When I was a young man of 20, I joined the US Army in 1966. Subsequent to basic training and military police school, I was assigned to an MP company in Goeppingen, Germany near Stuttgart. After a couple of months, I was transferred to one of the satellite detachments in Erlangen, a university town located about 15 miles from Nuremberg. Over the next couple of years, I became well acquainted with the medieval city of Nuremberg, which had been completely destroyed during World War II but restored to its original style. There was much to see in this old walled city with gabled roofs and cobblestone streets. There was also a lot of Nazi history in Nuremberg being the site of the Nazi party rallies, the notorious Nuremberg laws, and the war crimes trial. In addition, there was the notorious anti-Jewish newspaper of the Nazi era, Der Stuermer, whose editor was the gauleiter of Franconia, Julius Streicher, known as “the Jew Baiter of Nuremberg” and Germany’s most fanatical anti-semite. Streicher was tried, convicted and hanged at Nuremberg in the trial of the major war criminals.
My experience in Germany and Nuremberg made me into an amateur scholar in all things Third Reich. Ever since those years in Germany, I have read voraciously on the subject. Having lived outside Nuremberg, I also became interested in the life of Streicher himself, a character so vile, even his co-defendants shunned him during the course of the trial. Curiously, however, I found that literature on the life of Streicher was rare. One reason was that even though Streicher was a newspaper editor (and previously a school teacher by profession), he was really more a man of the spoken word as opposed to written. He was not university educated and of limited intelligence. Thus, he did not leave much in the way of writing about his own life. The most significant work on Streicher in English is Randall L. Bytwerk’s Julius Streicher, (First Cooper Square Press, 2001). Like other books on Streicher, it is focused largely on what was published in Der Stuermer. Unlike its editor, archival material on Der Stuermer is plentiful. Of course, the Nuremberg trial transcripts on Streicher also survive.
What was known about Streicher was that he was born in the village of Fleinhausen, near Augsburg. Like his father, he became a school teacher winding up in Nuremberg. He served in World War I and returned to Nuremberg to resume his teaching career after the war. In the post-war turmoil that ensued in Germany, Streicher became involved in nationalist politics, became obsessed with Jews, and eventually joined Hitler’s Nazi party. He founded Der Stuermer in 1923 and helped Hitler establish (through Nuremberg) a geographical bridge for Nazi influence to the more northern parts of Germany, whereas the party had been heretofore centered in Munich. Der Stuermer became a popular weekly tabloid in Germany during the Third Reich. It generally consisted of 8 pages with lurid caricatures of Jews as sexual predators and polluters of German blood. Various news stories of Jewish malcreants were also a regular part of the weekly editions. The chief cartoonist was Philipp Ruprecht, nom de plume Fips, who produced stereotypical images of Jews with huge lips, round bellies, and hooked noses.
Streicher was actually removed from his post as gauleiter during the early part of World War II on corruption charges and exiled to his home outside Nuremberg (Pleikershof). In the final days of the war, he and his second wife, Adele, fled to the Austrian Alps. He was subsequently arrested by a group of US Army soldiers who stopped to ask directions. When one of them remarked that he looked like Streicher, the by then bearded fugitive admitted his identity and was arrested.
Streicher was charged with counts one and four of the indictment at Nuremberg, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. Since he had no national political role in Germany under Hitler and could not be proven to have any role in the war, he was acquitted on count one, but convicted on count four, crimes against humanity. Two weeks later, he was hanged along with several of his co-defendants.
In 2013/2014, Daniel Roos wrote a dissertation on Streicher at the University of Wuerzburg. That became a book published in 2014 under the title, Julius Streicher und Der Stuermer 1923-1945 (Publisher Ferdinand Schoeningh). It is over 500 pages (in German) and is a more comprehensive biography of the man. Streicher’s life is covered in more detail though, as usual, there is lots of material from Der Stuermer. It includes material on the numerous defamation lawsuits in which Streicher was a defendant prior to the Nazis taking power. It also includes letters Streicher wrote to his family while in prison. (He had two sons, Lothar and Elmar by his first wife, Kunigunde, who died during World War II.) The book also contains personal details on Streicher provided over the years by his son, Lothar.
At the end of the book, Roos raised the issue that Streicher was condemned not by any murderous actions, rather by his spoken and written words against Jewry, which would raise an interesting legal argument at least in America. Indeed, over the years, some apologists for Streicher have insisted the verdict was unfair since Streicher did not actively participate in the murder of Jews or the Holocaust already living in forced retirement when the actual Holocaust began. In his defense, Streicher insisted that he had never called for the murder of Jews merely their removal from the Reich. However, when faced with his own writings during cross-examination, it was brought out that when Streicher used words like “vernichtung” (destruction) or “ausrottung” (extermination), he could hardly have been talking about removing Jews anywhere. The prosecution argued that Streicher’s rants about Jews over the course of years had helped to condition Germans that Jews were less than human thus providing a link to the ensuing Holocaust.
The issue of free speech/hate speech is alive and well in Europe and the US today as anti-semitism is reaching levels not seen since the 1930s in Europe. In the Arab world, images of Jews in the style used by Ruprecht can be seen in mainstream Arab newspapers. In 2008, I myself observed such a caricature of Ariel Sharon placed on the so-called “mock apartheid wall” used as a prop by the University of California at Irvine Muslim Student Union during their annual protests against Israel. It is a page right out of Der Stuermer, but in the US, it is considered protected speech.
Of course, Streicher’s speech was followed by a unique event in human history-the murder of some 6 million Jews. Streicher did not give the order and was sitting idle at his home as it was being carried out. Yet, the prosecution and the author concluded that Sreicher and Der Stuermer played a significant role in setting the stage for the Holocaust.