Donald Trump Jr. is more than his father’s right-hand man — he’s his most important link to the conspiratorial far right.
He tweets constantly about the “deep state” to more than 2 million followers, continually sending them the signal: Trump hears you.
And as the 2018 election heats up, many of Trump Jr.’s tweets center on billionaire and longtime progressive donor George Soros. Specifically, they focus on a conspiracy theory regarding the Hungarian-born Jewish investor: that he’s a Nazi.
On May 29, Trump retweeted a bizarre claim arguing that Soros was a “nazi who turned in his fellow Jews.” Perhaps more bizarrely, the tweet was written by Roseanne Barr, the conspiratorial comedian and actress. Before Barr’s eponymous television show got canceled because of a racist tweet, her tweets covered the conspiracy theory gamut from MK Ultra to Pizzagate to 9/11 trutherism — and, of course, Soros the Nazi.
Only in the crazy world of 2018 could @DonaldJTrumpJr’s RT of a Jewish woman attacking well-known (and admitted) Nazi sympathizer George Soros be considered anti-Semitic. Nonsense. https://t.co/IBnEVBDOuK— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) May 29, 2018
And it’s definitely not just Donald Trump Jr., and it’s not taking place just on Twitter. Conspiratorial allegations about Soros’s alleged Nazi ties are all over the internet, and as Soros-funded foundations gear up for the midterms, the rumors are gearing up too.
Though a GOP donor in the 1980s and 1990s, Soros has been the right’s most feared opponent since he spent more than $25 million to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, leading one conservative website to call him “a prolocutor in the congregation of Moloch.” Disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert even alleged that Soros’s fortune came from financing drug cartels overseas. Since then, Soros has spent billions on (largely progressive) causes from Ebola prevention to opposing torture and protecting LGBTQ rights abroad, and has donated to Democratic Party causes like Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.
No wonder, then, that Soros has been linked by the right to virtually every liberal cause imaginable in an attempt to argue that any organic protest or outcry on the left is really the work of one sinister, shadowy (foreign) billionaire. Even Republicans have been victims of allegations of “scandalous” ties to Soros. A GOP candidate in North Carolina was the target of an attack ad alleging that he’d received “$80,000 in George Soros-backed campaign contributions” (he didn’t).
The well ORGANIZED effort by Florida school students demanding gun control has GEORGE SOROS’ FINGERPRINTS all over it. It is similar to how he hijacked and exploited black people’s emotion regarding police use of force incidents into the COP HATING Black Lives Matter movement. pic.twitter.com/XDZ3bcwF6F— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) February 20, 2018
And in 2018, with midterm elections to determine control of Congress approaching, Soros is once again viewed as an exogenous threat by the right and a dastardly “Soros scheme” of massive donations to PACs and to the DNC seen as a real concern to Republicans worried about a possible “blue wave.”
George Soros is not a Nazi
So yes, George Soros is a billionaire with ties to progressive causes. But he is not a Nazi. Or a Nazi sympathizer. At all. Despite what one might see on Twitter (or Reddit or Facebook) — or even hear from members of Congress. When one Republican Congress member suggested to Vice News that Soros had funded the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VIrginia, last summer in an effort to discredit the right, he made sure to add that Soros ”turned in his own people to the Nazis.”
HERE U GO ROSEANNE BARR..— mary perlstein (@PerlsteinMary) May 29, 2018
George Soros pic.twitter.com/3eMI7TgJKa
That’s not George Soros. That’s Nazi SS guard Oskar Groening, the so-called “bookkeeper of Auschwitz.” He went to trial in 2015 for being an accessory to murder but died earlier this year before he could serve a four-year jail term.
Soros, on the other hand, was not a member of the SS, short for Schutzstaffel, German for “protective echelon,” who were founded in 1925 as Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguards but expanded during the rise and expansion of the Third Reich to act as both police and armed combatants.
For one thing, on the day World War II ended in Europe (May 9, 1945), Soros was 14 years old, too young to even hypothetically apply to join the SS (which had a minimum age of 17), and roughly 10 years younger than Groening, the actual, real-life Nazi.
And for another, Soros is Jewish.
So how did a Jewish child become an SS officer, or, at the very least, complicit in mass murder, in the eyes of conspiracy theorists and President Trump’s son?
The real history
Before George Soros became a globally recognized billionaire — and boogeyman of the far right — he was a Jewish child growing up in Nazi-affiliated, and ultimately Nazi-occupied, Hungary.
Hungary — then a monarchy under the reign of Regent Miklós Horthy (his full title was “His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary”) before he was deposed by Nazi Germany in 1944 — was highly anti-Semitic even before joining the Axis powers in the early days of WWII. Fascist political parties, most notably the Arrow Cross Party, modeled themselves on the Nazi Party, including a promise to find a “solution of the Jewish question.” The Hungarian state responded to the popularity of fascist anti-Semitism, passing racial laws similar to Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws that forbade intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews and limited the jobs Hungarian Jews could legally hold.
By 1941, the year Soros celebrated his 11th birthday, Hungary had begun deporting Jews, 20,000 that summer alone, to the Nazi-controlled city of Kamenets-Podolsk in Ukraine, where they were murdered en masse by Nazi Einsatzgruppen — mobile killing units.
And while the deportations were stopped briefly when Horthy became convinced the Nazis would lose the war, a Nazi-staged coup gave power to the Arrow Cross and fueled the deportation and murder of thousands of Jews.
This was the world into which Soros was born. In fact, his name was originally George Schwartz — his parents changed their last name to Soros (which means “next in line” in Magyar, the native language of Hungary) in 1936 in an effort to appear less Jewish and more Hungarian in a country becoming increasingly anti-Semitic.
His father, Tivadar Soros, recognized the threat of Nazism early. In an interview with the New Yorker in 2001, George Soros said of Tivadar, “My father was ahead of the curve, because he recognized the moment the Germans came in that this was a different world and one had to act differently.” In another interview, Soros said that when the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944, his father brought the family together and said, “This is an emergency. If we remain law-abiding citizens and continue our current existence, we are going to perish.”
The source of the conspiracy theories
The Nazi conspiracy theories about Soros have two main allegations. The first claim is that Soros helped to send other Hungarian Jews to their deaths in concentration camps (as Glenn Beck put it in 2010: “Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps.”) And second, Soros stole from Jews who had already been deported or killed, taking their property and valuables.
Both of these allegations are untrue. But they serve as evidence of just how misunderstood the true horrors of the Holocaust can be — often deliberately.
As part of their efforts to control and eventually eliminate the Jews of Europe, the Nazis sought the participation of the people whom they were attempting to destroy. In much of Nazi-occupied Europe, the Nazis set up “Jewish councils” and forced Jewish authorities — from religious leaders to trusted family patriarchs — to put Nazi policies and orders into practice.
In Hungary, the Nazis ordered the creation of the Central Council of Hungarian Jews in March 1944, intended to control the Jewish population without panicking them. The Council included both Zionist and Orthodox Jews, many of whom were aware of what the Nazis had done in neighboring countries but believed that they could somehow placate the Hungarian government and the Nazi authorities through smaller concessions — giving up furniture and other possessions, moving into ghettos created by the occupying German forces — and somehow avoid deportation to death camps until the war ended.
This was fruitless. As Ernő Munkácsi, the head of one of Hungary’s largest Jewish communities, put it in his postwar memoirs, “... the leaders of the Jews ... lulled themselves into the unfounded optimism that we would be the exceptions, the tiny island in the sea of the destruction of European Jews.”
It was for the Jewish Council that 13-year-old George Soros worked for all of two days. He was asked to deliver messages across the city. When his father read one of the messages, he saw that they were in fact summonses, orders for Jewish individuals to report to a rabbinical seminar with food for two days and blankets. In an interview with the New Yorker, Soros said:
This was a profoundly important experience for me. My father said, “You should go ahead and deliver [the summonses], but tell the people that if they report they will be deported.” The reply from one man was “I am a law-abiding citizen. They can’t do anything to me.” I told my father, and that was an occasion for a lecture that there are times when you have laws that are immoral, and if you obey them you perish.
Recipients of those summonses were deported — to concentration camps across Eastern Europe, including Auschwitz, a concentration camp and death camp in Poland where more than half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered by 1945.
In 1944, Tivadar, Soros’s father, obtained papers giving his immediate family entirely new Christian identities, and decided to split up the family so that if one Soros were caught, the rest might survive the war. George became Sandor Kiss and went to live with a Hungarian agricultural official, whom he pretended was his godfather.
But it was 1944, the year Soros turned 14 while living with a Hungarian official whom his father paid to protect him, that became the centerpiece in the “George Soros is a Nazi” conspiracy theory.
A confusing 60 Minutes appearance
In 1998, George Soros appeared on 60 Minutes and was interviewed about his experiences in Nazi-occupied Germany.
During the interview, Soros discussed his experiences living with that Hungarian official — including allegations of confiscating the property of Jews who had already been forced out of their homes. And it’s this interview that has fueled countless allegations that Soros was a “Nazi collaborator.”
These allegations come from people like Alex Jones:
Dinesh D’Souza, pardoned last week by President Trump, has also pushed this conspiracy theory, even comparing Soros to Josef Mengele, the SS captain and doctor at Auschwitz who conducted experiments on his prisoners, including children.
YES, REALLY: George Soros, who now funds violent "anti-fascist" groups in America, confiscated the property of Jews for Hitler during WWII. pic.twitter.com/EnIvaDz36n— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) August 25, 2017
Except Soros didn’t collaborate with the Nazis.
While living with that Hungarian official — who did have the job of taking inventory at the homes of Jewish families whose possessions had been taken by the Nazi authorities — Soros accompanied him on one of those trips, to a mansion where Soros rode a horse for the first time.
Even in that 60 Minutes interview that is pasted across the internet as conclusive evidence of Soros’s Nazi ties, Soros says that he was “only a spectator” to the confiscation of property (though he does say initially that he did help but seems confused by the question). As detailed in a biography of Soros by Michael Kaufman, his main job during his time in hiding was to pretend to the best of his ability to be a Christian teenage boy named Sandor Kiss.
Only 6 to 11 percent of Europe’s prewar population of Jewish children survived the war. But because of Soros’s father’s efforts, both George and his brother, Paul, did.
Soros connects Eastern European autocrats and Trump
Soros has long opposed the autocratic regimes of Eastern Europe and American conservative politics, well before the two converged around Islamophobia and isolationism in recent years. As the two begin to look more and more alike, opposition to Soros has become a key bridge point.
Domestically and internationally, particularly in Russia and his native Hungary, article headlines including phrases like “ties to George Soros” are signposts to believers that a cause, a website, a candidate, or a protest movement is inherently suspicious.
Much like the memes tweeted by Donald Trump Jr., the images send a message:
It’s no surprise that the resurgence of the Soros Nazi meme, then, coincides with the rise of the two movements Soros opposes most. He was a Jewish child hiding in Nazi-occupied territory, marked for death by one of the most violent and despotic regimes in world history.
George Soros is a Hungarian-born billionaire. He gives millions to left-leaning causes. He’s become a potent symbol on the far right, of nefarious dealings and a dark past. But he is not, was not, and has never been a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer.
For more on George Soros and conspiracy theorizing, please listen to the May 31st episode of Today Explained.