Read Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History Online

Authors: David Aaronovitch

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America never found out exactly what Ford’s facts were, and despite his campaigning the country did go to war in 1917, following the sinking by a German U-boat of the passenger liner
Lusitania
. By the time the U.S. doughboys were on their way home from Europe, there were new enemies for the celebrated industrialist to fight. There was, above all, Bolshevism, the negation of everything Ford believed in.

Ford, though a diffident man, did not believe in the quiet use of financial muscle. One lesson that he took from his antiwar campaign was that he could not rely upon the existing press to get his message over. Indeed, he was locked in a multimillion-dollar libel suit with one of the most powerful, the
Chicago Tribune
. Ford had also won the Michigan primary for the Republican presidential nomination in 1916 without ever agreeing to stand. It seemed to him that if he reached the people directly then he was likely to achieve political success. He was ever the innovator, and the solution seemed clear to him: he would become his own press, start his own newspaper. So in January 1919, the
Dearborn Independent
(Dearborn was the location of the first Ford plant) was launched, featuring, among the usual things, “Mr. Ford’s Own Page.” Promoted by Ford dealers throughout America, the
Dearborn Independent
soon had a print run of 300,000.

Initially, the newspaper manifested interest in the concerns of its readers, whom it took to be the hardworking folks of America and their families. But it wasn’t long before “Mr. Ford’s Own Page” was fulminating against the specter of Bolshevism and its threat to the American way of life. In April 1919, the paper printed an article about Russian Bolshevism, commissioned from a Russian exile, Boris Brasol, who had made an acquaintance of Henry Ford’s personal secretary, Ernest Liebold.
15
Four weeks later, Liebold had his own article published, pointing out the “deep and sinister” role played in creating the conditions for the First World War by “financial interests.” Like a Ford car, the components were being assembled by different people. Soon they would be put together, and the thing would begin to move.

It took a year or so for the various themes—the Americanization of immigrants (120,000 Jews arrived in the United States in 1920), the greed of the great bankers (with special mention of the Rothschilds), and the threat of alien Bolshevism—to coalesce. When they did, the impact was huge. On May 22, 1920, and for ninety-one successive weeks after that, the
Dearborn Independent
devoted itself to campaigning on what it called “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem.”

The starting point of this sustained campaign was a folksy “just askin’ ” stance. The observable fact was, as the paper put it, “a sparse Jewish ingredient of three per cent in a population of 110 million—attaining in fifty years a degree of control that would be impossible to a ten times larger group of any other race.”
16
How, the
Dearborn Independent
wanted to know, had such a remarkable state of affairs come about? What special and specific qualities did the Jewish people have? What did such minority power mean for the majority of Gentiles? Week by week, the paper went through various aspects of life and politics, naming the chosen people wherever it found them and becoming a veritable
Jew’s Jew in America.
Sometimes the tone was plaintive. In an article about the music business, for example, the author lamented that once upon a time, “composers like Victor Hebery and Gustav Kerker” had been popular, “but now the Irving Berlins have forced themselves into places hewn out and established by Gentiles who had a regard for art.” A regard that Mr. Berlin, we may deduce, did not have. Sometimes the tone was cross, as when noting that Jewish control of the movie industry had made it impossible to show a film called
The Life of the Saviour
because it “might offend the Hebrews.”

We don’t know exactly when Boris Brasol told Liebold that he had a copy of the Nilus version of the
Protocols
. We do know that around the end of May 1920, a stenographer in Washington, D.C., made a copy of the Brasol text of the
Protocols
on behalf of the Ford Motor Company, and had it sent to Liebold.
17
Then, on June 26, the
Independent
began to publish the
Protocols
as part of its series “The International Jew.” The serialization began with a complaint about the fuss that the publication was likely to cause. “The chief difficulty in writing about the Jewish Question,” the editor wrote, “is the supersensitiveness of Jews and non-Jews concerning the whole matter.” It was an early complaint about what today might be described as political correctness. In August, the
Independent
claimed to show exactly the “connection between the written program of the documents and the actual program as it can be traced in real life.”

When the series was finished, it was collected together by Ford’s publishing house and sold in four volumes as
The International Jew
. Subsidized by Ford to the tune of $5 million, the books cost twenty-five cents per volume and sold half a million copies in the United States alone. But if Ford was a selling point in America, he was revered abroad. That such an endorsement of the
Protocols
should be made by someone so successful, so modern, and (presumably) so wise, added significant credibility to a document which had previously seemed rather outlandish. It is hardly surprising that versions of the
Protocols
published right up to today often quote the words of Henry Ford when interviewed by the
New York World
in February 1921: “They fit with what is going on,” said Ford. “They are sixteen years old and they have fitted the world situation up to this time. They fit it now.”

Enter Sir John

But even as Ford spoke, the
Protocols
were unraveling. Ten months earlier, in an article in the Berlin monthly journal
Im Deutschen Reich
, a German academic, Dr. J. Stanjek, had revealed that a secret meeting of Jewish elders, very much like the one supposed to be the source of the
Protocols
, had been described in a book published some time before. In fact, said Dr. Stanjek, it had been published more than thirty years before the First Zionist Congress had even met in Basel. And this earlier book was not a work of history or fact, but of fiction. A novel.

The book in question appeared in German in 1868, and had been supposedly authored by a certain Sir John Retcliffe. But Retcliffe was actually the nom de plume of a German journalist Hermann Goedsche. Goedsche had been convicted of political forgery back in 1848, when he had used fabricated letters to try to discredit the leader of the Prussian liberals Benedikt Waldeck. Sacked from his job in the post office, he had become a journalist on a right-wing Berlin newspaper, and supplemented his income by writing lurid novels under a romantic pseudonym. And it was in one of these,
Biarritz
, that a remarkable gathering takes place in a central European graveyard.

The scene is the Jewish cemetery in Prague, the oldest in Europe, during the Feast of Tabernacles. It is night and all is silent. Then the tower clock of the town hall strikes eleven. A key clicks in the lock of the cemetery gates. A rustling of long coats is heard; a white, shadowy figure appears, and then twelve more. These thirteen are the representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel plus the exiles, and they are greeted by someone who is addressed as “Son of the accursed.” It is evident they are up to no good.

One by one, they report on what they’ve been doing for the last hundred years and their current thinking. Levi has got gold; Reuben has been setting up stock exchanges; Simeon has been getting his hands on all the best agricultural land, Judah on the factories. Manasseh from Budapest meanwhile is capturing the press, Benjamin the professions; Asher (from London) wants free marriage between Jews and Christians, and has been enjoying “the forbidden pleasure with the women of our enemies.” Naphtali wants to seize government bureaucracies; Dan is after monopolies on bread, butter, liquor, and wool. Zebulon argues for siding with liberals to foment revolution, while Issachar is interested in discrediting the military classes in the eyes of the people and Aaron sees the advantages in undermining the Church. The board meeting of Evil Jews Inc. over, they depart with the words “Let us renew our oath, sons of the golden calf, and go out to all the lands of the earth!”

After
Biarritz
’s forgotten publication, the chapter titled “In the Jewish Cemetery at Prague” underwent some curious metamorphoses. In 1872, it turned up as a pamphlet in Russia, with a foreword arguing that, though the meeting was fiction, it nevertheless revealed a truth. In 1881, it was published in France in the magazine
Le Contemporain
. This time, however, it was called the “Rabbi’s Speech,” and consolidated all the various wicked claims into one address, whose speaker talked of “Our sole aim—world domination, as was promised to our father Abraham.” By now it had mutated from fiction to fact, a speech supposedly delivered at a real gathering around the tomb of the “Grand Master Caleb.” Furthermore, it was held to have been recounted by an observer—that most irreproachable of characters, an English diplomat by the name of Sir John Readclif!
18

In 1891, in Odessa on the Russian Black Sea, the “Rabbi’s Speech” was published in a local newspaper but was said to have been given at a secret Sanhedrin eight years earlier—there had been a congress of Reform Judaism that year, held in Leipzig. It was reprinted again in France in 1896, in a book by François Bournand,
Les Juifs et Nos Contemporains
, and now the sinister speechifier was named as Chief Rabbi John Readclif. And so it went, with the rabbi subsequently becoming Rabbi Eichorn or Reichhorn, and sometimes speaking to a congress of Jews in Lemberg in Austria in 1912. In October 1920,
La Vieille France
published a Russian document recognizing the similarity between the Reichhorn speech and the
Protocols
but seeing this as evidence of the authenticity of both, the one backing up the other. In any case, hadn’t the speech been vouched for by that valiant English diplomat Sir John Readcliffe, “who paid with his life for the divulgation”?
19
So fiction had become fact, and a German forger and author of pfennig dreadfuls had gradually turned into a power-hungry rabbi and a martyred English nobleman.

Enter Machiavelli

Dr. J. Stanjek’s hypothesis of a fictional source for the
Protocols
wasn’t enough, however, to discredit them. Even if there was a structural and philosophical similarity with the “Rabbi’s Speech,” this could have been coincidental. Just because Goedsche had imagined a ghastly get-together in which the world was subverted, that didn’t mean that no such gatherings had ever happened. And the
Protocols
were, after all, a record, word for word, of what was said at a very particular time and place: Basel 1897. It took another journalist to unearth another strange similarity before people began to sit up and listen.

When the
Times
editorial worrying about a “Pax Judaeica” was written in May 1920, the newspaper’s correspondent in Constantinople, Philip Graves, had worked for the paper for well over a decade. Sometime probably in the summer of 1921, he was approached by a Russian exile whom he calls “Mr. X”—“a landowner with English connections. Orthodox by religion, by political opinion, a Constitutional Monarchist.”

Mr. X, Graves later wrote, had long been interested in the Jewish question and in Freemasonry, and had studied the
Protocols
. He was therefore intrigued when he was offered a number of old books for purchase by a former officer of the tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana. “Among these books,” Graves wrote, “was a small volume in French, lacking the title page, with dimensions of 5½ by 3½ inches. On the leather back was printed in Latin capitals the word Joli.” The book appeared to have been published in the 1860s or 1870s, and the preface was placed and dated to “Geneva, 15 October 1864.”

What was in this small book was sensational. For Mr. X, leafing through it idly one day, was suddenly struck by the resemblance between the passage he was reading and something he’d seen in the
Protocols
. He began a line-by-line textual comparison, and the truth rapidly became clear: the
Protocols
were a substantial paraphrase of this book. And in many places not even a paraphrase, but a direct copy, a plagiarism. Whoever had composed them had done so after first reading this very publication. And if that were true, the
Protocols
couldn’t possibly be an account of an event that had happened thirty years after the “Joli” book was published.

The French book was not about Jews at all; in fact, it didn’t even mention them. Its subject was French politics in the 1860s, the period of the corrupt Second Empire of Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon or Napoleon III. The emperor was no liberal—direct printed criticism of him was banned—and the small book bought by Mr. X was an allegorical satire of him written in the form of an encounter in Hell between two historical figures—Machiavelli and the French philosopher Montesquieu. The author was a Parisian lawyer, Maurice Joly, and the book had probably been published in Brussels and then smuggled into France. The fact that it was allegorical did not prevent the courageous Joly from being tried for sedition, fined, and imprisoned for fifteen months.

In the book,
Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu
, the best, wickedest lines belong to Napoleon III in the shape of Machiavelli. He explains to the sidelined Montesquieu the need for the ruthless use of power, the control of business and the media, and how to set rivals against each other—all things the emperor’s enemies accused him of at the time. His is a language of total cynicism.

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