Guest Post: The Defence Committee Archive and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

This is another guest post by reader and frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb.  Here he tells of a fascinating find that he discovered during his volunteer work in the archives at the Wiener Library in London: the Times articles and copies of original documents proving that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were a forgery.

This article is particularly relevant to Yom Hashoah, given the hugely evil influence the forgery played in the Nazi ideology.


The Board of Deputies of British Jews

The Board of Deputies (of British Jews) created in 1936 (the date was no coincidence) a Defence Committee, whose main aim was to actively combat both Mosley and the Nazis in the UK. To this end, they set up local Defence Committees wherever there was a Jewish community large enough to sustain one; trained speakers to argue the case against fascism and Nazism wherever it might be found; conducted counter-meetings, especially in London, wherever the fascists met; and informed the appropriate authorities when they believed that the fascists had overstepped the legal mark, often with great success.

And they kept records. Boy, did they keep records! 70 boxes of folders, each box holding at least the equivalent of 1000 or more pieces of paper (not to forget the 4 boxes closed for a further 50 years). In the end, the Community Security Trust (CST), the successor to the Defence Committee, has lent (on permanent loan) these records to The Wiener Library in Russell Square, London, on the basis that the Library is better equipped to allow researchers access to these records than the CST. But first, we (and that now means me, as a volunteer at the Library) had to clean the files of all staples and paper clips and then organise them into date order, before numbering them, so everyone would be able to record accurately where a particular document could be found.

Most of the material is routine (i.e., boring) correspondence, but every so often stuff comes up that stops me dead: actual signatures, even whole handwritten letters, from people who later became, or were already, important: more or less all the Henriques family; MPs of all stripes – 3 or 4 letters from Margaret Thatcher, for instance, written as a back-bencher, and so on. And then there’s this, the subject of this article: the Protocols.

The forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The world has (or could have) known since 1921 that “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are a fabrication (or a forgery, if you prefer), because that was the year The Times published three articles, later collected into a pamphlet, showing this. The person responsible was Philip Graves, then the Istanbul correspondent for The Times. He met a White Russian emigré in Istanbul, one Michel S. Rasslovleff and, in exchange for a copy of a book, published in French in Geneva in 1864, written by Maurice Joly and entitled “Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu“, gave him a loan.

This book (along with various others) showed that the ideas in The Protocols were nothing new, but had been published, as fiction, half a century earlier, just not about the Jews but, rather, as an attack on Protestantism and the Freemasons. The Wiener has two photocopies of the agreement between Graves and Rasslovleff, as well as much other material concerning this matter, including copies of letters and telegrams between Graves and London. The point is that much of this material turns up, 40 years later, in Russian in The Protocols, now referring to the Jews … and equally fabricated.

However, this takes up only about 40 pages of a 300 page folder in the Archive (pp 142-180). Most of the rest is concerned with a court case (between 1934 and 1937) in Berne, Switzerland, in which a publisher of a copy of the Protocols was taken to court for publishing a forgery. That publisher made a further mistake in naming a Rabbi based in Stockholm as an authority for the authenticity of the Protocols (who sued for libel – the result of that case isn’t in the file). By the way, the publisher lost the case and then lost the appeal he launched.

The Rev. James Parkes, the Anglican clergyman whose library and energy led to the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations at Southampton University, got involved in all this, and the very next folder in the Archive is a corrected proof copy of his book on The Protocols.

Islamic extremists believe the Protocols are true

So, why, given this, do people still treat The Protocols as though they are true (for example, they have a huge circulation in the Middle East and North Africa)? Perhaps the words in the brackets can provide an answer to that, as can the fact that The Protocols were reprinted in Nazi Germany and widely circulated there. If you insist, and even if you don’t, The Protocols provide an easy method for lazily-minded antisemites to claim their high ground. It’s important to note that for all the wrong things that they do, the “rancid left” don’t (or at least not directly) claim the truth of The Protocols. That would be, even for them, a step too far.

Anyone wanting a (relatively) lighter version of The Protocols origins will find one in Umberto Eco’s book “The Prague Cemetery” (2012) (be warned, it’s a long book!), in which it is claimed that the only fictional character is that of the alleged forger of the Protocols and the material used in the 1864 book, one Captain Simone Simonini.

The Archive reference for this folder is 1658/10/34/1 and Parkes’ book is at 1658/10/34/2 (permission to access this Archive has to be obtained from The Board of Deputies of British Jews [info@bod.org.uk]). The Library also has a copy of The Times pamphlet, “The Truth About The Protocols”, which I’ve managed to read: Graves (for he is the unnamed author of the articles) makes an excellent case for plagiarism by masterfully carrying out what would now be called “content analysis” and comparing whole sections of each publication and showing beyond doubt what the Protocols owes to the “Dialogues”. Incidentally, I have posted another article from this archive on the Wiener Library blog (click to follow the link to the blog, and go to page 2) about the loathsome Captain Maule Ramsay, the only MP to be detained under Defence Regulation 18B during War World 2.


Anne adds:

Brian, thank you for this very interesting “story behind the story” of the Protocols. Although, as you note, pretty much everyone knows that they were a forgery, the story of how the forgery was revealed is not so widely known at all.  I for one am grateful to have learned some important history today.  I look forward to hearing about other interesting gems you might discover during your work at the Wiener Library.

Also, if anyone is interested in learning more about Rev. James Parkes, (someone I had never before heard of until now) Covenant Magazine has a sympathetic biography of him and his work.  Here is a short excerpt:

Abstract: James Parkes, an Anglican priest, a groundbreaking historian and radical theologian, was arguably the best friend of the Jewish people ever to arise from the innermost recesses of Christianity. Born on the Island of Guernsey in 1896, he devoted his life to loving and saving Jews: from the designs of missionaries, from antisemitism in all its guises, from the clutches of Nazi predators, and from all who would deny the Jewish people a national life in their own homeland. After recounting highlights of a life well spent, “A Final Reckoning” ruminates upon Parkes’ character, pecularities, and discontents in the final days of his life.

Imagine…if one can, a man who–decades before the Holocaust and long before the full effects of mixing with Jews were felt–grasped the extent of the historic acts of injustice of Christians toward Jewry and determined to atone for them by ending them. Imagine how, in his incredible capacity for empathy, he was able to penetrate through layers and layers of denigration and centuries of hardening the heart in order to feel the Jews’ pain and victimization. Imagine the power of discovery that enabled him to internalize the message and fate of Judaism as well as the intellectual daring that enabled him to apply these insights to the reformulation of the classic Christian faith in which he was so deeply rooted. This is the man – Ecce Homo – James Parkes.[1]

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2 Responses to Guest Post: The Defence Committee Archive and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

  1. Reality says:

    This is so interesting. Thank you

  2. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Anne, don’t tempt me! I’ve almost come to the end of the preparation of the archive: by this time in the middle of May, I reckon it will be fully referenced, the catalogue updated, and I’ll be looking for something else to do at the Wiener. But, in passing, one bit of serendipity: while numbering one late file, completely out of context, I found a letter to the then Press Relations Officer and Secretary of the central Defence Committee typed and signed by Alfred Wiener, founder of the Library! Of course, I carefully photocopied it (one for the current Director who wrote the biography of Wiener and one for the archivist), as well as showing it to all the library staff who happened to be in that day. It was dated to July 1939, when Dr Wiener was in Amsterdam, having left germany with his archive in 1933, the moment the Nazis came to power.

    Actually, there is at least one more story I would like to tell, both on the Wiener Library site and here, of how the Defence Committee attempted to fight a “discrimination in employment” case against a Midlands (of England) firm a decade before the appropriate discrimination legislation was in place.

    Watch Anne’s space…!

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