowed to use up to 3 minutes of the film (and are of course obliged to pay around 30 Deutschmarks per meter of 35 mm film).
The rights for the universities has been transferred to the Institute for the Scientific Film in Göttingen, which rents out the film to university teachers. Apart from this one can get a dispensation, if the arrangement is a closed one and part of the "political education" - and if the speaker is recognized as an expert in this field.
And yet, it is easy to obtain the film on video, if one wants to have it. Since the mid-70s it has been available from neo-Nazi postal boxes. And it can be bought openly from a company in Chicago, called
For many reasons I consider "Der ewige Jude" on the whole as no less than one of the most important sources on the history of the 20th century. I am therefore doing my best to make the film - or at least part of it - available for teaching history. The Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung has bought a special edition of the source-critical book and distributed it along its normal lines. Next year there will be a conference about "Enemy pictures" arranged by the Bundeszentrale as well as the German Association of Teachers in History, based on "Der ewige Jude" and my didactical experiences of using the film to teach not only Nazism and the Holocaust, but also ethics and the impact of media-produced reality.
The discussion after Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" has once more demonstrated the public need for understanding how it could happen - how ordinary citizens like you and me could participate in genocide. The support among ordinary Germans today for Goldhagen's thesis also demonstrates the need for historians to communicate with the public on the communicative conditions of the audience. One is the reasons for his commercial success is that the book is written in a very personal and dedicated way. As historians we have to compete with a lot of other things in order to have the attention of our audience at all.
This is perhaps my main argument for a more active use of the film "Der ewige Jude" which 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?
"Der ewige Jude" is probably the most efficient propaganda film ever made. It has also become the blueprint for other ruthless propaganda makers in their way of motivating ordinary citizen to genocidal behaviour. Therefore I would close my papers with an offer to you of establishing some kind of cooperation in order to find the best way to use this knowledge as one little step in the struggle for a more human and humanistic world.
Thank you very much for your attention!
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Last modified: September 10, 1998