Julius Streicher (12 February 1885 – 16 October 1946) was a prominent member of the Nazi Party. He was the founder and publisher of the virulently antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer, which became a central element of the Nazi propaganda machine. His publishing firm also released three antisemitic 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 the supposed dangers Jews posed by using the metaphor of an attractive yet deadly mushroom. The publishing firm was financially very successful and made Streicher a multi-millionaire. At the end of the war, Streicher was convicted of crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trials and was executed.
Streicher was born in Fleinhausen, in the 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, as his father had. 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. For his outstanding combat performance during the First World War, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, as well as earning a battlefield commission as an officer (lieutenant), despite having several reported instances of poor behaviour in his military record, and at a time when officers were primarily from aristocratic families. Following the end of World War I, Streicher was demobilised and returned to Nuremberg. Upon his return, Streicher took up another teaching position there but something unknown happened in 1919, which turned him into a "radical anti-Semite."
Streicher was heavily influenced by the endemic antisemitism of pre-war Germany, especially that of Theodor Fritsch. In February 1919, Streicher became active in the antisemitic 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 and Bolsheviks were synonymous, and that they were traitors trying to subject Germany to Communist rule. In 1920 Streicher turned to the Deutschsozialistische Partei (German Socialist Party), a group whose platform was close to that of the Nazi Party, or Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (National Socialist German Workers' Party or NSDAP). 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) Leading members of the DSP were Hans Georg Müller, Max Sesselmann and Friedrich Wiesel, the first two editors of the Münchner Beobachter. Julius Streicher founded his local branch in 1919 in Nuremberg. The DSP was officially inaugurated in 1919 in Hanover.
By the end of 1919, the DSP had branches in Düsseldorf, Kiel, Frankfurt am Main, Dresden, Nuremberg and Munich. Streicher sought to move the German Socialists in a more virulently antisemitic direction – an effort which aroused enough opposition that he left the group and brought his now-substantial following to yet another organisation in 1921, the Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft (German Working Community), which hoped to unite the various antisemitic völkisch movements. Meanwhile, Streicher's rhetoric against the Jews continued to intensify to such a degree that the leadership of the Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft thought he was dangerous and criticized him for his obsessive "hatred of the Jews and foreign races."
In 1921 Streicher left the German Socialist Party and joined the Nazi Party, bringing with him enough members of the DSP to almost double the size of the Nazi Party overnight. 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". He visited Munich in order to hear Adolf Hitler speak, an experience that he later said left him transformed. When asked about that moment, Streicher stated:
Nearly religiously converted by this speech, Streicher believed from this point forward that, "it was his destiny to serve Hitler".
In May 1923 Streicher founded the sensationalist popular newspaper Der Stürmer (The Stormer, or, loosely, The Attacker). From the outset, the chief aim of the paper was to promulgate antisemitic propaganda; the first issue had an excerpt that stated, "As long as the Jew is in the German household, we will be Jewish slaves. Therefore he must go". Historian Richard J. Evans describes the newspaper:
In November 1923, 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. As a result of his participation in the attempted Putsch, Streicher was suspended from teaching school. His loyalty to the cause earned him Hitler's lifelong trust and protection; in the years that followed, Streicher would be one of the dictator's few true intimates. Streicher and Rudolf Hess were the only Nazis mentioned in Mein Kampf; in the book Hitler praised him for subordinating the German Socialist Party to the Nazi Party, a move Hitler believed was essential to the success of the National Socialists. When Hitler was released from his prison sentence at Landsberg am Lech on 20 December 1924 for his role in the Putsch, Streicher was one of the few remaining followers waiting for him at his Munich apartment.
Hitler – who would value loyalty and faithfulness very highly throughout his life – remained loyal to Streicher even when he landed in trouble with the Nazi hierarchy. Although Hitler would allow suppression of Der Stürmer at times when it was politically important for the Nazis to be seen as respectable, and although he would admit that Streicher was not a very good administrator, he never withdrew his personal loyalty.
As a reward for Streicher's dedication, when the Nazi Party was again legalized and re-organized in 1925, Streicher was appointed Gauleiter (regional leader) 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, as the Nazi Party grew, so did their power. During the 12 years of the Nazi regime, Gauleiters such as Streicher would wield immense power and authority, both over party matters and civil ones.
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
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. 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 less-than-glorious details of Fleischmann's record, and his reputation was badly damaged. It was proof that Streicher's unofficial motto for his tactics was correct: "Something always sticks." Der Stürmer's infamous official slogan, Die Juden sind unser Unglück (the Jews are our misfortune), was deemed non-actionable 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 responsible for Germany's prostitution rings. 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 he used to publish semi-pornographic tracts and images detailing degrading sexual acts. The fascination with the pornographic aspects of the propaganda in Der Stürmer was an important feature for many antisemites. 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. To protect himself from accountability, Streicher relied on Hitler's protection. Hitler declared that Der Stürmer was his favorite 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. One of the possible solutions to the Jewish problem Streicher mentioned within the pages of Der Stürmer was shipping all of them to Madagascar.
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 antisemitic commercial measures. As he consolidated his hold on power, he came to more or less rule the city of Nuremberg and his Gau Franken, and boasted that every Jew had been removed from Hersbruck. 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.
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. Perhaps epitomizing the "profound anti-intellectualism" of the Nazi Party, Streicher once opined that, "If the brains of all university professors were put at one end of the scale, and the brains of the Führer at the other, which end do you think would tip?"
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. A surgical operation prevented Streicher from being able to fully participate and engage in this endeavor. This antisemitic 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. Streicher later claimed that his decision was based on his disapproval of its architectural design, which in his opinion "disfigured the beautiful German townscape."
Fall from power
John Gunther described Streicher as "the worst of the anti-Semites", and his excesses brought condemnation even from other Nazis. Streicher's behaviour was viewed as so irresponsible that he was embarrassing 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. 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. Hitler remained committed to Streicher, whom he considered a loyal friend, despite his unsavory reputation.
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.
Trial and execution
During his trial, Streicher claimed that he had been mistreated by Allied soldiers after his capture. When the German version of the Wechsler-Bellevue IQ test was administered by Gustave Gilbert, Streicher had the lowest IQ (106) among the defendants. 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. He complained throughout the process that all his judges were Jews.
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. They further argued that he kept up his antisemitic propaganda even after he was aware that Jews were being slaughtered.
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.
Streicher was hanged at Nuremberg Prison 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 "Purimfest!" Streicher's final declaration before the hood went over his head was, "The Bolsheviks will hang you one day!" Joseph Kingsbury-Smith, a journalist for the International News Service 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 reported that Streicher "went down kicking," which may have dislodged the hangman's knot from its ideal position. U.S. Army Master Sergeant John C. Woods, who was the main executioner, not only insisted he had performed all executions correctly, but stated he was very proud of his work.