Julius Streicher: Unjustly Hanged at Nuremberg
Julius Streicher (1885-1946) was the most despised defendant at the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg. Virtually nobody liked him, and even his codefendants shunned him. Contemporaries inside and outside of Germany typically portrayed him as a monster.[i] Rebecca West, for example, commented about Streicher: “He is a dirty old man of the sort that gives trouble in parks, and a sane Germany would have sent him to an asylum long ago.”[ii]
American psychologist Dr. Gustave Gilbert wrote about Streicher: “A quarter of an hour with this perverted mind is about all one can stand at one time, and the line never varies: World Jewry and circumcision serve as the channels for projecting his own lascivious thoughts and aggressions into a pornographic anti-Semitism which could get official support only in Hitlerite Germany.”[iii]
This article examines the life and career of Julius Streicher, and whether he should have been hanged at Nuremberg.
Julius Streicher’s early life did not suggest that he would die almost universally despised. He was born in the strongly Catholic Bavarian village of Fleinhausen, Germany, the ninth child of the village schoolmaster. Streicher finished his basic education at age 13, and then completed a five-year course at a teacher training institute. He began teaching in January 1904 at the bottom of the teacher hierarchy, filling in as a substitute teacher as needed.[iv]
Streicher was sufficiently established by 1907 to take a year’s leave from teaching to serve as an army volunteer. He resumed teaching in 1908 after completing his army service, and in 1909 accepted a teaching job in the Nuremberg school system. Streicher became politically active in Nuremberg, working for the Democratic Party by addressing meetings outside of Nuremberg. He also married Kunigunde Roth in 1913, and seemed ready to settle down to a comfortable life.[v]
Streicher’s life took an abrupt turn when World War I began. He promptly reenlisted in the army, becoming the first man in his company to win the Iron Cross. Fighting in numerous dangerous missions in France, Romania, and Italy, Streicher added the Iron Cross, First Class to his growing list of decorations. With the end of the war in November 1918, Streicher was demobilized and returned immediately to Nuremberg.[vi]
World War I left the citizens of Nuremberg and the whole German nation confused and disoriented. To German civilians, it was incredible that Germany was now subject to the Allied will. Streicher returned to his teaching job in Nuremberg, and began reading an enormous amount of anti-Jewish material. By the end of 1919, he found a cogent explanation for the turmoil Germany was suffering: The Jews, Streicher concluded, were the cause of Germany’s problems. This conviction would govern the remaining years of his life.[vii]
Streicher joined the Deutschsozialistische Partei (DSP) in January 1920, and by April 1920 he was the Nuremberg delegate to its first national convention. He also began publishing the first issue of the DSP newspaper on June 4, 1920. Realizing he would not significantly influence the direction the DSP was taking, Streicher decided to join the newly formed right-wing group the Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft (German Working Community) in the fall of 1921. Streicher convinced this group to hold its first mass meeting in Nuremberg on April 4, 1922, where he outlined the new organization’s platform.[viii]
After becoming disenchanted with the Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, on October 20, 1922, 2,000 of Streicher’s supporters gathered to establish the Nuremberg group of the National Socialist party. Hitler spoke at the rally, expressing appreciation for Streicher’s work. Since Hitler had previously limited his party to the Munich area, Streicher’s political base in Nuremberg was of critical importance to National Socialism’s early growth.[ix]
Streicher played a role in Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of November 8-9, 1923. Upon reaching the beer hall in Munich where Hitler’s revolution was in progress, Streicher immediately joined in. He returned to Nuremberg on an evening train immediately after the failed Putsch. The police decided to arrest Streicher, and he was suspended from his teaching position at Nuremberg on November 12. Streicher instituted legal appeals that continued until he was permanently suspended in 1928. The court, however, decided Streicher had been a good teacher before the Putsch, so he received a pension of two-thirds of his salary.[x]
Freed from his teaching duties, Streicher devoted full time to promoting Hitler’s movement. He decided to run for the Nuremberg city council, securing easy victory in the fall 1924 elections. Streicher was also appointed the National Socialist Gauleiter (regional leader) for Franconia after Hitler’s release from prison. Public speaking was one of Streicher’s most valuable skills, and he made numerous effective speeches promoting and raising money for Hitler’s programs. Hitler once said of Streicher, “If all Gauleiters were as efficient in raising money as my old fighting comrade Julius Streicher, half my worries would disappear immediately.”[xi]
Streicher’s newspaper Der Stürmer was first published on April 20, 1923. Its initial targets were Streicher’s local party enemies. After a four-month hiatus, Der Stürmer reappeared again in Nuremberg in March 1924. Hitler developed a growing personal fondness for the paper, since its articles and cartoons reflected his virulent anti-Jewish sentiments.[xii]
Streicher’s long experience as a primary school teacher had taught him that a wide gap existed between the educated classes and the mass of Germans. While the German masses were more than functionally literate, their reading skills, available time, and intellectual energy were limited. Streicher said that a man returning home from a day’s work had neither the will nor the energy for heavy reading. Thus, Der Stürmer’s articles and cartoons were presented in a simple and easily comprehensible manner.[xiii]
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Streicher was one of the most flattered editors in Germany. Other anti-Jewish papers started and stopped, merged, and disappeared, with surprising regularity in town after town throughout Germany. However, Der Stürmer remained popular. This journalistic phenomenon baffled the Bavarian authorities, who considered the newspaper to be one of the major reasons for the growth of both National Socialism and of Streicher’s power within the movement.[xiv]
Der Stürmer was already one of the most popular National Socialist publications when Hitler took power, selling about 25,000 copies weekly. By the mid-1930s it was selling hundreds of thousands of copies weekly, reaching about 500,000 copies in 1935. Although Der Stürmer lacked the status as an official party paper, praise from numerous National Socialist leaders greatly helped its circulation. The success of the paper also allowed Streicher to broaden his activity by publishing several anti-Jewish books.[xv]
With the general tightening of censorship that accompanied World War II, proofs of each Der Stürmer issue were sent to Berlin before publication. The publication’s circulation also dropped sharply after 1940, partly because of the disappearance of Jews from everyday life in Germany. Since by the war years most Jews had either emigrated or had been removed to the East, large numbers of Germans lost whatever interest they had in the Jewish question. The last issue of the publication appeared in February 1945. This issue, which had a very limited audience, denounced the invading Allies as tools of the international Jewish conspiracy.[xvi]
Hitler was virtually inaccessible to Streicher by 1939. Two events caused Streicher to completely lose the shield of Hitler’s long-standing loyalty and protection. First, on October 9, 1939, Streicher attended a meeting of Gauleiters at Hitler’s headquarters in which Hitler outlined further war plans. Streicher carelessly disclosed the confidential information he learned at this meeting to a few party comrades, and later to a larger assembly at a political meeting in Nuremberg.[xvii]
Second, Streicher brought on the wrath of almost the entire army general staff a few weeks later when he made an impromptu speech at the Nuremberg Kulturvereinhalle, while attending an “evening of comradeship” for German war veterans. Taking exception to some of the comments made by the previous speakers, Streicher stated emphatically that sole credit for the military triumphs in Poland was due to Hitler. Streicher also charged that the previous great war had been lost because of inept military leaders. At the insistence of some ranking military leaders, Streicher was forced to apologize publicly and publish a retraction of his insulting words.[xviii]
It was apparent that Hitler had lost his patience with Streicher, and in late December 1939, Hermann Göring began legal proceedings against Streicher. The formal hearing took place in Munich and began on February 13, 1940. On February 16, Streicher was found guilty of the principal charge that he had profited from dishonest financial dealings in the confiscation of Jewish property. The official opinion stated simply that Streicher was “unfit for leadership.” Hitler’s reaction to the court’s findings was to order Streicher to cease all functions as a Gauleiter and make no further public speeches. Streicher was, however, still allowed to publish Der Stürmer.[xix]
Having been removed as Franconian Gauleiter, Streicher quietly moved to the Pleikershof farm 20 miles from Nuremberg. While Streicher was genuinely interested in the crops and animals on the farm, his principal concern remained Der Stürmer. Before and after the United States’ entry into the war against Germany, Streicher published numerous articles documenting the Jewish control of American politics and financial affairs. Throughout the war years, Streicher’s favorite target was American President Franklin Roosevelt, who he always called “the Jew Rosenfeld.”[xx]
Streicher’s wife, Kunigunde, suffered from major mental and emotional problems during this period. She was committed in early 1939 to a mental sanitorium in Rottermuenster, where she died during the mid-years of the war. Streicher developed a close relationship with Adele Tappe, who was employed as his secretary at Pleikershof. The two were married on March 30, 1945, probably by a local civil service official in a simple ceremony.[xxi]
The newlyweds left Pleikershof and headed towards the Tyrolian Alps, eventually finding refuge as paying guests at a farm near the town of Weidring. Streicher posed as an artist, partially disguising himself with the growth of a white beard. Maj. Henry Blitt, a Jewish-American officer, recognized Streicher and placed him under arrest on May 23. Adele was also arrested, and the two were jailed in various locations and forced to undergo official interrogations. Julius Streicher was later moved to a prison cell in the compound of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice, where he faced trial as a major war criminal at the IMT.[xxii]
The indictments of the German defendants at the IMT were served on October 19, 1945. Dr. Gilbert asked the defendants to make a brief statement about their indictments. Streicher answered, “This trial is a triumph of World Jewry!”[xxiii] Streicher later said: “This so-called indictment is reine Wurst—pure baloney—they must have their victims. I am suspicious of such international justice. International Jewry is a better description.”[xxiv]
Only weeks before the IMT started, the American interrogating officer Col. Brundage expressed concern about the lack of substantive evidence against Streicher. Brundage identified the difficulty of linking Streicher’s actions with the offense of conspiracy under Count One of the IMT indictment. It was clear to Brundage that Streicher’s actions did not meet with the required level of criminal participation in the direct participation of a common plan or conspiracy, as a leader, organizer, instigator, or an accomplice.[xxv]
Brundage, during interrogations in November 1945, attempted to establish that Streicher had influenced Hitler on the Jewish question, and encouraged Hitler’s anti-Jewish prejudice. However, no documentary or other substantive evidence existed establishing that Streicher had indirectly influenced the attitude and policies of Hitler and future anti-Jewish actions of the National Socialist regime.[xxvi]
Streicher thought the IMT was a farce. He said to American psychiatrist Leon Goldensohn:
My conviction is and always has been, since the beginning of this trial, that in the final analysis it doesn’t matter what defense arguments are given because the minds of the judges were made up in advance, and nothing the defense lawyers or the defendants and their witnesses can say could possibly change anything. This is not a normal trial. It’s an international political trial and as such is highly irregular.
It is a trial within a nation but a trial of victors against the vanquished. Even before the trials started, the victors who are our judges were quite convinced that we were guilty and that we should all pay the price.[xxvii]
Streicher also claimed at the IMT that he had been tortured and beaten up by Allied soldiers. American prosecutor Robert Jackson moved to strike this testimony from the record, since otherwise “the court would have had to conduct an investigation.”[xxviii]
The legal issues in Streicher’s case were unique. Since Streicher had been forbidden from making speeches and had been placed under house arrest starting in 1940, it was difficult for the tribunal to prove that he had conspired to start the war or commit war crimes. Instead, the tribunal accused him of fulminating race hatred for so long and so effectively that this constituted crimes against humanity. Streicher’s numerous writings and speeches were presented as evidence of his incitements to violence.[xxix]
Streicher presented his defense on April 26, 1946. Streicher’s bluntness and combative nature made a bad impression on the tribunal. For example, when the prosecution asked whether he thought he had promoted race hatred by writing that Jews were “a nation of bloodsuckers and extortionists,” Streicher responded: “It is not preaching hatred. It is just a statement of facts.”[xxx]
Streicher was found not guilty of Count One of the IMT indictment, which was participation in a common plan or conspiracy to commit crimes against peace. However, the court found Streicher guilty under Count Four of the IMT indictment, which involved crimes against humanity. The court in its opinion stated that Streicher, for his 25 years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, was widely known as “Jew-Baiter Number One.” It claimed that Streicher’s incitement to murder and extermination, at the time when Jews were being killed in the East, constituted crimes against humanity.[xxxi]
Streicher was hanged at Nuremberg on October 16, 1946. When the noose was slipped over his head, he yelled “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” He also shouted at the witnesses: “Purim Festival 1946!” and “The Bolsheviks will hang you all one day.” When the black hood was placed over his head, Streicher said his last words: “Adele—my dear wife.”[xxxii]
American prosecutor Telford Taylor wrote about Streicher and the defendants at the IMT:
The preceding defendants had all been buried under documents undeniably establishing their monstrous guilt. But Streicher had had nothing to do with military decisions and had been a political nonentity since 1940. Virtually all of his Nazism had gone into anti-Semitism, most of it embodied in his journal, Der Stuermer. Beyond question he had been an important force in sowing the seeds of the anti-Jewish atrocities, but was that a crime under international law?…[W]as the publication of a German newspaper in Germany, no matter how scurrilous, an international crime?[xxxiii]
The answer to Taylor’s questions is that Streicher did not commit any crimes under international law.
Taylor did conclude that it was legally defensible for the Tribunal to convict Streicher under Count Four of the indictment. However, Taylor was critical of the Tribunal’s opinion:
I cannot justify the Tribunal’s failure to mention other facts, such as that from 1940 until the end of the war, Streicher was living on his farm in forced seclusion and his connection with Der Stuermer was his only “outside” source of information, that the paper’s circulation had dwindled to about 15,000 copies during most of the war, that he had no connection with Himmler or any contact with those in Poland or the Soviet Union who were perpetuating the atrocities, and that publication of a newspaper, however maddening and unconscionable it may be, should be touched with criminal accusations only with the greatest caution.[xxxiv]
Julius Streicher was improperly convicted and hanged at Nuremberg. While he was disliked by almost everyone, including his fellow IMT defendants, he committed no crimes under international law. Streicher never should have been executed solely for making anti-Jewish statements that he sincerely believed in.
[i] Showalter, Dennis E., Little Man, What Now?: Der Stürmer in the Weimar Republic, Haden: CT: Archon Books, 1982, p. 20.
[ii] Dimsdale, Joel E., Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016, p. 104.
[iii] Gilbert, G. M., Nuremberg Diary, New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947, pp. 125-126.
[iv] Bytwerk, Randall L., Julius Streicher: The man who persuaded a nation to hate Jews, New York: Stein and Day, 1983, pp. 2-3.
[v] Ibid., pp. 3-5.
[vi] Ibid., pp. 5-6.
[vii] Ibid., pp. 6-8.
[viii] Ibid., pp. 9-13.
[ix] Ibid., pp. 15-16.
[x] Ibid., pp. 17-19.
[xi] Ibid., pp. 19-25.
[xii] Showalter, Dennis E., Little Man, What Now?: Der Stürmer in the Weimar Republic, Haden: CT: Archon Books, 1982, pp. 29, 31, 40.
[xiii] Ibid., p. 57.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 71.
[xv] Bytwerk, Randall L., Julius Streicher: The man who persuaded a nation to hate Jews, New York: Stein and Day, 1983, pp. 57-61.
[xvi] Ibid., pp. 62-63.
[xvii] Varga, William P., The Number One Nazi Jew-Baiter, New York: Carlton Press, Inc., 1981, pp. 277, 279-280.
[xviii] Ibid., pp. 280-281.
[xix] Ibid., pp. 281-283.
[xx] Ibid., pp. 284, 286-288.
[xxi] Ibid., pp. 284-285, 293.
[xxii] Ibid., pp. 293-294, 300.
[xxiii] Gilbert, G. M., Nuremberg Diary, New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947, p. 6.
[xxiv] Dimsdale, Joel E., Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016, p. 105.
[xxv] Eastwood, Margaret, The Nuremberg Trial of Julius Streicher: The Crime of “Incitement to Genocide,” Queenston, Ontario: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011, p. 31.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 43.
[xxvii] Gellately, Robert (editor), The Nuremberg Interviews: Conducted by Leon Goldensohn, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, p. 260.
[xxviii] Butz, Arthur R., The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry, Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, Ninth printing, 1993, p. 189.
[xxix] Dimsdale, Joel E., Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016, pp. 106-107.
[xxx] Ibid., p. 107.
[xxxi] Dalton, Thomas, Streicher, Rosenberg, and the Jews: The Nuremberg Transcripts, Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2020, pp. 267-268, 270.
[xxxii] Ibid., pp. 278-279; Varga, William P., The Number One Nazi Jew-Baiter, New York: Carlton Press, Inc., 1981, p. 327.
[xxxiii] Taylor, Telford, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, p. 264.
[xxxiv] Ibid., p. 590.