Julius Streicher did not participate directly in the wanton killing of the Holocaust – but he helped create an environment where it might be conceived, planned and carried out. Streicher was the loudest, most prolific and most vulgar of the Nazi Party’s anti-Semites. Though he was not a party leader and his status in the NSDAP was well below that of Himmler or Goebbels, Streicher’s propaganda campaign against the Jews spread prejudice at street level, infecting the masses with anti-Semitism. Streicher’s propaganda was presented as reasoned theories; instead, he produced smutty and low-brow Jew-hating for the consumption of the working classes. Streicher was a pedlar of gossip, a muck-raker and a pornographer – but he was also clever enough to tap into the interests, fears and paranoia of ordinary Germans.
Julius Streicher was born in Bavaria in 1885. Like his father before him, he trained and worked as a primary school teacher, a job he occupied into the 1930s. Streicher joined the German army in 1914, served for the duration of World War I and rose to the rank of lieutenant. After the war he joined a series of political parties, both left-wing and right-wing, as though he was on a search for meaning – but the only political idea Streicher really had was his intense anti-Semitism, which bordered on pathological hatred. Streicher’s anti-Jewish obsession was so strong that even in groups with a quota of anti-Semites, he quickly became an outsider. He left at least two political groups voluntarily because of their “soft” attitude towards the Jews; he was booted out of two others who found him nasty and obsessive. “My anti-Semitic views are for me like a religious faith”, Streicher later wrote. “The racial question is the key to world history.”
In 1921 Streicher finally found his political home. After listening to Adolf Hitler deliver a three-hour speech in Munich, Streicher rushed to join the NSDAP. Streicher and Hitler eventually formed a tentative friendship. By this point, Streicher had a significant personal following, a group Hitler hoped to attract to his own party. Joachim Fest wrote of their relationship:
“[Streicher] was making a reputation as the spokesman for a scurrilous kind of pornographic anti-Semitism. Streicher seemed obsessed by wild fantasies of ritual murders, Jewish lust, world conspiracy, miscegenation [inter-racial sex], and lascivious black-haired devils panting after the innocent flesh of Aryan women. It is true that Streicher was more stupid and limited than Esser, but locally he could rival even Hitler, whom he had at first violently opposed. Hitler, on the other hand, went to considerable trouble to win over Streicher. He wanted, of course, to make use of Streicher’s popularity for his own ends. But he probably also felt a common bond with the man, for did they not share the same complexes and obsessions? Up to the last, Hitler remained loyal to Julius Streicher, despite the revulsion he aroused [in others].”
In November 1923 Streicher marched alongside Hitler in the failed Munich putsch, an act that earned him Hitler’s trust and protection. In 1925 Streicher was appointed Gauleiter (party leader) for Nuremberg and Franconia, a position that gave him significant power, including command of local SA and SS units. Streicher soon put his anti-Semitism into practice, ordering boycotts of Jewish businesses, attacks on political opponents, even the October 1938 destruction of the Essenweinstrasse Synagogue in Nuremberg (Streicher’s excuse was that it was “an oriental monstrosity of a building”). Though evidence on this is scant, Streicher also used his political influence to line his own pockets. He secretly acquired Jewish property confiscated during Kristallnacht and allegedly took bribes from businessmen. It was these allegations which eventually led to his removal from official NSDAP duties in 1940.
Eric Zillmer, historian
Streicher’s most infamous contribution to Nazi anti-Semitism, however, was a newspaper. In the spring of 1923, he sought Hitler’s approval for a new weekly publication. The NSDAP already had an ‘official’ newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter but it was a carefully edited broadsheet aimed at the middle classes. Streicher’s idea was for a tabloid paper for the working classes, focusing on Jewish misconduct and deviant behaviour. In May 1923 the first edition of Der Sturmer (‘The Attacker’) came off the presses. Its self-declared mission was to expose Jewish sexual deviancy, corruption and scams. In reality, it was crude and low-brow, full of sex scandals, innuendo, dubious humour and brazen anti-Semitism. The front page of every edition carried the motto Die Juden sind unser Ungluck (‘The Jews are our misfortune’).
Der Sturmer also made extensive use of cartoons and ink drawings, featuring common Jewish physical stereotypes. Jews were caricatured as swarthy, obese, greedy, big-nosed and beady-eyed. They were shown hovering in the shadows plotting, ripping off honest Germans or lusting after Aryan women. The text of Der Sturmer, some of which was personally written by Streicher, was a combination of anti-Semitic editorials and ‘news’ stories about Jewish crimes. The vast majority of these stories were either wildly exaggerated or entirely fictional. Der Sturmer even went as far as repeating the ludicrous ‘blood libel’, publishing baseless reports that Jews were killing Christian children during Easter. The lurid content of Der Sturmer made it popular with ordinary Germans, the paper’s weekly circulation reaching 100,000 in mid-1934 and almost a half million by the end of 1935. Streicher even had special display boards erected in public streets, where the previous week’s edition of Der Sturmer was posted for passers-by to read.
Streicher also made use of his experience as a teacher by incorporating anti-Semitic propaganda into children’s books. The first of these, published in 1936, was called Trau keinem Fuchs auf groner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (‘Don’t Trust a Fox in a Green Meadow or the Word of a Jew’). A picture book for young children, it showed scenes comparing the lives of honest, hard-working Aryan Germans with slovenly, under-handed Jews. More than 100,000 copies were published and distributed to state schools. It was followed in 1938 by the better-known Der Giftpilz (‘The Toadstool’), commissioned by Streicher and illustrated by Philipp Rupprecht, Der Sturmer’s chief cartoonist. Der Giftpilz opens with an Aryan German mother telling her son that people are like mushrooms: “one must be able to tell the good ones from poison ones”. Its colour plates show the kinds of malevolent occupations that Jews usually fill: devious swindlers, money-hungry bankers, greedy landlords and untrustworthy salesmen. One plate in Der Giftpilz even implies that Jewish men are child molesters. A third book, Der Pudelmopsdachelpinscher (‘The Poodle-Pug-Daschund-Pinscher’) was published in 1940 and suggested that Jews were a cross-bred mongrel race.
1. Streicher was a former school teacher, a veteran of World War I and an early member of the Nazi Party.
2. He was among the worst of the anti-Semites, demonstrating a pathological hatred of Jewish people.
3. He held positions of power in the party, where he initiated attacks on Jews and Jewish property.
4. He is best known as the publisher of Der Sturmer, which used crude imagery and false reports to attack Jews.
5. Streicher also published anti-Semitic propaganda masquerading as children’s books, such as Der Giftpilz.