The truly remarkable thing about “The Eternal Jew” is that it took so long for the film to be made. Anti-Semitism was a keystone of the Nazi movement, but “The Eternal Jew” did not come about until seven years after Hitler’s ascension to power. Why the cinema of Nazi Germany ignored the subject for so long is not clear.
What is clear, however, is that “The Eternal Jew” is an obnoxious and evil movie. The film was designed to be shown in cinemas in Nazi-occupied Europe as a way to justify the intolerant policies that Nazi forces placed on these countries. “The Eternal Jew” was shot on location in the Lodz ghetto in Poland, with scenes of the imprisoned community intercut with badly staged sequences designed to confirm the Nazi rants. Viewing the film today can be chilling when one realizes that nearly all of the imprisoned Jews captured on film would soon perish in the concentration camps.
“The Eternal Jew” catalogs ever possible anti-Semitic slander known and then invents a few more. It defines the Jew as “the ultimate mixed race…developed over the centuries from the oriental-preasiatic racial mixture, with a hint of the negroid–foreign to us Europeans, born from totally different kinds of racial elements, different from us in body and soul.” The film repeatedly calls the differences between the Nazi ideal of “Aryan” racial purity and the “Nordic concept of beauty” against the threat from the Jewish people. The film also shows how some Jews attempt to assimilate into European mainstream society by changing their wardrobe and haircuts and by shaving off beards.
The film claims the typical house is “dirty and neglected” and one shot details an alleged Jewish residence where an army of flies cover the wall. More horrifying is the film’s infamous comparison between rats and Jews, claiming the appearance of rats “represent the rudiment of an insidious and underground destruction–just like the Jews among human beings.”
It gets worse: inane statistics are presented as if they were fact (47 percent of the “crooked games of chance,” 82 percent of international crime organizations and 98 percent of prostitution are supposedly run by Jews). The film claims “immigrant Jews acquired fantastic riches” during the post-World War I years when the majority of Germans lived in poverty, and then goes on to claim that international banking and finance is a Jewish scam.
The film also condemns Jewish involvement in the arts, especially modern painting and sculpture (a clip of a black jazz musician is inexplicably tossed in during this sequence). Globally famous individuals such as Albert Einstein (dubbed “the relativity Jew”), Peter Lorre (in a scene from “M”) and Charlie Chaplin (who was not Jewish, but never mind) are blasted for various indignities against mankind. A list of American Jews is also presented to detail how the socio-political environment across the Atlantic was strictly controlled by Jewish influences. (The fact that the American government effectively barred Jewish immigration from Nazi-controlled Europe didn’t make it into the film.)
“The Eternal Jew” then gets even more grotesque, with a seemingly endless sequence where men supposedly depicting kosher butchers torture a cow to death. “Jewish law has no love or regard for animals in the Germanic sense,” the narration declares. This is then followed by that celebrated animal rights advocate and vegetarian Adolf Hitler, who addresses the Reichstag: “If the international finance-Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”
After the Allied conquest of Germany, prints of “The Eternal Jew” were confiscated and immediately banned. To this day, the German government will not allow the film to be presented unless it is under the strictest of controls. Americans never had a chance to see the film until 1958, when a New York cinema society successfully negotiated with the U.S. Customs Service to allow the import of a print from a Dutch film archive for a one-time screening.
Needless to say, no commercial distributor would ever dream of acquiring this film for release. Yet the film’s infamous content and its status of being banned has raised more than a little curiosity. Over the years, “The Eternal Jew” managed to get out and find their way into bootleg circulation–first in battered 16mm prints and then in unauthorized videos. Since the film was never released in an English-speaking country, the prints were all from the original German version without subtitles. Yet sadly enough, it is very easy to follow the film without knowing what is being said by the narrator. An English-language narrated version exists and is sold on bootleg video by a private collector; this version occasionally turns up on eBay (a proper English-subtitled version belongs to a private archive, but has never been commercially released).
Despite its obnoxious tone and blatant stupidity, this film needs to be seen. It presents the lunacy of Nazi Germany at its most grotesque and miserable, but in its crudity and madness “The Eternal Jew” leaves a very different message then it originally intended. No intelligent person can view this film and accept anything it hurls in fury; one cannot imagine a more worthless piece of propaganda (the film’s last public screening, which took place in New York a year ago, provoked unintentional laughter when its rants went into overdrive). Instead, the film only serves to disfigure the German people for embracing such a reckless and horrible policy.
Today “The Eternal Jew” does not malign its intended victims, but rather it shames its creators and those who embraced its warped message. The legacy that the Nazi era left on Germany was not the glory of a Thousand Year Reich, but the Mark of Cain, and this horrible ribbon of film helped to cut that scar into the German character. This is what happens when cameras are given to stupid and hateful people.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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