of the Elders of Zion," the most
notorious and most successful work of modern anti-Semitism,
draws on popular anti-Semitic notions which
have their roots in medieval Europe from
the time of the Crusades.
The libels that
the Jews used blood of Christian children
for the Feast
of Passover, poisoned the wells and
spread the plague were pretexts for the
wholesale destruction of Jewish communities
throughout Europe. Tales were circulated
among the masses of secret rabbinical conferences
whose aim was to subjugate and exterminate
the Christians, and motifs like these are
found in early antisemitic literature.
The conceptual inspiration
for the Protocols can be traced back to the
time of the French Revolution at the end
of the 18th century. At that time, a French
Jesuit named Abbe Barruel, representing reactionary
elements opposed to the revolution, published
in 1797 a treatise blaming the Revolution
on a secret conspiracy operating through
the Order of Freemasons. Barruel's idea was
nonsense, since the French nobility at the
time was heavily Masonic, but he was influenced
by a Scottish mathematician named Robison
who was opposed to the Masons. In his treatise,
Barruel did not himself blame the Jews, who
were emancipated as a result of the Revolution.
However, in 1806, Barruel circulated a forged
letter, probably sent to him by members of
the state police opposed to Napoleon Bonaparte's
liberal policy toward the Jews, calling attention
to the alleged part of the Jews in the conspiracy
he had earlier attributed to the Masons.
This myth of an international Jewish conspiracy
reappeared later on in 19th century Europe in places such as Germany and Poland.
The direct predecessor
of the Protocols can be found in the pamphlet
"Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli
and Montesquieu," published by the nonJewish
French satirist Maurice Joly in 1864. In
which make no mention of the Jews, Joly attacked
the political ambitions of the emperor Napoleon
III using the imagery of a diabolical plot
in Hell. The "Dialogues" were caught
by the French authorities soon after their
publication and Joly was tried and sentenced
to prison for his pamphlet.
Joly's "Dialogues," while
intended as a political satire, soon fell
into the hands of a German anti-Semite named
Hermann Goedsche writing under the name os
Sir John Retcliffe. Goedsche was a postal
clerk and a spy for the Prussian secret police.
He had been forced to leave the postal work
due to his part in forging evidence in the
prosecution against the Democratic leader
Benedict Waldeck in 1849. Goedsche adapted
Joly's "Dialogues" into a mythical
tale of a Jewish conspiracy as part of a
series of novels entitled "Biarritz," which
appeared in 1868. In a chapter called "The
Jewish Cemetery in Prague and the Council
of Representatives of the Twelve Tribes of
he spins the fantasy of a secret centennial
rabbinical conference which meets at midnight
and whose purpose is to review the past hundred
years and to make plans for the next century.
Goedsche's plagiary of
Joly's "Dialogues" soon found its
way to Russia. It was translated into Russian
in 1872, and a consolidation of the "council
of representatives" under the name "Rabbi's
Speech" appeared in Russian in 1891.
These works no doubt furnished the Russian
secret police (Okhrana) with a means with
which to strengthen the position of the weak
Czar Nicholas II and discredit the reforms
of the liberals who sympathized with the
Jews. During the Dreyfus case of 18931895,
agents of the Okhrana in Paris redacted the
earlier works of Joly and Goedsche into a
new edition which they called the
"Protocols of the Elders of Zion." The
manuscript of the Protocols was brought to
Russia in 1895 and was printed privately
The Protocols did not become
public until 1905, when Russia's defeat in
the Russo-Japanese War was followed by the
Revolution in the same year, leading to the
promulgation of a constitution and institution
of the Duma. In the wake of these events,
"Union of the Russian Nation" or
Black Hundreds organization sought to incite
popular feeling against the Jews, who they
blamed for the Revolution and the Constitution.
To this end they used the Protocols, which
was first published in a public edition by
the mystic priest Sergius Nilus in 1905.
The Protocols were part of a propaganda campaign
that accompanied the pogroms of 1905 inspired
by the Okhrana. A variant text of the Protocols
was published by George Butmi in 1906 and
again in 1907. The edition of 1906 was found
among the Czar's collection, even though
he had already recognized the work as a forgery.
In his later editions, Nilus claimed that
the Protocols had been read secretly at the First
Zionist Congress at Basle in
1897, while Butmi, in his edition, wrote
that they had no connection with the new Zionist movement,
but, rather, were part of the Masonic conspiracy.
In the civil war following
the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the reactionary
White Armies made extensive use of the Protocols
to incite widespread slaughters of Jews.
At the same time, Russian emigrants brought
the Protocols to western Europe, where the
Nilus edition served as the basis for many
translations, starting in 1920. Just after
its appearance in London in 1920, Lucien
Wolf exposed the Protocols as a plagiary
of the earlier work of Joly and Goedsche,
in a pamphlet of the Jewish Board of Deputies.
The following year, in 1921, the story of
the forgery was published in a series of
articles in the London Times by Philip
Grave, the paper's correspondent in Constantinople.
A whole book documenting the forgery was
also published in the same year in the United States by Herman Bernstein (The Truth About "The
Protocols of Zion." Reprinted with
an introduction by Norman Cohn. NY: Ktav
Publishing House, 1971). Nevertheless, the
Protocols continued to circulate widely.
They were even sponsored by Henry Ford in
the United States until 1927, and formed
an important part of the Nazis' justification
of genocide of the Jews in the Holocaust.