A College of London professor addressed Nazi propaganda strategies at a lecture Thursday night in the Marvin Center. Speaking to a crowd of about 10 students and five professors, Michael Berkowitz discussed how the Nazis depicted Jews as a homogenous race of criminals during the 1930s and 1940s.
Berkowitz explained how the Nazis “meticulously shaped” their propaganda by manipulating images of Jewish people into mug shots in various publications, trying to make Jews appear like they had been arrested.
“The Nazis were obsessed with images and image making,” Berkowitz said.
The primary problem the Nazis faced in their quest to “criminalize” Jews was justifying the arrests of Jewish people who were well respected in their communities, Berkowitz said.
“Too many people were making exceptions for their ‘own Jew,'” he said.
This forced the Nazis to accuse many Jews of crimes relating to finance and currency exchange – crimes Berkowitz classified as more difficult to question.
Although Berkowitz said most people today believe the Nazis classified Jews as inherently criminal, he said this “biological racism” played only a minor role in constructing Jewish criminality.
The Nazis were opportunistic in an economically unstable Germany by explaining to the Germans that Jews were undermining the regime fiscally, he said.
In an extension of Nazi techniques to today’s world, Berkowitz expressed concern about a worldwide view of Jews as a specific race.
“If there’s anything that drives me crazy, it’s the extent to which people see Jews as a race,” Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz said the viewpoint is particularly troubling in London.
Some attendees also said they thought the view of Jews as a sinister culture remains a contemporary issue.
“Jews are being criminalized today again,” said freshman Dena Bruss, who attended the event as a complement to her recent trip to Holocaust sites in Poland.
Bruss also said she was surprised at the small audience.
But organizers said they expect a higher turnout at other events sponsored by the Judaic Studies program, including Monday’s “Israeli and Palestinian Historical Narratives: An Examination of Shared History.” Paul Scham of the Harry S. Truman Institute at Hebrew University will speak at 4 p.m. in Marvin Center 310.
GW professor Dr. Howard Sacher, who specializes in Judaic Studies and the Middle East, said he is satisfied with the progress of the Judaic Studies program and hopes to hold future events similar to Thursday’s lecture.
“We’re very jaded here in Washington,” he said. “I’m exalted and thrilled that this program has developed as much as it has.”
Berkowitz is the author of three recent books on Jewish image and culture. He is currently working on two additional publications, “Forging Modern Jewish Identities: Public Faces and Private Struggles” and “Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization in 1900 and Beyond.”