Propaganda and Children During the Hitler Years
By Mary Mills
South Pacific made its debut in April of 1949, almost four years after World War II ended. In a moving scene where prejudice shatters the possibility of happiness, Lt. Cable and De Becque reflect upon the nature of prejudice and reach the conclusion that intolerance is something that must be carefully taught. That the Nazis subscribed to this belief is evident from the manner in which the Jewish problem was incorporated into the instruction of the young. Anti-semitism was the overwhelming topic in every school curriculum. Indeed, the propaganda picture books published by Der Stürmer, the organ responsible for the dissemination of many of the anti-semitic publications during the Hitler years, demonstrate that anti-semitism was taught before children "were six or seven or eight."
No single target of nazification took higher priority than Germany's young. By 1937, 97% of all teachers belonged to the National Socialist Teachers' Union. Every member of this union had to submit an ancestry table in triplicate with official documents of proof. Courses and textbooks in Nazi schools reflected the aims of Hitler. Of the topics that teachers were required to treat, the most important was racial theory and, by extension, the Jewish problem. In The National Socialist Essence of Education, a German educator wrote that mathematics was "Aryan spiritual property; .. an expression of the nordic fighting spirit, of the nordic struggle for the supremacy of the world..." An example of racial propaganda in a math problem is the following: "The Jews are aliens in Germany--in 1933 there were 66,060,000 inhabitants in the German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the per cent of aliens?"
In the course of my discussion, I shall first describe the Jewish problem within the Nazi curriculum as it appears in Die Judenfrage im Unterricht (The Jewish Question in Classroom Instruction) and then comment upon the following propaganda picture books that targeted young children: Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust A Fox in A Green Meadow Or the Oath of A Jew); Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom); and Der Pudelmopsdachelpinscher (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pincher).
In the introduction to Die Judenfrage im Unterricht, which was published in 1937 by Der Stürmer, Julius Streicher made the following statement: "The National Socialist state requires its teachers to teach German children racial theory. For the German people, racial theory means the Jewish problem." The teacher's manual on the Jewish problem maintains that German children have an inborn aversion to Jews that is intensified by references made to Jews in the newspapers, conversations, and songs sung by members of the SA and HJ. Intermarriage between Germans and Jews is portrayed as unnatural because it does not follow the Nazi perversion of the natural biological order, which does not allow for intermixing. Storks mate with storks; swallows mate with swallows, etc. The Nuremberg Laws are depicted as a return to the natural order that God intended, and the Jew is thus shown as a threat to God's order.
From this point, the projection of the Jew as an enemy of the German people is a quick and easy step. He is conveyed as an infiltrator, who, upon gaining entry into German society, has usurped the political and economic power of Germany and focused his attention upon the destruction of the German people. Because the Jew is deemed such a threat to German society, the Nuremberg Laws are viewed as a justifiable means of self-defense. In order to make the status of the Jew as a deadly enemy of everything German as concrete as possible to German children, the teacher's guide suggests that pictures of Jews (which, of course, are ugly or distorted) be posted on the board next to pictures of the ideal German type. From the visual differences, other differences are inferred. "The Jews walk differently than we do. They have flat feet. They have longer arms than we do. They speak differently than we do."
From physical differences, it is an easy jump to more important differences. The thoughts, feelings, and actions of the Jew are presented as a contradiction and threat to German morality. In contrast to the honest German farmer or worker, the Jew is depicted as someone who lives off the sweat of others by his swindling activities as a lawyer, a merchant, or a banker, whose god is money. The Jew as a swindler is shown in the following picture by a twelve-year-old girl. In the drawing, the Jewish livestock dealer's attention appears focused on the bag of money; his clothes are tattered and he is ill-kempt. The German farmer, by contrast, although giving the appearance of being exhausted, is adequately groomed. Finally, being Jewish is, by extension, a Christ-killer and is, therefore, deemed a crime. Jesus is viewed as a war hero who waged war against the Jews until he was killed by them. Children were provided with slogans to learn and recite such as: "Judas the Jew betrayed Jesus the German to the Jews."
The teacher's guide concludes with a version of world history that implicates Jews in the destruction of major civilizations such as: Egypt, Persia, and Rome. Among those listed as great thinkers, whose statements about the Jews are mentioned with great admiration, the most cited and admired is Adolf Hitler. The next to the last page of this teacher's manual is an admonition against intermarriage between Germans and Jews. In another drawing, a thirteen-year-old German girl shows a Jewish man as a lecher, intent upon seducing a young German girl ; the young victim so ably defends herself that the Jewish man backs away. This picture draws attention to the Nazi necessity for and justification of the Nuremberg Laws, which are held up as a major defense against Jewish infiltration into and destruction of the German people. In summary, the Nazi curriculum sought to instill the image of the Jew as something less than human that represented the antithesis of both the natural order and the divine order; something that was at once unnatural and immoral and, therefore, posed a danger to the very existence of moral German society.
The image of the Jew as something less than human, unnatural and immoral recurs throughout the Nazi propaganda picture storybooks for young children. Around the age of six, children were given primers, whose content focused upon camp life, marching, martial drums, boys growing up to be soldiers, etc. Even at this young age, it is obvious that as one principal of a German academic high school wrote: "Education in relation to weapons... is no special branch of general education; rather it is, in point of fact, the very core of our entire education." Along with these primers, children were given a supplement entitled Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust A Fox in A Green Meadow Or the Word of A Jew).
This supplement was written by an eighteen-year-old art student, Elvira Bauer, and was a basic educational tool that was typical of the material provided for young children. It was published in 1935/36 by Der Stürmer and went through seven editions. A hundred thousand copies of this picture book were in circulation. This storybook does not have a story in the traditional sense because it lacks a an active plot. Its anti-semitic theme, conveyed through primitive rimes and lurid illustrations, focuses upon a pre-conceived contrast between the German and the Jew, their history of animosity, and the establishment of a justification for the German war against the Jews. According to Nazi ideology, this war was being fought to save the Aryan world from the Jewish alien invaders within its midst.
Upon casual examination of the book, one's attention is immediately drawn to the bright red cover and the malicious expressions of the two images accompanying the title. The one is a fox eager to trap his prey; the other is a Jew eager to swear a false oath under the star of David. Bauer effectively uses the image of the clever and deceptive fox, a figure that is based in antiquity and commonplace in European folklore. Greek legend considered the fox to be a creature of the Devil or even the Devil, himself. While linking the Jew to this universal image of deceit, Bauer simultaneously draws upon another universal theme, loyalty to one's oath as it appears in the German fairy tale Eid aufs Eisen. Eid aufs Eisen might be translated as "absolute truth." Eid means "oath" and aufs Eisen literally means "on iron."
Figuratively, this is the strongest oath possible and refers to the practice of trial by combat customary during the Middle Ages. In the German fairy tale, the fox outsmarts another animal by swearing a false oath. An oath sworn by a Jew is identified with deceit. In the title and its accompanying illustration, Bauer references an old prejudice against Jews. During the Middle Ages, Jews were required to swear an oath using a special ceremony during a court proceeding. It was not until the nineteenth century with the emancipation of Jews that such rituals, which marked the Jewish oath as something mysterious and uncanny, vanished. Bauer drums the identification of the Jew with the evil traits of the fox into the minds of her young readers by frequent warnings such as: "Like a fox, he slips about / So you must look out!"
Bauer goes beyond the usual catalogue of "typical" Jewish characteristics by seeking to provide the stereotypes with a mythological-racial context. According to anti-semitic folklore, the Devil is the creator of the Jewish people. In an attempt to equal God's creation of humans, the Devil succeeds only in producing unfortunate creatures, among them, the monkey and the Jew. As children of the Devil, therefore, Jews deserve to be ostracized and treated poorly. Their perceived physical and moral defects are regarded as racial characteristics. The positive self-image of the German also has its basis in racial ideology. Germans are, according to Nazi racial ideology, a pure race, and, in contrast to the Jews, a healthy race. Bauer alludes several times to what must be done to keep Germany a wholesome country and thanks the notorious antisemite, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Stürmer, an anti-semitic publisher, for his efforts to keep Germany healthy and free from Jews. Finally, she reduces the Jewish presence in Germany to a plague that must be exterminated. The association between Jews and a fatal disease as well as the justification for the destruction of Jews was being indoctrinated into young children via colorful picture books in 1936 six years before the Wannsee Conference.
Drawing on several centuries of anti-semitism, Bauer intensifies her anti-semitic assault by making the virtuous German the object of the Jewish hate. The German is portrayed as hard-working, honest, handsome and courageous. In his character and physical appearance, the Jew is depicted as the antithesis of these qualities. This so-called Jewish hate of the German actually has its basis in the hatred of Jews by Christians who considered the Jews to be Christ-killers. As early as the eighteenth century, the Talmud was depicted as a book that encouraged and justified the commission of crimes against Christians. An example of this concept of the Jew as a Christian-hater occurs in Uncovered Jewry, Or A Thorough And Truthful Report About The Horrible Ways The Hidden Jews Desecrate The Holy Trinity.
This book appeared in Koenigsberg, Germany in 1711, and its description of the Talmud as a guide for committing crimes against was widely accepted by Christians. Let us now consider the illustrations. The Jew is pictured in the manner of a typical Nazi caricature with a huge nose, thick lips, bleary eyes and fat fingers. The stereotypical representation of the Jew: grotesque face, sneering expression, hook nose is identical to the image of the Devil in Christian folklore. The words conveying associations the young readers are expected to remember are printed in red: Devil, thick lips, gangster, Jew; handsome, courageous, proud, German. The illustration showing the Jew and the German, side by side, represents the situation under Nazism and draws the observer's attention to the Nazi perception of racial differences between the Aryan and the Jew.
The German is depicted as the tall, blond, slender and powerful Aryan ideal With regular features and a high forehead. His shovel indicates that he is a worker. In contrast to the Aryan ideal, the Jew is shown as short, dark-haired, misshapen, bulky, with a sloping forehead and a crooked nose and embodies the Jewish racial characteristics set forth by the Nazis. At the same time, she uses this image to convey the stereotype of the money-hungry Jew, well-clothed and carrying an attach case in his hand and a financial newspaper in his pocket. The figure of the Aryan appears proud and looks down upon the Jew, who gives him a shifty look and makes a somewhat concealed fist with his hand as though challenging him with respect to money.
The picture showing the expulsion of Jewish students and teachers from German schools depicts what was required by the law of 1933 according to which, Jewish civil servants, such as teachers, had to be pensioned off and the number of Jewish students in a school limited to 1.5%. The last illustration points to the intended Nazi solution of the Jewish problem: the expulsion of all Jews from Germany. The sign, followed by a long line of Jewish figures from previous illustrations, reads "one-way street, hurry, hurry" and as a justification for this measure taken against the Jewish population, the second line reads "The Jews are our misfortune." The word "hurry" and the sentence "The Jews are our misfortune." appear in red, thereby stressing the grave danger that Jews pose to the well being of German society and the urgency with which they must be removed from Germany.
Almost all the illustrations of Jewish figures have the following characteristics: The body is usually stocky, sometimes thin; the posture is crooked or bent; the feet are flat; the hair is dark; there is a lot of coarse body hair. The face usually has dark, bulging eyes; a crooked or bent nose; hanging eyelids; a hanging underlip; a heavy beard. In the tradition of the German theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801), Nazi racial ideology used the negative physical characteristics attributed to Jews as an indication of their inferior nature and evil character. Of the three picture books for young children that I discuss, Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust A Fox in A Green Meadow Or the Word of A Jew) had the greatest circulation.
The effect of the circulation of these anti-semitic stereotypes among children can be observed in a school composition that was published by Der Stürmer in 1935. The title of the composition is the sentence on the sign in the last illustration: "The Jews are our misfortune." A short excerpt from this composition will suffice to demonstrate the effect of anti-semitic propaganda upon the young. " Regrettably, there are still many people today who say: Even the Jews are creatures of God. Therefore you must respect them. But we say: Vermin are animals too, but we exterminate them just the same. The Jew is a mongrel. He has hereditary tendencies from Aryans, Asiatics, Negroes, and from the Mongolians. Evil always preponderates in the case of a mongrel..." Virtually every sentence of this composition reflects the anti-semitic ideas disseminated among young children via propaganda picture books published by Der Stürmer.
Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom) appeared in Germany in 1938 and leaves little question regarding the intended Nazi solution to the "Jewish problem." The book begins innocently enough by describing a favorite German pastime, picking wild mushrooms in the woods. A young boy, Franz, accompanies his mother on a walk in a beautiful, wooded area and helps her gather mushrooms. After carefully describing and showing Franz several varieties of both edible and poisonous mushrooms, his mother compares the good mushrooms to good people and the harmful mushrooms to bad people. The most dangerous people are, of course, the Jews.
Franz proudly announces that he has learned in school that the Jews are bad people. His mother continues her comparison of Jews to mushrooms by emphasizing that, just as poisonous mushrooms are difficult to distinguish from edible ones, it is difficult to differentiate Jews from Non-Jews because Jews can assume many forms. Franz's mother repeatedly alludes to the terrible destructive force of the Jews. One Jew can destroy an entire people because the Jew is the Devil in human form. The Jew poses a deadly threat not only to the survival of the German people but to the survival of the world! It is Germany's obligation to warn the rest of the world about this terrible toadstool and thereby save humanity from destruction. Thus begins one of the most insidious storybooks ever composed for children.
Thematically, the book is organized around an anti-semitic attack on three fronts: physical appearance, religious beliefs, and moral values. After the introduction comparing the Jews to poisonous mushrooms, there is a chapter dedicated to enabling German children to recognize Jews. In school during the "Jewish lesson," German children are instructed about the "physical characteristics" of Jews and encouraged to recite them. Even more venomous are the subsequent chapters, whose stories are essentially assaults upon the Talmud and the moral fiber of Jewish society itself.
Several laws of the Talmud are studied by Sally, a boy preparing for his bar mitzvah. As the rabbi, an old Jew with a long beard and a face that looks like the Devil himself, poses questions and the young man answers them, a pattern of perversion, intended to dehumanize Jews and convert them into the embodiment of an ever-present danger to the well-being of German society, emerges that hammers away at reality, replacing it with distortion. This pattern is evident in the dialogue between Sally, the young Jew, and the rabbi on the subject of work. Sally mentions the German proverb, " Work is no disgrace," and contrasts it to what he supposedly finds written in the Talmud.
In the Giftpilz version of the Talmud, "Work is quite harmful and hardly to be tolerated." Sally elaborates on this statement, saying "for that reason, we Jews do not work, we engage in business. Non-Jews have been created to work and serve Jews..." Here the Talmud, the book of Jewish law and tradition, is represented as advocating the enslavement of Germans to the service of Jews. The absurdity of such a condition is overshadowed by the emphasis placed upon the German work ethic via the proverb, "Work is no disgrace." In what might be considered a rape of language, an innocuous proverb becomes a forceful propaganda tool, with which the Nazis portray the Jews as despising work and threatening to enslave hard-working Germans.
In each of the episodes following the discussion of the Talmud, there emerges a recurrent image of the morally decadent Jew attempting to take advantage of the morally upstanding German. The victims are often portrayed as defenseless young women, children, and animals. Several of the stories have a decidedly pornographic character as is blatantly obvious in their accompanying illustrations. This illustration is from the episode entitled, "What Hans and Else experienced with a stranger." The stranger is a Jewish man depicted as a child molester/kidnapper, and his intended victims, whom he is attempting to lure away with some candy, are innocent German children. The caption under the picture may be translated as "Here, little boy, you can have something real sweet. But then, you must both go with me..." The grotesque appearance of the man is typical for the portrayal of Jews throughout the book. The image of the Jew as an inhuman monster who victimizes helpless Germans is visually reinforced through the use of such grotesque images. The image of the Jewish monster perpetrating misfortune is presented at the end of each episode in the form of a short poem, which capsulizes the specific immoral act allegedly committed by a Jew, connects all Jews to the Devil, and serves to warn the reader against the ever-present Jewish threat. The episode about Hans and Else concludes with the following saying, which Hans' mother requires him to memorize:
Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom) ends with a brief description of a speech given by Julius Streicher, in which he declares that humanity cannot be saved without a solution to the Jewish problem. As with Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust A Fox in A Green Meadow Or the Word of A Jew), Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom), also contains many signs pointing to the adoption of "Endloesung," the final solution that was officially established at the Wannsee Conference in 1942.
In the course of my research, I learned that an English translation of Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom) appeared in London in 1938, the same year the book was published in Germany. After obtaining photocopies of the English translation, I discovered that this translation was just one of many publications circulated during the Nazi period by the Friends of Europe, a group opposed to Nazism and dedicated to providing "accurate information about Nazi Germany for use throughout Great Britain, the British Empire, the U.S.A., Europe and wherever the English tongue is known." The foreword to the translation had been written by the Rt. Rev. Dr. H. Hensley Henson, who in 1938 was the Bishop of Durham. I wondered what connection an Anglican bishop might have had with the translation of such a disgusting piece of propaganda and was relieved to learn that as early as 1933, Henson had been voicing his concern about "Germany's religion of Blood and Race, as a menace to Christendom." In his foreword, Henson exhorts "all who desire to form a just estimate of the Anti-semitism of the German State" to read the The Poisonous Mushroom.
Within this compact volume, the Jews are depicted as money-grubbing capitalists on the one hand, and advocates of a murderous communism on the other. They are shown to have control over the professions, the economy, and the government, yet they are considered to be so ignorant that they lower the standards of the German nation. Henson makes the observation that the absurdity of the paradoxical images of the Jews contained in The Poisonous Mushroom would ensure the rejection of anti-semitism were it not for the "dark factors of fear, envy, and fanaticism, which can be worked up into a frenzy of hatred by the sustained and calculated efforts of the State." His conclusion that the struggle against anti-semitism, "of which The Poisonous Mushroom is a disgusting but characteristic expression," should not be viewed as just a German issue, for anti-semitism is a threat to civilization itself is especially valid for today's society, given the proliferation of hate groups and their assaults upon our civilization.
Der Pudelmopsdachelpinscher (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pincher), another picture storybook written by Ernst Hiemer and published by Der Stürmer in 1940, is, in my opinion, more dangerous than either Don't Trust a Fox in a Green Meadow or the Word of a Jew or The Poisonous Mushroom. Realizing that children are basically very interested in the world of nature that surrounds them, Hiemer constructs little stories centered upon what are generally considered to be despicable traits in certain animals and insects and concludes each story by transferring the undesirable characteristics to the human world via the Jews. The Jews are the drones of society because do not work but rather live from the labor of others.
Like the cuckcoo, Jews are depicted as stealing other people's homes. They are the foreigners who threaten to displace the Germans from Germany. As hyeanas strike disabled animals, Jews are portrayed as preying upon disadvantaged Germans/Christians. Other animals included in these comparisons are the chameleon (the great deceiver), the locust (the scourge of God), the bedbug (the blood sucker), the sparrow (good-for-nothings), the poodle-mops-dachshund-pincher (an inferior race created by cross-breeding various types of races), the poisonous snake (the viper of humanity, and the tapeworm (the parasite of humanity). Finally, Jews are compared to a deadly bacteria, which threatens the existence of the human race. Just as deadly bacteria must be eliminated, so must the Jews be exterminated.
Hiemer concludes with an exhortation to the youth of the world to become actively involved in the war against the Jews. Young Germans are cast as the hope of Germany and the saviors of a world under siege by a Jewish plague. The cumulative effect of so many comparisons with the world of nature, one might think, would be to make the elimination of Jews a natural and expected occurrence. Their extermination is presented as being part of the natural order of things, and the child is invited to rescue the desired natural order from the disaster planned by the Jews. The opportunity is strongly presented for the child to go from being a passive recipient of information on the destruction caused by the Jews to an active participant in the war against the Jews.
In an effort to give my German students a new direction in their study of the Holocaust, I decided to expose them to selections from Nazi propaganda literature designed for children. This, I believed, would be an excellent exercise in critical thinking and prepare them for any encounter they might have with revisionism or racism. There are several other reasons for using propaganda and children during the Hitler years as a topic for Holocaust education. These picture book stories offer an inside view of the means used to indoctrinate young children in the most extreme anti-Semitism imaginable. During the Nuremberg Trial, The Jewish Question in Classroom Instruction, Don't Trust a Fox in a Green Meadow or the Oath of a Jew, and The Poisonous Mushroom were received as documents in evidence. Because they were admitted as evidence and document the practices of the Nazis, these books have an authenticity that sounds a very persuasive warning and sends shock waves of horror in reaction to the evil that is presented to young children. Typically, the horrors of Nazi propaganda are viewed in an adult context. Examining the propaganda that targeted children can provide students with an immediacy that, hopefully, will help them understand that prejudice is not something that is inborn; it is something that must be carefully taught.
1 Herbert Hirsch, GENOCIDE and
the Politics of Memory
2 Hirsch, 119.
3 Fritz Fink, Die Judenfrage im Unterricht (Nuernberg: Der Stürmer, 1937),3.
5 Fink, 7.
6 Erika Mann, School for Barbarians (New York: Modern Age Books, 1938), 90.
7 Mann, 54-55.
8 Hirsch, 118.
9 All pictures from Bauer's Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust a Fox in a Green Meadow Or the Oath of a Jew) appear in The New Order (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1995).
10 Helmut Fischer, Der braune Haß (Essen: Essener Beitrge zur Jugend- und Volksliteratur 1, 1991), 67.
11 Fischer, 14.
12 Mann, 75.
14 Der Giftpilz, 31.
15 Ernst Hiemer, The Poisonous Mushroom, (London: The Friends of Europe, 1938), 1.
16 The Poisonous Mushroom, 4.
17 The Poisonous Mushroom, 5.
18 The Poisonous Mushroom, 5.
19 The Poisonous Mushroom, 6.
Source: The Nizkor Project