Date: Mon, 30 Oct 1995 16:13:01 -0500
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Protocols of the Elders of Zion
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From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Danny Keren)
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the most notorious and
most successful work of modern antisemitism, draws on popular
antisemitic 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
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 non-Jewish French satirist Maurice Joly in 1864. In
Dialogues, 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.
Dialogues, while intended as a political satire,
soon fell into the hands of a German antisemite 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
Jewish Cemetery in Prague and the Council of Representatives of the
Twelve Tribes of Israel, 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
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 1893-1895, 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 in 1897.
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, the reactionary
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 propaganda
campaign which 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 America by Herman Bernstein. 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 World War II.
Lucien Wolf. The Jewish Bogey and the Forged Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Press Committee of the Jewish Board of Deputies, London (1920).
The Truth About
The Protocols: A Literary Forgery. From The
Times of August 16, 17, and 18, 1921. Printing House Square, London.
Encyclopaedia Judaica. Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem (1971), entries on Antisemitism and Elders of Zion, Protocols of the Learned.
Herman Bernstein. The Truth About
The Protocols of Zion
(reprinted with introduction by Norman Cohn). Ktav Publishing House,
New York (1971).
Norman Cohn. Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Brown Judaic Studies, No. 23). Scholars Press, Chico, CA (1981).