ⓘ The Eternal Jew (1940 film)

The Eternal Jew (1940 film)

ⓘ The Eternal Jew (1940 film)

The Eternal Jew is a 1940 Nazi German antisemitic propaganda film, presented as a documentary. The films initial German title is Der ewige Jude, the German term for the character of the "Wandering Jew" in medieval folklore. At the insistence of Nazi Germanys Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, the film was directed by Fritz Hippler.

With a screenplay credited to Eberhard Taubert, the film consists of feature and documentary footage combined with materials filmed shortly after the Nazi occupation of Poland. At this time, Polands Jewish population was about three million, roughly ten percent of the total population. Actor Harry Giese narrated.


1. Background

Hitler and Goebbels believed that film was a vital tool for molding public opinion. The Nazis first established a film department in 1930 and Goebbels had taken a personal interest in the use of film to promote the Nazi philosophy and agenda. Soon after the Nazi takeover, Goebbels insisted in speeches that the role of the German cinema was to serve as the "vanguard of the Nazi military".

The Goebbels film appears to have been intended as a violently antisemitic version of the British film The Wandering Jew, which argued that Jews were victims of relentless persecution throughout history. Saul Friedlander suggests that Goebbels intent was to counter three films: Jew Suss, The House of Rothschild, and The Wandering Jew. These three films, all released in 1933–34, showed that Jews were persecuted throughout history; the Goebbels films presented the opposite message.

In 1937, a special wing of the Propaganda Ministry put on an art exhibition in Munich titled Der ewige Jude. It followed this up with the publication of a book of the same title, consisting of 265 photographs, each with a derogatory caption asserting the degeneracy of the Jewish race.

In November 1938, Goebbels made a series of attacks against the Jews in the German media that were a factor which resulted in the pogrom known as Kristallnacht. Despite the emotional satisfaction afforded the Nazis by carrying out their antisemitism with direct violence, Kristallnacht was considered by Hitler to have been a political disaster both within Germany and internationally. Not only did the brutality indirectly caused by Goebbels evoke harsh criticism internationally, the mixed reaction in the German media showed a lack of broad-based support among Germans for antisemitism and violence.

Hitler expressed his frustration and anger at the mixed response from the German media and insisted that, instead of openly calling for violence against the Jews as Goebbels had in instigating the pogrom, Nazi propaganda should "elucidate events of foreign policy" in such a way that the German people themselves would call for violence against the Jews.

In response to Hitlers harsh reprimand, Goebbels launched a campaign to promote the antisemitic views of the Nazis to the German populace. He ordered each film studio to make an antisemitic film. In the case of The Eternal Jew, Goebbels conceived of a film that would communicate to the German people the same antisemitic message that had been the theme of the 1937 Munich exhibition. Hitler preferred films such as The Eternal Jew which presented the Nazi antisemitic agenda openly and directly; however Goebbels disliked the crudeness of such straightforward approaches, preferring the much more subtle approach of couching antisemitic messages in an engaging story with popular appeal. The film Jud SuS is an example of Goebbels preferred approach.


2. Production

Although Goebbels did not generally take an active role in the production of particular films, he elected to do so in the case of major propaganda films such as The Eternal Jew. The film was in production for over a year. Throughout the end of 1939 and the beginning of 1940, Goebbels devoted "constant attention" to the production of what he referred to as "the Jew film". As early as 1938, Goebbels had wanted to have a film crew travel to Poland to shoot the ghetto scenes; however, he was unable to gain permission from the Polish government. In October and November 1939, almost immediately after the German/Soviet invasion of Poland, he instructed Hippler to send camera crews to Lodz, Warsaw, Cracow and Lublin to shoot footage of Polish Jews.

The footage that Hippler shot in the Jewish ghettos of those cities in German occupied Poland was the only footage shot specifically for the purpose of the film. At the beginning of the film, animated text informs the audience that this "documentary footage" shows Jews in their original state "before they put on the mask of civilized Europeans." In the Nazi press, Hippler expanded on this claim, asserting that his filming techniques captured Jews "in an unprejudiced manner, real to life as they live and as they react in their own surroundings."

Although Hippler advertised the film as being a factual documentary consisting of pictures of real Jews with nothing faked or simulated, his claims were complete falsehoods. In reality, the film was an exercise in manipulation for the purposes of propaganda. In shooting his footage, Hippler did in fact simulate scenes and use actors who were performing under duress and without knowledge of how the footage would be employed. For example, in order to get shots of Jewish worship services, Hippler and Goebbels assembled the congregation of the Vilker synagogue, ordered them to wear the tallithim and tefillin and hold a full-scale service. When the Germans ordered the Torah reader to read from the Torah, he started by saying on camera "Today is Tuesday" signalling that his reading of the Torah was coerced since it was not customary to read the Torah on Tuesdays.

Aside from the footage shot in Poland, the rest of the film consisted of stills and archival footage from feature films often without permission that the film presented as if they were documentary footage.


3. Format and structure

The movie was produced in a documentary format and, like other Hippler films, relied heavily on narration.

The film can be roughly divided into four thematic areas:

  • Enumeration and evaluation of numerous political, cultural and social values in the international arena of Jewish origin
  • Recordings from Polish ghettos
  • Adolf Hitlers Reichstag speech, parading SA troops
  • Religious ceremonies, religious instruction, worship, ritual slaughter

4. Themes

Richard Barsam writes the films "essential contrast is between myths and stereotypes of Jews and the Nazi ideal of a master race, between the alleged inferiority of the Jews and the superiority of the Germans." According to Stephen Fritz, Goebbels intent was to create a film that would serve as "both a demonstration of the parasitical nature of the Jews and a justification for drastic measures against them." Maria Tatar writes that the Nazis were able to use Hipplers film to "position the victims of their genocidal project as dangerous aggressors who had to be exterminated." Similarly, Barsam describes the film as arguing that "Jews are criminals;. they have no soul;. they are different in every way;. killing them is not a crime, but a necessity - just as killing rats is a necessity to preserve health and cleanliness."

Unser Wille und Weg Our Will and Way, a Nazi Party monthly publication aimed at propagandists, provides a rationale for why The Eternal Jew was made. The author of the essay "The Film of a 2000-Year Rat Migration," who remains anonymous, believes the film shows "a full picture of Jewry" and provides "the best treatment of this parasitic race." The author connects the Jews migration from the Middle East to Egypt and their following of German colonists to rats traveling as a group, who "even then displayed the same criminal traits that they still displayed". The film is complimented for "its portrayal of the Jews vulgar methods and the brutality and all-devouring hatred they exhibit when they reach their goal and control finance." The slaughtering method causes the author to question the "so-called Jewish religion", as butchers do their work with grins on their face. In closing, the author states the film will be a valuable tool in the struggle to break the Jews "power over us. We are the initiators of the fight against world Jewry, which now directs its hate, its brutal greed and destructive will toward us. We must win this battle for ourselves, for Europe, for the world."


4.1. Themes Jews as an uncivilized and parasitic people

Richard Taylor describes the basic tenet of the film as arguing that "the Jew is an oriental barbarian who has insinuated himself cleverly into European society, and now exploits it parasitically." This point is emphasized throughout the film, starting from the very opening lines of the films commentary:

The "civilized" Jews that we know in Germany give us only an incomplete picture of their racial character. This film shows genuine shots of the Polish ghettos. It shows the Jews as they really are, before they conceal themselves behind the mask of the civilized European.

Following this commentary, the film provides a succession of scenes in which Jews are portrayed as an uncivilized, parasitic people with low social standing. The images were mostly shot on site in the Warsaw Ghetto and other Polish ghettos, showing subjects who were deliberately chosen to be poorly dressed, dirty and who had partially toothless grins. The locations shown are dirty and infested by vermin. Robert Reimer asserts that a central theme of the film is the assertion that "Jews have always lived in the ghettos and in fact they choose to live this way." According to Reimer, the film asserts that ghettos are "ordinary rush into trade" because it is fitting "with their character and inclination", and that "For the Jew, there is but one object of value – money. How he earns it is a matter of complete indifference to him." It also accuses Jews of passing corruption on to their children by religious means, saying that:

These children see no ideals before them like our own. The egoism of the individual is not used in the service of higher common goals. On the contrary, Jewish racial morality claims, in contrast to Aryan morality, that the unrestrained egoism of each Jew is a divine law. His religion makes a duty out of treachery and usury.


4.2. Themes Jews as abnormal and depraved

In a long sequence of images, the film provides examples to illustrate its claims that Aryan/European culture had been corrupted by Jews. This sequence includes footage of notable figures who had earned Adolf Hitlers wrath, such as physicist and Nobel laureate Albert Einstein and Spartacist uprising leader Rosa Luxemburg erroneously named as one and the same person as anarchist Emma Goldman as representatives of so-called "international Jewry". Einsteins image was juxtaposed with a series of images about the supposed Jewish control of the pornography industry. Einstein was characterized as "the relativity Jew, who masks his hatred of Germany behind his obscure pseudo-sciences". Other film clips presented Jewish or supposedly Jewish actors from the Weimar era such as Curt Bois, Fritz Kortner, Peter Lorre, and Ernst Lubitsch. Charlie Chaplin was also included in this sequence and inaccurately identified as Jewish, possibly as a consequence of his role as the Jewish barber in The Great Dictator.

The film includes two scenes from the Hollywood film The House of Rothschild 1934. The first clip shows Mayer Rothschild, a rich man, hiding money and putting on old, shabby clothes in order to fool a corrupt tax collector. And the second shows him speaking to his sons, encouraging them to start an international banking business to take advantage of nations misfortunes in times of war. The clips were used without permission.

The films narrator asserts that: "the Jew is instinctively interested in everything abnormal and depraved." To illustrate this point, Hippler included a scene from Fritz Langs film M in which the child murderer Beckert played by Peter Lorre makes an impassioned plea to the "jury" of criminals, begging for his life and disclaiming responsibility for his crimes on account of insanity. Beckert shrieks, ". it burns within me. I must go the way I am driven. Who knows what is going on inside me? How I must – not want, must!" According to Sharon Packer, Hitler used this scene to assert that "Jews transmit inheritable criminality and therefore deserve to die."


4.3. Themes Degenerate art

The film proceeds to suggest that pictorial art and music have degenerated under Jewish influence, with many spurious examples given. Degenerate art included works of abstract art as well as those from specific individuals such as George Grosz and Emil Nolde, while degenerate music included jazz and so-called Negermusik, although here the connection to Jewry is absent.


4.4. Themes Jewish religious practice

After showing how Jews have supposedly been responsible for the decline of Western music, science, art, and commerce, the film presents a scene of a cow being slaughtered for meat by a shochet Jewish ritual slaughterer. The scene is prefaced by a warning similar to the one in Frankenstein, warning the squeamish about what is coming next. This long sequence, lasting several minutes, shows cows and sheep in their death throes as they bleed to death. The producers apparently filmed this scene because of Hitlers opposition to cruelty to animals. He had banned kosher slaughter of animals in Germany and felt that such footage would shock the German public.

This scene was cut from the version intended for young audiences.

"These images are a clear proof of the cruelty of Schachtmethode. They also reveal the character of a race, their blunt brutality hidden under the guise of religious worship.


4.5. Themes Hitlers Reichstag speech

The film concludes with footage of Hitlers speech in the Reichstag in which he proclaims:

"If international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be Bolshevization of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!"

The film ends with images of brownshirted SA troops on parade.


5. Release and reception

In and of itself, the movie did not have much impact on the German public. The film suffered from being released after Jud SuS, which had been wildly popular, perhaps because the antisemitic message was secondary to an engaging period drama. The actors in Jud SuS were leading German actors of the time. In contrast, Der ewige Jude s only original footage was of Jews in the Polish ghetto and animated maps. All the other footage consisted of stills and archive film clips.

Thus, unlike Jud SuS, which was a box-office smash success, Der ewige Jude was a commercial flop. David Culbert asserts that it is unlikely that there were more than one million paid admissions compared to over 20 million paid admissions to Jud SuS. The film was more known by word-of-mouth descriptions than from people actually viewing it. Some Germans were quoted as saying "Weve already seen enough Jewish filth. We dont need to see any more."

The film was chiefly screened by party supporters and Nazi organizations like the Hitler Youth and the SS. Its themes and content made it a topic of discussion by a wider audience that never saw it. Himmler invited to screen it for SS troops headed for the Eastern Front to carry out the "Final Solution".


6. Postwar legacy

In 1946, Fritz Hippler was tried for directing Der ewige Jude but was not found guilty. Hippler contended Joseph Goebbels was the true creator of The Eternal Jew with Hitlers close supervision. He claimed that Goebbels gave Hippler credit as a reward "for his excellent work in the newsreel department".

Franz Hippler was interviewed in the Emmy Award-winning program "The Propaganda Battle" in the PBS series Walk Through the Twentieth Century 1983–1984. In this interview he stated that he regretted being listed as the director of The Eternal Jew because it resulted in being interrogated by the Allies after the war. He thought this was unfair because, in his opinion, he had nothing to do with the killing of Jews. In an interview shown in the German documentary series Holocaust 2000, the 90-year-old Hippler described the film as "the most disgraceful example of antisemitism." The films narrator, Harry Giese, went on to narrate other films, but he was associated with this film and other films by the Third Reich and he found less work in the Postwar German cinema of the 1950s and 60s.


7. Availability

The public distribution and exhibition of the film is prohibited in Germany. The only exception is for use in college classrooms and other academic purposes; however, exhibitors must have formal education in "media science and the history of the Holocaust", and it can only be screened in a censored version with annotations.


8. Cast

  • Curt Bois as himself archive footage
  • Albert Einstein as himself archive footage
  • Rosa Luxemburg as herself archive footage – erroneously identified as the Jewish anarchist Emma Goldman
  • Fritz Kortner as himself archive footage
  • Anna Sten as herself archive footage
  • Adolf Hitler as himself, speaking at Reichstagssitzung archive footage
  • Mona Maris as herself
  • Charles Chaplin as himself archive footage – erroneously identified as Jewish
  • Ernst Lubitsch as himself archive footage
  • Peter Lorre as himself archive footage
  • Harry Giese as narrator


  • Fritz Hippler as the director
  • Eberhard Taubert as the writer
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