When he wasn’t writing romance novels under the alias Sir John Retcliffe, Hermann Goedsche worked for the Prussian secret police as an agent provocateur. His duties? Peeking into envelopes at a Silesian post office — where he served as a mail clerk — and forging letters to set up the crown’s political adversaries.

Though his mail fraud was designed to send pro-democracy advocates to prison, or worse, the most devastating lines Goedsche ever wrote had nothing to do with espionage. Instead, they were composed for one of his shoddiest books.

Goedsche’s 1868 novel Biarritz is replete with plagiarism, like plots lifted from Alexandre Dumas’ Giuseppe Balsamo (1848), which follows an occultist conspiracy set during the French Revolution. In Biarritz, Goedsche includes a chapter called “At the Jewish Cemetery in Prague,” in which he writes about a different kind of conspiracy, hatched by representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel. In his tale, Zionists meet at midnight, and a rabbi’s speech details a plot to take over the world. The diabolical plan? Creeping takeovers of international finance, media and labor.

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