6 Famous Literary Forgeries and How They Were Discovered


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The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The cover page of the pamphlet "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," which was actually the work of Pierre Ivanovitch Ratchkovsky, head of a section of czar Nicholas II's secret police.
Wikimedia Commons

Published in 19th century Russia, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" claimed to contain the minutes of 24 "secret meetings" held by Jewish wise men plotting to take control of the world. The texts contain everything from descriptions of the future universal State to critiques of liberalism and more, but the chronicles are completely fake. Later revealed to be the work of Pierre Ivanovitch Ratchkovsky, head of one section of the czar's secret police, the Protocols were apparently written to paint the Jews as a scapegoat in the already heavily anti-semitic Russia, where citizen unrest was threatening the czarist regime.

Ratchkovsky claimed to discover the Protocols and then handed them to Russian writer Sergey Nilus who published them in 1903 in a nationalist review. The Times of London wrote a positive piece on the texts in 1920, but withdrew the support a year later when correspondent Philip Graves found them to be a fabrication, plagiarizing sections of an 1864 book about Napoleon III and 160 passages from "Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu." By 1935, more confirmation of the manuscript's illegitimacy came to light when the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland sued a local pro-Nazi group for distributing copies of it and Russian witnesses testified that Ratchkovsky had forged them.

The Protocols can still be found in circulation today, used as propaganda by right-wing extremists and anti-Semitic hate groups.