Der ewige Jude ("The Eternal Jew") is the most famous Nazi propaganda film. It was produced at the insistence of Joseph Goebbels, under such active supervision that it is effectively his work. It depicts the Jews of Poland as corrupt, filthy, lazy, ugly, and perverse: they are an alien people which have taken over the world through their control of banking and commerce, yet which still live like animals.
Though unquestionably vicious, many would say that, by today's standards, it is also crude and transparent. The narrator explains the Jews' ratlike behavior, while showing footage of rats squirming from sewers and leaping at the camera. The film's most shocking scene is the slaughter of a cow, shown in bloody detail, by a grinning Rabbi - and it is followed by, of all things, three innocent (presumably German) lambs nuzzling each other.
These are not the only scenes which, seen with hindsight, are revealing about the propagandists themselves, rather than the Jews they would have us hate. As the Danish historian Stig Hornshøj-Møller comments in his book of scene-by-scene analysis: 1
Yet we must remember the potential of this film's hate. It was created to legitimize the exclusion, and ultimately the destruction, of an entire people. It is to this day considered such dangerous propaganda that it is banned in Germany except under tightly controlled circumstances. Legally distributed in the United States, it is marketed by neo-Nazi groups as "the best documentary ever made on Jews."
It seems almost impossible that the same film which, in 1940, produced the "shouts of disgust and loathing" 2 engineered by the Minister of Propaganda, is now greeted with laughter and - more importantly - insight. Can the greatest antisemitic film of all time now be a tool for greater understanding of prejudice, and for empathy with its victims?
We might also ask, from a more historical perspective: what can it teach us about the world-view of its creators - who include not only Joseph Goebbels, the mastermind behind its production, but also Adolf Hitler? Hitler not only approved the idea, he saw the very first edits, and gave Goebbels instruction on how to cut the final version.
Hitler also provides the emotional climax of the film, with footage of his speech to the Reichstag from 1939. When preceded by sixty minutes describing the Jewish problem, and followed by thunderous applause, Hitler's prophetic warning takes on even greater significance:
The importance of this groundbreaking propaganda is often underestimated. Stig Hornshøj-Møller takes us inside the film, its making, its meaning in 1941, and its meaning today. The Holocaust History Project is pleased to present four of his papers and talks on the film, given at four conferences on the Holocaust.
Also of Interest
Still images from the film, eighty-three in number, along with the text of the narration in German and English.
An audio clip of Hitler's prophecy, from near the end of the film, of the coming "annihilation" of the Jews of Europe. This speech provides the resolution of the crisis which is built up throughout the entire film; one might say that Hitler's promise to the German people is the denouement. A transcription, and translation into English, are provided. To hear the audio requires the free RealPlayer (also known as the RealAudio Player).
The film program, a description of what is found in the film, as written by the Illustrierte Filmkurier and, in Germany during the war, given to its viewers before they entered. In English und auf Deutsch.
Hilfsmittel für Lehrer. Teaching material prepared by Dr. Hornshøj-Møller: this includes a single-page (double-sided) handout for students to take home the day before seeing the film, a pre-questionnaire, a post-questionnaire, and more. Nur auf Deutsch.
More detail on the films described can be found at the Internet Movie Database:
About the Author
Dr. Stig Hornshøj-Møller (Danish mag. art.) has been studying the film The Eternal Jew since 1970. He is the author of Der ewige Jude: Quellenkritische Analyse eines antisemitischen Propagandafilms ("Source-Critical Analysis of an Antisemitic Propaganda Film"), Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen, 1995. (This work is also available in a special free printing, which interested readers can order from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Postfach 1369, 53111 Bonn.)
1. "Der ewige Jude": Quellenkritische Analyse eines antisemitischen Propagandafilms, Institut für Wissenschaftlichen Film, Göttingen, 1995, p. 134.
Last modified: February 21, 1999