Authors: David Aaronovitch
Tags: #Historiography, #Conspiracies - History, #Social Science, #Popular Culture, #Conspiracy Theories, #General, #Civilization, #World, #Conspiracies, #.verified, #History
All journals published by us will be of the most opposite in appearance, tendencies and opinions, thereby creating confidence in us and bringing over to us our quite unsuspicious opponents, who will thus fall into our trap and be rendered harmless . . . All our newspapers will be of all possible complexions—aristocratic, republican, revolutionary, even anarchical . . . Like the Indian pagan god Vishnu, they will have one hundred hands and in each shall beat the pulse of a different intellectual tendency.
There is also a call, not made even by the most liberal Swedish or Dutch party today, for more pornography. “Senseless, filthy, abominable literature” should be disseminated by the conspirators, so as “to provide a telling relief by contrast to the speeches and party programs, which will be distributed from exalted quarters of ours.” So the pill of seriousness will be sweetened by the honey of smut, a kind of infernal Reithianism.
But if the
were indeed born out of a meeting or a series of lectures, who exactly delivered them, when, and where? The German editor of the edition in circulation in 1919 was one Gottfried zur Beek—the pen name of a seventy-year-old former army officer, Captain Ludwig Müller von Hausen, who had dedicated the work “To the Princes of Europe.” In the introduction to his edition, zur Beek explains how he came by the text. History records that in August 1897, in the Swiss city of Basel, the First Zionist Congress was held. What wasn’t recorded, he says, was that alongside the official plenaries, which were open to all and which discussed the question of a homeland for the dispersed Jewish people, there were twenty-four secret sessions. At these sessions, Dr. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, presided, and it was he who delivered the
—a distillation of the wisdom of ages—much as Moses delivered the Commandments.
Of course, the very last thing that such a clandestine meeting would have wanted was the publication of a record of its deliberations. Unfortunately, some men have a price. After the congress finished, an emissary of the elders, en route to God knows where, took a manuscript of the lectures to a Masonic lodge in Frankfurt am Main. Waiting at the lodge was an agent of the Russian secret police and a crack team of transcribers. In return for payment, the emissary gave the agent one night to copy the
in their original language, presumably Hebrew. In the morning, he collected his sensational cargo and disappeared from history. The copied manuscript itself was taken back to Russia, where it was recopied and given to scholars for translation and study.
For some reason—and oddly, given the extraordinary contents of the manuscript—this process took an inordinate amount of time. It was only in 1905, according to zur Beek, that a certain Sergei Nilus, described as a scholar from Moscow, published a book,
The Great in the Small
, that consisted mostly of the views of a pious Orthodox conservative on the imminence of the coming of the Antichrist. The
were to be found as one of its appendices. As the book went through subsequent editions in 1911, 1912, and 1917, the protocols became more prominent. Zur Beek’s book claimed to be based on the 1911 Nilus edition, brought to Germany after the Russian Revolution by anti-Bolshevik exiles.
One reason for the slow burn before the book came to widespread attention might be that it wasn’t until after the Russian Revolution that it could be seen as prophetic. Nilus himself, though, had always understood the connection between the writings and real life. In the introduction to the 1911 edition, he anticipated: “The educated non-Jewish reader will see in his daily life and in the lightning-like events that have struck Russia and all of Europe a fullness of evidence for the authenticity of the
.” By 1919, he was right. Zur Beek’s edition was followed by the publication of a Polish version in Warsaw, three French translations, an English version, three separate publications in America, and more in Scandinavia, Italy, and Japan. In 1925, following the publication of an Arabic version, the Latin patriarch in Jerusalem praised the work and called upon Christians to buy it.
What had been discovered appeared to be, in the words of the American academic Richard S. Levy, who has made a study of the
, “the veritable Rosetta Stone of history.”
It suddenly explained everything.
The Protocols on the Move
Nowhere had they been more anxious for that explanation than in Germany. Within weeks of zur Beek’s publication, the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion
was circulating in the highest echelons of the old Reich. Prince Otto zu Salm-Horstmar, who in July 1918 had already called attention to the links between the Jews and the Freemasons in the German parliament, was an influential sponsor, as was the chairman of the Conservative Party in the Prussian upper house, Count Behr. Prince Joachim Albrecht of Prussia, youngest son of the abdicated kaiser, would strew the restaurants and luxury hotels that he visited with copies of zur Beek’s book. And when Lady Norah Bentinck visited Wilhelm II in exile in Doorn in the Netherlands, she found the former emperor recommending it to his guests and reading individual chapters out loud after dinner.
It must have been a relief to the kaiser to discover that, contrary to Allied propaganda, it was not he who had started the First World War but somebody else.
If Wilhelm had reasons for wanting the blame shifted, the same could hardly be said of General Ludendorff, widely trusted in Germany and seen as one of its finest and most intelligent generals. Yet when Ludendorff—who had emerged from a lost war with his reputation enhanced—was shown the
, he too leaped upon the exculpatory opportunity. “Several publications have recently appeared which throw more light on the position of the Jewish people,” he wrote. When these documents had been studied properly, he predicted, “One suspects that, in many instances, we shall arrive at another version of world history.”
Among young Germans, the text had a receptive audience. To them it was doubly believable because it fitted with what other people were saying and what they were already inclined to think. The year 1919 had also seen the publication of Friedrich Wichtl’s book
The World War, World Freemasonry, World Revolution
, which similarly advanced the notion that Jews and Freemasons had brought about the disastrous conflict. This book, a nineteen-year-old boy wrote in his diary, explained “all and tells us against whom we must fight.”
The young man was Heinrich Himmler.
But even in the countries that had—officially, at least—won the war, the
were not dismissed. Serious newspapers cogitated on the meaning of the revelations. In France,
analyzed the content of the book as it would any other serious publication. In Italy, the Milan newspaper
and the Roman
did the same.
What seems most surprising now, however, was what happened in Britain. In 1920, the first English edition of the
was published, a private commission from Eyre and Spottiswoode, who bore the distinction (and the imprint) of being His Majesty’s Printers. The British version was called
The Jewish Peril
and was soon being reviewed in some of Britain’s most prestigious journals. On May 8,
, newspaper of the Establishment, published an editorial, quite possibly the work of its celebrated editor Mr. Henry Wickham Steed. This leading article was titled “A Disturbing Pamphlet: A Call for Inquiry.” Its tone was urgent. “What are these
?” it asked. “Are they authentic? If so, what malevolent assembly concocted these plans and gloated over their exposition?”
asked, and seemed to answer, the key question. “Are they a forgery? If so whence comes the uncanny note of prophecy, prophecy in parts fulfilled, in parts far gone in the way of fulfillment?” Then the peroration. “Have we,”
demanded, “been struggling these tragic years to blow up and extirpate the secret organization of German world dominion only to find beneath it another, more dangerous because more secret? Have we, by straining every fiber of our national body, escaped a ‘Pax Germanica’ only to fall into a ‘Pax Judaeica’?”
A week later, it was the turn of the
magazine. The edition of May 15 contained a long and respectful review of
The Jewish Peril
, accompanied by an editorial. The
were described as being “of very great ability . . . brilliant in moral perversity and intellectual depravity . . . One of the most remarkable productions of their kind.”
were rapidly inundated by letters from horrified Jewish readers, an occurrence that for those who read the
and believed them merely acted as corroboration.
Worse was to come. The Tory
commenced a series of twenty-three long leading articles backing the
, and bound them together in another pamphlet, which was sold under the title of
The Cause of World Unrest.
Here was revealed how “a formidable sect” had brought about the First World War by manipulating the Germans, with the ultimate objective being “the destruction of Christianity and all religion except the Jewish.” The
was doubtless influenced in this by its employee and former correspondent in Russia, Victor Marsden.
In the autumn, the
for its stance. “The evidence that the paper brings to support its plea of conspiracy is clearly of enough substance and enough importance to justify its action,” argued the magazine. “We most sincerely wish that some body of the nature of a Royal Commission could be appointed to inquire into the whole subject.”
One wonders now what such a royal commission would have been called, but the
was in no doubt as to what ought to happen if such a body were to find the case against the Jews proved. In that situation, it demanded, “We must drag the conspirators into the open, tear off their ugly masks and show the world how ridiculous as well as how evil and dangerous are such pests of society.”
, unwilling to wait, advocated that Jews be excluded from public office and influence.
crossed the Atlantic. In October 1919, they were published in the
Philadelphia Public Ledger
but with the Jewish references omitted. Soon afterward, an editorial in the
Christian Science Monitor
to world events and argued, “It could be a tremendous mistake to conclude that the Jewish peril . . . does not exist . . . That a secret political organization exists, working unremittingly . . . is, to the man who can read the signs of the times, a thing unquestionable.” On June 19, 1920, the
carried an article headlined “Trotsky Leads Jew-Radicals to World Rule. Bolshevism Only a Tool for His Scheme.” There was, the author claimed, a world revolutionary movement, part of which aimed “for the establishment of a new racial domination of the world. So far as the British, French and our own department’s inquiry have been able to trace, the moving spirits in this second scheme are Jewish radicals.”
Ford and the Protocols
The man who more than any other popularized the
in America—and, as a result, abroad—was the industrialist Henry Ford. The Flivver King was the Bill Gates of his day. He had taken a modern product that few could afford and many wanted—the motor car—and turned it from a luxury into an everyday household item. He had liberated millions of Americans in that vast land from dependence on irregular public transport or horse-drawn conveyances. He had grown his business from a small workshop into one of the largest and most truly industrial in the whole of America.
However, the successful capitalist also had a social conscience and a political and social philosophy. Ford was one of those enlightened bosses who believed that screwing as much work for as little pay as possible out of your workforce was counterproductive. It was better to hire good folks and keep them happy, and to that end the Ford Company’s Sociological Department employed fifty people to vet new employees. Those who were sober and didn’t take in boarders (considered inimical to family life) were eligible for substantial bonuses. One irony of Ford’s political philosophy was that despite its emphasis on traditional American values, his industrial techniques—and the machine that they produced—were altering America forever.
Ford hated war, describing it as “murder, desolation and destruction.” From 1915, when America’s involvement in the First World War began to be discussed, Ford argued vehemently against it. Parasites and absentee owners, he told a press conference that summer, wanted to get involved in an unnecessary venture. “New York wants war,” he claimed, referring presumably to Wall Street. “The United States doesn’t.”
In the autumn of 1915, a woman antiwar activist met Ford at his Highland Park factory in Michigan. During the course of their meeting, Ford paused, slapped his breast pocket, and exclaimed, “I know who caused the war—the German-Jewish bankers! I have the evidence here! Facts!” It was a statement that he repeated at least once more during the discussion.