Those with a message have always been able to find a way to appeal to the masses. Either through influential speeches, works of literature or art, the people who want the power have and will always find a way to influence their fellow citizens. Propaganda had become the name of the game by World War Two and world leaders were experts at swaying the public knowledge and opinion. One rising leader in particular forever modernized the art of propaganda. By 1940, Hollywood had become increasingly popular, so it makes sense that the Hitler and the Nazi party would look towards film as the next medium for propaganda to capitalize. The 1940’s film “Der ewige Jude”, The Eternal Jew, is an eye-opening look into the world of Nazi propaganda.
Released in 1940, “The Eternal Jew” is an anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda film. As the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Germany, Joseph Goebbels oversaw the production of the film, while Fritz Hippler directed. A well-known voice actor of the time, Harry Giese, narrated the film. The phrase The Eternal Jew, also known as The Wandering Jew, has long been a part of Christian Mythology. It is said that a Jew taunted Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion, and so this Jew was cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming. To eternally wander. This prolonged life would seem appealing to some, however The Eternal Jew is cursed with always being a homeless fugitive. While the title may be “The Eternal Jew”, the film is not about the myth itself, but rather a documentary about the Jews as a terrible race. We see the unforgivable images of dirty Jews, hear of all the damage the Jews cause to German society, and learn about the swindling nature of the Jews. The myth of The Eternal Jew provides a platform for the makers of the 1940s propaganda film to deliver their anti-Semitic message. Already in the eyes of the German Christians, they viewed Jews as fugitive peoples. At 13:56, the narrator shows the audience the route of travel the Jews made across the Globe. A constant theme throughout the film is how the Jews tried to take over every new place they came to inhabit, however they did this without every truly working.
The Perpetual Sponger
When trying to show the less than worthy nature of the Jews, “The Eternal Jew” attacks the very way the Jews make their living. The noble way for a German to live is through good honest manual labor. To find joy and purpose in what they make. The Jews however, were “a people without farmers or workers; a race of parasites” (The Eternal Jew, 10:59). The film depicts the Jews participating in trading and bargaining, and the most vile of them all, usury. Usury is the act of making unethical or immoral loans. While our entire economic system today is built upon loans, to the 1940’s Germans, usury was an abhorrent act. To the audience, the Jews are seen as always taking advantage of the natives of their “host nation”. They were nothing more than parasites. Hippler then takes an interesting, but effective turn with his next depiction of the Jews. In continuation with the spread of the Jews across the world, the next logical step for the film was to compare the Jews to rats. “Wherever rats appear they bring ruin, they ravage human property and foodstuffs. In this way they spread disease”. (Giesen 2003, 138). Further propulsion of the comparison happened moments later when at 16:43 Hippler directly related rats and the Jews: “They represent the elements of sneakiness and subterranean destruction among animals. Just as the Jews do among mankind”. By comparing Jews to rats, the Germans are emphasizing the belief that the Jews are less than human; “Jews are what the Nazis called Untermenschen, undermen or subhumam specimens” (Giesen 2003, 138). It was important for Germans to make their audience believe the Jews were less than human. Author Adam Jones comments, “Wartime propaganda often dehumanizes the enemy, promoting fear and hatred” (Jones 2011, 83). Not only will dehumanization create fear and hatred towards the Jews, but Jones discuses the disconnect the Germans will now make with future harming of the Jews. By making the Jews subhuman, killing them would not be considered a terrible act as killing a fellow German would. With beliefs and lines such as those being told to the German public, it is no wonder they harbored ill will towards the Jews. It is important to note however, just where the German mindset was before the films debut.
A Broken History
With the defeat of World War One, the Germans needed someone to blame. Their scapegoat became the Jews. Anti-Semitism had been around for thousands of years before the Nazi’s modern attack on the Jews, making them an easy target. It was also after the First World War that the German economy took a downfall. At one point in the film, the wealth of the Germans is compared to that of the Jews: “The average income for a German was 810 marks. The average income for a Jew was 10,000 marks” (34:50). The film then goes on to describe the poverty and unemployment that befell the Germans. It was the immigrant Jews however that came out on top by “acquiring fantastic riches in a few years”. The Germans of course never saw these riches as being earned through hard work, but rather “through usury, swindling and fraud” (35:11). A persuading case against the rich Jews was by showing them as stealing the German money. The narrator names the Jews Sklarek, Kutisker and Barmat, each of which lightened, defrauded and cheated the Germans out of 12.5, 14 and 35 million marks, respectively. The Germans were a people desperate to come out on top, and they were determined to crush the Jews in their path.
The Broad Masses
The Germans continuous losing situation would have made the Germans a susceptible mass. This was an important detail in the success of the propaganda film. Fritz Hippler is quoted as saying “In comparison with the other arts, film has a particularly forceful and lasting psychological and propagandistic impact because of its effect not on the intellect, but principally o the emotions and the visual sense. [Film] does not aim to influence the views of an elite coterie of art experts. Rather it seeks to seize the attention of the broad masses. As a result, film can exercise an influence on society that is more enduring than that achieved by church or school or, for that matter, literature, the press or radio. Hence, for reasons that lie outside the realm of art, it would be negligent and reckless (and not in the interest of the arts themselves) for a responsible government to relinquish it’s leadership role in this important area” (Hoffman 1996, vi). The general masses are always an easier target and it as especially important to first target the youths. “The Eternal Jew” would have been shown as part of The Youth Film Hours. Hitler was decided in obtaining young Germans, specifically boys, and bringing them to the side of the Nazis. By showing “The Eternal Jew” in school Hitler would have been working towards “the crown of the folkish state’s entire work of education and training must be to burn the racial sense and racial feeling into the instinct and the intellect, the heart and brain of the young entrusted to it” (Hoffman 1996, 105). It is always important to every movement, to have people on your side. By having a Youth Film Hour and showing films such as “The Eterna Jew”. Hitler was determined that “no boy and no girl must leave school without having been led to an ultimate realization of the necessity and essence of blood purity” (Hoffman 1996, 105).
It’s not just the script
While the movie footage and narration attributed to the bulk of the propaganda, other elements were in play that added to the overall effect of the message. Below are multiple movie posters for the film, each depicting Jews in an unfavorable light.
In each of these posters the Jew is shown as an ugly, angry looking man. The Jews look dirty and unkempt; clearly in a way the well-mannered and civilized Germans would never present themselves. A common element when describing the Jews was how dirty they are. Whether in movie posters, or feature film as at 2:37 when a Jewish dwelling is shown to have flies covering the wall and narrators explains: “In plain language, Jewish dwellings are filthy and neglected”, everything about the Jew was unclean. In the third movie poster from above, the Jew is not only unclean but is also holding his hands out begging. This notion of begging would only go to strengthen the idea that the Jews were parasites, living off of the hard work of the Germans. Another interpretation of the money in the Jews outstretched hand comes from Jones, “the sinister looking male Jew is shown as addicted to lucre” (Jones 2011, 488). Lucre is defined as money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonorable way. The Jew is also holding a whip, which Jones describes as depicting the Jew as oppressive. Most interesting however is what appears to be a map piece with the communist hammer and sickle printed on it being held under the Jews arm. The communists were considered the most serious threat to the plans of the Nazis, and making the connection between the two created a strong selling point for the German public.
Another element of the film that would have been instrumental to the success of the message was the music. Music in film has always been used to let the audience know what they should be feeling. Even before actors could be heard on film, there was music helping to create the story. Franz R. Friedl used common Hollywood movie music elements when he scored “The Eternal Jew”. For the first seven minutes of the film, the music is dark and dreary. Images of Jews in the Polish ghettos are being shown, and the ominous music only helps encourage the audience to shun away from the images. The music reaches it’s climax right when the Jews are shown participating in their most vile of activities; haggling with one another over items they did not make. At 5:44, a woman is shown yelling at all those around her in the market place, and the soundtrack at this point in time can only be described as sinister. If music at this moment could make me feel like I was viewing something wrong, I can only imagine what the German audiences thought. Just as the music reaches it’s threatening climax, there is a change in message from the film. Suddenly we are looking at Aryan people actively working and benefiting society (8:30). When this scene change happens, so does the music. Now we can hear a brighter more uplifting sound, a sound of hope for a better future. These two dramatically different sounds remind me of the music played in a classic melodrama. Whenever the villain is shown, an evil anthem is played. Likewise, the hero is also always accompanied by a personal melody, something uplifting and inherently good. Along with the classic melodrama effect, Friedl used a famous song with an ominous identity. At 35:50, Bachs Toccata and Fugue in D minor is heard as the narrator explains, “Jews are most dangerous when permitted to meddle in a peoples culture”. This particular Bach Toccata and Fugue is famous for it’s use representing the evil character or situation, and I’m sure even in 1940 it would have had the same impact. While the music of the film is a small part, it is no surprise that Friedl borrowed these classic Hollywood effects to further influence the audience.
A Lesson Taught?
The question most on my mind when watching this horrible documentary “The Eternal Jew” was just how influential it was to the German understanding of the concentration camps. I was constantly offended by what I saw; however I was not predisposed to hate the Jews. Were the Germans who were disciplined to loathe the Jews seeing a message to commit acts of Genocide upon the Jews? One author, Hilmar Hoffman goes so far as to say films such as “The Eternal Jew” was a “diabolical work” that could only be made by “human scum”, and were “calculated to justify in advance the mass murder of the European Jews” (Hoffman 1996, 173). Is Hoffman correct in his assumption that films such as “The Eternal Jew” were ultimately conditioning the Germans to permit the genocidal concentration camps? While it is never specifically stated in the film that all Jews should be enslaved in such a manner, there are many clues as to just how the Nazi’s felt. From the very start of the film, the Jews are called “A plague that threatens the health of the Aryan people” (1:46). Constantly the audience is told how unworthy the Jews are and how they add nothing to the betterment of society. Then, towards the end of the film an overlying message seems to ring out. Footage of Hitler giving a speech in 1939 gives a solution for the Jews; “Jews will just have to get used to the idea of performing some respectable, constructive activity as other people do, or sooner or later they’ll face trouble they never dreamed of” (1:03:12). When the Jews were placed in the camps, they weren’t just sitting around doing nothing, but were forced to do manual labor. Sometimes even build a new concentration camp as seen in the picture below.
Here we see men working at the Neuengamme concentration camp digging for what will become either the camp itself or the factory. This was the kind of labor that according to the film, the Jews had never done. Was this the respectable constructive activity meant by “The Eternal Jew”? If the German people believed that the Jews had never worked an honest day in their life, then were these concentration camps merely the Jews getting what they deserved? It became all to clear at the end of just how easy it would be to blame the Jews for simply living life the way they do when the film continued with the clip of Hitler’s speech; “Should the international finance Jews inside and outside Europe push people into another world war, The result will not be victory of Jewry, but the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe” (1:03:21).
Through the combined effects of the movie; the script, visual imaging, and music, “The Eternal Jew” makes a clear case for how the Jews were presented to the Germans. Hippler perfects the propaganda message and we see how influential this film probably was in shaping the German mindset towards the Jews and the actions committed against them.
Further Glory <>
Giesen, Rolf Nazi Propaganda Films: A History and Filmography McFarland, 2003
Hoffman, Hilmar. The Triumph of Propaganda. Berghahan Books. Providence, RI, 1996
Images – Propaganda and the Public <http://www.germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org /sub_image.cfm?image_id=2331>
Jones, Adam. Genocide; A Comprehensive Introduction. Second edition. Routledge: New York, NY. 2011.
Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial <http://www1.uni-hamburg.de/rz3a035//neuengamme1.html>
Top Documentary Films < http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/eternal-jew/>
Vimeo < http://vimeo.com/45865250>