Julius Streicher (12 February 1885 – 16 October 1946) was a prominent member of the Nazi party (NSDAP) prior to World War II. He was the founder and publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, which became a central element of the Nazi propaganda machine. His publishing firm also released three anti-Semitic books for children, including the 1938 Der Giftpilz (translated into English as The Toadstool or The Poisonous Mushroom), one of the most widespread pieces of propaganda, which warned about insidious dangers Jews posed by using the metaphor of an attractive yet deadly mushroom. After the war, he was convicted of crimes against humanity and executed.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Early politics
- 3 Nazism
- 4 Rise of Der Stürmer
- 5 Streicher in power
- 6 Fall from power
- 7 Trial and execution
- 8 Portrayals
Streicher was born in Fleinhausen, Kingdom of Bavaria, one of nine children of the teacher Friedrich Streicher and his wife Anna (née Weiss). He worked as an elementary school teacher like his father, and in 1921 he began his political career, joining the NSDAP. He would later claim that because his political work brought him into contact with German Jews, he "must therefore have been fated to become later on a writer and speaker on racial politics." In 1913 Streicher married Kunigunde Roth, a baker's daughter, in Nuremberg. They had two sons, Lothar (born 1915) and Elmar (born 1918).
Streicher joined the German Army in 1914. He won the Iron Cross and reached the rank of lieutenant by the time the Armistice was signed in November 1918.
In February 1919 Streicher became active in the anti-Semitic Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund (German Nationalist Protection and Defense Federation), one of the various radical-nationalist organizations that sprang up in the wake of the failed German Communist revolution of 1918. Such groups fostered the view that Jews had conspired with "Bolshevik" traitors in trying to subject Germany to Communist rule. In 1920 he turned to the Deutschsozialistische Partei (German-Socialist Party), a group whose platform was close to that of the young NSDAP, or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (National Socialist German Worker's Party). The German Socialist Party (Deutsch-Sozialistische Partei, DSP) was created in May 1919 as an initiative of Rudolf von Sebottendorf as a child of the Thule society, and its program was based on the ideas of the mechanical engineer Alfred Brunner (1881–1936) – including socialist ideas like the takeover of the financial sector by the state and the cutting-back of the "interest-based economy". Leading members of the DSP were Hans Georg Müller, Max Sesselmann and Dr. Friedrich Wiesel, the first two being editors of the Münchner Beobachter. Julius Streicher founded his local branch in 1919 in Nuremberg. Streicher's arguments were primitive, vulgar, and crude but he believed in what he said and was an uninhibited, wild agitator, to whom masses would listen; which was what mattered to the party. The DSP was officially inaugurated in April 1920 in Hanover. Streicher sought to move the German-Socialists in a more virulently anti-Semitic direction – an effort which aroused enough opposition that he left the group and brought his now-substantial following to yet another organization in 1921, the Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft (German Working Community), which hoped to unite the various anti-Semitic Völkisch movements.
In 1921, Streicher finally found his mentor. He visited Munich in order to hear Adolf Hitler speak, an experience that he later said left him transformed:
That same year, Streicher joined the Nazi Party and merged his personal following with Hitler's, more than doubling the party membership.
In May 1923 Streicher founded the newspaper, Der Stürmer (The Stormer, or, loosely, The Attacker). From the outset, the chief aim of the paper was to promulgate anti-Semitic propaganda. "We will be slaves of the Jew," the paper announced. "Therefore he must go."
In November of that year, Streicher participated in Hitler’s first effort to seize power, the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Streicher marched with Hitler in the front row of the would-be revolutionaries and braved the bullets of the Munich police. His loyalty earned him Hitler's lifelong trust and protection; in the years that followed, Streicher would be one of the dictator's few true intimates.
As a reward for his dedication, when the Nazi Party was legalized again and re-organized in 1925 Streicher was appointed Gauleiter of the Bavarian region of Franconia (which included his home town of Nuremberg). In the early years of the party’s rise, Gauleiter were essentially party functionaries without real power; but in the final years of the Weimar Republic, they became paramilitary commanders. An early confidant of Streicher, who in October 1923 had founded one of the earliest Nazi student fraternities at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, was Ludwig Franz Gengler (de), and he was considered by party comrades to be the "intellectual leader of the Nuremberg Gau". During the 12 years of the Nazi regime itself, party Gauleiter like Streicher would wield immense power, and be in large measure untouchable by legal authority.
Streicher was also elected to the Bavarian "Landtag" or legislature, a position which gave him a margin of parliamentary immunity – a safety net that would help him resist efforts to silence his racist message.
Rise of Der Stürmer
German citizens, public reading of Der Stürmer, Worms, 1933
Beginning in 1924, Streicher used Der Stürmer as a mouthpiece not only for general antisemitic attacks, but for calculated smear campaigns against specific Jews, such as the Nuremberg city official Julius Fleischmann, who worked for Streicher's nemesis, mayor Hermann Luppe (de). Der Stürmer accused Fleischmann of stealing socks from his quartermaster during combat in World War I. Fleischmann sued Streicher and disproved the allegations in court, where Streicher was fined 900 marks but the detailed testimony exposed other less-than-glorious details of Fleischmann's record, and his reputation was badly damaged anyway. It was proof that Streicher's unofficial motto for his tactics was correct: "Something always sticks."
The slanderous attacks continued, and lawsuits followed. Like Fleischmann, other outraged German Jews defeated Streicher in court, but his goal was not necessarily legal victory; he wanted the widest possible dissemination of his message, which press coverage often provided. The rules of the court provided Streicher with an arena to humiliate his opponents, and he characterized the inevitable courtroom loss as a badge of honor. Der Stürmer's infamous official slogan, Die Juden sind unser Unglück (the Jews are our misfortune) was deemed unactionable under German statutes, since it was not a direct incitement to violence.
Streicher's opponents complained to authorities that Der Stürmer violated a statute against religious offense with his constant promulgation of the "blood libel" – the medieval accusation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh. Streicher argued that his accusations were based on race, not religion, and that his communications were political speech, and therefore protected by the German constitution.
Streicher orchestrated his early campaigns against Jews to make the most extreme possible claims, short of violating a law that might get the paper shut down. He insisted in the pages of his newspaper that the Jews had caused the worldwide Depression, and were responsible for the crippling unemployment and inflation which afflicted Germany during the 1920s. He claimed that Jews were white-slavers and were responsible for over 90 percent of the prostitutes in the country. Real unsolved killings in Germany, especially of children or women, were often confidently explained in the pages of Der Stürmer as cases of "Jewish ritual murder."
One of Streicher's constant themes was the sexual violation of ethnically German women by Jews, a subject which served as an excuse to publish semi-pornographic tracts and images detailing degrading sexual acts. These "essays" proved an especially appealing feature of the paper for young men. With the help of his notorious cartoonist, Phillip "Fips" Rupprecht, Streicher published image after image of Jewish stereotypes and sexually-charged encounters. His portrayal of Jews as subhuman and evil is widely considered to have played a critical role in the dehumanization and marginalization of the Jewish minority in the eyes of common Germans – creating the necessary conditions for the later perpetration of the Holocaust.
Streicher also combed the pages of the Talmud and the Old Testament in search of passages that painted Judaism as harsh or cruel. In 1929, this close study of Jewish scripture helped convict Streicher in a case known as "The Great Nuremberg Ritual Murder Trial." His familiarity with Jewish text was proof to the court that his attacks were religious in nature; Streicher was found guilty and imprisoned for two months. In Germany, press reaction to the trial was highly critical of Streicher; but the gauleiter was greeted after his conviction by hundreds of cheering supporters, and within months Nazi party membership surged to its highest levels yet.
Streicher in power
In April 1933, after Nazi control of the German state apparatus gave the Gauleiters enormous power, Streicher organised a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses which was used as a dress-rehearsal for other anti-Semitic commercial measures. As he consolidated his hold on power, he came to more or less rule the city of Nuremberg and his Gau Franken. Among the nicknames provided by his enemies were "King of Nuremberg" and the "Beast of Franconia." Because of his role as Gauleiter of Franconia, he also gained the nickname of Frankenführer.
To protect himself from accountability, Streicher relied on Hitler's protection. Hitler declared that Der Stürmer was his favourite newspaper, and saw to it that each weekly issue was posted for public reading in special glassed-in display cases known as "Stürmerkasten". The newspaper reached a peak circulation of 600,000 in 1935.
A ruined synagogue in Munich after Kristallnacht
A ruined synagogue in Eisenach after Kristallnacht
Streicher later claimed that he was only "indirectly responsible" for passage of the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and that he felt slighted because he was not directly consulted.
Streicher was ordered to take part in the establishment of the Institute for the Study and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life, that was to be organized together with the German Christians, the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Reich Ministry of Education and the Reich Ministry of the Churches. This anti-Semitic standpoint concerning the bible can be traced back to the earliest time of the Nazi movement, e.g., Dietrich Eckart's (Hitler's early mentor) book Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin: A Dialogue Between Adolf Hitler and Me, where it was claimed that "Jewish forgeries" had been added to the New Testament.
In 1938, Streicher ordered the Great Synagogue of Nuremberg destroyed as part of his contribution to Kristallnacht; he later claimed that his decision was based on his disapproval of its architectural design.
Fall from power
Streicher's excesses brought condemnation even from other Nazis. Streicher's behaviour was viewed as so irresponsible that he alienated much of the party leadership; chief among his enemies in Hitler's hierarchy was Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, who loathed him and later claimed that he forbade his own staff to read Der Stürmer.
Despite his special relationship with Hitler, after 1938 Streicher's position began to unravel. He was accused of keeping Jewish property seized after Kristallnacht in November 1938; he was charged with spreading untrue stories about Göring – such as alleging that Göring's daughter Edda was conceived by artificial insemination; and he was confronted with his excessive personal behaviour, including unconcealed adultery, several furious verbal attacks on other Gauleiters and striding through the streets of Nuremberg cracking a bullwhip (this last is portrayed in the 1944 Hollywood film The Hitler Gang). In February 1940 he was stripped of his party offices and withdrew from the public eye, although he was permitted to continue publishing Der Stürmer. Streicher also remained on good terms with Hitler.
Streicher's wife, Kunigunde Streicher, died in 1943 after 30 years of marriage.
When Germany surrendered to the Allied armies in May 1945, Streicher said later, he decided to commit suicide. Instead, he married his former secretary, Adele Tappe. Days later, on 23 May 1945, Streicher was captured in the town of Waidring, Austria, by a group of American officers led by Major Henry Plitt. At first Streicher claimed to be a painter named "Joseph Sailer," but, misunderstanding Plitt's poor German, he came to believe the latter already knew who he was, and quickly admitted his identity.
During his trial, Streicher claimed that he had been mistreated by Allied soldiers after his capture. By his account they ordered him to take off his clothes in his cell, burned him with cigarettes and made him extinguish them with his bare feet, allowed him to drink only water from a toilet, made him kiss the feet of Negro soldiers and beat him with a bullwhip. He further claimed that some of the soldiers also spat at him and forced his mouth open to spit in it.
Trial and execution
Julius Streicher in custody
Julius Streicher was not a member of the military and did not take part in planning the Holocaust, or the invasion of other nations. Yet his pivotal role in inciting the extermination of Jews was significant enough, in the prosecutors' judgment, to include him in the indictment of Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal – which sat in Nuremberg, where Streicher had once been an unchallenged authority. Most of the evidence against Streicher came from his numerous speeches and articles over the years. In essence, prosecutors contended that Streicher's articles and speeches were so incendiary that he was an accessory to murder, and therefore as culpable as those who actually ordered the mass extermination of Jews (such as Hans Frank and Ernst Kaltenbrunner). They further argued that he kept them up when he was well aware Jews were being slaughtered.
He was acquitted of crimes against peace, but found guilty of crimes against humanity, and sentenced to death on 1 October 1946. The judgment against him read, in part:
During his trial, Streicher displayed for the last time the flair for courtroom theatrics that had made him famous in the 1920s. He answered questions from his own defence attorney with diatribes against Jews, the Allies, and the court itself, and was frequently silenced by the court officers. Streicher was largely shunned by all of the other Nuremberg defendants. He also peppered his testimony with references to passages of Jewish texts he had so often carefully selected and inserted into the pages of Der Stürmer.
Oct 8, 1946 newsreel of Nuremberg Trials sentencing
Streicher was hanged in the early hours of 16 October 1946, along with the nine other condemned defendants from the first Nuremberg trial (Göring, Streicher's nemesis, committed suicide only hours earlier). Streicher's was the most melodramatic of the hangings carried out that night. At the bottom of the scaffold he cried out "Heil Hitler!". When he mounted the platform, he delivered his last sneering reference to Jewish scripture, snapping "Purim-Fest 1946!". The Jewish holiday Purim celebrates the escape by the Jews from extermination at the hands of Haman, an ancient Persian government official. At the end of the Purim story, Haman is hanged, as are his ten sons. Streicher's final declaration before the hood went over his head was, "The Bolsheviks will hang you one day!" Joseph Kingsbury-Smith, who covered the executions, said in his filed report that after the hood descended over Streicher's head, he also apparently said "Adele, meine liebe Frau!" ("Adele, my dear wife!").
The consensus among eyewitnesses was that Streicher's hanging did not proceed as planned, and that he did not receive the quick death from spinal severing typical of the other executions at Nuremberg. Kingsbury-Smith, who covered the executions for the International News Service, reported that Streicher "went down kicking" which may have dislodged the hangman's knot from its ideal position. Smith stated that Streicher could be heard groaning under the scaffold after he dropped through the trap-door, and that the executioner intervened under the gallows, which was screened by wood panels and a black curtain, to finish the job. U.S. Army Master Sergeant John C. Woods was the main executioner, and not only insisted he had performed all executions correctly, but stated he was very proud of his work.
Streicher's body, as those of the other nine executed men and the corpse of Hermann Göring, was cremated at Ostfriedhof (Munich) and the ashes were scattered in the river Isar.