Thoughts On: The Eternal Jew (1940)
An antisemitic piece of Nazi propaganda disguised as a documentary.
Shocking would be the wrong word to use when describing this Nazi propaganda film. The Eternal Jew is perplexing, surreal and almost incomprehensible. Constantly you’re fed false-equivalencies, conspiracy theories, fabrication after fabrication, lie after lie after lie to the point of absurdity. This all stems from the fact that it’s nearly impossible to comprehend a figure such as ‘approximately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust’. And what is almost just as hard to get a grip on is how this begun. Of course you may cite racism and bigotry, but in this day and age, especially when considering this film, those words do not connote, or have the same weight as, what they used to – which leaves this such a blow to the system. In such, if you saw segments of this ‘documentary’ recreated on modern screens, you’d assume that this was just a bad comedy and laugh dismissively.
The Eternal Jew is then a film that should certainly be seen by anyone willing to watch a Nazi documentary or a movie centred on the Holocaust. This is because Nazi documentaries rarely capture the truly grotesque sentiments of Hitler and his Nazi Party – in the majority of even Hitler’s speeches he only really alludes to his hatred of Jews, homosexuals, disabled people, black people, Polish people, Slavic people and many more. Whilst you can find examples of Hitler calling for the destruction of Jews, this is somewhat rare because, unlike Goebbels, Hitler aimed to plant seeds in the minds of the German people that led to them rising up on their own accord. But, beyond documentary, when we look to a film such as Schindler’s List, we grow to understand the effects of the Nazi party rising to power, but never the party itself. To look into the beliefs of those who generated, controlled and dictated the Holocaust, you’d have to hear their own words from their own mouths – through their propaganda.
The Eternal Jew is and was one of the most powerful pieces of propaganda because of its context and contributing effects, but also because it shows what film can do when put into the wrong hands. To then understand the narrative power of The Eternal Jew we only have to begin to see it as conspiracy theory.
Why are there moon landing and 9/11 deniers or truthers? Why are there geoengineering, Illuminati, eugenicist and Bilderberg out-criers? Why are there vehement anti-globalists, anti-sciencers and anti-Freemasons? Why are there flat-earthers? For the most part, this is because these people think that they are the good and that they are trying to protect the rest of us – either from lies or real physical threat. Conspiracy theorists, though they are pretty intense, then seem to be well-intentioned people. But, there is also the side of conspiracy theory that allows you to believe you’re a truther – that you have information that no one else seems to have. Both of these elements of essentially becoming a hero is what fuels conspiracy theory – and propagandists understand this like no other. In such, they’ll tap into these very human feelings and ideals to amass a current of sometimes blind emotion which can be used to put into effect radical action.
So, like a superhero nearly killing himself to save a damsel in distress or a bus full of children can be called insane in comparison to the average person, so can the most radical of conspiracy theorists – at least, in their view. And this is what makes them potentially dangerous; it all comes back to the common idea that ‘good will always prevail’. Why does the good guy always win? Because, even when they aren’t part of a majority who will back them up, they are the most passionate and motivated who see themselves as he or she with the most to lose and the most to fight for. Moreover, the good often always prevail because you can’t hear the side of ‘bad’ guys; the winners make up the rules. This begins to imply that the problem with this paradigm of ‘the good always prevail’ is that ‘good’ is a relative term, one that is largely reliant on perspective and information. In such, if you’re told that a group of people are eating babies and are coming to your area with empty bellies, you’re going to immediately view them as bad – and rightly so. But, what if this was a lie?
This outlines the paradigm for all that you will see in The Eternal Jew. The three major points of antisemitism that are then hit in this ‘documentary’ are, 1) Jews are rats that horde money, 2) Jews have wormed their way into the highest positions in the world to exploit and oppress others, 3) Jews are inhuman in their treatment of both humans and animals. The evidence used to support the first claim looks into the Torah and cites scripture around loans, using this to suggest that the religion is inherently greedy. This of course aligns with a much more common stereotype and comes from historical truth. Around the 11th century it was prohibited by Christian law throughout Europe for one person to charge interest or offer any loans to another person – this is known as usury. Many of the Ashkenazim Jews noticed this as they spread throughout Europe in this era and so took advantage of an open and needed market, becoming hugely wealthy and gaining the stereotypical label of taxers or loan sharks – whom nobody really likes in spite of religious beliefs. This stereotype spread to all Jewish people over time and has sustained to this day.
The second claim of this documentary uses the plethora of highly intelligent and successful Jews – from Einstein to Marx to Rothschild – to suggest an unjust inequality. However, whilst there are inordinate numbers (relative to their population size) of successful Jews throughout the world, this can be understood by looking back to the 11th century and Ashkenazim Jews again. This group lived in a culture of an incredibly high literacy rate with demanding jobs in tax, loans, banking and merchandising. This separated their culture, in terms of literacy rates, from the norm and nurtured an environment in which successful people are much more likely to be born and raised. There is further genetic research that claims to add to this, but this baseline cultural paradigm already suggest why, as the centuries progress, Jewish people manage to rise to such high levels of success and intellect. Add to this the common disdain for incredible success (millionaires, billionaires, their organisations and their companies) and capitalism that most people hold to vary degrees, and you can see how this vein of antisemitism came to be.
And finally, looking to the final explicit sequence of this film that depicts the kosher slaughter of livestock, we find the most difficult and manipulative segment of the film. Whilst I am not against the killing of animals for meat, the shackle and hoist method of slaughtering conscious animals that is depicted is certainly inhumane. But, in no way should this sanction a Holocaust – as any rational person would say. However, if you layer this sequence on top of the previous 45 minutes of heavy conspiracy theory and misrepresentative imagery then you have the cherry on the cake that is only a few steps removed from saying “the Jews are killing innocent babies and children”.
Seeing The Eternal Jew without this information allows for irrationality and so makes it many times more likely for the sensationalism and misuse of facts to take hold of a person. This is what can turn the average viewer into a conspiracy theorist, and possibly an extreme activist. And such cites the general paradigm of propaganda; it preys upon those without the necessary information and manipulates their moral compass to point wherever it wishes.
So, to end, what are your thoughts on propaganda and this particular film?
La Dolce Vita/8 1/2 – Character-Spectacle
Mulan – Heroes
More from me: