The Propagation and Refutation of the Protocols

From the Lecture Series: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard B. Spence Ph.D., University of Idaho

Before 1919, the Protocols were strictly a Russian phenomenon, and a minor one. But in the wake of revolution and civil war, two million refugees fled Russia for Europe, America, and the Far East. But if the Protocols spread with the movement of refugees, then so did its rebuttals. What were these rebuttals?

A closeup of fingers holding a Jewish star hexagram with Israeli flag in the background.
Boris Brasol, the propagator of the Protocols, was a member of Black Hundreds, a Russian Xenophobic and anti-Semitic group. (Image: Roman Yanushevky/Shutterstock)

The first American version of the Protocols appeared in 1919, in the Philadelphia newspaper, the Public Ledger, under the title The Red Bible. The author, Carl Ackerman, was a well-known journalist. But Ackerman removed every mention of Jews and replaced them with Bolsheviks or Reds. Thus, he converted a piece of anti-Semitic propaganda into an anti-communist one. This also shows how someone might have taken an anti-Masonic tract, and by inserting references to Jews, turned it into an anti-Semitic one.

Boris Brasol’s Editions of the Protocols

A copy of the Protocols, which was converted into an anti-communist propaganda.
Carl Ackerman converted the anti-semitic propaganda of the Protocols into an anti-communist one. (Image: Humus sapiens at English Wikipedia / Public domain)

In 1920, two English editions of the Protocols appeared in the United States, and a third in Britain. Others sprouted in France, Germany, Poland, Austria, and Italy. These did not exclude the mention of Jews. A man with a hand in the production of both American versions was the Russian refugee, Boris Brasol.

Before the war, Brasol had been a Russian state prosecutor who played a small part in what’s known as the Kiev Blood Libel case. A Jewish workman named Mendel Beilis stood accused of murdering a Christian boy as part of a secret Jewish ritual. Beilis was acquitted, but the case made headlines around the world. Brasol was also a member of the Black Hundreds, the same group behind the paper that first published the Protocols.

Years later, Brasol advocated exploiting the kidnap-murder of American aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son, Charles Jr., as another Jewish ritual killing. Oddly, when quizzed about his personal opinion of the Protocols, Brasol confessed that he was “rather inclined to think they are a forgery”. Nevertheless, for years he was their tireless promoter. His greatest contribution to the spread of the Protocols was the influence he exerted on American automaker Henry Ford.

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The Involvement of Henry Ford in Brasol’s Edition

Ford’s drift into anti-Semitism is a tale of its own. The apparent trigger for Ford’s Jew-mania was his ill-fated “Peace Ship” project back in 1915. This amateurish bid to broker a negotiated settlement in World War I opened Ford to ridicule. Several Jews were involved in the venture, and Ford came to believe he’d been duped and exploited by them.

Image of the charter of Black Hundred.
Black Hundred was the group behind the paper that published the Protocols.
Public domain)

He imagined that a cabal of ‘international Jews’, mostly bankers, had instigated the war and connived to keep it going.

The Protocols just seemed to confirm his suspicions. Ford printed and disseminated half a million copies of the Protocols. He also bought a small Michigan newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which, on 22 May 1920, ran an article titled ‘The International Jew: The World’s Problem’.

This was the start of a 91-article series aiming to expose the ‘Jewish menace’ at home and abroad. While these went well beyond the scope of the original Protocols, Ford’s series rested on the same notion of global Jewish conspiracy. Ford used his chain of auto- dealerships to push newspaper sales and subscriptions. The Dearborn Independent had a circulation of around 70,000 in 1920. Two years later, it leaped to 300,000, and by 1924, it grew to 700,000.

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The First Rebuttal of Protocols

Ford’s campaign, nevertheless, provoked protests and push-back. In 1921, Russian-born American journalist, Herman Bernstein, who’d known Ford since the Peace Ship days, published his own book, The History of a Lie. It sought to expose the Protocols’ spurious origins.

However, Bernstein made absolutely no mention of French author Maurice Joly or his dialogues. Instead, Bernstein attributed the Protocols to another book, Biarritz. This 1866 ‘sensational’ novel was the work of German writer, Hermann Goedsche. In one chapter, titled the ‘Jewish Cemetery in Prague‘, Goedsche described how representatives of the Twelve Tribes of Israel gathered for a centennial meeting where a grand rabbi laid out plans for Jewish world domination.

It’s not clear if Goedsche wrote this as anti-Semitic propaganda, or simply because he thought it made a good yarn. Bernstein is right to say that the rabbi’s speech sounds a lot like a synopsis of the Protocols. Bernstein also proved that the Prague cemetery chapter had been published separately in Russia in the 1870s. So, did the Protocols have one source, or two?

The Second Rebuttal of Protocols

In 1921, editors of the Jewish weekly, The American Hebrew, thought they’d found another answer to Ford’s accusations. A Russian-born Polish aristocrat, Catherine Radziwiłł, claimed that she’d seen the original Protocols manuscript in Paris in 1904 or 1905 in the hands of Rachkovsky and Golovinsky, no less, and a third Okhrana agent named Ivan Manasevich-Manuilov.

However, Radziwiłł was a con-woman and a convicted forger who made a career out of peddling gossip and lies. Later it was proved that Rachkovsky and Golovinsky weren’t even in Paris at that time, neither was Radziwiłł. She was an unscrupulous woman hard-up for money.

What Radziwiłł also didn’t know, of course, was that the Protocols had already been published in Russia in 1903. She even claimed that Rachkovsky had disappeared in 1917, when, in fact, he had died in 1910.

The third man mentioned by Radziwiłł, Ivan Manasevich-Manuilov, was a former Okhrana operative described as a “spy, scoundrel, cheat, forger, and debauchee” with “no trace of conscience”. By 1900, Manasevich was a ‘high-level contact’ for various Russian agencies, a skilled propagandist, and a ‘specialist in burglary and blackmail’.

Manasevich might have been ideal to oversee something like the Protocols. Except that he was Jewish. And it’s unlikely he would have worked with Rachkovsky whom he hated with a passion.

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Du Chayla: The Backer of Radziwiłł’s Story

Meanwhile, Catherine Radziwiłł’s bogus story got back-up from a seemingly independent source. This was another Frenchman named Alexandre du Chayla. In May 1921, du Chayla wrote an article for the Parisian Jewish newspaper, The Tribune Juive. Du Chayla claimed that the Russian ‘religious fanatic’ Sergei Nilus had shown him the ‘original’ French draft of the Protocols when both were residing in a Russian monastery in 1909.

Nilus purportedly claimed to have gotten it from a female friend, and she supposedly got it from Rachkovsky who stole it from the archives of the French Freemasons. Du Chayla’s description of this manuscript matches Radziwiłł’s, right down to its yellow paper and blue stain.

Of course, he easily could have gotten that by reading Radziwiłł’s account, which he did. About the only factual element in Du Chayla’s story is that he and Nilus were at the monastery around the same time.

Du Chayla’s Connections with Red Russia

Du Chayla, like the Polish aristocrat Radziwiłł, was a dubious character. A quest for spiritual enlightenment supposedly took him to Russia at the turn of the century. If he knew Nilus, he didn’t know him well. Du Chayla describes Nilus as an irascible bearded weirdo, who bears little resemblance to the real Nilus.

Du Chayla was also oblivious to the existence of the 1903 Protocols, and he wrongly claimed that they’d first appeared in the 1902 edition of Nilus’ book. Instead, they didn’t show up until the 1905 edition.

Du Chayla dismissed the Protocols as “cheap mystification”. But his own opinion of Jews is uncertain. During the Beilis Blood Libel trial, for instance, du Chayla wrote articles supporting the notion of Jewish ritual murder. His political loyalties were also doubtful. After the Russian Revolution, he first joined the anti-Bolshevik White Guards as an intelligence officer. That brought him into contact with various secret societies. One was the Brotherhood of Satan, whose rites included ritual murders and suicides.

In 1919, the supposedly anti-Bolshevik du Chayla was exposed as a Red double agent. But his French nationality saved him from the firing squad. In 1921, there was good reason to suppose he was still a Soviet agent.

The Soviets were always anxious to portray pre-Bolshevik Russia as racist and reactionary, so pinning the Protocols on the Okhrana suited them fine.

Common Questions about the Propagation and Refutation of the Protocols

Q: Who was Catherine Radziwiłł?

A Russian-born Polish aristocrat, Catherine Radziwiłł, claimed that she’d seen the original Protocols manuscript in Paris in 1904 or 1905 in the hands of Rachkovsky and Golovinsky, no less, and a third Okhrana agent named Ivan Manasevich-Manuilov.

Q: How did the Protocols become so popular?

Before 1919, the Protocols were strictly a Russian phenomenon and a minor one. But in the wake of revolution and civil war, two million refugees fled Russia for Europe, America, and the Far East. This migration is considered as the major reason behind the spread of the Protocols.

Q: Was Henry Ford a believer of the Protocols?

Yes, Henry Ford believed in the Protocols as Boris Brasol, one of the propagators of the Protocol, influenced him to a great degree on this matter.

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