Propaganda against Freemasons Blamed Them for the War and Called them Jews
As Hitler rose to power it was no surprise that the propaganda and backlash against the Freemasons only grew. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had written that “the Jew” used Freemasonry as a tool and that the masonic lodges were “completely under the Jews spell.” By 1935, masonic lodges in Germany had been effectively shut down, their possession seized and members who held any positions of power were relieved of their duties.
Despite this, propaganda against the Freemasons only increased. Articles and cartoons were frequently printed that told of the “Jewish-Masonic Conspiracy.” Propaganda pushed the idea that there was a conspiracy between the Freemasons and Jews to dominate the world. Posters would boldly proclaim “All Masons Jews! – All Jews Masons!” To aid in his propaganda mission, Hitler had the Russian anti-Jewish and Anti-Masonic book called Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion translated into German.
The propaganda spread throughout Nazi occupied territories. In 1943, the French released Occult Forces – The Mysteries of Freemasonry unveiled for the first time on screen. The plot of the film follows a young man who joins the Freemasons in the hope of relaunching his career. As he joins the fraternity he learned that the Jews and Anglo-American countries are conspiring together to push France into war with the Germans.
The propaganda built upon the already widespread suspicions against Jews and Freemasons. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion had already been published around the world and Freemasons had already been under attack in Spain and Russia. In Spain, many masons had already been brutally killed and by 1940 anyone who was known to be a mason faced ten years in prison at a minimum and possible death. With propaganda and hatred rampant most Freemasons went underground and only met in secret.
On October 28, 1934, the Nazis issued a decree that called Freemason lodges “hostile to the state” and that any and all property held by the lodges was subject to seizure by the state. A year later, the Reichstag Fire Decree ordered that all masonic lodges be dissolved and their assets confiscated. Similar actions would be taken in any territories occupied by the Nazis which led to the looting and destruction of numerous masonic lodges.
The items confiscated from the lodges were used to create Anti-Masonic Exhibitions in several cities throughout Europe. The first exhibition was created in 1937 in Germany. There was one erected in Paris in 1940 and Brussels and Belgrade followed in 1941.
The exhibitions were meant to instill fear, hated and ridicule toward the Freemasons. There were displays created to show how rooms in a masonic lodge would look but the Nazis would add or change the rooms to fit their propaganda. These exhibitions were also used to push the Nazi propaganda that the Freemasons and Jews were linked or one in the same. Jewish symbols would be put into masonic displays or room recreations in order to give the sense that the Freemasons were really Jews or in league with the Jews. Skeletons and skulls were also used in the displays in order to play on the people’s fears.
The Grand Anti-Masonic Exhibition in Belgrade which was funded by the Germans became more of an anti-Jewish propaganda exhibition than one against the Freemasons. Despite being touted as an exhibition that was attacking the Freemasons, the masons were only nominally included while the majority of the displays and 200,000 leaflets focused on the dehumanization of the Jews and intensify hatred toward them.
There were also over 176 propaganda films shown many of which were taken from The Eternal Jew exhibitions in Germany. Commemorative stamps were even made for the exhibition and ensure that anytime someone mailed a letter it was clear that Jews, Masons and Communists were the enemies of the Serbian people.
A Special Division of the SS Dealt With Freemasons
Reinhard Heydrich was the chief of Security Police and the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) in the 1930s and he took a particular interest in the Freemasons. He believed that the Masons, in addition to the Jews and the political clergy, as “implacable enemies of the German race.” Heydrich argued for the elimination of all visible traces of Masons but also to eliminate the “Masonic infectious residue that remains in the unconscious of many.”
It was because of his hatred and desire to eliminate the Freemasons from Germany and the rest of Europe he created a special section of the SS Security Service, Section II/III to deal with Freemasons. The personnel of the SD believed that Freemasons exercised real political power and that they shaped public opinion through the press. Members of the SD believed that Masons were using their influence and power in order to provoke war, subversion, and revolution.
The task of investigating Freemasons would eventually be taken over by Section VII B 1 of the Reich Security Main Office, an amalgamation of the Security Police and the SD that was created in 1939. As war loomed the restrictions on former Freemasons in Germany relaxed. The need for men in the military and for men to work in the public center meant that some former Freemasons would be allowed to work these jobs on a case by case basis. Some were even allowed to serve as officers even though they were still banned from joining the Nazi party.
The same could not be said for Freemasons in countries under Nazi control. They still faced persecution. Heydrich and his men dissolved Masonic organizations by force and confiscated all assets and documents. They would also take membership lists in order to create card catalogs of Masons to put under surveillance or send to concentration camps. All items seized from the Masons were sent directly to the SD and the Reich Security Main Office for investigation.
Freemasons Still Held Lodge Meetings in Concentration Camps
Freemasons that were sent to concentration camps were labeled as political prisoners, which meant that their uniforms were marked with a red triangle. This red triangle allowed them to recognize each other especially when coupled with the knowledge of the Forget-me-not. During German suppression of Freemasonry, the Freemasons abandoned their traditional symbols and adopted the forget-me-not flower. A man wearing a forget-me-not pin would be recognized as a Mason by fellow members but would not be noticed by the SD. This was likewise with presenting one of the flowers.
Once Freemasons in concentration camps discovered each other they tried to use the spirit of brotherhood that had uplifted them outside the camp walls to help them in their darkest time. Some Freemasons even went as far as to create their own lodges within their concentration camps. Loge Liberté Chérie (Cherished Liberty Lodge) was one such lodge.
Liberté Chérie was founded on November 15, 1943 by seven Bulgarian Freemasons and a resistance fighters. The Lodge was formed inside Hut 6 of Emslandlager VII. The men would meet for lodge work inside the hut around a table that would otherwise be used for sorting cartridges. A Catholic priest would stand outside the door in order to allow the brothers to hold their meetings and protect their secrecy.
Paul Hanson was elected master of the lodge and Brother Fernand Erauw was initiated, passed and raised by the lodge. The Hut held more than 100 prisoners who were only allowed to leave for one half-hour supervised walk per day. The rest of the time half the camp had to sort parts on the table and the other half were forced to work in the peat bogs. All of the members of the lodge, with the exception of 2, would lose their lives over the course of the war. A memorial was raised by Belgian and German Freemasons in 2004 in the Cemetery of Esterwegen.
When it came to the Allied side, Freemasonry continued to be a brotherhood for some of the most prominent members of society. President Harry S. Truman was also a Freemason and he went as far as to remain active in the brotherhood even while he was President of the United States. President Truman was received the 33rd Degree while he was in office a testament to his dedication to the fraternity. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was also a Freemason and even reached the 32nd degree.
But it wasn’t just United States Presidents that were devoted to the brotherhood. Prime Minister Winston Churchill became a brother in 1901. His family had a long tradition of being active in the brotherhood and having very prominent members so it was likely a family obligation more than a true desire that he joined the Freemasons. He never progressed in the order and largely lost focus in the brotherhood once his political career took off.
Not only political leaders that had ties to the Freemasons. The Allied military also had several prominent leaders that were Masons. General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. Commander in the Philippines and General Omar Bradley and General Henry Arnold were all members of the world’s oldest fraternity. Likely their membership had very little to do with their military strategy but they were definitely sympathetic to the plight of their fellow brothers.
There were numerous other prominent figures on the Allied side that had ties to the brotherhood including British royalty. But there was very little that even these strong ties could do to protect their brothers in Germany and occupied territories. Estimates put the numbers of Freemasons killed because of their membership in the brotherhood between 80,000 and 200,000.
Freemasons in Devoted Themselves to Helping Those in Need During the War
Freemasons around the world who were still able to operate did what they could to help the war effort and those in need. Freemasons in Illinois created Masonic Service Centers for the men who were stationed at military bases in Illinois. These Service centers would provide fun, recreation and comfort to members of the military. Hot meals were provided and there were community events that would help get the minds of the men off the war. The Masonic Service Centers were open to all men in uniform whether or not they were members of the Freemasons.
The Masonic Service Centers would also send letters to brothers that were stationed overseas and let them know that they were making a difference and doing the brotherhood proud. Thousands of letters were sent and were gratefully received by soldiers across the world. The Service Centers were run by volunteers and funded through the savings of the Illinois Masonic lodges and donations. Every single Masonic lodge in Illinois sent donations and the Service Centers were overfunded by 25%.
Masonic lodges in England also did what they could to help those in need. Brothers donated their masonic jewels in order to help fund the war effort and by 1941 £20,000 had been raised for the war effort. But the Freemasons did more than just donate money. When the people of London ran for shelter underground during night bombings many of them choose to seek shelter in the basement of the Freemason’s Hall.
Workers from the Covent Garden Market and the people living in the local Peabody Buildings would choose to go to the Freemasons’ Hall over the Holborn Underground Station. In the morning when it was safe to emerge Grand Secretary Sydney White and his Secretary Miss Haigh would serve tea and sandwiches to those who had sought shelter. There was even a greenhouse built upon the Grand Temple in order to grow much needed fruits and vegetables.