Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The lie that would not die.

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The Czar and his advisors were impressed by the content of the text, though it was quickly understood to be a forgery. However, it did not deter the Orthodox Church and other institutions from distributing it throughout the Russian Empire and beyond. By 1917, it became a best seller in Europe and the United States, where it was published by Henry Ford.

Details of the Plot

The Protocols' conspiracy to destroy Christianity and control the world includes a plan to take over the media, as laid out in the 12th Protocol: "Literature and journalism are two of the most important educative forces, and therefore our government will become proprietor of the majority of the journals…It will put us in possession of a tremendous influence upon the public mind." As part of the conspiracy, the Pope and the Church will be annihilated "so that only years divide us from the moment of the complete wrecking of that Christian religion (Protocol 17)."

The final takeover will be achieved financially: "We shall replace the money markets by grandiose government credit institutions, the object of which will be to fix the price of industrial values in accordance with government views…You may imagine for yourselves what immense power we shall thereby secure for ourselves…(Protocol 21)"

The text makes the Jews responsible for present and past disasters, from the downfall of Christian monarchies to the French Revolution and the advancement of liberal and bourgeois ideas. The Protocols contain a number of metaphors essential to conspiracy vocabulary, such as an "invisible hand" pushing pieces on a chessboard. The plotters are portrayed as poisonous snakes, spiders weaving their webs, and wolves ready to devour Christian sheep. The last protocols describe the future reign of the Jews in Christian terms, announcing the coming of a "King of the Jews" who will be "the real Pope of the Universe, the patriarch of an international Church."

Exposing the Farce

In May 1920, the Times of London wrote favorably about the Protocols, judging they were real because of their prophetic value: the real danger did not come from Germany, but from the Jews, and everything that was accomplished against them was "justified, necessary and urgent."

A year later, however, the Times withdrew its support for the pamphlet. The Times' correspondent in Constantinople, Philip Graves, discovered that the Protocols was a fabrication. The reporter revealed that the Protocols did not originate from a mysterious Jewish source and included sections plagiarized from a book written in 1864 by a Frenchman, Maurice Joly, attacking Napoleon III and his policies. The Protocols contain about 160 passages taken from Joly's Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu.

A closer look at the Protocols casts further doubt on its authenticity. There is a large part devoted to the situation in France at the end of the 19th century, the time and place where the Protocols were written. The original French text contains spelling errors, grammatical awkwardness, and a number of typical Russian-language structures that divulge the identity of the author.

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Brigitte Sion

Brigitte Sion is an expert on post-Holocaust memory, most notably memorials and monuments, commemorative practices, restitution and compensation. Her expertise also includes the history of Anti-Semitism. She is the former director of the Committee against Anti-Semitism (CICAD) in Geneva, Switzerland.