‘The Myth of German Villainy’
As the result of losing two apocalyptic world wars, Germany has acquired a reputation as the evil nation of Europe, and, perhaps the evil nation of all time. Just mentioning the word “German” still brings forth an image in the mind’s eye of robotic, goose-stepping storm troopers, under the command of stiff-necked Prussian officers, ready to march off to inflict gratuitous murder and destruction upon their peace loving neighbors. We have been brainwashed by relentless propaganda to regard the Germans as intrinsically militaristic, aggressive, brutish, racist and anti-Semitic, with a predilection for blind obedience to authority figures. Hundreds of Hollywood movies, relentless Holocaust propaganda, and countless books and magazine articles have permanently reinforced this negative image of Germany in the popular mind. Rational motives for the inexplicable horrors Germans are accused of having routinely committed are not required. It is axiomatic that their evil nature explains it all.
Consider the movie, “Schindler’s List,” by the Jewish director, Stephen Spielberg, for example. The Nazi commandant of the concentration camp (supposedly the Plaszow camp outside of Krakow, not far from Auschwitz), is standing shirtless on the balcony of his house with a hunting rifle over his bare shoulders. The rifle is equipped with a telescopic sight. In the movie, the house is located on a hill above the camp so that he can look down on the throngs of prisoners milling around in the compound below. He lifts the rifle to his shoulder and through the telescope begins casually scanning from one prisoner to another. The image through the telescope now fills the movie screen. The crosshairs of the scope stop on a randomly selected prisoner. He pulls the trigger and the prisoner drops to the ground, dead. The screen then cuts back to the Nazi commandant to show bored insouciance as he actuates the bolt of his rifle and casually raises it back to his shoulder. He fires again, and again a prisoner drops to the ground, dead. Bored with his “target practice,” he turns his attention to the beautiful, sexy, naked woman lying on a bed just inside the house from the balcony. The woman is purportedly one of his Jewish housemaids selected from the camp, who also apparently serves as his sex slave. His face expresses disdainful, though lackadaisical, cynicism.
The point of the shootings, as well as bringing in the naked housemaid (who just happens to be a Jew, what else?), is to show the Nazi officer as totally depraved, without conscience, morality, or empathy for other humans; in short, a psychopath. It is presumed, of course, that the murdered prisoners were all Jews. Two popular Jewish themes are combined here: Nazi evil and Jewish persecution.
This episode is entirely fictional, based on a novel by Thomas Keneally, an Australian, who only visited the concentration camps once in 1980 and who had no real knowledge of what went on there. No such actual event as described above has ever been recorded, yet the vast majority of movie goers swallow it whole and accept it as actual history.
The real Plaszow camp was located on the other side of a hill from the commandant’s house, and completely out of sight from the commandant’s balcony. It would have been impossible for him to shoot down into the compound as shown in the movie even if he had been inclined to do so, which is highly unlikely. The actual commandant of Plaszow, Amon Goeth, on which the character in the movie was based, lived in the house with his fiancé Ruth Kalder, with whom he had a child. Ruth said that they intended to marry but were unable to do so due to the chaos at the end of the war. She had her name and the child’s name changed to Goeth after the war with the help of Amon Goeth’s father. Amon Goeth was hanged after the war by the Polish government (the post war Polish government was all Jewish, incidentally) primarily for being a member of the Nazi party and a member of the Waffen-SS, not for shooting prisoners. Ruth described Amon Goeth as a cultured man who had a beautiful singing voice. Goeth did, indeed, have two Jewish housemaids selected from the camp while he was commandant, but they were not beautiful and sexy as depicted in the movie, and there is no information that he had untoward relations with them. That story was only included to add spice to the movie.
Another example is the movie, “Sophie’s Choice,” by another Jewish director, Alan J. Pakula, in which “Sophie” and her two small children are sent to Auschwitz (Auschwitz is the holy temple of Holocaust lore). During the “selection” process (the “selection” is now one of the “stations of the cross” of the Holocaust religion) immediately after their arrival, Sophie is told by a stereotypically evil Nazi officer (supposedly Dr. Joseph Mengele of Auschwitz notoriety) that she can only keep one of her children and that the other must go to the gas chamber. She is forced to choose which one to keep and which one to be sent to the gas chamber, hence, “Sophie’s choice.” The evil Nazi officer provides no reason or explanation in the movie for requiring one child to die or for forcing her to make this heart rending choice. That he is an “evil” Nazi is presumed to be explanation enough. This preposterous movie was based on a novel by the American Southern writer William Styron, who had no firsthand knowledge of the camps at all. Auschwitz was simply used as the setting for a tale which came out of his imagination. Nothing of the sort ever happened in real life. Yet, evil Nazi stories such as these have long been a staple in Hollywood. The movie-going public has been so conditioned by this poppycock that fiction has become fact in the public mind. We have all been brainwashed to accept such absurdities without skepticism. Germans are “evil,” so they do “evil” things. No further explanation needed.
Yet, Germany was not always seen in this light. The image of Germany as a sinister, predatory, warlike nation only took root in the twentieth century. Nineteenth century Germany, by contrast, was seen as a place of peace and enlightenment. The English historian, Frederic William Maitland, described the way the English people saw the Germans during the nineteenth century: “… it was usual and plausible to paint the German as an unpractical, dreamy, sentimental being, looking out with mild blue eyes into a cloud of music and metaphysics and tobacco smoke.”
The highly influential French writer and Salon matron, Madame de Stael, portrayed the Germans during the period of the Napoleonic Wars as a nation of “poets and thinkers, a race of kindly, impractical, other-worldly dreamers without national prejudices and disinclined to war.”
The Americans also held a benign opinion of the Germans prior to the twentieth century. The American historian, Henry Cord Meyer, wrote, “… whether seen in their newly united nation [Germany was united into one nation in 1871] or in this country [German immigrants in the United States], the Germans were generally regarded as methodical and energetic people who were models of progress, while in their devotion to music, education, science, and technology they aroused the admiration and emulation of Americans.”
In 1905 Andrew Dickson White, a noted American historian, educator, and United States Ambassador to Germany, wrote just nine years before the outbreak of World War I: “Germany, from a great confused mass of warriors and thinkers and workers, militant at cross-purposes, wearing themselves out in vain struggles, and preyed upon by malevolent neighbors, has become [after consolidation] a great power in arms, in art, in science, in literature; a fortress of high thought; a guardian of civilization; the natural ally of every nation which seeks the better development of humanity.”
The German people have historically made great contributions in every sphere of cultural, intellectual, and scientific achievement. In the field of music, there were such eighteenth century geniuses as Bach, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Schuman, to name a few. This musical genius continued in the nineteenth century with the Strausses, Mahler and Richard Wagner. There were the literary contributions of Goethe and Schiller; the historical works of Ranke and Niebuhr; the philosophical studies of Kant and Hegel; and the great scientific contributions of Alexander von Humboldt and William Conrad Roentgen. These are only a few examples of a very long list. The Prussian system of higher education and the cultural flowering which characterized Prussia during the years following the Napoleonic wars greatly influenced both Europe and America. The American public school system as well as our university system was deliberately modeled after the Prussian public school system and university system. Germany was admired by the world as a center of learning, for its high culture and for its achievements in every field; but also for its culture of honesty, hard work, orderliness and thrift, which existed even at the lowest level of society.
British scholars and journalists had been very favorably disposed toward all things German, including their history, culture, and institutions throughout the nineteenth century. The highly respected Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield commented extensively on Britain’s high regard for Germany.
“In England the view once prevailed that German history was particularly the history of freedom, for it was a story that comprised federation, parliament, autonomous cities, Protestantism, and a law of liberty carried by German colonies to the Slavonic east. In those days it was the Latin States which were considered to be congenial to authoritarianism, clinging to the Papacy in Italy, the Inquisition in Spain and the Bonapartist dictatorships in militaristic France. The reversal of this view in the twentieth century, and its replacement by a common opinion that Germany had been the aggressor and enemy of freedom throughout all the ages, will no doubt be the subject of historical research itself someday, especially as it seems to have coincided so closely with a change in British foreign policy… Up to the early 1900’s when historical scholarship in England came to its peak in men like Acton and Maitland, words can hardly describe the admiration for Germany — and the confessed discipleship — which existed amongst English historians.”
And then British author Thomas Arnold (June 13, 1795 – June 12, 1842) saw Germany not as a nation with a unique predisposition toward authoritarianism and regimentation, but rather as a “cradle of law, virtue, and freedom,” and considered it a “distinction of the first rank” that the English belonged to the Germanic family of peoples.
The following photos and drawings represent the way in which the world saw Germany during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, right up to the beginning of World War I. Pre-WWI Germany was seen as a peaceful land of fairy tales and dreamy castles, and of industrious, law abiding, disciplined people.
Germany’s positive image changes over night
This view of Germany was to change almost overnight with the outbreak of World War I. After the war began in 1914 a grotesque image of a rapacious, bloodthirsty and uniquely aggressive Germany quickly took form and became the stereotypical image of Germany in Europe and America. This new image of Germany was the direct result of a virulent anti-German propaganda campaign conducted by the British government and later joined by the United States government in which deliberate and systematic lies, distortions and false atrocity stories were disseminated to the British and American publics. The emotions of both the British and American publics were deliberately whipped up to a fever pitch of hatred for the “Hun.” A pathological hostility towards all things German, which later became such a familiar and integral part of Western thinking about Germany, had its birth in this skillful propaganda campaign.
After World War Two, Historian Harry Paxton Howard examined this transformation of Germany’s reputation which began immediately after the start of WWI. It was made out, he said, that Germany was not only evil but had always been that way, and that Germany, contrary to the facts, had always been the historical enemy of Europe and America. He wrote:
“Actually, in the literal sense of the word, the biggest job of revising history was done during the First World War when our ‘histories’ were completely revised to show that Germany had always been our enemy, that Germany had started the war in 1914, that Germany had even started the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and that in the Revolutionary War we had not been fighting the British but the Hessians — not to mention such things as the Germans cutting the hands off Belgian babies, instead of the Belgians cutting off the hands of Congolese. This was a real revision of our histories which has distorted the American mind for more than forty years.”
All belligerents, of course, including Germany, used propaganda against their enemies, as all belligerents have done in all wars throughout history, but the propaganda efforts of Germany and the Central Powers were amateurish and ineffectual compared to the British. In their propaganda efforts, the Germans tended to appeal to reason instead of to the emotions. They never portrayed their enemies as bloodthirsty, inhuman beasts. The Allies, Great Britain in particular, by contrast, proved themselves masters at adroitly manipulating world opinion by widespread propagation of fantastic tales of German villainy. From the beginning of the war, stories of German atrocities filled British and American newspapers. (American newspapers depended at that time on British news services for most of their news stories about Europe, which came across undersea cables controlled by Britain. The Germans had no access to the American media. Great Britain made sure of that by cutting Germany’s six trans-Atlantic cables to America.)
The first atrocity stories came out of the German march through Belgium at the beginning of the war. Germany’s purpose was not to attack Belgium, per se, but to pass through Belgium in order to outflank French defenses and then make a drive toward Paris. This strategy was known as the Sclieffen Plan, which the Germans believed was the only way to achieve a quick victory over France. Germany’s “violation” of neutral Belgium served as Britain’s pretext for going to war against Germany, though the decision to go to war for other reasons (mainly economic) had already been made. Belgium was only a pretext. To enter the war, it was necessary to win public support, and the propaganda opportunities resulting from Germany’s invasion of Belgium, as well as the fabricated stories of German atrocities in Belgium served that purpose. “Eyewitnesses” were found who described hairy knuckled Huns in Pickelhaube helmets tossing Belgian babies in the air and catching them on their bayonets as they marched along, singing war songs. Stories of German soldiers amputating the hands of Belgian boys were widely reported (reputedly to prevent them from firing rifles). Tales of women with their breasts cut off multiplied even faster. There were also tales of crucifixions of Allied soldiers. Europeans and Americans were more religious then than they are today and the crucifixion stories aroused outrage. (It should be mentioned that of all forms of evidence accepted in modern courts of law, eyewitness testimony is considered the least reliable.)
But rape stories were the favorite of all atrocity tales. One “eyewitness” described how the Germans dragged twenty young women out of their houses in a captured Belgian town and stretched them on tables in the village square, where each was raped by at least twelve “Huns” while the rest of the soldiers watched and cheered. After being fed a steady diet of this kind of propaganda, the British public veritably demanded revenge against the loathsome Hun. A group of Belgians toured the United States (at British government expense) telling these stories to Americans. (Britain wanted to draw the United States into the war.) President Woodrow Wilson solemnly received the group in the White House.
The propaganda portrayed Britain as “a knight on a white horse” coming to the defense of violated, neutral Belgium. This was cynical manipulation of public opinion, of course, because if Germany had not violated Belgian neutrality, Britain would have done so without a second thought.
Germany angrily denied all of these stories. So did American reporters who were with the German army and knew that they were lies. But these denials did not find their way into American newspapers. The British controlled what went into American papers and it was the British who were generating the atrocity stories. To enhance the credibility of these fantastic atrocity stories, the British government asked Viscount Bryce early in 1915 to head a royal commission to conduct an investigation. The British government, of course, intended that Bryce would support this false propaganda, which he obediently did. Bryce was a well known historian with a good reputation in America. He not only had served as the British ambassador in Washington, but had written several complimentary books about the American government. The British knew that he was highly respected and admired in America, and that he had a reputation for rectitude and honesty. America would believe whatever he said. Bryce was also intensely loyal to his own country and therefore perfect for the job.
Bryce and his six fellow commissioners, all lawyers, historians and legal scholars, “analyzed,” if you can call it that, 1,200 depositions of “eyewitnesses” who claimed to have seen these German atrocities first hand. Almost all of the eyewitness accounts came from Belgians who had left Belgium for England as refugees, though some accounts also came from British soldiers in France. The commission never interrogated a single one of these eyewitnesses, but relied on their written statements instead (Shades of the Nuremberg Trials after the next war). Since there was a war on, there were no “on site” investigations of any reported atrocity. Not a single witness was identified by name, including the soldiers who had provided written accounts. Yet, the commission officially confirmed that all the atrocity stories, no matter how fantastic, were true. This bogus investigation was just another part of Britain’s anti-German propaganda campaign.
The “Bryce Report” was released on May 13, 1915, and the British government made sure it went to every newspaper in America. The impact was phenomenal, especially coming just after the torpedoing of the British liner Lusitania which caused the deaths of 135 Americans. Americans from coast to coast were outraged. A wave of revulsion for all things German swept the country. Hatred of Germans reached fever pitch. Suddenly the American public was clamoring for war. (There is well founded suspicion that the Lusitania was set up as a decoy by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, deliberately exposing it to a German submarine attack for the purpose of bringing America into the war).
But there were skeptics of the Bryce report. In England, Sir Roger Casement called the report a lie, and wrote a report of his own refuting it, though no one paid much attention to it. The American lawyer, Clearance Darrow, was so skeptical that he traveled to France in 1915 and searched in vain for a single eyewitness who could confirm even one of the Bryce stories. Increasingly dubious, Darrow announced that he would pay $1,000, equivalent to around $25,000 today, to anyone who could produce a Belgian boy whose hands had been amputated by a German soldier, or any other Belgian or French victim who had been mutilated by German troops. None were found.
The “proofs” provided by the Bryce Committee in its investigation, as well as the methods employed in gathering them, violated every elementary rule of evidence. Careful scholars have long since demonstrated that the entire report was made up of nothing more than distortions and outright falsehoods. But Britain was determined to pull the United States into the war and Bryce and his colleagues were willing accomplices in that effort. They justified their lies and exaggerations because it served the higher cause of Mother England. After the war most historians dismissed 99 percent of Bryce’s atrocities as fabrications. One called the report “in itself one of the worst atrocities of the war.” “After the war,” recounts Thomas Fleming in his book Illusion of Victory, “historians who sought to examine the documentation for Bryce’s stories were told that the files had mysteriously disappeared.”
As the war drew on, another fabricated story was widely circulated. It was reported that the Germans were operating a “corpse factory” where the bodies of both German and Allied soldiers killed in battle were supposedly melted down for fats and other products useful to the German war effort. The Germans were accused of making soap out of human fat. Human skins were used to make fine leather goods such as lampshades, driving gloves and riding breeches. The bones of these corpses were said to have been ground up and used as fertilizer on German farms.
A detailed account of this so-called “corpse factory” appeared in the highly respected British newspaper, The Times, on April 17, 1917. According to the story, trains full of corpses arrived at a large factory. The bodies were attached to hooks connected to an endless chain. The article carefully described the process inside the corpse factory.
“The bodies are transported on this endless chain into a long, narrow compartment, where they pass through a bath which disinfects them. They then go through a drying chamber, and finally are automatically carried into a digester or great cauldron, in which they are dropped by an apparatus which detaches from the chain. In the digester they remain from six to eight hours, and are treated by steam, which breaks them up while they are slowly stirred by the machinery. From this treatment result several products. The fats are broken up into stearin, a form of tallow, and oils, which require to be redistilled before they can be used. The process of distillation is carried out by boiling the oil with carbonate of soda, and some of the by-products resulting from this are used by German soap makers. The oil distillery and refinery lie in the south-eastern corner of the works. The refined oil is sent out in small casks like those used for petroleum, and is of a yellowish brown color.”
Note the meticulous detail.
The story was a total fabrication, but it was a “plausible” story, especially with all the detail, and it was not possible for the Germans to completely refute it while the war was still going on. After the war, of course, the story was exposed as the lie it was. No such corpse factory existed. It is interesting that the story of making soap out of bodies emerged again during World War II when the Germans supposedly made soap out of Jewish corpses. That lie is still widely believed and remains a staple of Jewish Holocaust propaganda. The “lampshades out of human skin” story also had its origin in World War I and emerged again during World War II when Germans were supposedly making lampshades out of Jewish skin. There was nothing to it, yet it also remains a staple of Jewish Holocaust propaganda.
“The purpose of war propaganda,” Historian Thomas Fleming, in his book “The Illusion of Victory,” observes, “as peddled by both the Anglo and American elite, was to create a widespread public image of Germans as ‘monsters capable of appalling sadism’ — thereby coating an appeal to murderous collective hatred with a lacquer of sanctimony.” “The trick,” said Fleming, “is to leave the target audience at once shivering in horror at a spectacle of sub-human depravity, panting with a visceral desire for vengeance, and rapturously self-righteous about the purity of its humane motives. People who succumb to it are easily subsumed into a hive mind of officially sanctioned hatred, and prepared to perpetrate crimes even more hideous than those that they believe typify the enemy.”
The Bryce Report as well as all the other anti-German propaganda unquestionably helped England win the war. It convinced millions of Americans and other neutrals that the Germans were beasts in human form, and this, as much as anything else, helped bring America into the war. But there were adverse consequences to this lurid atrocity propaganda campaign. It poisoned public opinion against the Germans to such an extent that it could not be undone. It was an obvious factor, for example, in the British decision to maintain the total blockade of Germany for seven months after the war was over, which, incidentally, was a violation of international law. The blockade caused a million German civilians to starve to death, and unbearable suffering of millions more. The blockade itself was far and away the greatest atrocity of World War I, though it receives very little publicity, and it was done, not by the evil Germans, but by the saintly British.
By creating blind hatred of Germany, the anti-German propaganda campaign also contributed to the harsh peace terms imposed on Germany at the end of the war, which then sowed the seeds of World War II. Though historians and other scholars have exposed these German atrocity stories as nonsense, the image of German villainy has remained fixed. The benign world opinion of Germany which existed right up to 1914 was replaced overnight by the myth of unique German savagery which left a permanent residue of Germanophobia deep in Western minds. This explains why “our boys” were so willing to obliterate whole German cities and kill hundreds of thousands of German civilians with air bombardments during the Second World War. This hate propaganda, as false as it was, also had the effect of totally demoralizing the German people.
This fantastic book can be bought here