When you’re a member of a political party that includes Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich, and they call you “Jew-Baiter Number One”, you know two things: you’re a uniquely terrible human being and your name in Julius Streicher.
After the first world war, Julius Streicher started a right wing political party called the German Socialist Party. Despite the use of the word “socialist”, his party was dedicated to ultra-nationalism and anti-semitism. In the early 1920s, Streicher persuaded his followers to merge his party with the NSDAP. In 1923, Streicher started publication of his infamous tabloid, Der Stürmer (The Stormtrooper).
Streicher started Der Stürmer because he’d been involved in an intraparty spat with other Nazis, and he wanted a propaganda organ through which he could rebut their charges against him. Early issues of Der Stürmer spent most of their pages doing this, though not without a few antisemitic diatribes like this thrown in for good measure:
As long as the Jew is in the German household, we will be Jewish slaves. Therefore he must go. Who? The Jew!
At the beginning, the paper wasn’t a success. It was a broadsheet without pictures or cartoons, which limited its appeal to its working and lower-middle class target audience. As the dispute which had started the paper subsided, many leading Nazis wanted Streicher to cease publication. They already had an official paper in Nuremberg, Volkswille, and Max Amann, who coordinated Nazi publishing efforts, didn’t want there to be competition between the two papers. (He also didn’t much like the abrasive Streicher, an attitude many leading Nazis would come to share.) But Streicher had a friend in the party’s firebrand speaker, Adolf Hitler, and this gave him the power he needed to ignore Amann.
The paper suspended publication after the Beer Hall Putsch, but resumed publication in 1925. Der Stürmer no longer claimed affiliation with the Nazi party–the party was still officially banned–so it could operate solely in accordance with Streicher’s editorial whims. It started growing its audience, and though it spent much of its time attacking local Nuremberg Jewish figures, like the mayor, it gained readers outside of Nuremberg as well. Part of the reason for this success was that the paper now carried more pictures, more advertising, and the cartoons of a young artist known as Fips.
By the late 1920s, Der Stürmer was no longer confined to stories about Nuremberg. It had grown into a popular tabloid throughout. As it grew, its target list expanded to include Jews in Germany and abroad. Also, its story types expanded to two of Streicher’s favorite subjects (in fairness, the favorite subjects of any tabloid publisher): sex and crime. Tales of young German girls being raped were a special favorite of Streicher’s, particularly if the rape could be blamed on a Jew. Teenaged readers, ever eager to pore over Der Stürmer‘s lurid stories, snapped up copies as they hit the stands every week If there was no current crime in the news, Streicher would simply recycle coverage of an old one. Even Jewish readers, particularly young men, were known to buy copies to read in secret.
Two things about Der Stürmer appealed to its number one reader, Adolf Hitler. Hitler enjoyed the paper’s obsessive and repetitive antisemitic content. As the 1920s were ending and the 1930s began, Hitler had been toning down his public antisemitism to appeal to broader audiences more interested in hearing about how he’d bring an end to political street violence (!) and restart the economy. It clearly delighted Hitler to read Streicher saying all the things that he’d have liked to say. Also, Hitler admired Der Stürmer for being the kind of propaganda he’d called for in Mein Kampf: simple enough for even the dumbest member of its audience to understand, and repetitive enough that they’d never forget the message.
Heinz Preiss, one of Streicher’s hangers on in the early 1930s, put it this way:
Since he wanted to capture the masses, he had to write in a way that the masses could understand, in a style that was simple and easy to comprehend. He had recognized that the way to achieve the greatest effect on an audience was through simple sentences. Writing had to adopt the style of speaking if it were to have a similar effect. Streicher wrote in the Stürmer the way he talked…. The worker who came home late at night from the factory was neither willing nor able to read intellectual treatises. He was, however, willing to read what interested him and what he could understand. Streicher therefore took the content from daily life and the style from speech. He thus gave the Stürmer its style, a style which many intellectuals could not understand, but which fundamentally was nothing but the product of his own experience gained over the years.
Still, though Streicher had Hitler’s support, he was less beloved among the other leading Nazis of his era. Many of his fellow Gauleiters (Streicher was made Gauleiter of Franconia in 1925) resented his wealth, derived mainly from sales of Der Stürmer, and top officials, like Hermann Goering, disliked both Streicher and his tabloid. Goering banned Der Stürmer from the offices under his control. Others complained that his comparisons of Jewish blood rituals to Christian communion rituals could offend the Christian churches at a time when the party was loath to alienate them. Still others worried, particularly as the 1936 Olympics approached, that Streicher’s extreme, public antisemitism would hurt Germany’s international reputation.
Naturally, Streicher used those pages Der Stürmer not devoted to slandering Jews to attacking his rivals within the Nazi party. This only worsened his situation, encouraging his rivals to dig up his dirty secrets.
Streicher had long been known for living a decadent personal lifestyle. His sadism was infamous. (He delighted in horsewhipping political prisoners.) He profited hugely from the expropriation of Jewish householders, when that money was supposed to go to the state treasury. His corruption was out of control, even by Nazi standards.
Finally, in 1940, Streicher crossed a dangerous line. He slandered Hermann Goering, spreading a story suggesting that his daughter, Edda, was the product of artificial insemination. Goering responded by launching a formal investigation of Streicher’s finances, and in the end, not even his friend Hitler was willing to rescue him from the consequences. Streicher was stripped of the office of Gauleiter, along with all other party offices. Streicher was also banned from public speaking, but he was allowed to continue running his newspaper, which he did until May of 1945.
Streicher was hanged, along with other top Nazi leaders, in his home city of Nuremberg in 1946.
Here is a speech by Streicher, translated into English. It gives a good sense of Streicher’s simple, brutish rhetorical style. (At this same site you can learn a great deal more about Streicher’s Der Stürmer, and Nazi propaganda generally. It repays a few hours’ study, if you’re interested.)
And here is video of Streicher speaking at the 1933 Reichsparteitag, documented in the Leni Riefenstahl film Der Sieg Des Glaubens (Victory of Faith). This film was almost obliterated from history because it contained a great deal of footage of Ernst Roehm, who was killed and branded a traitor by the Nazis in 1934. Riefenstahl’s more famous (and infamous) Triumph of the Will was commissioned as its replacement. A comparison between the two films shows that while Streicher is given a large ceremonial role in Der Sieg Des Glaubens, he’s cut to a mere sound bite in Triumph of the Will, which may be an indication both of the Nazis’ desire to play down their antisemitism in 1934, at least in films meant to be shown overseas, as well as a possible reduction of Streicher’s status within the party.