Given the recent discussion about texts and films with antisemitic and Holocaust denial content that are available on Amazon, and the removal of some of them, it should come as no surprise that the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is for sale on some very reputable online stores. As Tanya Gold pointed out on Twitter and as The Jerusalem Post reported, not only is the book for sale, but also some of the blurbs that accompany it are scandalous.
However, one need not buy the book online; it is easily available in a downloadable PDF format. After reading the Post article about the sale of the book, it took me three minutes of searching to find it and download it. The same is true of Mein Kampf (not the footnoted scholarly version, but the unabridged and abridged English translations, with no scholarly explanations), as well as other antisemitic texts. While not the least bit surprising, this is obviously problematic.
In his seminal book about the Protocols published in the 1960s, the historian Norman Cohn called them a “Warrant for Genocide.” It was already clear then that the ideas put forth in the Protocols about a purported world Jewish conspiracy were central to modern antisemitism and Nazi ideology. In Mein Kampf, Hitler writes about the Protocols explicitly, emphasizing his assertation that they are true and not a forgery, and lie at the heart of the need to deal conclusively with the Jews.
“How far the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown in an incomparable manner and certainty in The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “They are supposed to be a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and cries out to the world once a week; the best proof they are genuine after all… For once this book has become the common property of the people, the Jewish danger is bound to be considered broken.”
For Hitler, virulent anti-Bolshevism was also part of the so-called Jewish world conspiracy, since he asserted in Mein Kampf that Communism was an invention of the Jews to usurp Germany and conquer the rest of the world. Moreover, in much of German society between the wars, the loss of World War I was attributed to Jews and Marxists who had proverbially stabbed Germany in the back.
Throughout Mein Kampf, Hitler accuses both groups of causing not only the loss of the war, but also the acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles, which humiliated and punished Germany harshly. Hitler calls for them to be hanged, asserting that their betrayal “made them ripe for the rope.”
THERE ARE several different schools of thought regarding when Hitler decided the Jews of Europe should be subjected to what came to be known as the “Final Solution.”
Leading scholars focus on the period between the summer of 1941 and early 1942 for such a decision, with the January 1942 Wannsee Conference seen as a meeting that primarily discussed the logistics of the policy that had already been adopted. Since there is no document that explicitly states when the decision to annihilate the Jews came about, there is room for interpretation of the available evidence.
An intriguing interpretation and analysis has been put forth by Christoph Diekmann, the leading scholar regarding the Holocaust in Lithuania and a researcher of Nazi anti-Jewish policies and actions in general. Diekmann explained his analysis to me over lunch at a symposium in Jerusalem several years ago. He places the decision to embark on the “Final Solution” shortly after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in June 1941.
He believes that the very first signals that the invasion was not going according to plan led Hitler to the decision. This was because Hitler believed in Jewish power and that Jews had brought about Germany’s downfall in World War I, and he wanted to be sure they would not do the same in the war that was underway against the Soviet Union. His solution, according to Diekmann, was to embark on the annihilation of the Jews.
If Diekmann’s analysis is correct, then the Protocols are even more of a direct warrant for genocide than Norman Cohn understood them to be over 50 years ago.
It is a fundamental and thorny discussion whether hateful material like the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion should be completely banned from the Internet – whether for sale or for downloading – or remain available under certain conditions, such as being clearly tagged as antisemitic and false material.
But one thing is clear: It is reprehensible that such material should be marketed and be a source for profits. On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it behooves us to emphatically state that making money on a book like the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which underpins the crime of the Holocaust, is itself a crime against decency.
Dr. Robert Rozett is a senior historian at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research.