The Eternal Jew (1940 Film) - Background

Background

Hitler and Goebbels believed that film was a very potent tool for molding public opinion. The Nazis first established a film department in 1930 and Goebbels had taken a personal interest in the use of film to promote the Nazi philosophy and agenda. Soon after the Nazi takeover, Goebbels was insisting in speeches that the role of the German cinema was to serve as the "vanguard of the Nazi military" as they set forth to conquer the world.

Saul Friedländer suggests that Goebbels' intent was to counter three films whose messages attacked the persecution of Jews throughout history by producing violently anti-Semitic versions of those films with identical titles.

In 1934, a British film titled "The Eternal Jew" had been produced by Gaumont-Twickenham studios. Unlike the Nazi film, the British production portrayed Jews in a favorable light as the victims of unjustified persecution throughout history, in the Spanish Inquisition, for example. The Goebbels film appears to have been intended as a violently anti-Semitic version of this previous British film.

In 1937, a special wing of the Propaganda Ministry put on an art exhibition in Munich titled Der ewige Jude. It followed this up with the publication of a book consisting of 265 photographs, each with a derogatory caption asserting the degeneracy of the Jewish race.

In November 1938, Goebbels made a series of attacks against the Jews in the German media that instigated the pogrom known as Kristallnacht. Despite the emotional satisfaction afforded the Nazis by carrying out their antisemitism with direct violence, Kristallnacht was considered by Hitler to have been a political disaster both within Germany and internationally. Not only did the brutality instigated by Goebbels evoke harsh criticism internationally, the mixed reaction in the German media evidenced a lack of broad-based support among Germans for antisemitic violence. Hitler expressed his frustration and anger at the mixed response from the German media and insisted that, instead of openly calling for violence against the Jews as Goebbels had in instigating the pogrom, Nazi propaganda should "elucidate events of foreign policy" in such a way that the German people themselves would call for violence against the Jews. In response to Hitler's harsh reprimand, Goebbels launched a campaign to promote the anti-Semitic views of the Nazis to the German populace. He ordered each film studio to make an anti-Semitic film. In the case of The Eternal Jew, Goebbels conceived of a film that would communicate to the German people the same antisemitic message that had been the theme of the 1937 Munich exhibition. Hitler preferred films like The Eternal Jew which presented the Nazi anti-Semitic agenda openly and directly; however Goebbels disliked the crudeness of such straightforward approaches, preferring the much more subtle approach of couching anti-Semitic messages in an engaging story with popular appeal. The film Jud Süß is an example of Goebbels' preferred approach.

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