The myth of Jews as children of the Devil, mysterious, uncanny and possessed of sinister powers, has persisted since the second century, when they were accused of killing Christian children, torturing the consecrated wafer and poisoning wells. In his history of the demonizing of Jewry, British academic Cohn describes the modern adaptation of that myth as promulgated through the turn-of-the-century forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This document was purported to plan Jewish domination of the globe through control of political parties, banks, the press and public opinion, “casting a net of gold and steel around the world.” Although soon to be proven a blatant hoax by the Berne trial in 1935, the “Protocols” sold 120,000 copies in Germany in one year and helped convince 17 million Germans to vote Nazi in 1933.
Cohn shows how the fiction of a Jewish conspiracy, then combined with racist ideology to produce the Holocaust: civilization needed to be rescued from this dark, earthbound race by the “world of good, of light, incarnated in blond, blue-eyed people” marching under the sun-god’s symbol, the swastika. This, Cohn argues, with convincing evidence, was the justification used for murdering two thirds of all the Jews in Europe.
Born into a mixed Jewish-Catholic family in London, Cohn was educated at Oxford. He served for six years in the British Army, being commissioned into the Queen’s Royal Regiment in 1939 and transferring to the Intelligence Corps in 1944, where his knowledge of modern languages found employment. In the immediate post-war period, he was stationed in Vienna, ostensibly to interrogate Nazis, but he also encountered many refugees from Stalinism, and the similarities in prosecutorial obsessions evinced both by Nazism and Stalinism fueled his interest in the historical background for these ideologically opposed, yet functionally similar movements. After his discharge, he taught successively in universities in Scotland, Ireland, England, the United States and Canada.