Nieland’s letter is a classic example for a text informed by conspiracy theory which, motivated by antisemitic rejection of any responsibility, denies or reinterprets the Holocaust. In it, he states that the German people, and all of humanity even, found itself in “terrible chaos” (p. 3) at the time. He identifies its creators as key advisors in world politics working anonymously. The only example he quotes is “the Jew Dr. “Salomon Friedlaender” (aka Mynona—which if read the “Jewish” way, i.e. from right to left, spells “anonym” [anonymous]), who “really was Hitler’s invisible puppet master” and whom he repeatedly refers to as a kind of “chief witness” for his hypotheses (p. 3). Nieland uses the name of philosopher and author Salomon Friedlaender, who published some of his literary works under the pseudonym “Mynona” in the first half of the 20th century and who died in exile in Paris in 1946. Like all conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers, Nieland argues that his claim was “not just hot air, it is the truth” (p. 3.) The German people, which had been “collectively convicted [...] as a “nation of war criminals”, had become the victim of an egregious lie “about the gassing and slaughter of six million Jews by Germans” (p. 3). Making reference to the circle around Mathilde Ludendorff and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Nieland turns out to be an early proponent of the hypothesis that the mass extermination was really organized by a secretly ruling clique of Jewish leaders as imagined in the “Elders of Zion.” He expressly names “the Zionist Dr. Kastner” and Adolf Eichmann, whom he claims to be of Jewish descent. In his mind, the “lie” he refers to is therefore “one of the most diabolic dirty tricks “International Jewry” has played in order to conceal its crimes against Germany” (p. 3). In the classic manner of conspiracy theorists, he cites supposed evidence, often taken from Jewish writings, for the “extermination maneuver” plotted by the conspiracy of “International Jewry” (p. 4). Thus Nieland, referring to Kabbalah, constructs anagrams by “deciphering” the word “National Socialist,” for example, as “O! Zionist à la Stalin” (p. 13). In his first letter written in 1952, Nieland had warned the Federal Chancellor against signing the reparations treaty with Israel by pointing out the “financing of Hitler by Jews from the USA” (p. 7), which is a reference to antisemitic conspiracy theories revolving around “the Jewish plutocrats of Wall Street.” He subsequently wrote letters of similar content to government ministers and members of parliament. The main section of this letter, which was addressed to Gerhard Schröder (CDU), then Minister of the Interior (pp. 9–37), is a confused compilation of completely absurd statements as well as quotations and caricatures clipped from various publications, all of which are meant to prove his thesis of an “International Jewish conspiracy” as the true masterminds behind Hitler and thus responsible for the Second World War, fascism, and the Holocaust. They had not only deceived the Germans, but also “the majority of the Jewish people” (p. 6). His letter closes with an address to the members of parliament, whom he intended to give some starting points in order to pursue their own investigations in this matter. He emphasizes the urgency of the matter since what was at stake was no less than “the survival of the white race!,” which was threatened by “Jewish designs on the world” (p. 38). Jewish high finance was about to realize its dictatorial intentions and to “openly dictate its laws to the world” (p. 39).
On April 4, 1957, a brief report on the confiscation of an antisemitic brochure had appeared in the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau. On the same day, Helmut Schmidt (SPD), then a member of parliament from Hamburg, addressed a question “regarding the brochure by a Mr. Friedrich Nieland from Hamburg-Wellingsbüttel” to the Minister of the Interior, who stated that the brochure was known to the Ministry of the Interior (BMI), that Hamburg’s criminal investigation department had confiscated it and that the public prosecutor’s office had instituted proceedings against Nieland for violation of §130 StGB [criminal code], a provision against “incitement to class struggle” dating back to 1871, as well as for other violations. In December 1957, the public prosecutor’s office charged Nieland and his printer Heimberg with anti-constitutional writings and libel against Jewish citizens. The district court rejected instituting main proceedings, however, and instead requested a psychiatric assessment, which attested that Nieland did “not suffer from a pathological mental condition.” Nevertheless, judge Enno Budde refused to hold a full trial against him. Despite a complaint by the Attorney General, the Hanseatic court of appeal confirmed the ruling by the trial court, which allowed Nieland to continue distributing his inflammatory pamphlet. When it became public that two courts had failed to charge Nieland and he was thus free from criminal prosecution, a scandal erupted in January 1959. The district court’s opinion, according to which Nieland’s call to fight “International Jewry” was not directed against “the Jewish people” so that a threat of subversion could not be determined with sufficient certainty, was considered particularly scandalous. For Hamburg’s mayor, Max Brauer (SPD), the matter no longer was the “Nieland case,” but “the Hamburg courts case.” During a press conference, both Brauer and Hamburg’s Senator for Justice distanced themselves from the court rulings and received broad public support. At the same time, Nieland went public in an interview with dpa, in which he denied being an antisemite and claimed he had wanted to help the persecuted Jewish people with his brochure, which was based on the findings of 30 years of private research.
Prompted by this new antisemitic incident, the Central Council of Jews in Germany Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland wrote a letter to Chancellor Adenauer (CDU) demanding immediate legal measures. Thus the “Nieland case” eventually became the catalyst which led to the government presenting parliament with a draft law against incitement of the people, which is why the press called it “Lex Nieland.” This reform, which also considered National Socialism’s previous impact on the law, was designed to replace the old provision of 1871, which penalized actions that “incite different classes of the population to violent actions against one another in a way that jeopardizes the public peace.” The subsequent public debate mainly focused on two issues: fighting reawakened antisemitism and the crisis of the justice system. On January 14, 1959, a “great debate on Justice” [große Justizdebatte] drawing a large audience was held in Hamburg’s city assembly, which lamented the court decisions and requested that the senate take steps to prompt the federal government in Bonn to amend existing legislation. The focus of the case increasingly shifted towards a criticism of specific individuals within the justice system and eventually became the “Budde case” since it had now become known that the judge had praised the Third Reich’s racial laws in the 1930s and had also authored antisemitic articles. Thereupon, Budde requested a transfer to a civil division, which was granted. Hardly anyone paid attention to the fact that the court of appeal’s chief judge had been an active National Socialist as well. The Nieland case became the subject of a debate on the justice system in the German parliament on January 22, 1959, which met with great public interest. In this debate, Chancellor Adenauer issued a government policy statement on the increasingly occurring antisemitic incidents. On January 20, 1959, the Federal Prosecutor General filed his request for an “objective hearing” with the Federal Court of Justice in order to confiscate any remaining copies of Nieland’s brochure and have the printing plates destroyed. In early March of the same year, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that Nieland’s pamphlet was subversive and libelous and ordered the confiscation of all remaining copies. Nieland never again published any antisemitic writings.
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Werner Bergmann (Thematic Focus: Antisemitism and Persecution), Prof., is Professor at the Centre for Research on Antisemitism, Technical University of Berlin. His research interests centre on the sociology and history of Antisemitism and related fields, such as racism and right-wing extremism.
Werner Bergmann, Antisemitism in the Postwar Period. The Case of Friedrich Nieland (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-113.en.v1> [May 29, 2023].