In May 1923 Streicher founded the newspaper, Der Stürmer (The Stormer, or, more freely, The Attacker). From the outset, the chief aim of the paper was to promulgate anti-Semitic propaganda. “We will be slaves of the Jew,” the paper announced. “Therefore he must go.”
In November of that year, Streicher participated in Hitler’s first effort to seize power, the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Streicher marched with Hitler in the front row of the would-be revolutionaries and braved the bullets of the Munich police. His loyalty earned him Hitler’s lifelong trust and protection; in the years that followed, Streicher would be one of the dictator’s few true intimates.
As a reward for his dedication, when the Nazi party was legalized again and re-organized in 1925 Streicher was appointed gauleiter of the Bavarian region of Franconia (which included his home town of Nuremberg). In the early years of the party’s rise, gauleiters were essentially party functionaries without real power; but in the final years of the Weimar Republic, they became paramilitary commanders. During the 12 years of the Nazi regime itself, party gauleiters like Streicher would wield immense power, and be in large measure untouchable by legal authority.
Streicher was also elected to the Bavarian "Landtag" or legislative council, a position which gave him a margin of parliamentary immunity from prosecution – a safety net that would help him resist efforts to silence his racist message.
The slanderous attacks continued, and lawsuits followed. Like Fleischmann, other outraged German Jews defeated Streicher in the well of the court. But his goal was not necessarily legal victory; to committed Nazis like Streicher, courtroom losses were a defiant badge of honor, and what Streicher wanted was the widest possible dissemination of his message, which press coverage often provided. The rules of the court provided Streicher with an arena to embarrass and even humiliate his opponents. The Weimar habit of following the strictest letter of the law made prosecution for more serious crimes difficult. Even Der Stürmer's infamous official slogan, Die Juden sind unser Ungluck (the Jews are our misfortune) was deemed unactionable under German statutes, since it was not a direct incitement to violence.
Streicher’s opponents complained to authorities that Der Stürmer violated a statute against religious offense with his constant promulgation of the “blood libel” – the medieval accusation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh. Streicher argued that his accusations were based on race, not religion, and that his diatribes were political speech, and therefore protected by the German constitution.
Streicher orchestrated his early campaigns against Jews to make the most extreme possible claims – short of violating a law that might get the paper shut down. He insisted in the pages of his newspaper that the Jews had caused the worldwide Depression, and were responsible for the crippling unemployment and inflation which afflicted Germany during the 1920s. He claimed that Jews were white-slavers and were responsible for over 90 percent of the prostitutes in the country. Real unsolved killings in Germany, especially of children or women, were often confidently explained in the pages of Der Stürmer as cases of “Jewish ritual murder.”
One of Streicher’s constant themes was the sexual violation of ethnically German women by Jews, a subject which served as an excuse to publish semi-pornographic tracts and images detailing degrading sexual acts. These “essays” proved an especially appealing feature of the paper for young men. With the help of his notorious cartoonist, “Fips” (Philipp Rupprecht), Streicher published image after image of gruesome Jewish stereotypes and sexually-charged encounters. His portrayal of Jews as subhuman and evil is widely considered to have played a critical role in the dehumanization and marginalization of the Jewish minority in the eyes of common Germans – creating the necessary conditions for the later perpetration of the Holocaust.
Streicher also combed the pages of the Talmud and the Old Testament in search of passages which could paint their ancient Jewish authors as harsh or cruel – a practice which continues to this day among hard-line anti-Semites. In 1929, this close study of Jewish scripture helped convict Streicher in a case known as “The Great Nuremberg Ritual Murder Trial.” His familiarity with Jewish text was proof to the court that his attacks were religious in nature; Streicher was found guilty and imprisoned for two months. In Germany, press reaction to the trial was highly critical of Streicher; but the gauleiter was greeted after his conviction by hundreds of cheering supporters, and within months Nazi party membership surged to its highest levels yet.
Streicher later claimed that he was only “indirectly responsible” for passage of the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and that he felt slighted because he was not directly consulted.
In 1938, Streicher ordered the Great Synagogue of Nuremberg destroyed; he later claimed that his decision was based on his disapproval of its architectural design.
In spite of his special relationship with Hitler, after 1938 Streicher’s position began to unravel. He was accused of keeping Jewish property seized after Kristallnacht in November 1938; he was charged with spreading untrue stories about Göring - such as alleging that his daughter Edda was conceived by artificial insemination, and he was confronted with his excessive personal behavior, including unconcealed adultery and several furious verbal attacks on other gauleiters. In February 1940 he was stripped of his party offices and withdrew from the public eye, although he was permitted to continue publishing Der Stürmer. Streicher also remained on good terms with Hitler.
Streicher's wife, Kunigunde Streicher, died in 1943 after 30 years of marriage.
When Germany surrendered to the Allied armies in May 1945, Streicher said later, he decided to commit suicide. Instead, he married his former secretary, Adele Tappe. Days later, on May 23, 1945, Streicher was captured in the town of Waidring, Austria, by a group of American officers led by Major Henry Plitt – who was Jewish. At first Streicher claimed to be a painter named “Joseph Sailer,” but after a few questions, quickly admitted to his true identity.
During the trial, Gustave Gilbert, an American Army psychologist, was allowed to examine the Nazi leaders who were tried at Nuremberg for war crimes. Among other tests, a German version of the Wechsler-Bellevue IQ test was administered. Julius Streicher scored 106, the lowest among the Nazi leaders tested.
During his trial, Streicher displayed for the last time the flair for courtroom theatrics that had made him famous in the 1920s. He answered questions from his own defense attorney with diatribes against Jews, the Allies, and the court itself, and was frequently silenced by the court officers. Streicher was largely shunned by all of the other Nuremberg defendants, who thought him a vulgar, despicable man (Herman Goering's hostility toward him was well-established). He also peppered his testimony with references to passages of Jewish texts he had so often carefully selected and inserted (invariably out of context) into the pages of Der Stürmer.
“...For his 25 years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-Baiter Number One.’ In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution... Streicher's incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds in connection with war crimes, as defined by the Charter, and constitutes a crime against humanity.”
Streicher was hanged in the early hours of October 16, 1946, along with the nine other condemned defendants from the first Nuremberg trial (Goering, Streicher's nemesis, committed suicide only hours earlier). Streicher's was the most melodramatic of the hangings carried out that night. At the bottom of the scaffold he cried out "Heil Hitler!" When he mounted the platform, he delivered his last sneering reference to Jewish scripture, snapping "Purim-Fest 1946!" The Jewish holiday Purim celebrates the escape by the Jews from extermination at the hands of Haman, an ancient Persian government official. At the end of the Purim story, Haman is hanged. Streicher's final declaration before the hood went over his head was, "The Bolsheviks will hang you one day!"
The consensus among eyewitnesses was that the hanging of Julius Streicher did not proceed as planned, and that he did not receive the quick death from spinal severing typical of the other executions at Nuremberg. Kingsbury Smith, who covered the executions for the International News Service, reported that Streicher "went down kicking" which may have dislodged the hangman's knot from its ideal position. Smith stated that Streicher could be heard groaning under the scaffold after he dropped through the trap-door, and that the executioner intervened under the gallows, which was screened by wood panels and a black curtain, to finish the job. U. S. Army Master Sergeant John C. Woods was the main executioner, and not only insisted he had performed all executions correctly, but stated he was very proud of his work. Critics have said that the length of the ropes was too short for the circumstances as recommended by standard gallows technique, increasing the chances of the prisoners strangling rather than expiring instantly, and that the trap doors were too small, causing many of the condemned to suffer facial lacerations and bruises while falling through the trap.