JVL Introduction

In a fascinating talk Prof Richard Evans provides a re-evaluation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its role in influencing Hitler and his followers.

‘Warrant for Genocide’? Hitler, the Holocaust and the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’

A Holocaust Memorial Day Event – Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism in collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research

Professor Richard Evans, Birkbeck, University of London
4th February 2019

Here is how the event was billed:

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious antisemitic forgery dating from the beginning of the 20th century, have been called ‘the supreme expression and vehicle of the myth of the Jewish world-conspiracy’. They ‘took possession of Hitler’s mind’ and provided a ‘warrant for genocide’ that ‘inspired and justified pogroms in Russia and the Ukraine and Nazi policies of extermination’ in the Holocaust. In this lecture, Professor Evans takes a fresh look at the Protocols. He asks whether either the contents of the document or the evidence of Hitler’s speeches and writings justify these claims, and examines the light they throw on the origins and nature of Nazi antisemitism.

Sir Richard J Evans is one of the country’s foremost historians, well-known for his research on nineteenth and twentieth-century Europe. He is the prize-winning author of more than 20 books, including the extensive three-volume history of the Third Reich (Penguin, 2003–2008). Richard Evans was Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge from 2008 until his retirement in 2014. He has been Provost of Gresham College in London since 2014 and is currently a Visiting Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London. He is Principal Investigator on the Leverhulme Trust Programme Grant ‘Conspiracy and Democracy’.

A brief extract from the talk:

The Protocols is “perhaps one of the most notorious publications of all time… In his classic work on the origins and influence of this tract Norman Cohn, some years ago, argued that it provided the ostensible justification for the Nazi extermination of the Jews – quote the title of his book Warrant for Genocide. In Cohn’s view the document was the supreme expression and vehicle of the myth of the Jewish world conspiracy. It took possession of Hitler’s mind, he says, and became the ideology of his most fanatical followers…

[More recent historical work and new evidence on Hitler’s views] raises the question of whether Hitler really was a conspiracy theorist, a follower of the Protocols? If he was, what kind of conspiracy theorist, and how far was he influenced in his views by the Protocols. And in what way? Was it really the most dangerous and influential of all conspiracy theories?

And to answer these questions I think we have to go back to the beginning and examine  the contents of the Protocols themselves and look at how they came to be and ask whether they were really so effective a conspiracy theory that they constituted an actual ‘warrant for genocide’? Who put them together? How? And for what purpose? And the answers to these questions turn out to be in many ways rather surprising…


A podcast is available here:

Introduction by Professor David Feldman
Professor Richard Evans