Racism in Children's Literature: “The Poisonous Mushroom” by Ernst Heimer
In the early days of Adolf Hitler’s rule, not all Germans immediately approved of and accepted the anti-Semitism that he was attempting to perpetuate – barely anyone ever heard of it in the first place. Some Germans, especially the intellectuals, who disagreed with the Führer, fled their motherland out of fear of accountability to any future crimes he might make. This act caused division of the citizens and Hitler wanted the nation to be united. To reach that goal, a strategy was devised: if Nazi Germans wanted to make Germans hate Jews, they have to “start them young.” This sample custom essay will discuss one of the children’s books published in Hitler’s time.
"The Poisonous Mushroom"
Written by Ernst Heimer with illustrations by Philipp Rupprecht, Der Giftpilz or The Poisonous Mushroom in English, is one among other works where writers used propaganda in children’s literature. The Poisonous Mushroom along with books similar to it were created in an attempt to indoctrinate German children with anti-Semitic beliefs at an early age. It was published in 1938 by Julius Streicher, a pro-Nazi publisher who founded the tenaciously anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer.
The children’s book, as a whole, consists of 17 short stories, with each containing a “moral.” Given the utterly discriminating and resentful tone of the stories, one would not be mistaken in thinking that the Germans thought of them as parables. All of the stories depict a gross oversimplification and exaggeration of Jews as a whole. As its target demographic was German children, the language of the book is anecdotal in structure and straightforward in substance. The Poisonous Mushroom was made to be wicked and outrageously straightforward, at that.
Bluntly, the young German readers are met with the imagery and figures of speech which are often seen in children’s books. This is so as to stimulate their imaginative faculties, are all but present in the book. Ironically, as the Germans attempt to reach an enclosed understanding of everything else, they also reach an enclosed understanding of themselves. It is a side effect of the mission to indoctrinate children, and imaginative thinking can only serve as a hurdle to that. Thus, the book becomes as simplistic as the goal of the entire endeavor: make German children hate Jews.
Just as it is often hard to tell a toadstool from an edible mushroom, so too it is often very hard to recognize the Jew as a swindler and criminal.
Above is the first line of the first short story in The Poisonous Mushroom. Already, it exudes resentment towards Jews, expressed bluntly – representing the resounding tone in the entire book. Unsurprisingly, the whole book serves as a warning for German children about the danger that the Jews pose to them, the children, and their nation as a whole (David, 2020). The books ends on a note from Julius Streicher that humanity can only be saved if the problem on Jews is solved.
On the Short Stories in "The Poisonous Mushroom"
The first short story expands upon a metaphor of the poisonous mushroom: it describes the great difficulty distinguishing edible mushrooms from poisonous mushrooms. Just as there is difficulty distinguishing good people from bad people. The bad people, the poisonous mushrooms, are the Jews and great caution must be exercised.
To the same effect, the short story attempts to teach German children spread awareness among non-Jews that Jews are “as dangerous as poisonous mushrooms.” That Jews are the most dangerous ones in existence, for they cause the greatest evils and they are everywhere.
This metaphor sets the precedent with which the next short stories follow suit. Primarily, the short stories touch upon gross generalizations of Jews. That Jews are pure evil, conniving, Christ-hating, and money-loving. The short story “Inge’s visit to a Jewish doctor,” for example, depicts the events of the visit of a German child, Inge, to the doctor.
Despite her own reservations of going because of the doctor being Jewish, she went to him out of obedience to her mother, who believes that he is good. After hearing horrifying sounds of fear and pain from another child, Inge escapes and returns to her mother, who believes then that Jewish doctors are evil. At large, this is an attempt to kill the old notions of Jews that are neutral at best, and to instill the notions that they are, by nature, “evil.”
Another chapter, “How to tell a Jew” was purely dedicated to educating the German children on identifying a Jewish person based on their facial features alone. That short story is even accompanied by their school subject “Jewish lesson” where the children are taught about and even encouraged to recite the physical characteristics of a Jew. It is impossible for a German child to see a nose bent like the number 6 and not say that the man is a surely a Jew.
One of the last stories in The Poisonous Mushroom, “Are there decent Jews?” puts the nail in the coffin for the Jews. The question is one that can be spawned by the natural curiosity of children. It said in the story that a Jew boasts his own people to be the most decent of all. The Jew gets called out for lying, then he runs away as he became an object of laughter. Strategically, the story is a direct counter to possible queries posed by the German children.
As German children are led to hate Jews in every regard, they are also influenced to never be able to like them under any circumstance. The end goal of the short story “Are there any decent Jews?”, and the final step to instilling anti-Semitism in children, is to engrave this thought into their minds: Jews are never legible to any benefit of the doubt; it is never possible to have any point or kind of reconciliation with Jews; never can Jews be decent. Jews are evil without the shadow of a doubt. Jews are irredeemable - Jews are "Devils."
A devil goes through the land,
The Jew he is, known to us all
As murderer of the peoples and polluter of the races,
The terror of children in every country!
He wants to ruin the youth.
He wants all peoples to die.
Have nothing to do with a Jew
Then you'll be happy and gay!
Anti-Semitism was not the only goal of The Poisonous Mushroom. The last story of the book, “Without Solving the Jewish Question, No Salvation for Mankind,” contains overtones of German “nationalism,” instilling in the hearts of German children the idea that Germans have a salvific destiny: to save the world from the “Devils” or Jews. Jews are a prime evil to the world, and only Germans can save it from them.
As a whole, The Poisonous Mushroom indoctrinated the children to great effect and made them believe that the Jews are the “Devils.” The order of the short stories is orchestrated in such a way that leads to this proclamation. By the time that children read the last story, they would have already absorbed sentiments of anti-Semitism. Slowly culminating into a sense of love and glory for their country and led them to uphold the German Blood and German Honor at such a young age. The grave consequence of this is embracing that to love one’s own country means to bear hatred for another people. In a word, they made it so that their sense of nationalism has been twisted into hatred.
On paper, The Poisonous Mushroom would have been effective in instilling notions of anti-Semitism and some sense of German nationalism in the minds of children. It seems that Streicher published this with utmost confidence in the longevity and triumph of Nazi Germany, envisioning a future population fuming with hatred towards the Jews, or maybe even the annihilation of Jews.
Which children's book has a theme of racism?
History shows that Streicher, Hitler, and the rest of Nazi Germany never realized this dream. Streicher died by execution in 1946 and taking his dream with him. Nevertheless, The Poisonous Mushroom is a shining example of the power and severity of literature when it is politically fueled. It is hoped that this book may serve to demonstrate that the freedom of expression, underlying all works literature, comes with a degree of responsibility. Directed towards good, literature can drive people to progress; towards evil, it can drive people to their darkest selves.
The Poisonous Mushroom clearly depicts the rampant racism in society, particularly in Europe and Nazi Germany. Writing an essay on literature of this kind may seem tricky as it is very much like writing an essay on a controversial issue because it touches on a still sensitive topic up to this day. You may need a professional writer’s help as you need to set your bias aside. Doing that may be hard because it is possible that your prejudice will reflect on your writing. Hiring a professional writer from us, CustomEssayMeister, is the safest way to go. Let us write your literature essay for you. Send us a message.
“Der Giftpilz.” Jewish Virtual Library, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/der-giftpilz.
Israel, David. “Amazon Continues to Sell Nazi Children’s Books, Ignoring Calls from Holocaust Memorials.” JewishPress.com , 24 Feb. 2020, www.jewishpress.com/news/jewish-news/holocaust/amazon-continues-to-sell-nazi-childrens-books-ignoring-calls-from-holocaust-memorials/2020/02/24.
Mills, Mary. “Poisoning Young Minds in Nazi Germany: Children and Propaganda in the Third Reich.” SocialStudies.org , http://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/6604/660407.shtml