10 of the Biggest Lies in History


The Big Lie: Nazi Propaganda

This piece of Nazi Propaganda says it all. For those who can't read German, it translates to "He is to blame for the war!"
This piece of Nazi Propaganda says it all. For those who can't read German, it translates to "He is to blame for the war!"
AP Photo/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

By the time Nazism arose in Germany in the 1930s, anti-Semitism was nothing new -- not by a long shot. The J­ewish people had suffered a long history of prejudice and persecution. And although Nazis perpetuated centuries-old lies, this time those lies would have their most devastating effects. Like never before, anti-Semitism was manifested in a sweeping national policy known as "the Final Solution," which sought to eliminate Jews from the face of the Earth.

To accomplish this, Adolf Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, launched a massive campaign to convince the German people that the Jews were their enemies. Having taken over the press, they spread lies blaming Jews for all of Germany's problems, including the loss of World War I. One outrageous lie dating back to the Middle Ages claimed that Jews engaged in the ritual killings of Christian children and used their blood in the unleavened bread eaten at Passover [source: Landau].

Using Jews as the scapegoat, Hitler and his cronies orchestrated what they called "the big lie." This theory states that no matter how big the lie is (or more precisely, because it's so big), people will believe it if you repeat it enough. Everyone tells small lies, Hitler reasoned, but few have the guts to tell colossal lies [source: Hoffer]. Because a big lie is so unlikely, people will come to accept it.

This theory helps us understand so many of the lies throughout history. Although we've barely scratched the surface of all those lies that deserve (dis)honorable mentions, you can satiate your historical curiosity by browsing the lists below.

­Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Clinton, Bill." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
  • "Dreyf­us, Alfred." ." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
  • "Piltdown man." ." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
  • ­"Titus Oates." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
  • "Watergate Scandal." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
  • Abshire, David M. "Triumphs and tragedies of the modern presidency." Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. (March 6, 2009).http://books.google.com/books?id=-gK0e8Bd3EsC
  • Aron, Paul. "Mysteries in History." ABC-CLIO, 2005. (March 6, 2009).http://books.google.com/books?id=82zu_Aw5VFgC
  • Butler, Alban, Paul Burns. "Butler's Lives of the Saints." Liturgical Press, 2003. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=LsolWTxTP2oC
  • CNN. "DNA proves Bolsheviks killed all of Russian czar's children." CNN. March. 11, 2009. (March. 11, 2009.) http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/03/11/czar.children/index.html
  • Danto, Arthur Coleman. "After the End of Art." Princeton University Press, 1998. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=2y2ChJWfYoYC
  • Esposito, Richard. "Who Gets the Rest of Madoff's Money?" ABC News. Feb. 9, 2009. (March 11, 2009) http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=6838492&page=1
  • Frullani, Anita. "The Piltdown man forgery." British Heritage. April/May 1998. Vol 19, Issue 4.
  • Gernie, Sharif. "French revolutions, 1815-1914." Edinburge University Press, 1999. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=Wzbwpjg8QhIC
  • Haughton, Brian. "Hidden History." Career Press, 2007. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=fSbRZunGbF4C
  • Hoffer, Peter. "The Historian's Paradox." NYU Press, 2008. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=cf4HLE6mGlIC
  • Kidder, Davaid, Noah D. Oppenheim. "The Intellectual Devotional American History." Rodale, 2007. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=PF39tMiwmWcC
  • Landau, Ronnie S. "The Nazi Holocaust." I.B. Tauris, 2006. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=UmDZxCedaLkC
  • Salinger, Lawrence M. "Encyclopedia of White-collar & Corporate Crime." SAGE, 2004. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=0f7yTNb_V3QC
  • Wilson, Colin. "The World's Greatest True Crime." Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2004. (March 6, 2009). http://books.google.com/books?id=XI6uDXdZN3AC
  • Zambito, Thomas and Greg B. Smith. "Feds say Bernard Madoff's $50 billion Ponzi scheme was worse ever." NY Daily News. Dec. 13, 2008. (March 6, 2009). http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2008/12/13/2008-12-13_feds_say_bernard_madoffs_50_billion_ponz.html


Why Can't We Find Jimmy Hoffa's Body?

Why Can't We Find Jimmy Hoffa's Body?

Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975 and hasn't been seen since. HowStuffWorks talks to an expert with a theory about what might have happened.