The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Latest issues)

A title page featuring Russian text.
A reproduction of the 1905 Russian edition by Serge Nilus, appearing in Praemonitus Praemunitus (1920).
a series of articles

The Protocols of the (Learned) Elders of Zion (Russian: "Протоколы сионских мудрецов" or "Сионские протоколы") is one of many titles given to a text purporting to describe a plan to achieve global domination by the Jewish people. Following its first public publication in 1903 in the Russian Empire, numerous independent investigations have repeatedly proved the writing to be a hoax; notably, a series of articles printed in The Times in 1921 revealed that much of the material was directly plagiarized from earlier works of political satire unrelated to Jews. Nevertheless, some people continue to view it as factual, especially in parts of the world where antisemitism, anti-Judaism, or anti-Zionism are widespread.[1] It is frequently quoted and reprinted by anti-Semites, and is sometimes used as evidence of Jewish conspiracy, especially in the Middle East.[2]

The Protocols are considered one of the most important examples of contemporary conspiracy theory literature, and take the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the "Elders", describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, replacing the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation. The work was popularized by those opposed to the Russian communist revolutionary movement, and was disseminated further after the Russian Revolution of 1905, but achieved worldwide popularity after the 1917 Bolshevik October Revolution, when the idea that Bolshevism was a Jewish conspiracy for world domination sparked far-ranging interest in the Protocols. It was widely circulated in the West in the 1920s and 1930s, and while continued usage of the Protocols as a propaganda tool substantially diminished with the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, it still has currency in the arsenal of contemporary anti-Semitism.


  • 1 Publication history
    • 1.1 The Protocols in the West
  • 2 Images of early editions of the Protocols
    • 2.1 Title variations
  • 3 The twenty-four protocols
  • 4 Plagiarism Sources and Origin of the Plot
  • 5 Literary forgery
  • 6 Origin of content
    • 6.1 Maurice Joly
    • 6.2 Hermann Goedsche
  • 7 First Russian language editions
    • 7.1 Pavel Krushevan
    • 7.2 Comparison between The Protocols and Maurice Joly's Dialogue in Hell
    • 7.3 Conspiracy references
  • 8 Historical publications, usage, and investigations
    • 8.1 Emergence in Russia
      • 8.1.1 Krushevan and Nilus editions
      • 8.1.2 Stolypin's fraud investigation, 1905
    • 8.2 The Russian Revolution and the spread of the Protocols, 1920s
    • 8.3 English language imprints
    • 8.4 The Times exposes a forgery, 1921
    • 8.5 German language publications
    • 8.6 Middle East
  • 9 The Berne Trial, 1934–1935
    • 9.1 South Africa
    • 9.2 Germany
      • 9.2.1 Fascist
  • 10 Contemporary imprints
  • 11 See also
  • 12 References
  • 13 Further reading
  • 14 External links
    • 14.1 Notable web resources

Publication history

The Protocols appeared in print in the Russian Empire as early as 1903. The anti-Semitic tract was published in Znamya, a Black Hundreds newspaper owned by Pavel Krushevan, as a serialized set of articles. It appeared again in 1905 as a final chapter (Chapter XII) of a second edition of Velikoe v malom i antikhrist (The Great in the Small & Antichrist), a book by Serge Nilus. In 1906 it appeared in pamphlet form edited by G. Butmi.[1]

These first three (and subsequently more) Russian language imprints were published and circulated in the Russian Empire during 1903–1906 period as a tool for scapegoating Jews, blamed by the monarchists for the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Russian Revolution. Common to all three texts is the idea that Jews aim for world domination. Since The Protocols are presented as merely a document, the front matter and back matter are needed to explain its alleged origin. The diverse imprints, however, are mutually inconsistent. The general claim is that the document was stolen from a secret Jewish organization. Since the alleged original stolen manuscript does not exist, one is forced to restore a purported original edition. This has been done by the Italian scholar, Cesare G. De Michelis in 1998, in a work which was translated into English and published in 2004, where he treats his subject as Apocrypha.[2][3] As fiction in the genre of literature the tract was further analyzed by Umberto Eco by his word, Foucault's Pendulum in 1988, and in English translation in 1989, and in 1994 in chapter 6, "Fictional Protocols", of his Six Walks in the Fictional Woods.

As the 1917 Russian Revolution unfolded, causing white Russians to flee to the West, this text was carried along and assumed a new purpose. Until then The Protocols remained obscure;[4] it was now an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution. It was now a tool, a political weapon used against the Bolshevikis who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jews, allegedly executing the "plan" embodied in The Protocols. The purpose was to discredit the October Revolution, prevent the West from recognizing the Soviet Union, and bring the downfall of Vladimir Lenin's regime. In that regard, The Protocols failed to achieve their aim.[2][3]

It was first published in the United States in the English language in 1919 as two newspaper articles in the Philadelphia Public Ledger by journalist Carl W. Ackerman, but all references to Jews were replaced by references to Bolsheviks and Bolshevism.[5]

The book has two titles in Russian: Сионские протоколы (Sionskiye protokoly, lit. "Protocols of Zion") and Протоколы сионских мудрецов (Protokoly sionskih mudretsov, lit. "Protocols of the Sages of Zion"). In other languages it has been published with many titles. For example, the first American English language edition, published in Boston in 1920 by Small, Maynard & Company, has the full title: The Protocols and World Revolution Including a Translation and Analysis of the "Protocols of the Meetings of the Zionist Men of Wisdom". Only pages 11 through 73 contain the so-called Protocols. The word "Zion" in this edition is not used and the word "Zionist" is employed. This contrasts to a similar practice of the prior Russian editions. For example, in 1905, Sergei Nilus' book The Big within the Small, on the imminent arrival of the anti-Christ, the Protocols constituted the final twelfth chapter.

A serialized commentary was subsequently published in the United States in 1920, under the title, The International Jew, in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper owned and controlled by Henry Ford. And these series were subsequently collected and published as four pamphlets, under the same general title as in the newspaper.

The Protocols in the West

In the United States The Protocols are to be understood in the context of the Red scare, the First Red Scare (1917–1920). The text circulated in 1919 in American government circles, specifically diplomatic and military, in typescript form, a copy of which is archived by the Hoover Institute.[6] It also appeared in 1919 in the Public Ledger as a pair of serialized newspaper articles. But all references to "Jews" were replaced with references to Bolsheviki as an expose by the journalist and subsequently highly respected Columbia University School of Journalism dean.[7]

By 1920 several diverse editions and imprints appeared in the Russian language, but it appeared that year in English translation under different titles; in London, published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, under the title The Jewish Peril; in Boston, published by Small, Maynard & Company, under the title The Protocols and World Revolution; and in New York City, published by The Beckwith Company, under the slogan or lead title Praemonitus Praemunitus. Each was originally edited anonymously, but the editors are now known to have been George Shanks, Boris Brasol, and Harris A. Houghton, respectively, working on three independent imprints. The last two American editions are translations from Serge Nilus' 1917 fourth edition, titled It Is Near, At the Door (title translation by Boris Brasol).

Also in 1920 two commentaries or secondary sources were published in Great Britain and the United States, titled The Cause of World Unrest, associated with the name of H. A. Gwynne (editor of The Morning Post), and The International Jew, associated with the name of Henry Ford.

In 1923 there appeared an anonymously edited pamphlet by the Britons Publishing Society, a successor to The Britons, an entity created and headed by Henry Hamilton Beamish. This imprint was allegedly a translation by Victor E. Marsden, who died in October 1920.[6]

The text is difficult to pin down in any language because it is published by different antisemitic entities, with diverse front matter and back matter, edited anonymously, alleging that the manuscript was stolen from a secret Jewish organization in Paris, France. But the original manuscript has never been found. There is no "authorized" or "standard" edition. The plot, summarized and derived from these different editions, involves a conspiracy theory alleging that Jews, and/or Masons, are aiming to "take over the world", or achieve "world domination". Most versions, however, substantially involve "protocols", or minutes of a speech given in secret involving Jews who are organized as Elders, or Sages, of Zion,[8] and underlies 24 protocols that are supposedly followed by the Jewish people. The Protocols has been proven to be a literary forgery and hoax as well as a clear case of plagiarism.[9][10][11][12][13]

Images of early editions of the Protocols

Title variations

Diverse editions or imprints have been published under a variety of titles. Alphabetically, the list of titles used includes:

  • The Illuminati Protocols
  • It Is Near, At The Door
  • The Jewish Peril
  • The Non-Extent Manuscript
  • Praemonitus Praemunitus
  • The Protocols and World Revolution
  • Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
  • Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion
  • Protocols of the Meetings of the Zionist Men of Wisdom
  • Protocols of the Sages of Zion
  • Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion
  • Protocols of Zion
  • The War Against the Kingship of Christ
  • Warrant for Genocide
  • Waters Flowing Eastward

The twenty-four protocols

Houghton's 1920 imprint enumerated the twenty-four protocols in that table of contents as follows:

  1. The Basic Doctrine—"Right Lies in Might"
  2. Economic War and Disorganization Lead to International Government
  3. Methods of Conquest
  4. The Destruction of Religion by Materialism
  5. Despotism and Modern Progress
  6. The Acquisition of Land and the Encouragement of Speculation
  7. A Prophecy of a World-wide War
  8. The Transitional Government
  9. The All-embracing Propaganda
  10. Abolition of the Constitution; Rise of the Autocracy
  11. The Constitution of Autocracy and Universal Rul
  12. The Kingdom of the Press and its Control
  13. Turning Public Thought from Essentials to Non-Essentials
  14. The Destruction of Religion as a Prelude to the Rise of the Jewish God
  15. Utilization of Masonry; Heartless Suppression of Enemies
  16. The Nullification of Education
  17. The Fate of Lawyers and the Clergy
  18. The Organization of Disorder
  19. Mutual Understanding Between Rulers and People
  20. The Financial Program of Destruction and Construction
  21. Domestic Loans and Government Credit
  22. The Beneficence of Jewish Rule
  23. The Inculcation of Obedience
  24. The Jewish Ruler

Plagiarism Sources and Origin of the Plot

Based on evidence repeatedly corroborated by British, German, Ukrainian, Polish and Russian sources over a 75 year period, The Protocols, far from being a document "stolen" from Jews as it was claimed to be, was in fact a forgery fabricated sometime between 1895 and 1902 (exact date unknown) by Matvei Golovinski, a Russian journalist and member of the antisemitic Святое Братство ("Holy Brotherhood")[citation needed]. Also implicated in creation of the forgery was Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Paris office of the Russian Secret Police during the same time period.[14] [15]

The source material for the forgery was the synthesis of an 1864 book of fiction by French political satirist Maurice Joly entitled Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu (Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu) and a chapter from a 1868 book of fiction entitled "Biarritz" by antisemitic German novelist Hermann Goedsche, which had been translated into Russian in 1872.[16]

Joly's book was written as a veiled attack on the political ambitions of Napoleon III. In the book, Napoleon III was represented by Machaivelli[17] and was depicted as secretly plotting to rule the world. Joly's book was based on a popular novel of the time entitled Les Mystères Du Peuple (The Mysteries of the People) by Eugène Sue, which also described a secret conspiracy to rule the world although, in Sue's version, the plotters were the Jesuits. Neither the Joly version of the story nor the original Sue version of the story contained any reference to the Jews.

In creating The Protocols forgery, Golovinski and Rachkovsky took Joly's novel and changed the plotters a third time. The original fictitious story by Eugene Sue of secret world domination by the Jesuits, which was then changed by Maurice Joly to the story of a secret plot for world domination by Napoleon III, was now changed by Golovinski and Rachkovsky to the story of a secret plot for world domination by the Jews. The forgery was named The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and published as a recently "discovered" document. The current belief is that the forgery was initiated and authorized by factions of the Russian aristocracy opposed to the political and social reforms initiated by the previous Tsar (Alexander II). The document was fabricated with the goal of convincing the antisemitic Tsar Nicholas II to oppose any additional reforms, since all reforms would play into the hands of this just uncovered "secret Jewish plot". Once the Russian Revolution began in 1905, however, the use of the forgery changed. The same group, now part of the White Movement, disseminated the document during their 18 year fight against the Bolsheviks in an attempt to link the Bolsheviks and the Red Army to the fictitious conspiracy.

Literary forgery

The forgery contains numerous elements typical of what is known in literature as a "False Document": a document that is deliberately written to fool the reader into believing that what is written is truthful and accurate even though, in actuality, it is not.[2] It is also one of the best-known and most-discussed examples of literary forgery, with analysis and proof of its fraudulent origin going as far back as 1921.[18] The forgery is also an early example of "Conspiracy Theory" literature.[19] Written mainly in the first person plural,[20] the text embodies generalizations, truisms and platitudes on how to take over the world: take control of the media and the financial institutions, change the traditional social order, etc. It does not contain specifics.

Origin of content

The text borrows or plagiarizes multiple sources.

Maurice Joly

Elements of the text in the Protocols were plagiarized from the 1864 book, Dialogue aux enfers entre Machiavel et Montesquieu (Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu), written by the French satirist Maurice Joly. Joly's work attacks the political ambitions of Napoleon III using Machiavelli as a diabolical plotter in Hell as a stand-in for Napoleon's views[21]. In the book, Machiavelli describes a series of steps that he intends to take to become ruler of the world.

Since it was illegal to criticize the monarchy, Joly had the pamphlet printed in Belgium, then tried to smuggle it back into France. The police confiscated as many copies as they could, and it was banned. After it was traced to Joly, he was tried on April 25, 1865, and sentenced to 15 months in prison at Sainte-Pelagie. Joly committed suicide in 1878.

The Joly book was in turn based on material borrowed from a popular novel of the time by Eugène Sue titled The Mysteries of the People, in which those plotting to rule the world were the Jesuits instead of Napoleon III. Neither the Joly book nor the Sue book mentioned either Jews or Masons.

Hermann Goedsche

Hermann Goedsche's 1868 novel, Biarritz (in English as To Sedan) contributed another idea that may have inspired the scribe behind the Protocols. In the chapter, "The Jewish Cemetery in Prague and the Council of Representatives of the Twelve Tribes of Israel", Goedsche wrote about a nocturnal meeting between members of a mysterious rabbinical cabal, describing how at midnight, the Devil appears before those who have gathered on behalf of the Twelve Tribes of Israel to plan a "Jewish conspiracy". His depiction is also similar to the scene in Alexandre Dumas, père's Joseph Balsamo, where Cagliostro and company plot the affair of the diamond necklace. With Biarritz appearing at about the same time as The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, it is possible that Goedsche was inspired by the ideas in Joly's pamphlet, especially in detailing the outcome of the cabal's secret meeting.[22]

"Goedsche was a postal clerk and a spy for the Prussian secret police. He had been forced to leave the postal work due to his part in forging evidence in the prosecution against the Democratic leader Benedict Waldeck in 1849."[23] Following his dismissal, Goedsche began a career as a conservative columnist, while also producing literary work under the pen name Sir John Retcliffe.[24] In 1871, the story was being presented in France as serious history. In 1872, "The Jewish Cemetery in Prague", translated into Russian, appeared in St. Petersburg as a separate pamphlet of purported non-fiction. François Bournand, in his Les Juifs et nos contemporains (1896), reproduced a speech from the chapter as that of a Chief Rabbi "John Readcliff".

First Russian language editions

Pavel Krushevan

Pavel Krushevan published The Protocols in Russia in 1903
Serge Nilus, Published The Protocols in 1905

The book typically consists of 24 to 27 paragraphs or sections titled "Protocols". It has been published and distributed in many forms: manuscript, periodical, booklet, book and via the internet. It was first edited and disseminated to the public in 1903 by Pavel Krushevan, the instigator of the Kishinev pogrom. It was re-published in 1906-1907 by the Union of the Russian People, a part of the pro-Tsarist antisemitic group The Black Hundreds, as a pamphlet titled Enemies of the Human Race. The pamphlet was published specifically to blame the Jews for Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. It was similarly used in opposition to the Russian Revolution of 1905, the October Revolution (1917), and the peace negotiations at the end of World War I, becoming known worldwide during the 1919-1920 period when it was widely circulated in the West.

Comparison between The Protocols and Maurice Joly's Dialogue in Hell

The Protocols 1–19 closely follow the order of Maurice Joly's The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu 1–17. In some places, the plagiarism is incontrovertible to any observer, trained or not. For example:

Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
How are loans made? By the issue of bonds entailing on the Government the obligation to pay interest proportionate to the capital it has been paid. Thus, if a loan is at 5%, the State, after 20 years, has paid out a sum equal to the borrowed capital. When 40 years have expired it has paid double, after 60 years triple: yet it remains debtor for the entire capital sum.
Montesquieu, Dialogues, p. 209
A loan is an issue of Government paper which entails an obligation to pay interest amounting to a percentage of the total sum of the borrowed money. If a loan is at 5%, then in 20 years the Government would have unnecessarily paid out a sum equal to that of the loan in order to cover the percentage. In 40 years it will have paid twice; and in 60 thrice that amount, but the loan will still remain as an unpaid debt.
Protocols, p. 77
Like the god Vishnu, my press will have a hundred arms, and these arms will give their hands to all the different shades of opinion throughout the country.
Machiavelli, Dialogues, p. 141
These newspapers, like the Indian god Vishnu, will be possessed of hundreds of hands, each of which will be feeling the pulse of varying public opinion.
Protocols, p. 43
Now I understand the figure of the god Vishnu; you have a hundred arms like the Indian idol, and each of your fingers touches a spring.
Montesquieu, Dialogues, p. 207
Our Government will resemble the Hindu god Vishnu. Each of our hundred hands will hold one spring of the social machinery of State.
Protocols, p. 65

In addition to mentioning Vishnu, improbable in the Jewish religious literature, and the lack of Talmudic citations that would be expected in it, textual references to the "King of the Jews", the semi-messianic idea that carries strong connotations of Jesus, further suggest the author was not well-versed in Jewish culture, as this term has been avoided in the Judaic tradition since the schism between Judaism and Christianity.[25]

In 1921, when Philip Graves published articles in The Times which showed the writers of the Protocols had plagiarized from the Dialogue, it became clear that the Protocols was not an authentic document.[26]

Conspiracy references

The idea that the Freemasons formed part of an anti-Christian conspiracy, either separate from or in association with Jews, long predated the spreading of The Protocols. In the late 18th-early 19th centuries, Freemasonry was popular (as were many fraternal organizations), and its most significant opponent, the Roman Catholic Church, opposed its open support for freedom of religion and enlightenment ideals.

After some interaction with Masons, a Scottish natural philosopher John Robison became an enthusiastic conspiracy theorist and expanded on his impressions in his 1797 pamphlet Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies. He did not take into account that French masons were members of several mutually hostile factions and that many of them were executed by their rivals. Robison's work does not mention Jews. Jesuit priest Augustin Barruél had some contact with Robison, but extended the notion to include Jews.[citation needed] He had accused the Jews of founding the Bavarian Illuminati.[citation needed]

According to Daniel Pipes,

The great importance of The Protocols lies in its permitting antisemites to reach beyond their traditional circles and find a large international audience, a process that continues to this day. The forgery poisoned public life wherever it appeared; it was "self-generating; a blueprint that migrated from one conspiracy to another."[27] The book's vagueness — almost no names, dates, or issues are specified — has been one key to this wide-ranging success. The purportedly Jewish authorship also helps to make the book more convincing. Its embrace of contradiction — that to advance, Jews use all tools available, including capitalism and communism, philo-Semitism and antisemitism, democracy and tyranny — made it possible for The Protocols to reach out to all: rich and poor, Right and Left, Christian and Muslim, American and Japanese.[28]

Pipes notes that the Protocols emphasizes recurring themes of conspiratorial antisemitism: "Jews always scheme", "Jews are everywhere", "Jews are behind every institution", "Jews obey a central authority, the shadowy 'Elders'", and "Jews are close to success."[29]

The Protocols is widely considered influential in the development of other conspiracy theories, and reappears repeatedly in contemporary conspiracy literature, such as Jim Marrs' Rule by Secrecy. Some recent editions proclaim that the "Jews" depicted in the Protocols are a cover identity for other conspirators such as the Illuminati,[30] Freemasons, the Priory of Sion, or even, in the opinion of David Icke, "extra-dimensional entities." Other groups that believe in the authenticity of the Protocols have claimed that the book does not depict the way that Jews think and act, but only those belonging to an alleged secret elite group of Zionists, and that the "Elders" were not Rabbis, but secular Zionist leaders.

Historical publications, usage, and investigations

Emergence in Russia

The chapter "In the Jewish Cemetery in Prague" from Goedsche's Biarritz, with its strong antisemitic theme containing the alleged rabbinical plot against the European civilization, was translated into Russian as a separate pamphlet in 1872.[16] In 1921 Princess Catherine Radziwill gave a private lecture in New York. She claimed that the Protocols were a forgery compiled in 1904-1905 by Russian journalists Matvei Golovinski and Manasevich-Manuilov at the direction of Pyotr Rachkovsky, Chief of the Russian secret service in Paris.[15] Golovinski worked together with Charles Joly (son of Maurice Joly) at Le Figaro in Paris. This account, however, contradicts basic chronology of Protocols publication, as they were already published in 1903 in the newspaper Znamya. Catherine Radziwill was previously convicted of forging Cecil Rhodes' signature on a promissory note. She also authored numerous gossip and propaganda books. In 1935 Radziwill repeated her statement as a witness at the Berne Trial.

In 1944 German writer Konrad Heiden identified Golovinski as an author of the Protocols.[30] Radziwill's account was supported by Russian historian Mikhail Lepekhine, who published his findings in November 1999 in the French newsweekly L'Express.[31] Lepekhine considers the Protocols a part of a scheme to persuade Tsar Nicholas II that the modernization of Russia was really a Jewish plot to control the world. Ukrainian scholar Vadim Skuratovsky offers extensive literary, historical and linguistic analysis of the original text of the Protocols and traces the influences of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's prose (in particular, The Grand Inquisitor and The Possessed) on Golovinski's writings, including the Protocols.[32]

In his book The Non-Existent Manuscript, Italian scholar Cesare G. De Michelis studies early Russian publications of the Protocols. The Protocols were first mentioned in the Russian press in April 1902, by the Saint Petersburg newspaper, Novoye Vremya (Новое Время - The New Times). The article was written by a famous conservative publicist Mikhail Menshikov as a part of his regular series "Letters to Neighbors" ("Письма к ближним") and was titled "Plots against Humanity". The author described his meeting with a lady (Yuliana Glinka, as it is known now) who, after telling him about her mystical revelations, implored him to get familiar with the documents later known as the Protocols; but after reading some excerpts Menshikov became quite skeptical about their origin and did not publish them.[33]

Krushevan and Nilus editions

The Protocols were published at the earliest, in serialized form, from August 28 to September 7 (O.S.) 1903, in Znamya, a Saint Petersburg daily newspaper, under Pavel Krushevan. Krushevan had initiated the Kishinev pogrom four months earlier.[34]

The Protocols enjoyed another wave of popularity in Russia after 1905, when progressive political elements in Russia succeeded in creating a constitution and a parliament, the Duma. The reactionary Union of the Russian People, known as the Black Hundreds, together with the Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police, blamed this liberalization on the "International Jewish conspiracy," and began a program of disseminating the Protocols[citation needed] as propaganda to support the wave of pogroms that swept Russia in 1903–1906 and as a tool to deflect attention from social activism. It also was of interest to Tsar Nicholas II, who was fearful of modernization and protective of his monarchy, and he presented the growing revolutionary movement as part of a powerful world conspiracy and blamed the Jews for Russia's problems[citation needed].

In 1905, Sergei Nilus published the full text of the Protocols in Chapter XII, the final chapter (pages 305–417), of the second edition (or third, according to some sources) of his book, Velikoe v malom i antikhrist, which translates as "The Great within the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth". He claimed it was the work of the First Zionist Congress, held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland.[35] When it was pointed out that the First Zionist Congress had been open to the public and was attended by many non-Jews, Nilus changed his story, saying the Protocols were the work of the 1902–1903 meetings of the Elders, but contradicting his own prior statement that he had received his copy in 1901:

In 1901, I succeeded through an acquaintance of mine (the late Court Marshal Alexei Nikolayevich Sukotin of Chernigov) in getting a manuscript that exposed with unusual perfection and clarity the course and development of the secret Jewish Freemasonic conspiracy, which would bring this wicked world to its inevitable end. The person who gave me this manuscript guaranteed it to be a faithful translation of the original documents that were stolen by a woman from one of the highest and most influential leaders of the Freemasons at a secret meeting somewhere in France — the beloved nest of Freemasonic conspiracy.[36]

Nilus also may have had personal motivations for publishing them. Some have alleged that at this time he was trying to gain influence with the Royal Family. This was, it is claimed, part of a faction fight against Papus and Nizier Anthelme Philippe at the Tsarist court (Indeed, Papus was accused in 1920 of having forged the Protocols to discredit Philippe).

Stolypin's fraud investigation, 1905

A subsequent secret investigation ordered by Pyotr Stolypin, the newly appointed chairman of the Council of Ministers, came to the conclusion that the Protocols first appeared in Paris in antisemitic circles around 1897–1898.[37] When Nicholas II learned of the results of this investigation, he requested: "The Protocols should be confiscated, a good cause cannot be defended by dirty means."[38] Despite the order, or because of the "good cause", numerous reprints proliferated.[34]

The Russian Revolution and the spread of the Protocols, 1920s

After the Russian Revolution, factions connected to the White movement used the Protocols to perpetrate hatred and violence against the Jews. The idea that the Bolshevik movement was a Jewish conspiracy for world domination, plus the fact that some top Bolsheviks, particularly Leon Trotsky and most of the top ranking revolutionaries were Jews, sparked worldwide interest in the Protocols.

English language imprints

On October 27 and 28, 1919, the Philadelphia Public Ledger published excerpts of an English language translation as the "Red Bible," deleting all references to the purported Jewish authorship and re-casting the document as a Bolshevik manifesto.[39] The author of the articles was the paper's correspondent at the time, Carl W. Ackerman, who later became the head of the journalism department at Columbia University. On May 8, 1920, an article[40] in The Times followed German translation and appealed for an inquiry into what it called "uncanny note of prophecy".

Great Britain

The first British English language edition of the Protocols was published in 1920 in London. The full title was The Jewish Peril. Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion; the translator has been subsequently discovered to be George Shanks. The most widespread English translation of the Protocols is credited (by its anonymous editor(s)) to a British correspondent for The Morning Post in Russia, Victor E. Marsden. That anonymous source further claims that Marsden was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in the Peter and Paul Fortress, subsequently released, and returned to England. Marsden, prior to his death on October 28, 1920, had allegedly translated Chapter XII of Nilus' 1905 book on the coming of the Anti-Christ, a copy of which was at hand in the British Museum. His name does not appear in the first British imprint, issued by Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd., nor in the second, issued by The Britons. It only first pops up in the edition issued one or two years later, in the imprint issued by the Britons Publishing Society.

In the single year of 1920, five editions sold out in England.

United States
Title page of 1920 edition from Boston.

In the United States, Henry Ford sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies, and, from 1920 to 1922, published a series of antisemitic articles titled "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem", in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. In 1921, Ford cited evidence of a Jewish threat: "The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are 16 years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time."[41] In 1927, however, the courts ordered Ford to retract his publication and apologize; he complied, claiming his assistants had duped him. He remained an admirer of Nazi Germany, however.[42]

In 1934, an anonymous editor expanded the compilation with "Text and Commentary" (pages 136–141). The production of this uncredited compilation was a 300-page book, an inauthentic expanded edition of the twelfth chapter of Nilus's 1905 on the coming of the anti-Christ. It consists of substantial liftings of excerpts of articles from Ford's antisemitic periodical The Dearborn Independent. This 1934 text circulates most widely in the English-speaking world, as well as on the internet. The "Text and Commentary" concludes with a comment on Haim Weizman's October 6, 1920 remark at a banquet: "A beneficent protection which God has instituted in the life of the Jew is that He has dispersed him all over the world". Marsden, who was dead by then, is credited with the following assertion:

It proves that the Learned Elders exist. It proves that Dr. Weizmann knows all about them. It proves that the desire for a "National Home" in Palestine is only camouflage and an infinitesimal part of the Jew's real object. It proves that the Jews of the world have no intention of settling in Palestine or any separate country, and that their annual prayer that they may all meet "Next Year in Jerusalem" is merely a piece of their characteristic make-believe. It also demonstrates that the Jews are now a world menace, and that the Aryan races will have to domicile them permanently out of Europe.[43]

This quote occurs on page 138. On the previous page, the nameless commentator has the following: "There has been recently published a volume of Theodor Herzl's Diaries, a translation of some passages of which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle of July 14, 1922". Accordingly, the commentary must have been written at least two years after Marsden's death.

The Times exposes a forgery, 1921

The Times exposed the Protocols as a forgery on August 16–18, 1921

In 1920-1921, the history of the concepts found in the Protocols was traced back to the works of Goedsche and Jacques Crétineau-Joly by Lucien Wolf (an English Jewish journalist), and published in London in August 1921. But a dramatic expose occurred in the series of articles in The Times by its Constantinople reporter, Philip Graves, who discovered the plagiarism from the work of Maurice Joly.

According to writer Peter Grose, Allen Dulles, who was in Constantinople developing relationships in post-Ottoman political structures, discovered 'the source' of the documentation ultimately provided to The Times. Grose writes that The Times extended a loan to the source, a Russian émigré who refused to be identified, with the understanding the loan would not be repaid.[44] Colin Holmes, a lecturer in economic history of Sheffield University, identified the émigré as Michael Raslovleff, a self-identified antisemite, who gave the information to Graves so as not to "give a weapon of any kind to the Jews, whose friend I have never been."[45]

In the first article of Graves' series, titled "A Literary Forgery", the editors of The Times wrote, "our Constantinople Correspondent presents for the first time conclusive proof that the document is in the main a clumsy plagiarism. He has forwarded us a copy of the French book from which the plagiarism is made."[46] The New York Times reprinted the articles on September 4, 1921.[47] In the same year, an entire book[48] documenting the hoax was published in the United States by Herman Bernstein. Despite this widespread and extensive debunking, the Protocols continued to be regarded as important factual evidence by antisemites.

German language publications

The first and "by far the most important"[49] German translation was by Gottfried Zur Beek (pseudonym of Ludwig Müller von Hausen). It appeared in January 1920 as a part of a larger antisemitic tract[50] dated 1919. After The Times discussed the book respectfully in May 1920 it became a bestseller. "The Hohenzollern family helped defray the publication costs, and Kaiser Wilhelm II had portions of the book read out aloud to dinner guests".[51]

Alfred Rosenberg's 1923 edition[52] "gave a forgery a huge boost".[51]

Middle East

In the 1920s, the Protocols occasionally appeared in the Arab polemics linking Zionism and Bolshevism.[citation needed] The first Arabic translations were made from the French by Arab Christians.[citation needed] The first translation was published in Raqib Sahyun, a periodical of the Roman Catholic community of Jerusalem, in 1926.[citation needed] Another translation made by an Arab Christian appeared in Cairo in 1927 or 1928, this time as a book. The first translation by an Arab Muslim was also published in Cairo, but only in 1951.[53]

The Berne Trial, 1934–1935

In 1934, Dr. Alfred Zander, a Swiss Nazi, published a series of articles accepting the Protocols as fact. This led to a civil lawsuit (what has come to be known as the Berne Trial) in the Amtsgericht (district court) of Berne on October 29, 1934. The plaintiffs (the Swiss Jewish Association and the Jewish Community of Berne) were represented by Georges Brunschvig and Emil Raas. Working on behalf of the defense was German anti-Semitic propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer. On May 19, 1935, the defendants (Theodore Fischer and Silvio Schnell) were convicted of violating a Bernese statute prohibiting the distribution of "immoral, obscene or brutalizing" texts.[54] The court declared the Protocols to be forgeries, plagiarisms, and obscene literature. Judge Walter Meyer, a Christian who had not heard of the Protocols earlier, said in conclusion:

I hope, the time will come when nobody will be able to understand how in 1935 nearly a dozen sane and responsible men were able for two weeks to mock the intellect of the Bern court discussing the authenticity of the so-called Protocols, the very Protocols that, harmful as they have been and will be, are nothing but laughable nonsense.[34]

Vladimir Burtsev, a Russian émigré, anti-Bolshevik and anti-Fascist who exposed numerous Okhrana agents provocateurs in the early 1900s, served as a witness at the Berne Trial. In 1938 in Paris he published a book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: A Proved Forgery, based on his testimony.

On November 1, 1937 the defendants appealed the verdict to the Obergericht (Cantonal Supreme Court) of Berne. A panel of three judges acquitted them, holding that the Protocols, while false, did not violate the statute at issue because they were used as a means of political propaganda.[54] The presiding judge's opinion stated, though, that the forgery of the Protocols was not questionable and expressed regret that the law did not provide adequate protection for Jews from this sort of literature. The court imposed the fees for both trials on the defendants.[55] This decision gave grounds for later allegations that the appeal court "confirmed authenticity of the Protocols" which is contrary to the facts. A view favorable to the pro-Nazi defendants is reported in an appendix to Leslie Fry's Waters Flowing Eastward.[56] A more scholarly work on the trial is in a 139 page monograph by Urs Lüthi.

South Africa

In an August 1934 case in Grahamstown, South Africa, a court case took place in which Rev. A. Levy sued three Greyshirts leaders (Johannes von Strauss, von Moltke, David Hermanus Olivier) and Harry Victor Inch for defamation because they published a document said to have been stolen from the Western Road Synagogue in Port Elizabeth where Rev. Levy was Minister. The document, proven at the trial to be a forgery, alleged to set out the plans of the Jews to obtain world domination on the lines of the notorious Protocols. The court awarded Rev. Levy damages totalling £1,775 (about $8,875 at the time or about $130,000 in 2005 dollars) - £1000 against Inch, £750 against Moltke and £25 against Olivier. Inch was also sentenced to six years in prison for perjury. Nahum Sokolow appeared as a witness at the trial. In what is believed to be a legal first, the Protocols was also declared to be a forgery during the trial.


The Protocols also became a part of the Nazi propaganda effort to justify persecution of the Jews. It was made required reading for German students. In The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933–1945, Nora Levin states that "Hitler used the Protocols as a manual in his war to exterminate the Jews":

Despite conclusive proof that the Protocols were a gross forgery, they had sensational popularity and large sales in the 1920s and 1930s. They were translated into every language of Europe and sold widely in Arab lands, the United States, and England. But it was in Germany after World War I that they had their greatest success. There they were used to explain all of the disasters that had befallen the country: the defeat in the war, the hunger, the destructive inflation.[57]

Hitler refers to the Protocols in Mein Kampf:

... To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic. [...] the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.[58]

Hitler endorsed it in his speeches from August 1921 on, and it was studied in German classrooms after the Nazis came to power. At the height of World War II, the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels proclaimed: "The Zionist Protocols are as up-to-date today as they were the day they were first published."[51] In Norman Cohn's words, it served as the Nazis' "warrant for genocide".


While the first edition of the Protocols (1921) did not have much success, in the wake of the growing alliance between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the Protocols were re-published in Italy in 1937 by Giovanni Preziosi with an introduction by Julius Evola.

Contemporary imprints

While there is continued popularity of The Protocols in nations from South America to Asia, since the defeat of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy in WWII, governments or political leaders in most parts of the world have generally avoided claims that The Protocols represent factual evidence of a real Jewish conspiracy. The exception to this is the Middle East, where a large number of Arab and Muslim regimes and leaders have endorsed them as authentic. Past endorsements of The Protocols from Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat of Egypt, one of the President Arifs of Iraq, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, among other political and intellectual leaders of the Arab world, are echoed by 21st century endorsements from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri, and Hamas, to the education ministry of Saudi Arabia.[59]

See also

Pertinent concepts
  • Black propaganda
  • List of conspiracy theories
  • Psychological projection
  • World government
  • New World Order (conspiracy theory)
  • Heidegger and Nazism
Related or similar texts
  • A Racial Program for the Twentieth Century
  • The permanent instruction of the Alta Vendita
  • Tanaka Memorial
  • The Report from Iron Mountain
  • Protocols of Zion (film)
  • Further reading

  • Stephen Eric Bronner: A Rumor About the Jews: Reflections on Antisemitism and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (Oxford University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-19-516956-5
  • Eisner, Will: The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. ISBN 0393060454
  • Hagemeister, Michael: "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion: Between History and Fiction - Hagemeister 35 (1103)". Retrieved 2009-09-15.
  • Hagemeister, Michael. The 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' and the Myth of a Jewish Conspiracy in Post Soviet Russia, in: Brinks, Jan Herman; Rock, Stella; Timms, Edward (ed.): Nationalist Myths and Modern Media. Contested Identities in the Age of Globalization, London / New York 2006, pp. 243–255.
  • Jacobs, Steven Leonard and Weitzman, Mark: Dismantling the Big Lie: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (2003) ISBN 0-88125-785-0
  • Luthi, Urs: Der Mythos von der Weltverschwörung: die Hetze der Schweizer Frontisten gegen Juden und Freimaurer, am Beispiel des Berner Prozesses um die "Protokolle der Weisen von Zion" (Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1992), ISBN 3719011976 9783719011970, OCLC: 30002662
  • Katz, Steven; Landes, Richard (eds.): Reconsidering 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion': 100 Years After the Forgery, New York 2008 (in print)
  • Kis, Danilo: The Book Of Kings And Fools in The Encyclopedia of the Dead, 1989 (Faber and Faber)
  • Goldberg, Isaac: The so-called "Protocols of the Elders of Zion": a Definitive Exposure of One of the Most Malicious Lies in History (Girard, Kansas, Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1936).
  • Stauber, Roni; Webman, Esther (eds.): The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - The One-Hundred Year Myth and Its Impact, Tel Aviv 2008 (in print)
  • Timmerman, Kenneth R.: Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America (2003), Crown Forum. ISBN 1-4000-4901-6
  • Wolf, Lucien: The Myth of the Jewish Menace in World Affairs or, The Truth About the Forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion (New York, The Macmillan company, 1921).
  • The truth about "The Protocols" : a literary forgery (1921) The original Times articles exposing the book collected in a contemporary pamphlet.
  • Bernstein, Herman (1921): The History of a Lie at Project Gutenberg As page images at Internet Archive: Details: The history of a lie, "The protocols of the wise men of Zion"; a study Retrieved on 2009-02-01

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