By Gordon Stein
Some hoaxes are harmless and can be considered for their humor alone. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax (hereafter called the Protocols) is another matter altogether. This hoax had serious, even deadly consequences. Lives were lost as a result because of this hoax, although it is impossible to estimate how many.
The Protocols have a tangled and mysterious history. Many scholars have worked to untangle this history, but the greatest credit goes to Norman Cohn, author of Warrant for Genocide. Other major contributions were made by Herman Bernstein and Philip Graves, each of whom identified one of the two novels that were major sources for the Protocols.
While not all the steps by which the Protocols arrived in final form are known, it appears that production started in Russia in about 1895. However, The true origin of the Protocols lies in Paris, 1864. In that year, a political satirist named Maurice Joly published his book. Although the book was actually published in Brussels, its title page said it was published in Geneva. Joly's book, Dialogue aux Enfer entre Montesquieu et Machiavel (A Dialog in Hell Between Montesquieu and Machiavelli), openly criticized Emperor Napoleon III -- which, at the time, was criminal. The author put the emperor's words into the mouth of political philosophers Machiavelli and Montesquieu, using the latter to present the case for liberalism. The book was smuggled into France, but was seized at the border. Joly was arrested and tried. On April 25,1865, he was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment. The book was banned and copies confiscated, making it a rare work. This rarity has helped hide the fact that large sections of the imagined dialog have been lifted and grafted on to the work that became the Protocols. [My wife, who speaks French, has personally verified this. -Birdman]
In Berlin, during 1868, Hermann Goedsche, a minor official in the German Postal Service, who wrote under the pseudonym of Sir John Retcliffe, published a novel called Biarritz. The novel contained a chapter called "In the Jewish Cemetery in Prague." In this chapter, he tells of a secret nocturnal meeting held in the cemetery during the Feast of Tabernacles. There the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel gather to meet with the Devil. The leaders report on their activities during the century that has elapsed since their last meeting. The reports assert that the Jews are making great progress towards taking over the world, since they have accomplished such things as putting all the princes and governments of Europe into their debt by means of the stock exchange. They discuss a scheme for getting all land in the hands of Jews, and outline plans to undermine the Christian Church. A plea to gain control of the press is presented, as well as schemes to obtain high governmental positions. They renew their oath and agree to meet again in 100 years. Although Biarritz is fiction, this chapter summarizes many of the fears that anti-semites have exhibited for hundreds of years.
Another Protocols conspirator, Pyotr Rachkovsky, was the head of the foreign branch of the Russian secret police from 1884 to 1902. The Okhrana (secret police) had its overseas headquarters in Paris. Rachkovsky organized the overseas operations in Paris, Switzerland, London, and Berlin. He also spearheaded the transformation of the two fictional works by Joly and Goedsche into the Protocols. In 1887, he planted a forged letter in the French press, claiming that the majority of the terrorists then active in France were Jews. In 1892, Rachkovsky published a book in Paris entitled Anarchie el Nihilisme, telling how the French Revolution made the Jew "the absolute master of the situation in Europe, governing by discreet means both monarchies and republics." The one remaining goal of the Jews was domination of Russia, the book claimed, and this was being planned. The book urged the creation of a Franco-Russian league to combat the power of the Jews. In 1902, Rachkovsky tried to create such a league, but failed.' In 1905, he created the Union of the Russian People, that would later help circulate the Protocols and conduct other anti-Jewish activities.
In 1902, Rachkovsky was involved in a court intrigue in St. Petersburg with Sergey Nilus. Nilus was a former landowner, who had lost his entire fortune while living in France. He wandered in Russia from monastery to monastery. In 1900, Nilus published a book explaining how he had been converted from an atheist to an Orthodox Christian. The book was called The Great in the Small.
At this point, it is speculated that Rachkovsky sent Nilus a manuscript version of the Protocols. They may have planned to use it in a continuation of their St. Petersburg court intrigue. In 1905 Nilus published a second edition of The Great in the Small, containing an addendum of the Protocols. Nilus apparently believed a worldwide Jewish conspiracy was taking place, but the materials comprising the "documentation" of that conspiracy, namely the manuscript of the Protocols, was evidently supplied to him by Rachkovsky. Evidence also suggests that copies of the Protocols in manuscript or in mimeograph were circulating in Russia in the late 1890s, although no copies seem to have survived. Whether Rachkovsky was also the source of these copies is unknown.
Author Norman Conn feels "practically certain" that the Protocols were fabricated sometime between 1894 and 1899 in Paris. That would correspond with the time of the Dreyfus Affair, when a Jewish army captain was accused of treason in an anti-semitic incident. The copy of Joly's book in the Bibliotheque Nationale bears markings that indicate that it was the copy used to lend information to the Protocols. The fabrication was undoubtedly done by a Russian.
Once Nilus' version of the Protocols was published in 1905, the work took on a life of its own. The Protocols were widely circulated in right-wing circles in Russia. Tsar Nicholas II read and accepted the Protocols as genuine. An investigation later showed that the work was fraudulent, however, and Nicholas ordered that they no longer be used for anti-Semitic propaganda. When the Tsar was overthrown in the Russian Revolution, the situation changed, and the Protocols were widely read by the "White" army that lost to the "Red" army during the revolution. The losers blamed the revolution on the Jews and used the Protocols as the document explaining their motivation. Thus was started the myth of the Jewish-Communist conspiracy that helped fuel the German campaign of anti-Semitism.
Translations of the Protocols began to circulate in Europe around 1919. Publication in Germany began in 1920, although the earliest title page is dated 1919. The first edition was called Die Geheimnisse der Weisen von Zion (The Mystery of the Sages of Zion). Sales quickly reached 120,000 copies. The assassination of German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau in 1922 was motivated by the idea that Rathenau, a Jew, was one of the "Elders of Zion."
An English translation, entitled The Jewish Peril, was published in 1920 by Eyre & Spottiswoode, publishers of the Authorised Version of the Bible and Anglican Prayer Book. Most reviewers accepted the work as authentic, although the newspapers published letters from readers to the contrary. In America, the work was also published in 1920. Henry Ford's newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, published a long series of articles in 1920, justifying the authenticity of the Protocols. These were republished as a book, The International Jew. Hitler later had copies of this book translated and circulated throughout Germany.
Back in Germany, the German National People's Party (DNVP) used racist propaganda -- including the Protocols -- in its election campaigns beginning in 1920. The "Jewish World Conspiracy" was allegedly due to an inborn destructiveness in all Jews, who were conspiring to destroy the "Aryan," or Germanic race. A combination of the "volkisch-racist" (nationalist) tradition in Germany and the Protocols produced an inflammatory combination that reinforced the kind of attitudes that led to the Holocaust. Alfred Rosenberg, propagandist of Nazi anti-Semitism, was apparently influenced by the Protocols when writing his Myth of the Twentieth Century, which became known as the source-book of Nazism. Hitler's explanation of the great economic inflation of 1923 was that "According to the Protocols of Zion the peoples are to be reduced to submission by hunger. The second revolution under the Star of David is the aim of the Jews in our time."
Therefore, what started out as a hoax, probably for Russian political reasons, became perhaps a key piece in the genocide of the Jews. The Protocols are still in print, and still being issued as genuine documents in some places. This was certainly the most deadly hoax ever conceived.
Bernstein, Herman. The Truth About "The Protocols of Zion"; A Complete Exposure. New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1971.
Cohn, Norman R. C. Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
Graves, Philip. The Truth About "The Protocols": A
Literary Forgery. London: Times Publishing Co., 1921.
Gwyer, John. Portraits of Mean Men: A Short History of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1938.
[Nilus, Sergey, ed.] The Protocols and World Revolution, Including a Translation and Analysis of the "Protocols of the Meetings of the Zionist Men of Wisdom". Boston: Small, Maynard & Co, 1920.
Wolf, Lucien. The Myth of the Jewish Menace in World Affairs, or The Truth About the Forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: Macmillan, 1921.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Hoaxes
The 'Protocols of Zion' in Orthodoxy and Its Unfortunate Distribution
The 'Protocols': A Forgery of Plagiarized Fiction