The Jewish Enemy
Jeffrey Herf
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Buy *The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust* by Jeffrey Herf online

The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust
Jeffrey Herf
Belknap Press
416 pages
May 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The reasons for the Holocaust have always proven a fascinating subject. Anti-Semitism, while prominent throughout time, had never before reached the point of outright mass extermination. Discovery of notes from the Wannsea Conference gave further evidence of the existence of the extermination camps, but what did the German people actually see? How did the Nazis keep such anti-Semitic fervor going even as the war turned against Germany? Jeffrey Herf has written a book detailing the propaganda techniques the Nazis used. Titled The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust, Herf’s study does a marvelous job showing the variety of methods used by people such as Joseph Goebbels and others to convince the populace of the rightness of their actions.

Herf is meticulous in his scholarship, and the book’s vivid detail can certainly hold up to historians' scrutiny. At times, it seems that Herf has included every one of Goebbels', Hitler's, and other prominent Nazis' speeches declaring how the Jew is the enemy of the people, the cause of the war, and the reason for the suffering of the German population. The book is heavily end-noted, indicating how extensively it was researched. It is also complete in other ways.

One of the prominent ways is the inclusion of the Nazi press chief, Otto Dietrich. Dietrich was in charge of making sure the German media said the right things and broadcast the right message. He was an intimate of Hitler, having his ear even more than Goebbels did, but he is largely ignored in many of the Holocaust books I've read (which, granted, haven't been many). With Hitler and Goebbels dead, Dietrich was able to try and soften his image at the Nuremberg trials, though his notes and press directives spoke for themselves, and he largely wasn't able to get away with it. Herf details the directives Dietrich sent out to the German newspapers on what to say about the horrors of "International Jewry" who were pulling the strings of the Allied powers and keeping the war going.

Nazi propaganda was much more than just anti-Semitic speeches, though. Herf covers the lot from posters (a number of which are reprinted in full color, so that the reader receives the full impact) to the "Weekly Word" news sheets that were displayed all over Germany. As Herf points out, people could refuse to read the newspaper or listen to speeches on the radio, but these news sheets were posted all over the country, and Germany was largely a nation of public transportation. You could try and avoid them, but it was likely you would see them somewhere, and even more likely that you'd stop and read one.

As Herf's narrative progresses from the rise of the Nazis to the beginning of World War II and then to the fall of Germany, he shows just how fanatical the Nazis were about all of this. They seriously believed (as notes from Goebbels' diary attest) that the Jew was responsible not only for Germany's loss in World War I but also for the start of World War II. The Germans were provoked by the sinister plans of the international Jewish conspiracy that wanted to exterminate the Germans. And, as much as Nazi propaganda pointed out that the Jews wanted to exterminate the Germans, much the reverse was happening.

Which gets to the heart of Herf's point. As The Jewish Enemy indicates, the Nazis often referred to the Jews being exterminated in their propaganda, but they never came out and said that the Jews were actually being murdered. Many people not in the know (including many important people overseas) could not imagine the systematic killing of the Jews and believed that the Nazis were being euphemistic. By citing speech after speech and news sheet after news sheet, Herf demonstrates how it was right there in front of everybody's faces, had they but delved a little deeper or realized the fanatical delusions that the Nazis were working under. To the Nazis, "The Jews are guilty of everything" and must be destroyed. It was either Germany or the Jews, and they weren't about to let the Jews get away with destroying the German nation. The Nazis actually used the phrase "Victory or extermination" in their speeches at one point.

The Jewish Enemy is often heavy-going, but it's never boring and it is so important to get inside the heads of these monsters. Herf has done such exhaustive research, and he showcases it all to repeatedly make his point, that the reader is often overwhelmed with the extent of the anti-Semitic imagery and statements rolling off the page. I found I could only read the book in relatively short snippets, feeling dirty at times. Despite this, the book is definitely worth reading because these kinds of statements and justifications are still going on today. How did the German people fall for all of this? Herf shows us in devastating detail.

Hitler thought that if he railed against the Jewish "string-pullers" of Roosevelt and Churchill, he could stir up anti-Semitic feelings in Britain and the U.S. that would bring a halt to the war before Germany lost it. This had no hope of working once rumors about the extermination camps worked their way out of the Nazi empire, but they were determined to try. To their minds, it was either them or the Jews. To truly understand the Nazi mindset, it will take books like The Jewish Enemy to bring it to light. This is a must-read.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Dave Roy, 2007

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