April 10, 2006
“If ever a piece of writing could produce mass hatred, it is this one...This book is about lies and slander,”
— Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition, A Dangerous Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, explores the history and continuing impact of the most widely distributed antisemitic propaganda of modern times—the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion. From its early 20th century origins in Czarist Russia to its promotion by the Nazi Party to its widespread acceptance in the Middle East today, the tract has been used to spread hatred of Jews in virtually every part of the world. In recent times, the Protocols has become a tool of propaganda used to legitimize attacks on the State of Israel. Technology has made the Protocols available to anyone with Internet access, and it continues to be circulated by those who promote hatred, violence and even genocide. The exhibition, located in the Museum’s Gonda Education Center, opens on April 21, 2006. A special online focus on antisemitism can be found at www.ushmm.org/antisemitism.
“Rising global antisemitism and the ready availability of the Protocols makes educating people about its role as an incitement to hatred both timely and urgent,” said exhibition curator Daniel Greene. “The continued circulation of the Protocols reveals the durability of antisemitism and the power of the Internet in spreading propaganda.”
The Protocols’ Origins
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a work of fiction, originally published in Russia in 1905. The work consists of 24 chapters—“protocols”—that allegedly are minutes from secret meetings of Jewish leaders planning world conquest by manipulating the economy, controlling the media, and fostering religious conflict. Widely suspected to be the product of the Russian Czar’s secret police, its intent was to portray Jews as conspirators against the state.
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, anti-Bolshevik émigrés brought the Protocols to the West. During the 1920s, editions began appearing throughout Europe, North and South America, Japan and the Middle East. In 1920, Henry Ford published The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, based largely on the Protocols. The International Jew sold more than 500,000 copies and was translated into at least 16 languages.
Almost immediately after its publication in the West, the Protocols was publicly debunked by a variety of authorities, through both journalistic investigations and legal proceedings. In 1921, the London Times presented conclusive proof that the Protocols was a “clumsy plagiarism,” copied largely from Maurice Joly’s 1864 work, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. Investigations in other countries confirmed the forgery. Nevertheless, the Protocols gained currency as a tool for fostering hatred of Jews and continued to spread around the globe.
The Nazi Era
Adolf Hitler was introduced to the Protocols in the early 1920s by Nazi party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, and, in an effort to build support for the Nazi Party, he promulgated the notion that “Jewish Bolsheviks” were conspiring to control the world. Following the Nazis’ seizure of power in 1933, the Protocols were introduced into many schools to indoctrinate students. During World War II, the Germans circulated versions of the Protocols throughout Poland, France, Belgium and other occupied territories.
Even those who doubted the Protocols’ authenticity used them to reinforce antisemitic beliefs and policy. In 1924, Joseph Goebbels, who later became the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, wrote, “I believe that The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion are a forgery…[However,] I believe in the intrinsic, but not in the factual truth of the Protocols.”
The Protocols Today
Today the Protocols remain in wide circulation, exploited by those who advocate hatred, and sometimes violence, against Jews and the State of Israel. White supremacists and Holocaust deniers in the United States and Europe promote the Protocols. It has become a mainstream text in the Arab and Islamic world, where many school textbooks teach the Protocols as fact. In 2002 Egypt’s state-sponsored television network aired a miniseries based in part on the Protocols. The charter of the Palestinian organization Hamas also draws on the Protocols to justify its terrorism against Israeli civilians.
A Dangerous Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was made possible by generous support from Eric F. and Lore Ross.
Situated among our national monuments to freedom, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of the moral obligations of individuals and societies. The Museum fulfills its mission through a public/private partnership in which federal support guarantees the institution’s permanence and hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. More than 23 million people – including more than 7 million schoolchildren – have visited the Museum since it opened in 1993, and through its Web site, traveling exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum reaches millions more every year. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.