Julius Streicher was one of Hitler's earliest and most loyal supporters. The highest political office he held was as the Gauleiter (local leader) of Franconia, but Streicher's real significance was as the publisher of the infamous tabloid newspaper Der Stürmer (literally, the "Stormer"). While the racism of other National Socialists was "intellectual" or "scientific," Streicher specialized in appealing to the masses with the most vulgar and violent antisemitic propaganda of that era. Not only was Der Stürmer read by many but each issue was passed to a large number of readers. It was even posted on bulletin boards so that the guards at concentration camps could read it.
Julius Streicher was born in the village of Fleinhausen in Bavaria on February 12, 1885. Like his father and several of his siblings, Streicher grew up to be a teacher. By the early 1900s, he was a substitute elementary school teacher, and had frequent run-ins with the local priest. By this point, Streicher had abandoned his Catholic faith. In 1909, he settled in Nuremberg, Germany, where he stayed with only some interruptions for the rest of his life.
He honed his speaking skills as a member of the anticlerical Democratic Party in the time just before World War I. Streicher was a very good speaker and had an innate ability to captivate an audience. Around that time, he married and began a family, and seemed destined for an uneventful life.
All of this was interrupted by World War I. Like many Germans, including Hitler, he signed up almost immediately, and fought bravely. He was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class in 1914. He became an officer in 1917, won the Iron Cross First Class in 1918 in France, and returned to Nuremberg after the German collapse in November 1918.
He did not accept the defeat well. And like many others, he seemed prepared to put much of the blame on the Jews, quite unjustifiably. But what happened in 1919, although unclear2, resulted in his becoming a radical and viciously aggressive antisemite. He was heavily influenced by the classic antisemitic work, Theodor Fritsch's Handbuch der Judenfrage (Handbook of the Jewish Question).3 By the end of 1919, he was speaking publicly on the Jewish Question.
In 1919, Streicher co-founded the Deutschsozialistische Partei (German National Party), and soon thereafter, founded a newspaper for that party. The paper, the Deutsche Sozialist, saw Streicher begin his career of writing nationalist and antisemitic prose. The German National Party merged with the Nazi Party in 1922, at a time where Hitler's absolute leadership of the Nazi Party was threatened. The delivery of his party to the Nazis helped solidify Hitler's preeminence. Having Streicher go over to his side was of great use to Hitler, and he thanked him in Mein Kampf, one of the few contemporaries that he mentions.
Streicher participated in the Beer Hall Putsch with Hitler in November 1923 and a famous photograph exists of him haranguing the crowd prior to the march on the Feldherrnhalle. There, 16 Nazis were killed, the "revolution" stopped in its tracks and Hitler eventually imprisoned for treason. Streicher served one month in prison with Hitler. Eventually, his participation in the uprising cost him his job, although he was awarded a two-thirds pension. After his release, Streicher played a significant role in the reorganization of the Nazi Party, especially in the Nuremberg area.
He also ran for local office, was elected and distinguished himself by constantly being ejected from meetings, at times escorted out by the police, and by antagonizing other Nazis in the area. His other activities seemed to revolve around lawsuits, especially against Jews, either as plaintiff or defendant. By all accounts, he was a thoroughly unlikable person.
From 1933 to 1940, he was Gauleiter of Franconia, which included Nuremberg. He was the absolute master of the piece. A recitation of the many unsavory acts he committed is beyond the scope of a short essay, but suffice it to say that they were legion.
Eventually, his activities ran afoul of the Nazi leadership4, and he was removed from office in 1940. Still a favorite of Hitler's, he was allowed to retire to a small village outside Nuremberg and continued to publish Der Stürmer. There he lived in virtual obscurity until the end of the war. He was one of the defendants in the trial of the major war criminals at Nuremberg, was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. There has been some controversy about whether a propagandist is guilty of crimes he inspired, but did not order or commit. But one is well advised to remember the words of the judgment:
With knowledge of the extermination of the Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territory, this defendant continued to write and publish his propaganda of death. Testifying in this trial, he vehemently denied any knowledge of mass executions of Jews. But the evidence makes it clear that he continually received current information on the progress of the "final solution". His press photographer was sent to visit the ghettos of the East in the spring of 1943, the time of the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. The Jewish newspaper, Israelitisches Wochenblatt, which Streicher received and read, carried in each issue accounts of Jewish atrocities in the East, and gave figures on the number of Jews who had been deported and killed. For example, issues appearing in the summer and fall of 1942 reported the death of 72,729 Jews in Warsaw, 17,542 in Lodz, 18,000 in Croatia, 125,000 in Rumania, 14,000 in Latvia, 85,000 in Yugoslavia, 700,000 in all of Poland. In November 1943 Streicher quoted verbatim an article from the Israelitisches Wochenblatt which stated that the Jews had virtually disappeared from Europe, and commented "This is not a Jewish lie." In December 1942, referring to an article in the London Times about the atrocities, aiming at extermination, Streicher said that Hitler had given warning that the second World War would lead to the destruction of Jewry. In January 1943 he wrote and published an article which said that Hitler's prophecy was being fulfilled, that world Jewry was being extirpated, and that it was wonderful to know that Hitler was freeing the world of its Jewish tormentors.5
In one of history's supreme ironies, he was hanged at Nuremberg in 1946.
It is as publisher of Der Stürmer that Streicher is chiefly remembered. Founded in 1923, the newspaper became a staple of Nazi Germany, reaching a circulation of 800,000 by the end of the 1930s, yet available to a far wider readership, since it was posted in special cases in almost all public places in German cities and towns. Streicher wrote many of the lead articles of the newspaper himself, and the visual representation of newspaper's prose was done by Phillipp Rupprecht under the pen-name Fips.
Stories dealt with a multitude of issues, almost always in a simplistic, vulgar "language of the street" way. It made the famous words of Heinrich von Treitschke into a household expression, including them on the front page of almost every issue: "Die Juden sind unser Unglück!" (The Jews are our misfortune)6. And it is the Jews who were the principal focus of Streicher's newspaper from its beginning to its end in 1945.
Streicher's hatred for the Jews, and his incitements against them, permeated every page of Der Stürmer. Jews were routinely portrayed as cowards, schemers, swindlers, perverts, cheats, thieves, corrupters of all things German, and devils in human form. But it was the attached sexual innuendo that was Streicher's trademark, and in fact, when he was deposed in 1940, a large collection of pornography was not unsurprisingly found in his home. In the language he used, he aped much of Hitler's own language. He accused Jews of attempting to "corrupt" German blood by ravishing German girls. He saw them as parasites, infecting the body of the German nation, and like Hitler, he saw a solution to that infestation: the extermination of Jewry. He called for the extermination of the Jews dozens of times, and as the quotation above makes clear, he was aware of the Final Solution and supported it completely.
Der Strümer ran several "special" issues on the Jews, invoking nearly every vicious antisemitic myth imaginable. A few examples suffice to demonstrate this string of loathsome hatred:
In addition, Streicher was involved in writing and publishing books for children, representing Jews in the ways described above and warning German children against them. The most famous of these was the Giftpilz (Poison Mushroom).
Incredibly, Hitler had this to say about Streicher's treatment of the Jews: "Streicher's picture of the Jew in Der Stürmer is too idealized. The Jew is much more common, much more bloodthirsty and satanic than Streicher painted him."9
As disgusting as this man is to decent people, it is important to understand what he did and the role it played in Nazi Germany, because it is no exaggeration to suggest that he laid the psychological foundation for the Final Solution, and that he represented the brutal, murderous side of Nazism. No study of Nazi Germany is complete without an understanding of its filthy, murderous side. In it, we see the mindset that lead to the conception of and realization of the Final Solution. It is instructive that the SS murderers carried Der Stürmer in their backpacks. As Bytwerk puts it: "Others had carried out the Holocaust; Streicher had prepared the ground."10
Randall L. Bytwerk, Julius Streicher, Stein and Day, New York, 1983
Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983