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The “Protocols” Come to America

At the turn of the century, the Russian Czar’s secret police forged a document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to outline a plan for Jewish world domination. The Russians claimed that the radical Jewish intelligentsia gathered in 1897 at the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland wrote the Protocols. The document “showed” how a Jewish cabal was fomenting terror, causing famine and promoting war. Publication of the Protocols sparked anti-Jewish pogroms in Kiev and Kishineff.

While the Protocols were whispered about in anti-Semitic circles in the United States, they did not reach American shores in English translation until 1917. A Russian monarchist émigré, Boris Brasol, translated the Protocols into English and passed a copy to the State Department, hoping to persuade the United States government to withhold recognition of the Soviet regime. He was convinced that the Bolsheviks were in the pay of American Jewish bankers of German background -- Jacob Schiff and Felix Warburg in particular – who had financed the Czar's overthrow to advance German interests in World War I.

An American Army Intelligence officer in Brooklyn, Harris Ayres Houghton, MD, obtained Brasol’s translation of the Protocols and became convinced of their authenticity. An ardent anti-Semite and anticommunist, Houghton had the authority to act on his fantasies. According to historian Robert Singerman, writing in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society,* Houghton “ordered one of his subordinates ‘to investigate any Jew as long as he was prominent’” for signs of subversion. In 1918, Houghton passed a copy of the Protocols to Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, chair of a government committee investigating a scandal in American wartime aircraft manufacture. Houghton was certain that “Jewish International Bankers” had caused the manufacturing problems, but Justice Hughes scoffed at the idea and denied the authenticity of the Protocols.

At first, the American Jewish community made no formal response to the typescript versions of the Protocols in circulation. They believed it best not to give them publicity. In 1920, however, a version was published in England and both Brasol and Houghton planned to bring out annotated versions in the United States. Brasol found a respectable company named Small, Maynard to publish his version. Putnam and Son publishers agreed to publish Houghton’s.

When the American Jewish Committee learned of Putnam’s plans, its president, Louis Marshall, contacted General George H. Putnam directly to discuss the publication project. Putnam defended it on the grounds of free speech, but Marshall countered that free speech is only protected if its is not libelous. Since there was ample proof that the Protocols were forgeries written to stir up violence against Jews, it would be irresponsible for Putnam to publish it without clearly labeling it a fraud. Putnam agreed, and withdrew from the project. Undaunted, Houghton found a financial sponsor, purchased the plates from Putnam’s, and published the work privately under the pseudonym of Peter Beckwith. The book sold poorly, however.

When Small, Maynard published Brasol’s edition, bookstores refused to carry it. Sales were robust by mail order, but Brasol’s hopes of reaching masses of Americans to convince them that communism was an outgrowth of Zionism were dashed, at least temporarily. Resilient in his efforts, Brasol sent a copy of the Protocols to automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, who was convinced that they were authentic. For the next two years, Ford gave the Protocols wide circulation in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.

Nothing did more to poison the atmosphere against American Jewry in the years between 1920 and 1922 than Ford’s publication of the Protocols. Apparently at Ford’s urging, the editor of the Dearborn Independent, William Cameron, reworked the Protocols into a series of articles, “The International Jew.” Cameron described the Protocols as “the most comprehensive program for world subjugation that has ever come to public knowledge.” Cameron believed the Protocols probably did not originate with the Basle Congress, but “may have come to them as part of their ancient Jewish inheritance.” The Zionists probably reported to a modern Sanhedrin presided over by a direct descendant of King David. Cameron believed that, at that point, the United States was “very largely in the hands of, or under the influence of, Jewish interests.” Liberalism, jazz and the decline in Christian virtue were all signs, for Cameron, that the Jewish conspiracy was on its way to success. According to the blueprint, Jews would cause more wars, famines and revolutions -- of which the Bolshevik was only the first -- as a means to world domination.

The “International Jew” series stopped running in 1922, but it was widely quoted. It was not until 1927, after a libel suit and Jewish boycott of Ford products that Henry Ford recanted. In a letter to Louis Marshall, Ford claimed not to have paid any “personal attention” to the series. Ford professed to being “deeply mortified” to learn that the Protocols were forgeries and that his newspaper had offended Jewish sensibilities.

Nazi Germany adopted the Protocols as a pretext for its war to exterminate European Jewry. The Protocols still circulate in print and on the Internet, inspiring radical fringe groups in their deranged beliefs in Jewish conspiracies. Sadly, each generation must relearn that the Protocols are one of the grossest and most damaging libels in history.

Sources: American Jewish Historical Society