An elementary school teacher by profession, Streicher served in a Bavarian unit during World War I and, despite a warning for bad behaviour, received the Iron Cross (First Class). In 1919 he co-founded the anti-semitic Deutsch-Soziale Partei and two years later joined the NSDAP, taking his own Party membership with him.
Streicher was an intimate friend of Hitler’s and one of the earliest Nazis in northern Bavaria. In 1925 he was appointed Gauleiter of the NSDAP for Franconia and his headquarters in Nuremberg became a leading centre for violent anti-semitism in Germany. Streicher's unbecoming conduct and diatribes against the Weimar government led to his dismissal from his teaching post in 1928.
A year later he was elected as a Nazi member of the Bavarian legislature. In March 1933 Hitler appointed Streicher Director of the ‘Central Committee for the Defence against Jewish Atrocity and Boycott Propaganda. In January 1933 Streicher became a member of the Reichstag for the electoral district of Franconia, and in 1934 he was promoted to SA-Gruppenführer. During his time as Gauleiter, i.e. until 1939, he enlarged his newspaper business to prodigious proportions, eventually owning about ten newspapers, including the Fränkische Tageszeitung. He further extended his personal fortune by expropriating Jewish property Streicher was allowed to continue his anti-semitic incitement as editor of Der Stürmer, for which he was eventually indicted and hanged at Nuremberg on 16 October 1946. The Nuremberg Tribunal held that ‘Streicher’s incitement to murder and extermination, at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions, constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds . . . and a crime against humanity'.
Streicher, however, regarded his own trial and death sentence as ‘a triumph for world Jewry' and went to the scaffold shouting angrily, ‘PurimfestV and proclaiming his eternal loyalty to Hitler.
Streicher was a tireless speaker and plebeian rabble-rouser, whose political influence derived largely from the impact of Der Stürmer, which he founded in 1923 and continued to edit until 1945. This weekly newspaper became the world’s best-known anti-semitic publication with its crude cartoons, repellent photographs of Jews, its stories of ritual murder, pornography and its coarse prose style. Through its columns and through his own endless speaking tours, Streicher reached millions of Germans, imbuing them with his own poisonous brew of hatred, sadism and perversity. The impact of Der Stürmer was greatly enhanced by a nationwide system of display cases (Stürmerkasten) put up in parks, public squares, factory canteens, at street corners and bus stops, to attract passers-by. Their visual impact, their racist slogans and scandalmongering style drew crowds.
Der Stürmer consistently carried large-print slogans such as ‘Avoid Jewish Doctors and Lawyers', and gave listings of Jewish dentists, shopkeepers and professional people whom ‘Aryans’ where urged to avoid. Those who ignored this advice were in danger of having their own names and addresses listed.
Letters to the editor denouncing Jews - and Germans who patronized them - became a regular feature of Der Stürmer. which claimed in 1935 that it was receiving 11.000 letters a week. The ‘Pillory’ column created a climate of fear and intimidation, not only in Nuremberg - where Streicher dominated all spheres of life - but throughout Germany. Through Der Stürmer. Streicher provided a focus for the anti-Jewish measures of Nazi Germany, pressing already in 1933 for the banning of Jews from public baths, places of entertainment. State schools, etc. After Streicher spoke in Magdeburg in 1935, Jews were barred from using public transport. The general campaign which led to the Nuremberg racial laws in 1935 was initiated by his paper. One of Streicher's most enthusiastic readers was Adolf Hitler, who declared that Der Stürmer was the only paper which he read avidly from first to last page. Undoubtedly the Führer protected Streicher, raising him to high office and praising him as the ‘friend and comrade in arms' w ho never wavered and would ‘unflinchingly stand behind him in every situation'. Although aware of Streicher’s widespread unpopularity and unsavoury reputation. Hitler regarded him as a man of spirit, extremely useful, if not irreplaceable. He considered the Franconian Gauleiter s ‘primitive methods’ to be very effective, especially vis-à-vis the man in the street, and told Rauschning that he gave Streicher a free hand because anti-semitism was the most important weapon in the Nazi arsenal.
In spite of repeated requests to suppress Der Stürmer as a ‘cultural disgrace', Hitler personally ordered that no action be taken and declared that Streicher’s material was amusing and very cleverly done. The German
public appeared to share this view since Der Stürmer s circulation rose from 2-3,000 in 1923 to 65,000 in 1934 and close on 500,000 in 1937. It fluctuated, increased and then during the war dropped to about 200,000. Naturally, the ownership of such a widely read newspaper guaranteed Streicher a considerable income which was the envy of many other Gauleiters. Nor were signs of official favour lacking during the Third Reich.
Corrupt, dishonest, sadistic, obscene and brutal in manner, Streicher’s sexual peccadilloes and his disreputable transactions eventually became intolerable even to his colleagues and by 1939 Party officials were consistently complaining about his psychopathic behaviour. The fact that he had been charged with rape, admitted horsewhipping political prisoners and derided the virility of other Nazi potentates created a solid front against him that even Hitler could no longer ignore. Streicher's dismissal from his Party posts in 1940 was, however, due less to his venality or pornographic eccentricities than to his specific allegation that Hermann Goering was impotent and that his daughter had been conceived by artificial insemination. It was Goering who despatched a commission to Franconia to examine Streicher's business transactions and personal life, which ulti¬mately led to the latter's downfall.