The Role of "Produced Reality" in the Decision-Making Process Which Led to the Holocaust

Oral presentation of paper given at the conference "Genocide and the Modern World," Association of Genocide Scholars, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, June 11-13, 1997

Stig Hornshøj-Møller, Copenhagen, Denmark


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me first of all to express my gratitude to the Conference Committee for giving me a special session at this conference. To present more than 25 years of research within twenty minutes is an almost impossible task - especially as I may have arrived at some rather controversial conclusions.

However, I do hope to be able to clarify some of my main arguments for a new interpretation of the decision-making process which led to the Holocaust.

You will know from the summary, that I have used two different approaches: A source-critical/semiotic one - and a psychological one. Due to the limited amount of time I will concentrate on the first one, because it contains my key methodological argument: The importance of visual perception in the decision-making process.

That means that 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.

Film historians have always interpreted this film as a deliberate call for the Holocaust. To quote Erwin Leiser, it should "turn brave citizens into willing mass-murderers." Such an evaluation is, however, seemingly encumbered with one big problem - chronology. "Der ewige Jude" was produced in 1940, whereas most historians today regard 1941
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as the decisive year.

When I started my research in 1970, I intended to show that Leiser's conclusions were based on hindsight. I wanted to demonstrate that a proper source-critical analysis of the film, its production and distribution history would demonstrate a total lack of evidence in support of this claim.

However, I was proved utterly wrong. I have only found evidence that supported the notion of the film as a deliberate call for genocide.

The sources for the production history of "Der ewige Jude" reveal that the final version was a joint product by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.

The "Führer" followed the production of the film very closely, gave ideas and ordered several recuts. The main responsibility for the film, however, definitely lies with Joseph Goebbels.

After having approved a news-reel with a major issue on Polish Jewry on October 4, 1939, Goebbels initiated the production of a propaganda film, which should look like reality. The very next day, he outlined the concept to two prominent members of his staff.

The script was developed by Dr. Eberhard Taubert, Head of anti-bolshevik and anti-semitic activities, while Dr. Fritz Hippler, Head of the Film Department, was sent to Poland to film Orthodox Jewry in the ghetto of Lodz.

In the evening of October 16, 1939, Hippler presented about 30 minutes of rushes, showing alleged Jewish ritual slaughter of cows, calves and sheeps to Goebbels. Although Goebbels himself had ordered these recordings to be cruelty to animals, he was nevertheless deeply shocked at what he saw.

He wrote in his diary the next morning:

Scenes so horrific and brutal in their explicitness that one's blood runs cold. One shudders at such barbarism. This Jewry must be annihilated.

Goebbels showed these rushes to Hitler and others present at Hitler's dinner table on October 28, 1939. According to his diary they were all "deeply shocked." And in estimating the effect on Hitler one should not forget his attitude towards animals: he was a lover of animals and almost religiously vegetarian.

To Adolf Hitler these scenes - and later the whole film, in which they were used as the emotional climax - can only have reinforced his paranoid anti-Semitism and his latent wish to exterminate the Jews.

On October 31, 1939, Goebbels personally went to Lodz to see for himself. He summarized his impressions in his diary:

They are no longer human beings, but animals. It is, therefore, also no humanitarian task, but a task for the surgeon. One has got to cut here and that most radically. Or Europe will vanish one day due to the Jewish disease.

According to his diary, Goebbels was explicitly confirmed in this opinion by Hitler, when he reported on his visit to Poland on November 2, 1939:

Above all my description of the Jewish problem finds his (i.e. Hitler's) total approval. The Jew is garbage. Rather a clinical than a social matter.

It certainly became the task of "Der ewige Jude" to "prove" this exterministic view upon Jewry to all those Germans who did not as yet share these sentiments.

During the following weeks and months entries in Goebbels' diary document how intensely he worked on this film, and how important both he and Hitler considered it to be. Thus, in his diary on November 19, 1939:

I inform the Führer about our Jew film. He gives some ideas for it. On the whole, film is a very valuable propaganda medium for us just now.

It should be noted that both Goebbels and Hitler regarded themselves as experts on film propaganda. On December 11, 1939, the "Führer"
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in a fit criticized Goebbels for bad film making and for not having made proper anti-Semitic films. The final version of "Der ewige Jude" is therefore also to be seen as Goebbels' answer to this rebuke.

The first cut of January 8, 1940, contained only "Jewish" scenes (including a vivid juxtaposition of Jews and swarms of rats). It climaxed with the explicit bloody slaughter scenes.

Hitler, however, turned this version down on January 11, 1940.

In the subsequent versions a re-cut quotation of Hitler's notorious speech of January 30, 1939 was added. It was presented as the Führer's own, public "prophecy" of the future fate of the Jews after one hour of allegedly true "documentation" of how they had destroyed German society and culture.

The quotation that "if a war should start, the consequence would be 'the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe'" was thus "hammered" into Hitler's own mind by constant repetition, as he viewed Goebbels' progressive versions. It became the "prophecy," to which the "Führer" would return again and again.

A protocol of a test screening before top propagandists from all branches of the Third Reich on March 1, 1940, shows, how "Der ewige Jude" was tested the way commercials are tested today before shown on television. The side-purpose of this screening was to further radicalize the mentality of the opinion-makers of the German society by means of the slaughter scenes.

According to the rolling titles at the beginning of the final version, "Der ewige Jude" was a "film document" which "shows us Jews the way they really are, before they conceal themselves behind the mask of the civilized European." By means of seeing for themselves the German people would here at last "comprehend the truth of Jewry."

According to the commentary to the slaughter scenes - read by the authoritative speaker of the UFA Newsreels - "these pictures prove the cruelty of this form of slaughter. It reveals the character of a race which conceals its brutality beneath the cloak of pious religious practices."

And the film concluded: "The eternal law of nature, to keep one's race pure, is the legacy which the National Socialist movement bequeaths to the German people forever. It is with this resolve that the unified German people march on to the future."

By means of a shot-to-shot analysis of the film, I have been able to expose its cynical lies and manipulations. This analysis demonstrates, how "Der ewige Jude" was embedded in the traditions of anti-Semitic propaganda.

Anyone who has participated actively in film or TV production, will know how difficult it is to produce or reproduce exactly the message, that one wants to communicate. And yet, a frame-to-frame analysis of
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"Der ewige Jude" proves how meticulously the message of this film was constructed down to the very last detail.

The scrutiny with which the research was carried out also indicates that the makers themselves considered the film to be "scientific." Or at least their research in the so-called "Institut zum Studium der Judenfrage" enabled them to make themselves believe that the film was a true representation of reality.

Therefore, as the production advanced Goebbels must have put Hitler under psychological pressure for making a move - as the self-imposed "Saviour" of the German people - by means of the screenings of the film, which were Hitler's only concrete confrontations with Jews after the campaign in Poland.

When the "Führer" finally approved the film on May 20, 1940, it must have - as a visualized and structured externalisation of his own, more vague thinking - become identical with his own "social construction of reality."

As a means of social communication the climax of this film can only be understood as the "Führer"'s unspoken, yet incontrovertible Sentence of Death upon the Jews. Or to use the conceptual notion of Robert Jay Lifton: When Hitler approved the film, he crossed the "Threshold of Genocide."

In order to evaluate when, how and why the "Führer" took the ultimate decision and invested Heinrich Himmler with the responsibility for the planning and execution of the Holocaust, we have to look into the personal psychology of Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler certainly was a psychopath, but even psychopaths are human beings, who act according to their individual "social construction of reality." A comprehensive analysis of decisions, that actually were taken personally by Hitler, demonstrates the methodological need to distinguish between two separate aspects:

a) The reasons behind a decision, which in this case would be as visualized in "Der ewige Jude."

b) The exact moment, when Hitler took a decision - because it has become clear to me, how much his actual decision-making was emotionally influenced by what he had just experienced.

As briefly argued in my summary, this analysis has led me to conclude that his pattern of behaviour as a politician can be explained by modern theories on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In my view, Hitler's behaviour during the Campaign in France in May and June 1940 can be characterized as "ritual acts of obsession." He was clearly more interested in visiting the battlefields of World War 1 than in the ongoing World War 2.

His visits can be seen as symbolic "revocations" of both his personal war trauma as well as of the war trauma of Germany. Here he - in his own mind - again and again received "confirmations" of the "mission," that he believed "Providence" had invested him with in Pasewalk on November 10, 1918, when he became blind for the second time and decided to become a politician.

Of course, we cannot know exactly what went on in Hitler's mind when he visited Langemarck, Wervicq, Compiegne, Soissons or Paris. We can only try to reconstruct his feelings from what he did and said afterwards - and compare these deductions with an over-all picture of his psychology and pattern of behaviour.

For a number of reasons - some of them are very briefly presented in my summary - this analysis has made me suggest a very precise chronology with three key moments:

a) Hitler's final approval of "Der ewige Jude" on May 20, 1940, as the moment, which provoked the Holocaust decision.

b) Hitler's visit to Wervicq on June 1, 1940, as the moment, where he took the Holocaust decision.

c) The official capitulation of France on June 22, 1940, as the moment, where he invested Himmler with the responsibility for carrying out the genocide.

I am well aware of the fact that this chronology seems to be in severe conflict with the explanatory frame-works which have evolved from many years of intense scholarly debate on the issue.

The debate between "intentionalists" and "functionalists" has largely been based on written evidence. An over-all explanation must, however, also be able to account for all kinds of available evidence, including non-written sources like "Der ewige Jude," which until today has hardly been included in this debate.

As I see it, the explanation suggested here integrates both "intentionalist" and "functionalist" arguments. The main difference from most other approaches and explanations is to be found in my shift of focus. I am from arguing from an analysis of the process of creating and developing a genocidal mentality instead of arguing from the development of the executive system that carried out the mass-murder:

By means of "produced reality" Goebbels intended to make Hitler take
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the ultimate decision to get rid of the Jews - and Hitler primarily used a "functionalist" strategy to have his decision carried out by willing executioners and accepted by the by-standers.

The explanatory model behind my point-of-view is a still more impatient Führer, a Heinrich Himmler, who remains reluctant as much as he could and as long as he dared - and an eager subordinate, Reinhard Heydrich, who became the real architect behind the "Final Solution."

A test of the validity of my explanation would be my date of Hitler's order to Himmler on June 22, 1940. I have tried to find conclusive evidence to refute this early date. But to me, it seems, that all written sources which have been used as arguments for a later date can just as well be interpreted as evidence for the "twisted road of implementation."

In fact, there is even one - although highly disputed - source in support of the chronology suggested here. Himmler's masseur, Felix Kersten, relates, that Himmler got the order from Hitler "immediately after the capitulation of France" - and that Himmler explicitly blamed Goebbels as the person who had made Hitler take the decision.

As I see it, this testimony matches exactly my conclusions concerning the role of Goebbels, who used "Der ewige Jude" as his means to make Hitler take the ultimate decision.

"Der ewige Jude" was, however, not released immediately to the public. It awaited the final cut of the feature film "Jew Süss," which also was part of the anti-Semitic propaganda package.

The emotions created by this film were then to be "proven" by the power of the visuals in the other, "authentic film-document." While "Jew Süss" had its opening night during the film festival of Venice on September 6, 1940, "Der ewige Jude" was shown to the top people of the Third Reich and members of the press two days later. On this occasion Goebbels used the film as a concrete demonstration of the new kind of war propaganda, which should impress the coming radicalization of the war upon German society.

When "Der ewige Jude" finally had its opening night on November 28, 1940, the director of the film - Fritz Hippler - stressed the fact that the film was to be seen as the verification of Hitler's "prophecy" from 1939. In an interview, broadcasted all over Germany, Hippler ended by quoting this prophecy after having pointed out that the premise - the war - had become reality.

On January 30, 1941 (i.e. just after "Der ewige Jude" had been shown all over Germany) Hitler once more reminded his audience in a broadcasted speech, how he had always been right in his earlier "prophecies." Then for the first time since 1939 - but many more similar, almost verbatim quotations were to follow - he recalled his "prophecy" of the annihilation of the Jews.

In doing so, the "Führer" virtually gave his oral, public affirmation to the call for genocide expressed and legitimized in the film, "Der ewige Jude." Especially as he now claimed to have made the "prophecy" at the very outbreak of the war. And the pictures from Der ewige Jude were the dreadful images of the "inhumanity" of the Jews that the members of the "Master Race" were expected to recall when they heard these speeches - thus leaving it up to them to implement the "prophecy."

By using this subtle way of conveying his Will as a distant "Führer-God," Hitler followed the strategy, he himself had outlined on November 10, 1938 (the 20th Anniversary of his traumatic experience in Pasewalk), while commenting upon the Pogrom the night before. Now issues of foreign policy - which in Hitler's mind would also include the "Jewish Question":

should be presented in such a way that the conviction would gradually and totally automatically evolve in the minds of the broad masses. What one cannot solve benignly, one has to solve with violence because it cannot go on like that.

Joseph Goebbels was present that night. And - as I hope to have demonstrated to you - there is no doubt in my mind, that he was the one, who lit the flames of the Holocaust by means of the "produced reality" of "Der ewige Jude."

I thank you very much for your attention!