In the antisemitic worldview of the Deutschvölkischer Schutz-und Trutz-Bund [German Nationalist Protection and Defiance Federation], bolshevism, materialism, and financial capitalism were all considered instruments of Jewish world dominance employed in order to brutally fight and oppress Christians and other non-Jews. Various traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes such as vengefulness, greed, bloodthirstiness, fraud, deception, manipulation, homelessness, brutality or terms like “Juda” became signal words within the contemporary context. Several verbal stereotypes, sometimes combined with visual stereotypes such as the hook-nosed Jew, the Eastern Jew, fat, cigar smoking capitalist types or Jewish leftist intellectuals wearing metal-rimmed glasses, reinforced their extreme message: Jews were dangerous enemies of Germany and all humanity.
Antisemitic leaders often made use of well-known key witnesses in order to defame Jews and caution against them. The poster stamp reading “Luther says about the Jews” is one such example. It stems from a series which included not only known antisemites such as Paul de Lagarde, Eugen Dühring, Richard Wagner, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, but also Napoléon I, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and the enlightenment philosopher Voltaire in order to legitimize its antisemitic statements. The aggressive text passage about the supposedly “bloodthirsty and vengeful people” of the Jews murdering Gentiles is taken from the pamphlet “On the Jews and Their Lies” (1543) written during Luther’s late anti-Jewish period. Traditional, rancorous anti-Jewish stereotypes like their supposed bloodthirstiness and vengefulness are emphasized both by bolding the passage and using superlatives. These were the reasons why Jews were a threat to humanity. Luther, the founder of Protestantism and German church reformer, was idolized by the national-Protestant milieu of the 19th and 20th century. This text passage was selected with both his great popularity and his evident anti-Jewish attitude in mind. The quote is then combined with radical, antisemitic ideological interpretations of the democratic November Revolution and the communist revolts during the first phase of the Weimar Republic: “Bolshevism is the Juda’s revenge against the Christians.”
The poster stamp which reads “a fortune of 60 billion...” features a common accusation against the supposed globally dominant power of Jewish capital as personified by the Rothschild banking family and more generally by the major banks headed by Jews. The Federation’s criticism of capitalism did not focus on the actual issues of industrial capitalism, but merely on the allegedly fraudulent, Jewish-run area of international financial capital. The fight against it represented one of the major topics of agitation among the nationalist movement in the Weimar Republic, including the rising National Socialist party. According to it, the SPD, the workers’ party governing since the November Revolution of 1918, spared the banking system from nationalization because the SPD—thus the latent message—was a pro-Jewish party which counted many Jews among its ranks. “Jewish capital” in Germany and the world over allegedly ran the new republic and its political representatives. In terms of its target audience, this accusation was aimed at creating a division among SPD voters by opening the workers’ eyes to the SPD leadership’s pro-Jewish policy and arguing that preventing the nationalization of these banks was not in the interest of its voters. Social Democrats, however, had been among those demanding their nationalization. The poster stamp was affixed to an envelope, thus professing the sender’s antisemitic intention and attempting to reach both addressee and mail carrier.
The red poster stamp headed “Jews and agents of Jewry [Judentzer ]” “Judentzer” was a term taken from Medieval anti-Semitic texts calls on voters to not elect Jews and those friendly towards Jews to the Reichstag. The message thus refers to the radical antisemitic idea that Germany had been run by Jews and their followers since the establishment of the republic in 1918/19. In the run-up to the pivotal parliamentary elections of June 1920, the Federation clearly advocated against supporting allegedly Jewish-oriented, democratic and left-wing parties, i.e. the SPD, DDP, and KPD. At the same time, it endorsed the anti-republican, nationalist, and antisemitic DNVP. This party was the main winner of the 1920 elections while the republican camp (SPD, DDP and the Zentrum party) lost the clear majority it had won in the 1919 elections.
The blue poster stamp stating “The enemy is in the country: The Jew” represents a particularly militant and effective medium in both design and content. Its core message, “The Jew,” is emphasized by a larger font size and reduced to an abbreviated statement. Its typographical design ensures immediate notice and guaranteed attention. Its contents evoke the nationalist dichotomy of the German nation versus Judaism: The international enemy, the conspiratorial Jew, was located in Germany and sought to destroy and annihilate it. The militant polemical term “The Jew,” a common synecdoche used repeatedly by radical antisemites such as Theodor Fritsch, Alfred Roth, Joseph Goebbels, and Adolf Hitler, is chosen for dramatic effect. It meant the most extreme defamation of Judaism, since this kind of de-personalization of a social group denied the Jews all humanness and individuality. Thus this term implicitly transports a subliminal message: All defensive measures are justified against an enemy so dangerous and conspiratorial doing its destructive work in Germany.
The themes and contents of most of the poster stamps revolved around the central message of a “Jewish regime” allegedly established in Germany during the November Revolution of 1918. It had supposedly forged an alliance with the “Jewish-infiltrated” [verjudeten] enemies among the Western Allies, the world of international financial capital, and Jewish Bolshevism. Their main goal was Germany’s enslavement and destruction en route to Jewish world domination. In the antisemites’ view of history, Jewry and its international activities were responsible for the outbreak of war in 1914 as well as for the German defeat. This is reminiscent of the stab-in-the-back myth. According to it, the stab in the back executed by the “Jewish-infiltrated” parties (Social Democrats and Democrats) and governments, which had led to Germany’s defeat and its surrender to their Jewish-led enemies, was the “diabolic work” of international Jews at home and abroad. Political, economic, and cultural signs of crisis were focused in the idea of one main enemy. Now the antisemitic movement’s task was to expose and defeat the main culprits by means of an unprecedented propaganda campaign, because many Germans would not see through this alleged Jewish power grab and manipulation. In Imperial Germany, antisemites usually projected negative phenomena onto the Jews, and now the Jews were held responsible for the revolutions in Russia and Germany, inflation and poverty, capitalist exploitation, the immigration of eastern Jews, Social Democracy, the Versailles Treaty and international conventions, treaties, and reparations. In the historical context of the turmoil of war and the geographical and political reorganization of Europe after 1918, and considering the immense popularity of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the antisemitic worldview increasingly showed the delusional symptoms of a great Jewish global conspiracy whose main target was Germany, as “the enemy” was “in the country”. This kind of agitation explained the ideologically constructed yearning for power and violence as well as the Jews’ greed by their belonging to the allegedly “inferior yet dangerous Jewish race” and by the Jews’ stubborn adherence to their traditional scripture, particularly the Talmud and the Old Testament, as the stamp featuring the Luther quote alleges, for example. Antisemitic conspiracy theories thus integrated the classic stereotypes of religiously motivated antisemitism into its delusional worldview.
The poster stamps printed by the Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund were distributed in the millions and thus became a popular means of mass communication in the political campaign against Judaism. In a classic reversal of perpetrator and victim, the militant agitation against Jewish dominance was styled as justified self-defense and rationalized as a just defensive maneuver to protect German interests and survival, thus making it ideological. In order to suggest credibility, these texts named Jewish examples and referred to famous Germans such as Martin Luther or Ferdinand Lassalle in the hope of reaching large segments of the middle and working classes.
In visual terms, the poster stamps’ radical messages were supported by modern design elements to attract the attention of a wide audience. First of all, they used vibrant colors. The second visual feature was the formatting of the text, including bold letters for headlines and words of particular signaling significance: “Luther says...,” “60 billion,” “Jews and agents of Jewry,” or the generalization “the Jew.” Thirdly, on a number of these poster stamps, the message was reduced to minimalist shibboleths and slogans urging action: “Don’t read books by Jews!”, “Don’t buy from Jews!” or “Jews, get out!”
This up-to-date, inexpensive, and quickly produced means of mass communication with a modern look turned radical antisemitism into an easily consumed carrier of information made up of shibboleths and slogans, which could potentially reach everyone on the street and in public institutions, even if poster stamps were short-lived since they were often removed or pasted over. Due to its use of a new everyday mass medium, this kind of militant agitation was no longer limited to the classic national readership and parts of the educated, cultured bourgeoisie [Bildungsbürgertum]. The visually modern poster stamps, flyers, and small handbills featuring rancorous slogans and ridiculing caricatures reached a far larger segment of the population than similar propaganda did in Imperial Germany. They represented an ideal medium for spreading radical antisemitism among several demographic groups harboring latent antisemitic sentiment rather than deeply held antisemitic convictions since they formally accommodated the recipient’s desire for convenience. In terms of content, they addressed everyday experiences or economic and political issues, leading to antisemitic generalizations by means of simplifying and distorted modes of explanation and lies. This propagandistic occupation of the public space in the form of millions of poster stamps pasted and flyers and handbills distributed was unprecedented and significantly increased antisemitism in German society.
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Martin Ulmer, Dr. rer. soc., cultural scientist and historian, managing director of the Association for Memorials in Gäu-Neckar-Alb and teaches at the University Tübingen. His research interests are: research on antisemitism, National Socialism, Jewish history and the culture of memory.
Martin Ulmer, “The Enemy is in the Country: The Jew.” Poster Stamps Printed by the Deutschvölkischen Schutz- und Trutz-Bundes [German Nationalist Protection and Defiance Federation] (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-112.en.v1> [July 25, 2017].