This Day in Jewish History |

1937: 'The Eternal Jew' Expo Opens

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Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels.Credit: AP

On Nov. 8, 1937, the traveling exhibition “The Eternal Jew” first opened at the Library of the German Museum in Munich. A companion exhibition to the show of “degenerate art” that had opened earlier that year in the same city, “Der ewige Jude” was intended to provide Germans with a comprehensive depiction of the invidious Otherness of the Jew, through pseudo-scientific descriptions of Jews’ business practices, their personal morals, their dress, their external physiological characteristics, even the nature of Hebrew typography.

The Munich exhibition, which drew some 400,000 visitors in less than three months, before going on tour, was accompanied by a lecture series which attracted overflow crowds. The talks dealt with such topics as the Talmud, the Jews and capitalism, and the Jewish influence on German philosophy. The lectures and the museum show were just two examples of an ongoing onslaught by the various organs of the Nazi Party to familiarize the German people with the “academic” research being carried out by German scholars about the Jewish threat.

The “Degenerate Art” (Entarte Kunst) exhibition, for example, presented 650 contemporary artworks, as well as books and music items, culled from a more general national purge of cultural works  deemed “decadent and chaotic” by Nazi society. The art– not all of it by Jews, it should be noted – was displayed according to themes, which included such subjects as “Insult to German Womanhood” and “Mockery of God.” Following the final closing of that show, which toured Germany and Austria over the next three years, many of the artworks were burned or otherwise destroyed, although those that might bring in large prices abroad were often auctioned off to the highest bidder in Switzerland. 

“The Eternal Jew” was also the name of a popular documentary film from 1940 that continued in the vein of depicting all the worst stereotypes of the Jewish character and nature. Directed by Fritz Hippler, who headed Nazi film production, the movie famously made a direct comparison between Jews and rats, with the narrator telling viewers that “Where rats appear, they spread disease and destruction into the land. They are wily, cowardly, and cruel, and appear mostly in large numbers – just like the Jews among the humans.”

The same film ended with Hitler’s Reichstag speech of January 30, 1939, in which he threatened that another world war caused by “international Jewish financiers” would lead not to “the victory of Jewry but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."