Propaganda and Re-education: Ritchie Boy Lessons – by Deborah Levine

How do they hate us? Let me count the ways. There’s Holocaust denial, Nazi memes, attacks by Supremacists, far-right conspiracies,  and victimization appropriations. Ironically, Russia which was the source of a favorite Nazi propaganda, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, recently joined that list. Russia’s Foreign Minister, furious with their isolation and Ukraine support, compared Western leaders to Hitler who “wanted a final solutionto the Jewish question.”

Israels foreign ministry immediately responded to this victimization propaganda: Any comparison or relating current events with Hitlers final solution plan for the extermination of the Jewish People distorts the historical truth, desecrates the memory of those who perished and the survivors and should be strongly rejected.”

This diplomatic language is necessary, but won’t deter Russia’s blatant propaganda or change true believers’ minds. My father made that clear when he recovered from his wartime trauma. He’d been a Ritchie Boy in World War II, trained at the secret U.S. military intelligence camp, Fort Ritchie, to interrogate Nazi POWs. He’d hidden his wartime letters in a file cabinet in his closet until ready to share them. They documented his experience and his analysis of how Nazi propaganda embedded antisemitism into German culture.

Dad’s remained silent even when he took the family to Europe after I’d graduated high school. We all enjoyed our trip until visiting Paris’ Tuileries Garden until Dad helped a German man standing alone, holding a map, looking lost and upset. Dad’s entire body shook for hours but all he said was, “Someone who spoke German needed to help him, and I knew that no Frenchman ever would.” 

Dad’s shakes reappeared when I became Community Relations Director at Tulsas Jewish Federation after the OK City bombing. The region was rife with White Supremacists and far-right extremists. Neo-Nazi leaflets left on doorsteps posed Blacks and Jews as sub-human, so it wasnt a sin to kill them.

The FBI had my back so Dad kept his distance until a disabled veteran phoned me about his legal guardian, apparently an IRS agent, who’d formed a secret militia inspired by neo-Nazi ideology. Preparing to topple what they considered an illegitimate government, the militia was practicing with automatic rifles. Dad arrived in Tulsa the next day, recognizing a familiar pattern that he’d documented in his letters: “A large part of the population never belonged to the Nazi Party, but 99.9% blame Hitler only for losing the war and seem to suffer no pangs of conscience over the origins of the war or the ideology of the Party… They have no questions over the misery they brought to millions of French and English, Poles and Russians. The Germans didn’t considered them as humans.”

Nazi propaganda not only motivated this militia but encouraged wide-spread de-humanization, then and now: “The stories of German cruelty and oppression are not just stories— they are the real thing. And much of this was done by what we call ordinary people—not just the party members, but a vast number of common citizens who fell easy prey to the boloney of national socialism. People who were jealous, griped, depraved, and plain scared.” 

Dad had intense disdain for “the German who asserts his anti-Naziism while the books of Rosenberg and Goering stand in his bookshelves.” We should have the same reaction to Americans who supposedly support freedom but spout QAnon antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Further, we’re echoing the 1930s when Nazis became part of the German Parliament, made laws for their self-empowerment, and took it over. We should be very nervous that elected officials who won’t decry the Jan. 6 insurrection made deals that empowered them and ensured assignments to congressional committees. We need a major cultural shift if we’re to deflect our government from this dangerous path. 

“We can remove the Nazis, but re-education is vital, and we had better be successful.”  That’s a major challenge today since the internet can spread years of conspiracy theories and propaganda. For example, the OK City bombing inspired a new generation including Timothy Wilson who blew up a Kansas City hospital and planned to blow up synagogues, mosques and schools with Black students. Meanwhile, our youth’s education is obstructed by censorship of MAUS and The Diary of Anne Frank.  

If we’re silent, “ordinary people…common citizens” will become easy prey again. My determination to prevent this has meant telling these stories in books, articles, speeches and documentaries. Yes, Neo-Nazis have targeted me by name and photo online. Fortunately, the FBI has my back because I will not be silenced. The distortion of history must be challenged and Holocaust education should be mandated universally. Every level of government, school system, community organization, and online platform must counteract these dark forces with re-education. As my Ritchie Boy said, “we had better succeed.”

Latest posts by Editor-in-Chief (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *