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Nazi Propaganda in World War II Germany - Part I
During World War II, Nazi Germany made extensive use of propaganda to aid in the advancement of their ideals, in portraying the Nazi’s as integral to the German social hierarchy, in gaining support from the German citizens, and exposing the “evils” of the Allied powers as the war began to turn from their favor. The German military forces and Adolph Hitler himself are seen as the driving factors of the war. However, the Nazi’s use of propaganda was equal to, and arguably greater, than its actual military forces. It provided the foundations needed to fight a war of ideology, and sustained the support of the German people while the Nazi’s were on their path to destruction.
In 1933 when Adolph Hitler took over power from the weak and ineffective Weimar Republic that had been instituted after World War I he knew that in order to be effective in obtaining the absolute control he wanted he would need to centralize and consolidate the social and political areas of Germany. Propaganda was his answer. Through the use of propaganda, the Nazi’s were able to assume total control over the information in all forms, to indoctrinate the German people into the Nazi mode of thinking, and incorporate this propaganda into every day facets of German life. This meant viewing propaganda as a tool, and that like any tool, when used properly and by skilled craftsmen; it would become an invaluable asset.
Aristotle Kallis explains that the Nazis use of propaganda came from the “need to prioritize, organize, correlate and then transmit information to the interested public…”1 By boosting the moral of the German citizens through the use of propaganda in mass media, they were able to integrate the Nazi Party’s doctrine and philosophy into the collective mentality of a people looking for redemption.
For the Nazi’s, propaganda was more than just information. It was a method of being able to meet the societal needs of the German people. After World War I the German people were disheartened and left to blame for the entire war by the verbiage of the Treaty of Versailles. This disintegration of society was perfectly suited for Hitler’s use of propaganda. He knew that there was a void left by the war that needed to be filled. He took note of Allied propaganda during World War I and realized its vast potential. Hitler said that Germany “was engaged in a struggle for a human existence, and the purpose of war propaganda should have been to support this struggle; its aim to help bring about victory.”2 In order to achieve this, however, there needed to be a method to establish an integrated system into this disorganized society. Integration would be the primary function, the anchor of the Nazi’s whole existence.
Do you think propaganda is always used in a subversive manner?
By using propaganda, Hitler was able to meet the needs of his society by allowing the people to become part of that society individually and collectively by using “shared context of symbols, meanings and desired objectives”3 The German people had become fragmented and low moral was commonplace. By having a rallying cry, a sense of belonging and a sense of nationalistic pride, the Germans were all to willing to become integrated into a society that, in their minds, was out to restore the honor and glory of Germany. Even Hitler’s own image was perceived through the uses of propaganda. Ian Kershaw makes this clear by stating that,
In his public portrayal, he was a man of the people, his humble origins emphasising the rejection of privilege and the sterile old order in favour of a new, vigorous, upwardly-mobile society built upon strength, merit, and achievement. He was seen as strong, uncompromising, ruthless. He embodied the triumph of true Germanic virtues – courage, manliness, integrity, loyalty, devotion to the cause – over the effete decadence, corruption, and effeminate weakness of Weimar society.4
This view of Hitler is a prime example of how the Nazi Party used this tool to manipulate and present information the public “needed” to hear, whether it was a lie or a half-truth. This method would allow complete integration that would lead to coordinated and centralized propaganda networks that allowed the Nazi Party to gain a monopoly on information in every facet of German life, political, social, and even personal. Every facet of German life was addressed with propaganda. This included the press, broadcasting, cinema, theater, literature, fine arts, music and entertainment (both to the civilian population as well as the armed forces).
Dr. Joseph Goebbels was born it seemed to fill his role as the Nazi Propaganda Minister. In 1933, Goebbels was appointed as the minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. This appointment, allowed Goebbels to "…control the written and spoken word in Germany, to direct every medium of expressions, and to advertise German economic and political activities both at home and abroad."5
Like Hitler, Goebbels believed that propaganda was a sword to be wielded and was more than just coercion; it was a long-term means of allowing the people to identify with the Nazi Party and its ideals. This is seen by the initial use of German propaganda in terms of their new chancellor. While many Germans fell in line behind the Nazi leader, the majority apparently did not.6 With Goebbels and the Nazis in control of all propaganda, the Fuhrer was painted as the awaited savior of Germany, a man who understood the people and their struggles, having done so in gaining Germany’s social freedom. However, since all propaganda controlled and centralized by the Nazis, those taking a “less than favorable view of Hitler's qualities were now incarcerated or silenced by fear and repression.”7 Those who originally did not fall in line with their new Fuhrer’s ideals simply had two options; keep quiet or risk the possibility of prison or death.
Goebbels plan was to accomplish two missions; the first was to encompass all propaganda into one controlled, totalitarian direction, which also included the removal of anything that was not conceived or condoned by the ministry. His goal was to have all information centralized and “sanitized” not specifically per the Nazi regime’s principles, but to Hitler and Goebbels principles. Goebbels would not allow and publications of speeches by cabinet members and speaking of any past events in the Fuhrers life was forbidden without express consent of the Propaganda Ministry.8 On May 10, 1933, Goebbels and the Nazi regime held a mass book burning in Berlin. Louis P. Lochner, who edited and translated “” and was a witness to the burnings, tells of how, “…raiding parties had gone into public and private libraries, throwing onto the streets such books as Dr. Goebbels in his supreme wisdom had decided unfit for Nazi Germany.”9 Goebbels plan to centralize his control or propaganda as well as indoctrinate the German people into the Nazi mindset was clear. When Goebbels arrived at the book burning, he gave a rousing speech against the old, The Goebbels DiariesJewish intellectualism, the ‘November Republic’ laying in ashes, and the future, brightened by the flames, of Germany with the vow of “The Reich and the Nation and our Fuhrer Adolph Hitler: Heil! Heil! Heil!”10
There were other agencies and state-run organizations that were competing with Goebbels in his mission. This competing propaganda interest was Goebbels second priority; how to prevent these organizations and agencies from interfering and not allowing Goebbels a singular grip on the German propaganda. These propaganda “networks” grew out of others in the Party who were also powerful and manipulative. Men like Otto Dietrich, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg and Martin Bormann all had competing interests that prohibited Goebbels plans for centralization and consolidation. Dietrich’s network was able to keep the central press close to Hitler, Dietrich himself being a de facto advisor to Hitler. When the press was divided between Goebbels and Dietrich by the Fuhrer creating the Reich Press Chamber the muddying of the waters was completed and the ability to have singular control was not possible. This second issue Goebbels faced would not be one that he would be able to change, not that he did not try.
Part II will continue with a change in propaganda from positive to negative as Germany's outlook in the war began it's downward spiral.
1. Aristotle A. Kallis, Nazi Propaganda and the Second World War (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2005), 1.
2. Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf (Boston: Houghtan Mifflin Company, 1998), 177.
3. Aristotle A. Kallis, Nazi Propaganda and the Second World War (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2005), 2.
4. Ian Kershaw, “The Hitler Myth,” History Today, 1989, 2.
5. Derrick Sington and Arthur Weidenfeld, The Goebbels Experiment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), 73.
6. Ian Kershaw, “The Hitler Myth,” History Today, 1989. 3.
7. Ibid., p. 4.
8. Joesph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries: 1942-1943 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1948), 14.
9. Ibid., 17.