1 Introduction

For Mother's Day, the students had practiced songs in the choir, because this day was celebrated every year with a big school festival. The day before the festival, my daughters had to come to the music teacher. 'You have to take part in the school festival, but of course you can't sing along because you're not Aryan.' The children protested with tears in their eyes. … Apparently the teacher didn't want to understand the children's feelings. So she said only briefly and condescendingly: 'I know that you also have a mother, but she is only a Jewish mother [4: 439, author’s translation].

This paper is written from the perspective of critical applied legal linguistics (henceforth CrALL), an emerging area of intellectual inquiry that has its roots, among other things, in Wodak's Discourse-Historical Approach (DHA). It explores the question of how antisemitism is constructed and performed in two children's books, providing a legal-linguistically informed discourse analysis of anti-Semitic categorisation in Elvira Bauer's (1936) Trust No Fox [7] and Ernst Hiemer's (1938) The Poisonous Mushroom [25].

Antisemitism has rightfully been described as a central component of Nazi ideology [66], shaping the everyday lives of individuals arbitrarily categorised as Jewish or non-Jewish by the Nazi state. A recurring theme in the political discourse of Nazism is the alleged unfair treatment of Germans in various socio-political contexts, such as the loss of World War I and its reparations, the Stab-in-the-back myth, the perceived influence of Jews on Germany, and the unfounded conspiracy theory of Weltjudentum, the distorted belief in a global Jewish conspiracy (see [14]). In the words of Phillips, who provides the following definition of antisemitism:

“A delusional hatred and fear of Jews, Judaism, or the Jewish people. But antisemitism is not like other prejudices. It has unique characteristics not applied to any other group of people or cause, such as an obsessional and unhinged narrative based entirely on lies, accusing Jews of crimes of which they are not only innocent but also the victims, holding them to standards expected of no one else, and depicting them as a global conspiracy of unique malice and power” [47].

The considerations put forward in this paper rest on Mandela's thesis that “[n]o one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate” [40: 542]. Categorisation and communication play a critical role in transporting anti-Semitic content, in that categorisation as a process and categories as a product are not prefabricated or monolithic but are continuously negotiated and reinterpreted in and through discourse. In the context of this paper, antisemitism is understood as expressed and co-modulated by the powerful interplay of nomination and predication strategies [52: 48] found in children's books. Building on Reisigl's and Wodak's work, it is reasonable to ask how Jews as individuals and/or a group are named and linguistically and/or visually constructed, and which characteristics are attributed to 'Jewishness' in discourse [5052].

Antisemitism is assumed to be a form of learned hostility and prejudice towards individuals constructed as Jewish; it is thus both normative and performative. By that, I mean that anti-Semitic discourse can be understood as necessarily normative, since antisemitism is always and in any case normative, as is all categorisation. But anti-Semitic categorisation in children's literature, such as picture books, is also performative as well as constitutive. This is particularly visible when considering the long list of speech acts and their effects potentially intended in readers' minds, i.e., to report, to scare, to persuade, to deny, to advise, to warn, to ridicule, to offer, to promise, and many more (see [5]). In this paper, discourses of antisemitism are assumed to be operative where the world and the entities in it are perceived, related to, and measured against an evaluative anti-Semitic categorisation in both word and image. In other words, anti-Semitic categorisation and the performance of anti-Semitic speech acts in children's literature are closely linked to an interplay of modes [6]. Kress describes mode as “a socially shaped and culturally given resource for making meaning” [34: 79]. In addition, Jewitt specifies mode as “image, writing, gesture, gaze, speech, posture” [31: 1], most of which seem to be operative in children's literature with various intended goals. The performance of anti-Semitic discourse in the children's books under investigation is intended to create, build on, and/or activate an anti-Semitic pretext within the minds of children readers or children read to (see also [9]). Jewishness is narrated and depicted in word and image as a denial of virtue. This anti-Semitic pretext creates in individuals the perception that 'Jewishness' is inherently dangerous to the rest of humankind, that it constitutes an antithesis to custom, morality, religion, and law. It is worth pointing out that some of the relevant features of anti-Semitic discourse are not the ones occupying the extreme poles, but rather those that may pass unnoticed, which is why they could easily be overlooked in analysis. As tragically evident in the Holocaust, the anti-Semitic pretext operative in books for adults and children alike was the basis of annihilation antisemitism, which is the criminal and genocidal ideology that only the complete annihilation of all human beings classified as Jewish can reliably solve. It should be noted that the analysis of the two children's books at hand can only provide a window into anti-Semitic discourse as operative in art, politics, and popular culture, and with it, into the pervasive and destructive adaptability of irrational Jew-hatred.

Section 2 presents a review of the literature, providing only a glimpse into the complex and multi-layered historical context of the two books under analysis. Section 3 then describes the process of corpus construction and design. Section 4 provides the results of the qualitative analyses of the corpus. Subsequently, Sect. 5 discusses these findings in the light of the normative construction of antisemitism. Finally, Sect. 6 concludes that CrALL can benefit from an extension of scope in research focus so as to provide perspectives on the “constitution and transport of anti-Jewish prejudice in public and private discourse” [65: 62].

2 Exploring the Many Faces of Antisemitism

The phenomenon of antisemitism may be reflected through the lens of the normative and the empirical. Controversially, Fox and Topor have argued that a distinction should be made between empirically attestable “discrimination against Jews” and the concept of antisemitism [19]. They describe antisemitism as a normative concept and distinguish it from concrete discriminatory practices, which they assign to the measurability of the empirical domain. This paper disagrees. It assumes that there is no such thing as normative antisemitism, since antisemitism and the process of anti-Semitic categorisation are always discursively normative. It argues that antisemitism, like any other form of enmity, is taught, learned, and embedded in a net of discursive practices that can, in turn, be systematically analysed when grounded in elaborate discourse-analytical frameworks, such as the DHA. The DHA, as Reisigl concisely summarises, is concerned with but not limited to eight areas of analysis, interpretation, and critique (see Table 1) [52: p. 47]:

Table 1 Areas within the DHA

The qualitative analysis presented in this paper clearly shows overlaps of research areas, all of which seem relevant to gaining a deeper understanding of the many faces of antisemitism in children’s books. Depending on the focus placed in the respective analyses, researchers can identify, select, and investigate, among other things, the relationship between discourse and discrimination, identity, media, ecology, and history. Discourses of anti-Semitism may be described as shapeshifters that have steadily acquired and will likely continue to acquire intertextual and interdiscursive links to contemporary issues. Notably, while this is not the focus of this paper, the relationship between discourses of antisemitism in the various contexts mentioned above merits further investigation, i.e., the script in anti-Semitic discourses remaining 'Jewishness' rather than complex and, at times, interdependent phenomena in the world. According to Reisigl, discourse analysis embedded in the DHA is, among other things, informed by sociolinguistics, pragmatics, textlinguistics, and text semiotics, and an interest in rhetoric. It is influenced by the “philosophical semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce” as well as Wittgenstein, Bourdieu, and Critical Theory, as stipulated by Habermas [52, 47]. Consequently, as Reisigl elaborates, the DHA may be characterised by a “weak realism or moderate constructivism as its epistemological starting point.” This has, of course, implications for research designs and the research questions pursued. For instance, Wodak poses the question as to whether antisemitism should “be regarded as a genuine structural feature of contemporary society or rather as a relic of an old but now overcome European ideology?”.

“the view that turns antisemitism into a museum piece reproduces an exclusive and umediated juxtaposition of the past and the present and disregards the multifaceted correspondences between them (Benjamin 2003), or what Adorno called ‘the survival of National Socialism within democracy’ (Adorno 1998a, 1998b; see also Stögner 2012, 2016)” [8, 2, 3; 56, 57].

Antisemitism is taught and learned through a discursive shift in norms. This shift is empirically recoverable through systematic analyses of semiotic practices, which merits research into anti-Semitic children’s books from the perspective of how norms of custom, morality, religion and law are discursively constructed. In this sense, an in-depth engagement with anti-Semitic children’s literature such as Trust No Fox and The Poisonous Mushroom may provide windows into discourses of antisemitism that enable researchers and teachers alike to engage with the continuities, “constitution and transport of anti-Jewish prejudice in public and private discourse” [65: 62] in the German-speaking world and beyond. In doing so, discourse analysts could make a solid contribution to current research into antisemitism in past and present and lay the basis for effective monitoring of anti-Semitic discourses, locally and globally.

3 Historical Context

This section seeks to provide the most salient points of historical background necessary to place the books under analysis in their specific socio-political context. Of course, it cannot provide an exhaustive literary discussion on children’s books in Hitler’s Germany generally, but it rather aims to present a concise overview of the authors, the publisher and the reported usage of the two books.

3.1 Trust No Fox

The first book under analysis is entitled Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud auf seinem Eid! ein Bilderbuch für Gross und Klein (Trust No Fox on his Green Heath and No Jew on his Oath! A Picture Book for Old and Young) and was published in November 1936. The book’s title makes reference to Martin Luther’s (1543) infamous pamphlet Von den Juden und ihren Lügen in which he writes:

Trau keinem Wolf auf wilder Heiden // Auch keinem Juden auf seine Eiden // Glaub keinem Papst auf sein Gewissen // Wirst sonst von allen Drein beschissen [38].

Don't trust a wolf on a wild heath // Also don't trust a Jew on his oaths // Don't trust a pope on his conscience // Otherwise you'll be screwed over by all three of them [38].

The text and illustrations were provided by Theodolinde Elvira Bauer, an eighteen-year-old nursery school teacher, student of art and, most importantly, a glowing supporter of Nazi ideology. The publication reached a total of seven editions, with over 70,000 books produced in Sütterlin style [29]. All editions of Trust No Fox were published by ardent National Socialist, Julius Streicher who functioned as Gauleiter of Franconia, was a member of the German Reichstag and, probably most infamous for his role as the founding figure of Der Stürmer, a Nazi newspaper displaying brutal and shameless antisemitism. In 1937, Mann comments on the publication of the work in Jewish Frontier, writing.

“It is the same Streicher who recently compelled journalists in Nurenberg to perform acrobatics, frolic about, and climb up and down ladders on a public stage; Streicher, the intimate friend of the Chancellor of the German Reich, the temperamental speaker and famous sadist (they say he never goes for a walk without carrying a whip); Streicher who, we cordially hope, will not fall, to whom we hope nothing will happen, before the Third Reich, of which he is the best representative, will itself fall. May he not be spared the fate of his colleague Roehm! He is as true a part of Nazi-Germany as is this horrible picture book. It is pitiful and terrifying to think that tens of thousands of German children are poisoned – literally poisoned – by this disgusting product of vileness and imbecility. But since it unfortunately exists, and is in the hands of the German children, we should use it, too, as the strongest imaginable method of propaganda against the Reich of Hitler and Streicher.” [39]

In the same year, Streicher describes Trust No Fox as follows and reacts to the criticism:

„Wir haben eines dieser Bilderbücher „für die Großen und die Kleinen“ vor uns, in welchem Fräulein Elvira Bauer mit einer Großmäuligkeit, welche in ihrer Art ein Rekord ist, die Verachtung und den Judenhaß lehrt. Es wird vom Stürmer, dem Organ des nur zu berühmten Streicher, herausgegeben, dem Führer des antisemitischen Feldzuges. […] Wenn man wissen will, ob etwas gut oder schlecht ist, braucht man bloß darauf zu hören, was der Jude dazu sagt. Daß die Juden der ganzen Welt gegen jenes Bilderbuch vom Leder ziehen, beweist seinen großen Wert.” [58: 5]

“We have before us one of those picture books ‘for the big and the small’ in which Miss Elvira Bauer teaches contempt and Jew-hatred with a loudmouth which is a record of its kind. It is edited by the Stürmer, organ of the all-too-famous Streicher, the leader of the anti-Semitic campaign. […] If you want to know whether something is good or bad, you only have to listen to what the Jew says about it. That the Jews of the whole world are pulling their guns against that picture book proves its great value” ([58: 5], author’s translation)

Streicher’s response provides interesting insights into his explicit awareness regarding Bauer teaching ‘contempt and Jew-hatred’. The purpose of the work was thus to spread the dogma of antisemitism among the general population, with a specific focus on children. The blatant and explicit anti-Semitic rhetoric found in the book was one of the reasons it was presented as evidence during the Nuremberg Trials. Discourse analysts may find the work of particular interest due to its transparent production context, explicit objectives, and prescient foreshadowing of the Shoa.

3.2 The Poisonous Mushroom

The second book under analysis is entitled Der Giftpilz: Ein Stürmerbuch für Jung u. Alt (The Poisonous Mushroom: a Stürmerbuch for Young and Old) and was published in 1938. The text explicitly compares human beings constructed as Jewish with poisonous mushrooms (see also Fig. 1):

„Ich verstehe, dass man durch Verhandeln mit schlechten Leuten in Schwierigkeiten kommen kann, genauso wie wenn man einen giftigen Pilz isst. Mancher stirbt sogar dran!“ „Und weißt Du auch, wer diese schlechten Menschen sind, die menschlichen Giftpilze?“ fährt die Mutter fort. Franz meint stolz: „Natürlich kenne ich sie, Mutter! Das sind die Juden!” [25: 7]

“I understand that dealing with bad people can get you into trouble, just like eating a poisonous mushroom. Some even die from it!” “And do you also know who these bad people are, the human toadstools?” the mother continued. Franz says proudly: “Of course I know them, mother! It's the Jews!” ([25: 7], author's translation)

Fig. 1
figure 1

Illustration taken from The Poisonous Mushroom [25: 6]

The Poisonous Mushroom is a prototypical example of the systematic indoctrination of children from an early age. The work was written by Ernst Hiemer, a German writer and primary school teacher closely affiliated to Streicher's Der Stürmer. Throughout his career in Nazi Germany, Hiemer fulfilled various functions, e.g. he contributed to the reports included in the newspaper on offences committed by individuals constructed as Jewish [33: 230]. The Poisonous Mushroom was one of two books Hiemer contributed to the anti-Semitic poison cabinet of his time; the other one being Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher (The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pinscher) which was published two years after The Poisonous Mushroom in 1940 [26]. The anti-Semitic discourse, as reflected in Hiemer’s works, resembles an ethical code clearly delineating the expected social behaviour of the German as a segment of Volksgemeinschaft (racial community). The simple lesson intended to be ‘learnt’ from Hiemer’s books is that those constructed as Jews by Nazi ideology are per se a danger and evil to those constructed as Germans. In Der Stürmer The Poisonous Mushroom was advertised as follows:

„Das Jugendbuch vom Stürmer-Verlag ‚Der Giftpilz’ von Ernst Hiemer, Bilder von Fips, gehört in die Hand eines jeden deutschen Jungen und Mädels. Aber auch die Erwachsenen sollen daraus lernen, weil sie um der deutschen Zukunft willen nicht müde werden dürfen, ihre Kinder immer wieder zu lehren: Der Jude ist der Satan in Menschengestalt, er ist die fleischgewordene Lüge. Wer in seine Krallen kommt, ist für sich selbst und für sein Volk verloren“ [64: 23].

“The youth book from Stürmer-Verlag 'Der Giftpilz' by Ernst Hiemer, pictures by Fips, belongs in the hands of every German boy and girl. But adults should also learn from this, because for the sake of Germany's future they must not tire of teaching their children over and over again: the Jew is Satan in human form, he is the lie incarnate. Whoever falls into his claws is lost to himself and to his people” ([64: 23], author’s translation).

As noted by Koonz, it appears that Hiemer’s ardent zeal even generated some negative responses by National Socialists [33]. In 1942, Hiemer published Der Jude im Sprichwort der Völker [27], a compilation of proverbs with aggressive anti-Semitic content. Unlike in the case of Elvira Bauer whose later years remain a mystery, Hiemer was detained in Stalag XIII-D after the end of WWII. He was never allowed to teach in a school again for the rest of his life and died in Altötting, Bavaria in 1974. The illustration found in The Poisonous Mushroom were provided by Philipp Rupprecht, who served as Der Stürmer’s most regular cartoonist. Until the end of Der Stürmer’s sinister series of publications in February 1945, Rupprecht had sketched anti-Semitic caricatures in the thousands, with changes in style being noticeable throughout his career. As noted by Bytwerk, the illustrator depicts Jews as short, obese, unshaven figures with pig-like traits and with exaggerated hooked noses [15]. The resemblance with pigs is clearly intended to publicly humiliate the Jewish population, since

figure ar

(chazir/pig) is considered unclean according to the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). In comparison to Trust No Fox, The Poisonous Mushroom offers a larger quantity of written language data alongside the explicit illustrations found in it. The Poisonous Mushroom was one of many children’s books published to warn German society at large from what was framed as the danger allegedly emanating from the Jewish population (see also [16]). In this sense, the common theme of these books is to ‘warn’ and to ‘protect’ children as a vulnerable group specifically. Both works under analysis were written shortly after the enactment of brutal anti-Semitic legislation, such as the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour [44] and the Reich Citizenship Law. [49]

4 Method

For the purposes of this project, a specialised corpus consisting of the two books Trust No Fox (subcopus A) and The Poisonous Mushroom (subcorpus B) was compiled. The books were transcribed manually in their entirety and XML annotation was applied to produce a corpus that is easily storable and offers other advantages, such as simplification of data sharing and as well as accessibility, amongst many others. The project is based on a more fine-grained method developed for an earlier project on the discursive construction of obedience in letters of application written under Nazi rule [37].

The application of XML annotation allows for the creation of a robust corpus, taking into consideration the metadata of the works’ author, the year of publication and the publisher. Prose sections were split into sentences < s > ; sections written in verses were split in lines < l > for clarity of reference. Subcorpus A consists of 24 images, 10 headings, 187 lines and 2 sentences, amounting to 3,227 tokens and 946 types. Subcorpus B contains 18 images, 18 headings, 471 sentences, totalling 7,475 tokens and 1,819 types. All images can be viewed in the appendix (see Appendix A) and have been primarily analysed with regard to the nomination and predication strategies directed at Jewishness in the anti-Semitic works. However, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the complex multimodal processes employed in Nazi children's books, future studies should give attention to these aspects, which I was unable to consider due to a lack of resources.

Notes were marked with the tag < Note > , e.g. as shown in Fig. 2, where reference is made to ‘the’ Talmud as a “book of Jewish criminals’ law.” The reference corpus is available in two forms: part-of-speech (POS) tagged using Lancsbox, the Lancaster University corpus toolbox, and in plain text without POS annotation. POS annotation was manually checked for adjectives and nouns, which are the focus of the analysis (Fig. 3). The two subcorpora are available as TXT and MS Word files to ensure that images can be displayed and accessed by researchers. The corpus design follows two key considerations. First, it allows for a systematic analysis of multi-word units to identify explicit patterns of hardened language in anti-Semitic discourse. Second, the corpus design aims to benefit other researchers who may use the data for various analyses of semiotic resources, linguistic or otherwise. The analysis was conducted using Laurence Anthony's AntConc (v. 3.5.9), which enables the analysis of lexical clusters in context. This study aims to provide a qualitative discourse analysis of the interplay between nomination and predication using the available semiotic resources in the two children's books. However, as previously mentioned, it does not seek to present a comprehensive multimodal analysis. The qualitative analysis follows Gläser's and Laudel's four steps of content analysis: (1) preparation of extraction, (2) extraction, (3) processing, and (4) analysis [22]. In the first step, an open category system was developed based on the children's books and manually annotated. The category system was then supplemented and refined inductively as newly emerging themes were identified during the extraction phase. These four categories were used in the annotation and analysis of nomination and predication strategies in the two children's books (see Table 2):

Fig. 2
figure 2

Example of XML annotation of Trust No Fox

Fig. 3
figure 3

Example of XML annotation of The Poisonous Mushroom

Table 2 Inductive categories used in the qualitative analysis

5 Results

As expected, the discourse operative in the books reproduces the Jewish/non-Jewish dichotomy typical of Nazi ideology. Additionally, following this anti-Semitic dogma, the works frequently use compounding to stigmatise both subjects and objects in the world as Jewish, such as the Jewish question, Jewish doctor, Jewish lawyer, Jewish breed, Jewish house, Jewish shopping centre, Jewish head, Jewish butcher, Jewish nose, Jewish plague, Jewish slime, and cattle Jew, among others. Adjectives are also used to divide the world according to the Jewish/non-Jewish dichotomy, which is particularly evident when comparing the attributive adjectives DEUTSCH (German) and JÜDISCH (Jewish) as used throughout the books. The tendencies in the dataset can be described as belonging to various subareas, including profession, nature, religion, law, crime, physiognomy, and age. The normative domains of custom, morality, religion, and law are consistently referenced in forms such as JÜDISCHE VERBRECHERGESETZE (Jewish criminals’ laws), JÜDISCHES GERICHT (Jewish court), JÜDISCHER GAUNER (Jewish thug), and JÜDISCHER SCHWINDEL (Jewish fraud). Interestingly, what is presented as the German counterpart does not contain any references to the legal domain or crime but rather emphasises gender, profession, politics, religion, and space, among others.

The predication strategies employed in the two books systematically portray Jewishness as a violation of an unspecified normative order. Jewishness is consistently depicted as the opposite of socially acceptable behavior. Specifically, the use of the construction JÜDISCHE VERBRECHERGESETZE indicates the application of the “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender” strategy, which is frequently employed in the rhetoric of these works [23: 645, see also 29]. Jewishness is systematically framed as a distortion of the norms of custom, morality, religion, and law, which is narrated and depicted as supposedly evident in Jewish religious texts and/or rabbinic commentary. Examples include references to GESETZE DES TALMUD (laws of the Talmud), DAS GEHEIME GESETZBUCH DER JUDEN (the secret codex of the Jews), or GESETZBUCH: “TALMUD SCHULCHAN ARUCH” (Codex Talmud Schulchran Aruch). Other examples further support this argument and include references such as “DIE LEHREN UND GESETZE DES TALMUD” (the teachings and laws of the Talmud) or “DIE GESETZE NACH DENEN SIE LEBEN” (the laws according to which they live). Table 3 displays the coding scheme presented in the previous section, along with three examples per category.

Table 3 Coding scheme with examples

As depicted in Table 3, statements containing nomination and predication strategies in the children's books have been categorised to demonstrate their normative origin and how Jewishness is portrayed as contrary to custom, morality, religion, and/or law. In the following part of this Section, selected examples will be thoroughly discussed, beginning with the description and analysis of the accompanying images and then engaging with the corresponding anti-Semitic texts. It is evident that the nomination and predication strategies represented in the coding scheme often intertwine and can be associated with more than one category, such as law and morality, or morality and religion. This observation suggests that the challenge of assigning a specific statement to a fixed category stems from the interconnectedness and entanglement of anti-Semitic prejudices. For instance, the assertion that Jews are “a murderous people” may signify a negation of both morality and law, implying that Jewishness is inherently connected to the intention to kill or the characteristic of having committed murder. By alluding to the accusation of deicide, this statement may not solely pertain to animal cruelty, which is its original context, but also to the narrative that Jews purportedly bear collective responsibility for the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Example 1, taken from Trust no Fox, recounts a legal dispute involving a portrayal of a Jewish lawyer characterised as greedy, taking advantage of a German farmer's lack of legal knowledge. Figure 4 presents an apparent before-and-after depiction. The before image portrays a room with the inscription “Dr. Hayum M Rechtsanwa” and a wall calendar displaying the date as August 13th. The room contains seven papers pinned to the wall, a wastebasket filled with discarded paper, and various colourful books stored within a slant-top desk. One of the books, a blue one, is seen lying on the floor. Adjacent to the slant-top desk, there is a newspaper held in a brown holder, a red book resembling a notebook, and a pair of scissors suspended by a thread. On the slant-top desk, there is a stack of papers and an indeterminate writing instrument, likely a fountain pen. Behind the desk, a wooden stool and a white hanging lamp are visible. Within the room stands a thin man with black hair, a hooked nose, an upright mustache, and a writing utensil clipped behind his right ear. His hairline begins at the back of his head, and he possesses thick eyebrows and lips. He wears black clothing with a noticeably empty pocket, blue trousers, and black shoes, facing two other individuals. The well-nourished male figure wears a green hat with a feather, a green vest, brown trousers with a moneybag, black boots, a brown walking stick, and a grey-green blazer over a white shirt. He holds a brown wooden pipe in his right hand and appears to wear a gleaming chain around his vest. The female figure to his right also wears a green hat, a white dirndl blouse, a blue-and-red dirndl costume, and a brown corset. She wears a brown necklace and carries a basket filled with unidentified white contents and a seemingly full purse. Both individuals smile and seem attentive to the person dressed in black. The man dressed in black places his right hand on his hip while raising his left thumb and index finger, seemingly explaining something to the other two figures. In the after image, the calendar displays “June 21st.” An obese man, attired identically to the slender figure in the “before” image, is depicted sitting on the stool behind the slant-top desk. He wears a monocle, smokes a thick cigar, and points at a stack of papers in front of him on the desk. The male figure wearing a green hat, red vest, white stripy shirt, brown trousers, and black boots appears thin, with his legs giving the impression of being underweight. Gazing in shock at the obese figure, he leans on his walking stick while his empty moneybag hangs demonstratively. The female figure behind him glares angrily at the person behind the slant-top desk. Both she and the male figure next to her appear bent, presenting an empty basket and purse. They hold an item in their right hand while displaying their empty left hand, indicating a lack of anything else to give. The books in the room are all stored inside the slant-top desk, and the wastebasket appears less full than before. The before-and-after image perpetuates the anti-Semitic stereotype of the greedy, parasitic Jewish lawyer. The lawyer's facial expression and his pointing at the stack of papers in the “after” image likely aim to depict a cunning, malicious, destructive, and obstinate mind-set. This interpretation is reinforced by the accompanying poem about “the Jewish lawyer” provided in close proximity to the image.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Illustration taken from Trust No Fox [7: 22]

Der jüdische Rechtsanwalt

„Wir Kinder haben einen Streit, So haben ihn oft große Leut / Bei Kindern Eltern richten, Bei Großen Richter schlichten. / Ein Rechtsanwalt Den Sachverhalt Dem Richter muß erst sagen. Also beginnt das Klagen. / Und dafür kriegt er Geld. So ist es auf der Welt / Der Bauer Michel geht zur Stadt. Er muß noch heut zum Advokat. / Ihr konnt ihn auf dem Bilde sehn Mit seiner Frau gar reich und schön. / Der Rechtsanwalt steht nebendran: Ein mager und erbämlich Mann. / Zur Zeit ist sein Geschäftsgang schlecht Der Bauer kommt ihm grade recht! / Drum sagt er zu Herrn Michel gleich: „Oh Bauersmann, ihr seid so reich / Könnt ihr nicht bringen Schmalz und Wein Und Mehl und Eier mir herein? / Mit dem Prozeß laßt mir nur Zeit! Ich hoffe, wir sind bald soweit, / Daß er gewonnen ist!" Verspricht er voller List / Die Bauersleut aus Dummelsbrumm Sind aber auch noch gar so dumm / Und bringen ihm soviel Als er grad haben will. / Nun hört das End von der Geschicht: Der Bauer solang mußt aufs G'richt, / Bis daß der Judenadvokat All Schmalz und Eier von ihm hat / Und rund und dick und dick und rund Wiegt er zweihundertvierzig Pfund. / Erst als nichts mehr zu holen war, War der Prozeß auch endlich gar. / Er dürft ihn zwar gewinnen, Doch kann er sich besinnen, / Wo nun sein Sach und Geld er hat: Das ist beim Judenadvokat“ [7: 21].

The Jewish Lawyer

“We children have a quarrel, That's how big people often have it / parents are the judges of children, with the big ones judges mediate. / A lawyer the facts must first tell the judge. So the litigation begins. / And he gets paid for it. That's what the world is like / The farmer Michel goes to town. He has to see a lawyer today. / You can see him in the picture with his wife, very rich and beautiful. / The lawyer stands next to them: A thin and pathetic man. / His business is bad at the moment The farmer suits him just fine! / That’s why he immediately said to Herr Michel: “Oh farmer, you are so rich / Can’t you bring in lard and wine and flour and eggs for me? / Just give me time with the trial! I hope we'll soon be ready / that it'll be won!" he promises cunningly / the farmers from Dummelsbrumm are also really stupid / and bring him as much as he wants right now. / Now hear the end of the story: The farmer had to go to court until the Jewish advocate got all the lard and eggs from him / And round and thick and thick and round he weighed two hundred and forty pounds / Only when there was nothing more to be had the trial was finally over. / He may likely win it, but he can think it over, / Where he has his property and money: That's with the Jewish lawyer” ([1: 21], author’s translation)

The excerpt repeatedly mentions various individuals and procedures within the legal realm, depicting an unspecified social conflict and likening it to a quarrel among children. This quarrel is then compared to a legal dispute between adults, with a judge playing the role of mediator between the parties. The farmer seeks legal advice and consults a lawyer. Initially, the lawyer's role is portrayed as informing the judge about the parties' allegations. Subsequently, the lawyer is described and depicted as “thin and pathetic.” It is explained that his business is struggling, and he considers himself lucky when the farmer grants him power of attorney. This emphasis is reinforced by the previous depiction of the lawyer's office and his emaciated appearance. The high legal fees the farmer is required to pay as a result of the litigation are portrayed as part of the Jewish lawyer's deliberate scheme to enrich himself. This portrayal perpetuates the anti-Semitic and dehumanising stereotype of Jewishness as a form of existence that feeds off others like a parasite.

The narrative teaches that the Jewish lawyer is a clever and talented professional, but simultaneously an exploitative and dishonest individual who purposefully prolongs the legal process for his client's benefit. This is also evident in the considerable amount of time that elapses in the “before-and-after” image presented. It describes and illustrates how the Jewish lawyer intentionally inflates legal costs. Notably, there is no mention of the fact that, depending on the nature of the legal matter, preparing for litigation and bringing a claim to court can be time-consuming and expensive. The chapter aims to depict the lawyer as inherently untrustworthy and a threat to his clients. The existence of legal professionals who take advantage of those with less legal knowledge is simplistically attributed to a supposed “Jewish character trait.” This reflects a stark oversimplification of the roles of individuals and legal processes, aiming to indoctrinate children with a dogmatic belief in the dangers of dealing with legal professionals portrayed as Jewish. The issue of high legal fees is not explored in terms of the workings of the legal system or the complexities of certain legal matters but is solely framed as the alleged premeditated malice of Jewish legal professionals. Money and the lack thereof is depicted to be an issue. The issue is then framed as a Jewish problem and finally the conclusion is drawn that it is ‘the Jew’ who is the problem.

Examples 2 and 3 show how Jewish religious law is framed as a carte blanche to do harm to non-Jews. They are taken from The Poisonous Mushroom and describe a verbal examination between a Rabbi and his student (see Fig. 5). Figure 5 displays a dimly lit and eerie room, featuring a lectern adorned with a hexagram designed in the style of a Magen David (Star of David) and embellished with wooden ornaments. Resting on the lectern is a book with blank pages. Positioned on the left side is a menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, casting a yellowish light that illuminates the surroundings. In the background, a scroll with lettering resembling Hebrew and a grayish pillar can be observed. At the centre of the image, two figures are depicted—a young man and an elderly man—both dressed in black robes and wearing black hats. Both individuals have beards, although the beard of the elderly man is notably longer than that of the young man. Wrinkles can be seen on the forehead and around the mouth of the elderly man. He wears glasses and has got a pronounced hooked nose, more prominent than the young man's. A white prayer shawl with two dark stripes is draped around the neck of the elderly man. He holds a closed brown book in his right hand, while his left hand is raised with his thumb, index finger, and ring finger extended in an instructive manner. The young man leans on his right hand, engrossed in reading the book in front of him. It appears that he uses his left hand to guide his eyes as he reads. In the lower right-hand corner of the image, a handwritten signature is visible, displaying the word “Fips.” The image portrays ‘the Jew’ in the form of a rabbi, depicted as a malevolent member of a secretive cult, transmitting secret knowledge to the next generation. This is supported by the content of the dialogue between the two fictional characters.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Illustration taken from The Poisonous Mushroom [25: 16]

The conversation mocks the study of sacred Jewish texts, activating numerous anti-Semitic prejudices, such as those that Jews are liars, cheaters and usurers who break their word in their dealings with non-Jews. The excerpt presents the typical Jewish/non-Jewish dichotomy and purports to explain Jewish law by stating which behaviour are (im)permissible in the dealing with Jews/non-Jews. The student describes fraud, cheating and practising usury as permissible in interactions with non-Jews, explicitly stating counterfactually that Jewish law allows for Jews to break moral principles when dealing with non-Jews specifically. According to the student, for instance, if a non-Jew notices that a Jew stole from them, they are allowed to deny everything that happened and will be acquitted from all charges by the ‘Jewish court’. The depiction of Jewishness as an antithesis to morality and law is described in the excerpt below:

„Es ist für Juden verboten ihre Brüder zu betrügen, bei Nichtjuden ist es erlaubt. Wenn wir Nichtjuden Geld leihen, müssen wir ihnen wucherische Gebühren (Zinsen) abfordern. Raub betreffend wird gelehrt: Nichtjuden dürfen weder sich gegenseitig, noch die Juden berauben. Aber Juden dürfen Nichtjuden jeder Zeit enteignen. Wenn ein Nichtjude bemerkt, dass ein Jude ihn bestohlen hat, und dieses daraufhin zurück fordert, sollte der Jude einfach alles leugnen. Das jüdische Gericht wird ihm dann Recht zusprechen” [25: 36-37].

“It is prohibited for Jews to deceive their brothers, but it is permissible for non-Jews to do so. If we lend money to non-Jews, we have to charge them usurious fees (interest). Concerning robbery it is taught: non-Jews must not rob either one another or the Jews. But Jews may dispossess non-Jews at any time. If a non-Jew notices that a Jew has stolen from him and then demands it back, the Jew should simply deny everything. The Jewish court will then rule in favour of him” ([25: 36-37], author’s translation).

Sinclair points out that certain words and phrases tend to occur in specific semantic environments rather than others, arguing for the presence of semantic prosody in language [54: 112]. Indeed, semantic prosody is likely a prominent feature of the anti-Semitic rhetoric found in the books. However, in order to make substantial claims about the co-occurrence of specific linguistic elements within a semantic environment, a representative quantitative analysis of all children's books published under Nazi rule would be necessary. Nevertheless, it appears that certain words and phrases are exclusively employed to describe the Jewish domain in the children's books. For example, the dichotomy between permissible and impermissible conduct is constructed through imbalances in legal transactions, as evidenced by the use of terms like “deceive” (BETRÜGEN), “lend” (LEIHEN), “usurious fees” (WUCHERISCHE GEBÜHREN), “rob” (BERAUBEN), and “dispossess” (ENTEIGNEN). Since both works primarily target children, it suggests that the notions of inequity and unfairness portrayed in them are intended to distort and corrupt children's developing sense of justice from an early age, aligning it with the anti-Semitic Nazi ideology. The conceptual space between “permitted" (ERLAUBT) and “prohibited” (VERBOTEN) is distorted to such an extent that behavior commonly regarded with contempt is exclusively attributed to Jewishness. It is not the conduct itself that is portrayed negatively, but rather the alleged Jewish ‘nature’ of the actor, which is purported to explain a specific type of socially unacceptable behavior. Moreover, the books explicitly state that a Jewish court would favour Jews over non-Jews in court proceedings, insinuating the existence of a secret network of Jewish individuals manipulating and controlling the legal system. It is presupposed that if it were not for Jewish influence, the justice system would run smoothly and would achieve more equitable solutions to social conflict.

In Example 3 Jewish religious norms are counterfactually and intentionally depicted as a distortion of morality, as can be read in the dialogue below:

„Es ist den Juden erlaubt, gestohlene Waren von einem Dieb zu kaufen, wenn sie von Nichtjuden stammen. Das heißt, Hehler zu sein, ohne vor unserem Gott zu sündigen. Schmuggel und Steuerhinterziehung sind für uns Juden ebenfalls erlaubt. Der Talmud genehmigt nichtjüdische Autoritäten von Zöllen und Steuern zu betrügen. Laut Talmud ist uns Juden der Diebstahl erlaubt, solange wir von den Nichtjuden nehmen. Der Ausdruck aus den 10 Geboten Moses: „Du sollst nicht stehlen! “ bezieht sich demnach auch nur auf den Diebstahl unter den Juden gegenseitig. „Was das heißt? “ fragt der Rabbiner. Betrügen und stehlen nur bei Nichtjuden, niemals bei Juden. Zufrieden lobt der Rabbiner: „Ausgezeichnet, jetzt will ich mehr von dir, über die Gesetze des Talmud hören.“ Solly, sehr glücklich über das Lob des Rabbiners, zitiert den Talmud: „Dem Juden ist es erlaubt vor einem Nichtjüdischen Gericht Meineid zu leisten. Solch ein Eid soll immer als Erzwungen angesehen werden. Sogar wenn ein Jude dann im Namen Gottes schwört, darf er lügen, solange er im Herzen, den Eid zurückweist.“, weiter heißt es im Talmud: „Schrecken allen Nationen, o Juda! Erhebt eure Hände gegen die Nichtjuden. Hetzt ihren Zorn heraus, und lasst ihn gegen sie selber strömen! Zerschlagt die Prinzen, die Feinde der Juden sind.“ „Genug “: unterbricht ihn der Rabbiner. Er geht zu Solly, und schüttelt ihn die Hand. „Du bist ein guter Schüler und ein guter Jude. Denk immer darüber nach, was der Talmud von Dir fordert.“ „Die Lehren und Gesetze des Talmud sind sehr wichtig, so wichtig ihre Einhaltung. Wichtiger als das alte Testament, denn es sind die Worte des jüdischen Gottes.“ „Er, der die Gesetze bricht verdient den Tod. Denke Dein ganzes Leben daran! Folgst du immer den Gesetzen, so wirst Du Dich einst unseren biblischen Vätern im Himmel anschließen, Amen! “ [25: 19–20].

“It is permissible for Jews to buy stolen goods from a thief if they are from non-Jews. That is to be a fence without sinning before our God. Smuggling and tax evasion are also allowed for us Jews. The Talmud authorizes defrauding gentile authorities of duties and taxes. According to the Talmud, Jews are allowed to steal as long as we take from non-Jews. The expression from the 10 commandments of Moses: "Thou shalt not steal!" therefore only refers to theft among the Jews mutually. "What does that mean?" asks the rabbi. Cheat and steal only from non-Jews, never from Jews. Satisfied, the rabbi praises: “Excellent, now I want to hear more from you about the laws of the Talmud.” Solly, very happy about the rabbi's praise, quotes the Talmud: “A Jew is permitted to commit perjury in a non-Jewish court. Such an oath should always be considered coercive. Even if a Jew then swears in the name of God, he may lie, as long as he rejects the oath in his heart.” The Talmud goes on to say: “Terrify all nations, O Judah! Raise your hands against the non-Jews. Bring out their wrath and let it flow against themselves! Smash the princes who are enemies of the Jews.” “Enough”: the rabbi interrupts him. He goes to Solly and shakes his hand. “You are a good student and a good Jew. Always think about what the Talmud requires of you.”

“The teachings and laws of the Talmud are very important, so important is their observance. More important than the Old Testament, for they are the words of the Jewish God.” “He who breaks the laws deserves death. Think about it all your life! If you always follow the laws, you will one day join our biblical fathers in heaven, Amen!” ([25: 19–20], author’s translation).

What sets the example apart from the previous one is the explicit reference to the Talmud, which is counterfactually depicted as more significant than the “Old Testament”. Again the (im)permissibility of specific conduct is emphasised and legitimised by an intentional untruthful representation of rabbinic commentary, alleging the existence of Jewish special rules. In addition, it is later asserted that the Talmud does not only allow unacceptable conduct but rather demands it from the observing Jew. Furthermore, it is claimed that whoever refuses to act in accordance with the rules of the Talmud deserves death and that obedient Jews will finally join their fathers in heaven. The topos of the Jew as an antithesis to morality and religion is a depicted in such an extreme way that some parts of the dialogue between the rabbi and his student seem outright ridiculous. However, and perhaps this constitutes the most dangerous aspect of these examples, the work refers to concepts commonplace in a great number legal systems, e.g. smuggling, tax evasion, fraud, theft, perjury and treason and, in doing so, provides a poisonous mixture of legal explanations exemplified by and based on aggressive anti-Semitic rhetoric. In passing, it should at least be mentioned that the Jewish population in most European countries for centuries was forced to accept a legal order predominantly shaped and interpreted by Christian ideals and values. The juxtaposition of unreliable Jewish courts and reliable non-Jewish courts and the depiction of perjury as an inherently Jewish trait to gain advantages in the legal process. The argument is structured in the following manner: If a judge who is not of Jewish descent makes a mistake, it is perceived as an innocent error. However, if a similar error happens to a Jewish judge, it is interpreted as a deliberate act of deception aimed at disadvantaging the non-Jewish party. This biased viewpoint attributes the intention to deceive and harm to Jewishness itself, describing and depicting it as inherently unfair and unjust, and consequently labelling ‘the Jew’ as a negation of both morality and law.

Figure 6 depicts an illustration featuring a man wearing a black coat and beige trousers. He has long, scruffy black hair and a black beard, along with a noticeably large hooked nose, thick eyebrows, and a yellowish skin tone. One of his eyes is almost closed in a squinting manner, while the other appears half-open. The man has hairy hands and a prominent red lower lip with deep wrinkles around his eyes and cheeks. The wrinkles on the right side of his face are more visible. The man is standing in or walking through tall green grass, adopting a stooped posture. He holds a gray staff and carries two bags on his back—one gray and the other a light purplish colour. The image portrays ‘the Jew’ as a foreign, dangerous, creature resembling an animal, sneaking through the grass like a predator on a hunt. This interpretation is further emphasised in the poem below:

Von Anfang an der Jude ist Ein Mörder schon sagt Jesu Christ. / Und als Herr Jesu sterben mußt, Da hat der Herr kein Volk gewußt, / Das ihn zu tot konnt quälen Die Juden tat er wählen. / Drum bilden sich die Juden ein, Das auserwählte Volk zu sein / Und als dem Herrn die Kreuzeslast Ward gar zu schwer, da wollt er Rast An seiner Türe suchen. Der Jude kam mit Fluchen / Und trieb den Herrn vom Haus, Weil er der Herr des Hauses war. Es war der Jude Ahasver / Seitdem der Jude ist verflucht. 2000 Jahr schon Ruhe sucht / Der Jude Ahasver, Ganz Juda hinterher. / So muß er ruhlos wandern Von einem Land zum andem. / Und seine Heimat kennt er nicht Der fremde Jud. Als Bösewicht / Zieht er herum im Lande Und macht sich selber Schande / Vierhundert Jahre sind es her. Da hat gesehen Ahasver / In Hamburg man und in Berlin, In Dänemark und Danzig drin / Und auch in Dresden und Paris. Und glaubt es Kinder, ganz gewiß / Schleicht er auch heut sich noch herum Versteckt im ganzen Judentum. / Drum Kinder, wollt Euch hüten Vor einem jeden Jüden / Der Jud schleicht wie ein Fuchs herum Drum schaut Euch um! [7: 7]

From the beginning the Jew is a murderer says Jesus Christ. / And when the Lord Jesus had to die, the Lord knew no people / who could torment him to death. He chose the Jews. / That's why the Jews imagine they are the chosen people / And when the burden of the cross became too heavy for the Lord, he wanted to seek rest at his door. The Jew came cursing / And drove the master out of the house, because he was the master of the house. It was the Jew Ahasuerus / Ever since the Jew is cursed. 2000 years has been looking for peace / The Jew Ahasuerus, all Judah behind. / So he must wander restlessly From one country to another. / And he doesn't know his homeland The foreign Jew. As a villain / He roams the land And shames himself / It's been four hundred years. Ahasver was seen / In Hamburg and in Berlin, in Denmark and Danzig / And also in Dresden and Paris. And believe it children, quite certainly / He still creeps around hidden in Jewry. / So children, you want to beware of every Jew / The Jew sneaks around like a fox So watch out! ([7: 7], author’s translation)

Fig. 6
figure 6

Illustration taken from Trust No Fox [7: 8]

Making explicit reference to the murder of Jesus of Nazareth allegedly committed by Jews, the excerpt depicts Jews as villains, lurking in Judaism constructed as an unspecified body that allegedly seeks to bring harm to non-Jews. Notably, information on the obvious Jewish identity of Jesus as a religious itinerant preacher is evidentially omitted. This seems to support the argument while focus should be placed on the semiotic resources, linguistic or otherwise, that are featured in discourse, those that are intentionally or not, left out or modified might still be relevant to the analysis. Throughout the work overlapping anti-Semitic prejudices are combined with open hostility towards Jews that materialise in simplistic accusations of deicide, sadism, unhelpfulness and predatory intentions generally. It is a common rhetorical strategy employed in the corpus to carefully negotiate in various ways the “explicitness and directness of the prejudices” [65: 65] encoded in the works, e.g. the comparison with animals such as foxes. The Jewish population is constructed as foreign elements that allegedly intrude and infiltrate healthy communities of which the book seeks to ‘warn’ children. The topos of ‘the Jew’ is thus constructed as the antithesis to the settling law-abiding non-Jew, which clearly has its roots in the Christian anti-Judaist topos of the cursed Wandering Jew. The flexibility of anti-Semitic enmity is visible in the stark contractions residing in the indeterminacy of the narrative. Jews are ascribed such a plethora of attributes in word and image that must necessarily lead to an unresolvable tangle of contradictions. However, these contradictions are resolved with the anti-Semitic dogma that ‘the Jew’, be they young or old, rich or poor, of good or of ill repute is a conspiring foreign body and enemy, who is moving from place to place.

The following excerpt is taken from The Poisonous Mushroom and describes another instance of alleged exploitation of two women by Jewish lawyers.

The illustration depicts a room with lofty ceilings and wall arches. Two tall wooden doors are noticeable, each accompanied by what appears to be a notice board—one on the right side and the other on the left. Adjacent to the left door, there is a bench. In total, there are six individuals portrayed in the image, comprising three males and three females. The bench is occupied by two women, one shorter and the other taller, dressed in purple and grey attire, respectively. Another woman engages in conversation with a man wearing a blue uniform. Positioned in the centre of the image, two men wearing black lawyer's robes can be seen. They have blue and brown suits beneath the robes, respectively. The man on the left has black hair, a furrowed forehead, a black beard, a hooked nose, thick eyebrows, glasses, a prominent lower lip, a white shirt, and a red tie. A ring adorns his left hand, while his right hand carries a book or folder labelled with the German word “AKT” (file). The man on the right is nearly bald, with brownish hair, a hooked nose, thick black eyebrows, large eyes, and a noticeable double chin. He wears a white shirt, a yellow bowtie, and a ring on his left hand. He holds a book or folder, also labelled with "AKT," and appears to have a cigarette or toothpick in his mouth. While the two women in the background gaze anxiously and helplessly at the two men in lawyer's robes, the men themselves seem engaged in conversation with each other. The image seems to portray ‘the Jew’ as a conniving lawyer who derives pleasure from the misfortunes he deliberately orchestrates. Following the image in the book, there is a dialogue and accompanying commentary, which supports this assumption:

„Na, Herr Kollege Morgenthau, da haben wir beide wieder gemacht ein gutes Geschäft.“ „Großartig, Herr Silberstein! Nun haben wir die beiden Gojas gebracht um ihr schönes Geld, und wir können es stecken in unseren Sack.“ Diese Geschichte handelt davon, wie ein jüdischer Anwalt, dafür Honorar kassiert, daß er zwei deutschen Frauen dieselben Versprechen von Anklage und Verteidigung machte. Das Urteil: Beide waren schuldig, beide mussten zahlen. Nach der Gerichtsverhandlung gratulierten sich die beiden Anwälte, die den Fall so arrangiert hatten zu dem guten Geschäft und den leichten Verdienst. Die beiden Frauen erkannten dann später auch, dass sie betrogen wurden. Sie schlossen Frieden miteinander und lernten daraus: nicht zu streiten und: Gehe niemals zu jüdischen Rechtsanwälten! Der jüdische Rechtsanwalt hat kein Gesicht, nur wegen des Geldes geht er vor Gericht. [25: 36-37]

“Well, Mr. Morgenthau, we’ve got ourselves a good deal again.” “Great, Mr. Silberstein! Now we've robbed the two Gojas of their nice money and we can put it in our sack.” This story is about how a Jewish lawyer collects legal fees for making the same promises of prosecution and defense to two German women. The ruling: Both were guilty, both had to pay. After the court hearing, the two lawyers who had arranged the case congratulated each other on the good deal and the easy money. The two women later realised that they had been cheated on. They made peace with each other and learned from it: not to argue and: never go to Jewish lawyers! The Jewish lawyer has no face, he only goes to court for the money ([25: 36-37], author’s translation).

The excerpt shows again the simplistic depiction of legal proceedings as a matter arranged between the two involved Jewish lawyers who conspire against the parties whose interests they pretend to represent.

The lesson to be learnt according to the book is not to quarrel with each another and ‘never to go to Jewish lawyers’. It is striking that Example 5 frequently makes use of unspecified legal terminology, which requires plenty of adult explanation. ‘The Jewish lawyer’ is described and shown as a prototype of a greedy, materialistic, false and treacherous fraud who lives on unnecessary lawsuits between naïve non-Jews instigated by himself. Notably the complex legal processes referred to such as indictment and defence, the main proceedings and the ruling are not sufficiently contextualised. It is therefore not possible to ascertain which type of legal process is actually being described in the excerpt. This clearly constitutes an inversion of the actual historic events in Hitler’s Germany in the course of which the Jewish population was stripped of all civil rights. Anti-Jewish legislation passed under Hitler’s short but murderous reign seems to resemble the process described above that is attributed to legal professionals constructed as Jewish. This leads to the assumption that much of the narrative told in the children’s books does not only serve to ‘educate’ the general public and children specifically on how to ‘do’ antisemitism, but also to legitimise the grave injustices of Nazi legislation and genocide. Seeking to appeal to children’s sense of justice, the works construe simplistic claims of injustice that seem to legitimise a balancing of scales. The perfidy that lies in the narrative of Jewish injustice and German victimisation is the reversal of roles in discourse. Individuals constructed as Jewish are singled out, confronted with generalising accusations and subsequently subjected to discriminatory practices and open violence, including genocide. This is legitimised by denial of responsibility and the narrative of self-defence, the latter of which are discursive strategies commonly employed in holocaust denial. A key accusation directed at the indeterminate Jewish person is that of murder, which is also reflected in Example 6 featuring propaganda against the schechita.

The illustration presents a room within a slaughterhouse, featuring two hooks suspended from the ceiling, with a smaller hook connected to another on the left side. Six ropes are visible, three on each side. Positioned in the foreground are two buckets, one large and one small, both filled with blood, while an empty bucket rests on the right side. At the centre of the image, a cow lies on the ground, its throat recently slit, causing a profuse flow of blood from the gaping wound. The cow, restrained by its nose and legs tied to the floor, displays distress and anguish, as indicated by its cries. Surrounding the animal, four men exert force to keep it subdued, with one of them grasping the cow's tail. The men wear hats in different colours—black, blue, and two in grey, respectively. All four individuals wear greyish butcher's aprons stained with blood. Towards the rear of the room, a window allows a view of the scene for two children with small heads, dot-like eyes, and loosely sketched facial features. They observe the distressing scene with a sense of horror. The image portrays ‘the Jew’ as a bloodthirsty predator who derives satisfaction from the agonising death of an innocent and defenceless creature. The book describes the graphic depiction of the slaughter process in the following manner:

Wie die Juden Tiere quälen

„Wieder stürzt das Tier zu Boden. Langsam stirbt es. Die Juden aber stehen herum und lachen dazu. In dieser Geschichte gehen zwei Jungen, Kurt und Otto, zu einem jüdischen Schlächter und versteckten sich, wobei sie mit ansehen können, wie die Juden eine Kuh töten. Der Vorgang, wie die Juden die Kuh fesseln und sie schlachten, ist voll krankhafter Grausamkeit, eine Freude für den jüdischen Fleischhauer. Vier Juden halten die Kuh am Boden, der Rabbi kommt mit einen Messer und schlitzt der Kuh den Hals auf, damit sie langsam unter Qualen verblutet. Die Juden stehen da - und lachen! Und am Schluss sagt Otto: „Kurt, jetzt glaube ich dir. Die Juden sind die gemeinsten Leute auf der Welt.“ Kurt antwortet: „Ja, die Juden sind ein mörderisches Volk. Mit der selben Brutalität und blutigen Lust, mit der sie Tiere töten, morden sie auch Menschen. Hast Du je von Ritualität gehört? Bei solch einem Ereignis töten die Juden Jungen und Mädchen, Männer und Frauen“ [25: 38, 39].

How the Jews torture animals

The animal falls to the ground again. It is slowly dying. But the Jews are standing around and are laughing about it. In this story, two boys, Kurt and Otto, go to a Jewish butcher and hide while they are watching how the Jews are killing a cow. The process of the Jews tying up the cow and the slaughter is full of morbid cruelty, a joy to the Jewish butcher. Four Jews are holding the cow on the ground, the rabbi comes with a knife and slits the cow's throat so that it slowly bleeds to death in agony. The Jews are standing there - and laugh! And at the end Otto says: “Kurt, now I believe you. The Jews are the meanest people in the world." Kurt replies, "Yes, the Jews are a murderous people. With the same brutality and bloody lust with which they kill animals, they also murder people. Have you ever heard of rituality? In such an event, the Jews kill boys and girls, men and women ([25: 38, 39], author’s translation).

The depiction of ‘the Jew’ as a criminal generally and a perpetrator of animal cruelty specifically is a key example of how anti-Semitic discourse reproduces varying topics and subtopics that establish different intertextual as well as interdiscursive links. In other words, the example above shows the many faces of anti-Semitic discourse that has taken the shape of advocacy against animal cruelty (Fig. 7). Notably, the Law on the Slaughter of Animals [36] and the Regulation on the Slaughter of Animals [48], both enacted on 21st April 1933, were evidently passed with a view to prohibiting the slaughtering of animals for food according to halakhic dietary laws. The explicit and intentionally untruthful description of the slaughtering process along with the accusation of ill and the alleged murderous nature of Jewish people at large are likely intended to invoke an emotional response on the part of children readers, which is likely to be exacerbated by the image described (see Fig. 8).

Fig. 7
figure 7

Illustration taken from The Poisonous Mushroom [25: 36]

Fig. 8
figure 8

Illustration taken from The Poisonous Mushroom [25: 38]

Similarly, to the legal contexts discussed in previous Sections, the point of the matter is not that litigation is at times unavoidable or that in industrialised livestock agriculture the slaughter of animals is required for the production of meat. The lesson to be ‘learnt’ is that the ritual standards of shechita are supposedly nothing but an expression of intentional cruelty to animals rather than a religious necessity for those who are not willing to compromise the halacha. A general discussion on the ethics of slaughtering animals is not the issue the excerpt seems to be raising, but rather that the ritual standards of shechita can be reduced to outright animal cruelty. The foregrounded aspect is the defenceless cow that is portrayed to be savaged by the shochet and his team. In addition, the slaughter of animals is moved to the same level of murder and subsequently linked to the unspecified concept of rituality, defining it as an event at which boy and girls, men and women are murdered. As with many other examples, the interplay between image and linguistic text shows that the performance of Jewish religious norms are recontextualised with a view to legitimatising the prohibition of specific cultural practices by Nazi law. In his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf, Hitler positioned himself clearly to the power of pictures, stating that.

„Größere Aussicht besitzt schon das Bild in allen seinen Formen, bis hinauf zum Film. Hier braucht der Mensch noch weniger verstandesmäßig zu arbeiten; es genügt, zu schauen, höchstens noch ganz kurze Texte zu lesen, und so werden viele eher bereit sein, eine bildliche Darstellung aufzunehmen, als ein längeres Schriftstück zu lesen. Das Bild bringt in viel kürzerer Zeit, fast möchte ich sagen auf einen Schlag, dem Menschen eine Aufklärung, die er aus Geschriebenem erst durch langwieriges Lesen empfängt “ [28: 526].

“The picture in all its forms, even up to the film, offers a broader perspective. Here, man needs to engage in less intellectual work; it is enough to look, perhaps read very short texts, and thus many will be more inclined to absorb a visual representation than to read a longer written piece. In a much shorter time, I would almost say all at once, the picture provides people with an enlightenment that they only receive from written material through laborious reading” [28: 526, author’s translation].

Furthermore, the complex negotiation of what does or does not constitute acceptable norms of custom, morality or religion in a social context is portrayed as a bright-line rule, a dichotomy between the Jewish and the non-Jewish, the Jewish systemically being constructed as an indeterminate and dehumanised evil. This dehumanisation is also evident in the images presented in the two books. In this sense, no space is attributed to the ethical dilemma of meat production. Sadism and animal suffering during the slaughtering process are instead depicted as inherently Jewish traits. The anti-Semitic rhetoric found in the book does not seek to solve complex ethical problems, but identifies the Jewish population as an unparalleled source of sadism and suffering, as well as foreign and immoral. Much has been written about the discourses operative in Nazi propaganda in children’s literature, but the negotiation of normativity and the norms in works, such as Trust No Fox and The Poisonous Mushroom has not been discussed in detail from the perspective of CrALL. The following Section discussed the key insights gained from the qualitative analysis presented in this Section.

6 Discussion

In Hitler's Germany, anti-Semitic literature was, inter alia, a means of teaching children hatred towards people categorised as Jewish, whether or not they self-identified with this categorisation (see also [18]). This paper has focused on antisemitism in a specialised corpus of two anti-Semitic children's books. Particular attention was placed on the construction and performance of antisemitism in the works. This juxtaposition of German and Jewish may appear clumsy, but in the context of Nazi propaganda, it aims to contribute to the development of racist and anti-Semitic concepts and categories within children (see [45: 3]). For instance, as noted by Gelman and Meyer,

“[b]y preschool age (and often earlier), children can categorize based on shape, color, texture, number, gender, facial features, speech, musical tones, movement patterns, broad ontological information (such as animacy), non-obvious information (such as internal parts), and more” [21: 101]

The interplay of modes, such as image, writing, gesture, gaze, speech, and posture, is closely linked to anti-Semitic categorisation in children's literature. The Nazi state generally and the authors of these books specifically used socially shaped and culturally given resources to create and reinforce anti-Semitic enmity. They did so in utilising the genre of children’s books, which raise the expectations of being instructive, morally, religiously and legally conscious as well as socially relevant. The books analysed in this study seem to purport to fulfil these expectations, but have a clear answer to the problems described in them, i.e. to identify Jewishness as the root of all evil and to legitimise hatred towards Jewish individuals. In other words, the anti-Semitic discourse operative in two books teaches children to see the world and everything in it through the illusion of 'the Jew', a category discursively constructed to be inherently linked to danger. 'The Jew' is not depicted as a fellow human being with strengths and weaknesses, but rather as a compression of group-focused enmity. In this sense, both works consistently reproduce the narrative of injustice and victimisation and construct a reversal of roles. 'The Jew' in Bauer's and Hiemer's works is described and depicted as a greedy, materialistic, false, and treacherous fraud, a murderous, unhelpful, predatory criminal, a conspiring parasite to humankind that seeks nothing but to bring harm to non-Jews in every possible way. It is tempting to accept “the representation of Nazi Germany as an unrecognisable 'other' because of its perceived barbaric, lawless nature” [35: 746]. However, discourses of antisemitism are barbaric to the core because they renegotiate norms and bring about a systematic shift in categorisation. This renegotiation of norms in the books shows how the distorted educational discourse evident in the books recontextualises 'what is' and 'what ought to be' [24] and how categories are entextualised with the Nazi dogmatics of anti-Semitic meanings (see also [12]).

This paper argues, along with Busse [13: 82], that discourses organise, require, and use knowledge (and thus knowledge frameworks). In addition, discourses structure and arrange knowledge and form the basis for the production of new knowledge that can, in turn, be relevant to understanding future contexts [13: 82]. The DHA offers a theoretical basis and a sound methodological perspective for investigating the systemacy of anti-Semitic discourses and practices in context. This allows us to gain a deeper understanding of how antisemitism is reflected in texts and images, both historical and contemporary. Widdowson may have a point when arguing that the semantics of a text provide “a basis for and set limits on pragmatic inference” [62: 8], but he ignores the communicative power of pictures and, perhaps more importantly, collective meaning-making mechanisms. He argues that “texts are assigned interpretations from a particular ideological point of view, and no consideration is given to how other readers, with other pretextual assumptions, might understand them” [62: 47]. Indeed, any interpretation of discursive practices in a social context is prone to the danger of eisegesis, i.e., reading into a phenomenon, linguistic or otherwise, “whatever one wishes to find” [42: 4]. This is why an interdisciplinary and critical framework such as the DHA is particularly helpful, as it draws on authentic data and can provide both in-depth and systematic analyses of social phenomena in a broader context.

Widdowson counters that “[t]he orthodox CDA position is that there is no basis for distinguishing a literary text from any other, and therefore there is no such thing as literary criticism” [62: 104]. This paper acknowledges the existence of literary criticism, and it is fortunate that it does. However, an analysis of children's books, like the one presented in this paper, should not stop at a mere stylistic analysis of language use. Instead, such an analysis can benefit from the wealth of interdisciplinary engagement with other perspectives in order to move beyond familiar academic kinship. According to Widdowson, “CDA has so defined the field that any discourse analysis which does not conform to its tenets does not really count as critical practice” [62: 104]. There is no single way of conducting critical discourse analysis, and any critique of the insights gained in this paper is welcome. However, a common core among those working in various areas of critical inquiry may be the defining feature of critical engagement with discursive practices, which is not only to describe semiotic practices, linguistic or otherwise, but to adopt a transparent self-reflective stance. By doing so, analysts may be able to offer a critique of social phenomena, such as antisemitism or other forms of group-focused enmity. It is a significant misconception that there is only one type of discourse analysis when, in fact, there are many, as already pointed out by Reisigl [51]. It is precisely this openness to intellectual diversity across different approaches within critical discourse analysis that enhances resilience against monodisciplinary isolation. Returning to the phenomenon of antisemitism, as evident in the words and images of the children's books, one should reflect on the different perspectives that different approaches might offer. For instance, Reisigl distinguishes between six approaches to discourse analysis (see also [43: 16–17]):

  • The Duisburg Group around Jäger, which refers to Foucault and Link discourse analysis and/as criticism;

  • The “Oldenburg discourse analysis”, which is related to the Duisburg Group but presents itself more linguistics-oriented and focused on individual texts;

  • The socio-cognitive approach of van Dijk;

  • The critical discourse analysis, as influenced by Fairclough, which is strongly oriented towards social theory;

  • The socio-semiotic critical discourse analysis around Kress and van Leeuwen, which is linked to systemic-functional grammar and the Paris School;

  • The DHA as the “Viennese variety of critical discourse analysis”, which is associated with highly influential Austrian linguist Ruth Wodak.

Antisemitism was at the heart of the DHA in its early beginnings, when in 1986, with the appearance of Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim, who had remained silent about his service to the Nazi state, “anti-Semitic stereotyped images… emerged in public discourses” [50: 31]. Indeed, antisemitism has had many faces, and as a phenomenon of discourse, it displays various interdiscursive and intertextual links, which are visible in the examples discussed in Section 5. Anti-Semitism operative in texts and discourses, both historical and contemporary, is a complex and multi-layered phenomenon that can be analysed and interpreted by drawing on the distinction between primary modern anti-Semitism as a racist ideology and secondary antisemitism as an aversive perception of the Holocaust experienced by many Germans. As Imhoff points out, the latter could also be explained by the perception of Jews as a collective that keeps the memory of the Holocaust alive [30: 1] and are thus irrationally perceived as “troublemakers of memory” [20]. Adorno also drew attention to the fact that after WWII, Jews were irrationally blamed for the genocide and suspected of exploiting German guilt over the crimes committed in the Holocaust [1; 10; 11]. The analysis of texts and discursive practices that show explicit and implicit links between primary and secondary forms of antisemitism and anti-Semitic planes of knowledge activated in contemporary societies extends beyond German-speaking spaces. Recent anti-Semitic campaigns, such as the one against George Soros in 2017 Hungary, bear undeniable resemblance to the anti-Semitic discourses operative in the children's books.

Of course, an in-depth comparative analysis of anti-Semitic campaigns in post-WWII Europe would be necessary to make substantiated claims regarding the hybridity and flexibility of contemporary anti-Semitic discourses. The point to be made is that discourses of antisemitism should not be reduced to systematic language practices alone, but such analyses can also benefit considerably from taking into account the power of pictures and non-linguistic signs and how they are decontextualised, recontextualised, and entextualised [12] according to the respective social contexts of their usage. This is particularly relevant in criminal cases of Nazi reactivation today, where perpetrators tend to exploit linguistically (in)determinate and/or visually explicit glorification of National Socialist ideology (see [53]). Children's literature, in Hitler's Germany “transformed into an instrument of Volkish propaganda” [32: 51], provides a space of confrontation between children's developing sense of justice on the one hand and enmity towards human beings on the other. Murderous dictatorships, such as the Nazi state, also had to legitimise the ubiquity of injustice that evidently materialised in what contemporaries referred to as the “mere primitive doctrine that 'might is right'” [63]. Discourses of antisemitism, as operative in Trust No Fox and The Poisonous Mushroom, are not restricted to the Nazi dictatorship alone. For instance, contemporary manifestations of antisemitism can also be found beyond European settings, leading to an increasing engagement with the challenges of studying and assessing “antisemitism in the Middle East and the Muslim World” [61: 677)]. In this specific context, it could be of interest for future research projects to examine how the texts and images originally produced for children growing up under Hitler's rule are recontextualised, repurposed, and used as a basis for anti-Semitic and/or anti-Zionist propaganda.

In children's literature, norms of custom, morals, religion, and law are negotiated, as evident from the analysis. The two books portray Jews as the negation of norms, following the discursive strategy of reversing perpetrator and victim and constructing the narrative of Jewish injustice and the victimisation of innocent Germans. The reversal of roles in discourse largely follows the strategy of denial, attack, and the reversal of victim and offender, as discussed in Sect. 5. First, individuals classified as Jewish are singled out and ascribed very general and/or specific negative traits that form the basis for further action. Then, the attack is carried out by removing these people from public life and killing them, and subsequently, the roles of perpetrator and victim are reversed so that the victim is blamed for the breach of norms that occurred. Similar strategies are typically applied in cases of Holocaust denial, which may be another context of applying the findings of this study so as to make anti-Semitic utterances comparable for legal professionals working in the criminal justice system.

The inauspicious tone of the children's books foreshadows the historic events soon to take place after their publication. This allows for a critical analysis of discursive strategies in anti-Semitic texts, whose full destructive force would be laid bare to the world after the deliberation of extermination camps and other killing facilities. The dogmatics of antisemitism as represented in Nazi literature, particularly those works directed at children, provide an insightful basis for researchers exploring the entanglement of ideology, power, and normativity (see also [52]). A key insight gained throughout the analysis of the data is that hatred of fellow human beings can be taught and learned if it is presented to children as a balancing of scales, as is the case in Trust No Fox and The Poisonous Mushroom. The distortion of norms and the eisegetic reinterpretation of truth, fairness, and goodwill according to Nazi ideology are significant aspects of the literature produced in Hitler's Germany. The so-called Third Reich has been termed a “racial regime” [46: 6], a “scientific regime” [18: 200], but, equally importantly, it was also a normative regime that sought to reinterpret values and norms and demanded from children not only acknowledgment but full acceptance of these shifts. At this point, it should not go unmentioned that anti-Semitic topoi and prejudices were by no means an invention of the Nazi movement. Such topoi existed long before the Nazi state unfolded its destructive and genocidal power and were tragically exploited and successfully repurposed by the theme of an alleged Jewish danger: According to Nazi ideology, those constructed as Jewish were presented “as the source for a variety of political, social, economic, and ethical problems facing the German people” [59]. Anti-Semitic legislation and children's literature share a common denominator, i.e., the construction of inequality between human beings as a cornerstone of their normative content.

CrALL can contribute to exploring the space between the normative, i.e., the world as it ought to be, and the “critical realist position” [41: 23], i.e., the world as it actually is (constructed). One way of achieving this is to move beyond a narrow approach to legal linguistics that assumes the primary focus on the analysis and critique of normative texts only. For instance, the significance of the interplay between language and image becomes evident in the nomination and predication strategies employed in the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the 1930s. It allows discourse analysts working inside or outside critical legal linguistics to engage with the distortion and renegotiation of norms and the question of how discourses of “antisemitism, racism, and dehumanization, as well as so-called hereditary health” [37: 690] are reflected in the systematic arrangement of semiotic resources. Such an investigation, however, would benefit from extending the scope of analysis to discourses of normativity in other “socially ratified ways of using language in connection with a particular type of social activity” [17: 14], e.g., the representation of normativity in children's books. In this context, it could be of particular interest how agents, as filters of discourse, intentionally or not, select those semiotic practices that find their way into discourses [55: 173–174], and how topics and subtopics are utilised to pursue and legitimise a specific social goal.

A central goal the Nazis vigorously pursued was the merciless and complete eradication of all Jews, of all ages, and all walks of life. But even, or perhaps precisely because of the hideous and unique nature of the National Socialist crime against the family of humankind, the authors of the books sought to teach children how to hate and to poison and pervert children's sense of justice. In contemporary contexts, it is reasonable to use the insights gained from such a study of anti-Semitic rhetoric in children's books to detect, to describe and to critique patterns of anti-Semitic rhetoric today, such as the link between antisemitism and online hate speech (see [53]).

7 Conclusion

This paper has explored how antisemitism is constructed and performed in Theodolinde Elvira Bauer's Trust No Fox (1936) and Ernst Hiemer's The Poisonous Mushroom (1938), two children's books published under Nazi rule. Jew-hatred was taught, learned, and legitimised through an alleged necessary balancing of scales. Building on the assumption that categorisation and communication play a critical role in conveying anti-Semitic content, the qualitative legal-linguistically informed discourse analysis has found that anti-Semitic categorisation is continuously negotiated and reinterpreted in and through discourse. Anti-Semitic discourse is normative and performative. It can be understood as necessarily prescriptive, dividing the world and its inhabitants into a Jewish/non-Jewish dichotomy. Both works purport to provide descriptive accounts of ‘Jews as they are,’ when, in fact, they generate the normative illusion of ‘Jews as they ought to be’ based on Nazi ideology. The anti-Semitic realities constructed in these books are intertextually and interdiscursively constituted. Therefore, the workings of anti-Semitic discourse are more complex than the Jewish/non-Jewish dichotomy may initially suggest.

The children's books consistently refer to normative systems, depicting and alleging breaches of specific norms. These breaches are then described and depicted as essentially Jewish by nature. In this way, individuals' perception is controlled by a pretext according to which ‘Jewishness’ is inherently dangerous to the rest of humankind, and Jews constitute an antithesis to custom, morality, religion, and law. In the analysis, it became evident that various interlinked discourses are operative and intertextual links are attested in the books. It was also found that anti-Semitic children's literature strategically uses speech acts, such as reporting, persuading, denying, advising, scaring, warning, ridiculing, offering, promising, etc., all of which are likely intended, among other things, to create the impression of an unspecified danger emanating from Jewishness and legitimising its removal from society.

The Nazi state was not only a racial regime and a scientific regime, but it was also a normative regime in the sense that it engaged in a reinterpretation of values and norms, demanding full acceptance of their distorted normative system expressed in the anti-Semitic narrative. The expression of this self-perceived racial superiority would ultimately send millions, including approximately 1.5 million children [60] categorised as Jewish, to eternity. The paper concludes that the insights gained from this study could be used to detect, to describe and to critique systematic patterns of anti-Semitic rhetoric in various contexts today.