The Role of Propaganda in the Nazi Takeover
When one thinks of the term “propaganda”, what comes to mind? Would it bring a positive response? Would it bring a negative response? When one thinks of “propaganda” in association with the Holocaust, what comes to mind? A positive response or a negative response? Most likely a negative response. Why is “propaganda” any different from what any political party or regime does, namely to disseminate its views? Is “propaganda” simply the name we give to views which we do not like or which we think to be untrue? And finally, was the role of “propaganda” in the Nazis’ assumption of power overstated? (Daniel Goldhagen, 1996) As many people who are learned in the field of the Holocaust will agree, propaganda played an extremely vital part in the Nazis’ rise to power, as well as their brain-washing of the German population into detesting all, of what they considered, “heretics” to the degree of accepting their murders. Validity of the accusations upon which they attempted to justify their action against the Jews was not an issue. The issue in this case was its power of persuasion. Although to achieve this goal the Nazi party deemed it necessary to monopolize the communications, media, and entertainment industries, Germany already had a strong anti-Semitic background.
European anti-Semitism is an outgrowth of Christianity. Since the time of the Roman Empire, Christian leaders preached boundlessly against Jews. It escalated from generation to generation, for as long a the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the Jews “challenged” the whole belief system of Christianity. The idea that it was the Jews that killed their savior also evolved from that time period. Along those lines, the notion that all Jews of forever were responsible for Jesus’ death, for they approved of the crime, would have certainly done it again (according to the anti-Semitics), and had always rejected his teachings.
As the Medieval period came, the Christians’ hatred for Jews further articulated and was brought to a new level. The Christians in the Medieval world saw Jews in twofold opposition to Christianity: they rejected his revelation and were his killers. In addition, church members had much detested the Jews on the basis that they should have accepted Jesus as their Messiah. Consequently, persecution and killing of the Jews became a part of everyday life, leaving many regions of Western Europe without any Jews by the end of the sixteenth century.
Entering the nineteenth century, German anti-Semitism went through an acute transformation. It was then that it made its change from a religious issue, to a racial one. Germans naturally detested Jews, and with a passion. Nineteenth century Germans now saw Jews as the symbol for everything awry in their declining economy, even though they made up but a mere one percent of the population. Soon the cultural taboos that had formerly shaped the moral fabric of Germany at the time lost all influence. It was then that German anti-Semitism reached a high point: false, cruel, yet indisputable accusations. Prostitution, sexual degradation and depravity, and the sexual assaulting of unsuspecting German virgins are examples. The Germans also imagined Jew conducting ritual murders.
By the time the Nazi party instituted totalitarian control, all that remained was to build on the framework provided by the nineteenth century. A framework which included anti-Semitism being common knowledge, Germans’ obsessive hatred toward Jews, the common belief of Jews being the reason for their collapsing economy, the belief of Jews being evil and a source of great harm. This new type of anti-Semitism was of a savage nature and a logic that it was necessary to rid Germany, along with the rest of the world, of Jews by whatever means necessary.
Already having a foundation for their cause, all the Nazis had to do was execute their strategies. Even before gaining full control in January of 1933, they used all possible methods, and even introduced new forms of publicity, to get national attention and recognition. The Nazi party sponsored mass meetings and pageants, distributed all sorts of visual aids and propaganda, and assumed control of the radio and film industry.
Once the Nazis gained control they used all the above means and more to strengthen their totalitarian control on the German population. By means of blatant false claims and accusations, the Nazis made untrue justifications for political and military aggression, as well as enthusiasm toward Nazi goals.
Hitler knew how he had to manipulate propaganda to get “positive” results from the population. In his book, Mein Kampf, he wrote:
“To whom should propaganda be addressed? To the scientifically trained intelligentsia or to the less educated masses? It must be addressed always and solely to the masses.
What the intelligentsia…need is not propaganda but scientific instruction. The content of propaganda is as far from being science as the object depicted in a poster is from being art. A poster’s art lies in the designer’s ability to capture the attention of the masses by form and color.
The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but rather in directing the attention of the masses toward certain facts…It must be directed toward the emotions, and only to a very limited extent toward the so-called intellect.
The receptive ability of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, their forgetfulness enormous. Therefore, all propaganda has to limit itself to a very few points and repeat them like slogans until even the very last man is able to understand what you want him to understand.”
And that is the basis upon which Hitler set up his whole campaign. He wanted to aim his propaganda crusade exclusively toward the masses. In doing so they would accept it as a decree. Furthermore, it was extremely important that the material exposed to the masses appeal to the interests of the majorities, and not address itself to just the intellect. Propaganda had to be popular and be geared in order for even the most simple-minded individuals to understand. Equally as important, was the necessity to give the people the “conceptual truth,” but really only spreading the information the leader wanted to disseminate.
The Nazis utilized propaganda to saturate Nazi ideology, philosophy, and mentality into the German population, as well as to change the traditional German moral standards (as far as behavior). Subsequently, as the Nazis hoped would happen, the ideas acquired via propaganda would mature into a part of everyday German life. It would become an issue in and out of the home. According to Hitler, the masses must not have two or more enemies. Rather, they should concentrate on one primary enemy: the Jews. To support this idea, the Nazi propaganda reinforced racist philosophy on the “normal” anti-Semitism by giving the Jews the title of “enemy of the common people.” Two elements, hatred and racism, were integrated in propaganda to urge the population to find the importance of ridding Germany of the parasitic/blood-sucking Jew. In Hitler’s view, anti-Semitism was a vital weapon in the propaganda enterprise. He insisted that wherever it is used, it has a huge effect, and refused to it disregarded as a political weapon. So began the obsessive anti-Semitic propaganda campaign of Nazi Germany. To achieve their goal, they began using all means of media. Early on, the Nazis began showing very anti-Semitic movies and shows, as did they air such programs on the radio.
They were now getting closer and closer to their goal of having the population detest to the Jews, to the point where the commonly seen distasteful episodes in Polish ghettos lead the people to accept the beating, killing, and liquidation of Jews. The Nazis even got international protests to subside. They aired movies exemplifying the pleasant conditions in the concentration camps. For example, the Nazis broadcasted scenes of a masquerade presented at the Theresienstadt camp.
In recognition of the significant role propaganda was playing in the Nazi’s battle, the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Reichsministerium fr Volksaufklrung und Propaganda) was created on March 5, 1933. Headed by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi expert in propaganda and a notoriously persuasive speaker, a new generation of radio, press, cinema, and arts manipulation was brought forth. Goebbles ran the department from an old palace which oversaw thirty-two other field offices. He recruited the brightest, most intelligent young men he could find to work in his department.
In the Nazi’s industrial takeover of Germany, the propaganda machine was then set up into seven different sections, each in charge of the a department:
Anyone who produced, distributed, broadcasted, published, or sold any form of cinema, media, press, or literature had to first join one of the departments and then follow all rules of the department head. That person was usually Joseph Goebbles. Naturally, no Jews, non-Aryans, or any of Hitler’s adversaries were not allowed to join. Thus, without a license to practice their businesses, all artists, writers, publishers, producers, or directors could not work or do any business in their field. Also along with those quotas, came the prohibition of all Jewish newspapers, radio, and cinema.
Part of Hitler’s master plan was to have his nation to become the most powerful country in the world; an Aryan nation, that is. Without a doubt, that requires more Aryans. As a part of this theory, the fuhrer, with much assistance form Goebbles, began a new campaign. This time, it was aimed at women.
Hitler wanted to encourage good health and child birth among women. There were two things that constituted this: having women take on a nursing, house-wife role and for them to make time for activity, such as sports. However, it would not be easy to entice women to compromise on giving up what they considered to be a trim figure.
Hitler needed to replace the traditional fit look for women with a more substantial motherly looking image (refer to doc. pic of woman)
The World and the Jews, 1933-1945 84). Workers in the arts industry were urged to use such women in their work. Hitler even granted an award to any German woman who gave birth to six or more children. SS troops were given instructions to marry blond-haired, blue-eyed women who had not yet received the Reich sports award.
The family life campaign soon branched off to another important issue, education. For if Germany were to be flooded with Aryan children they had to get the “right” education and to be taught by the “right” teachers: Nazi teachers. Therefore, the German school systems discharged all Jewish and non-Nazi teachers. At that point, 97% of the teachers in Germany belonged to the Nazi Teachers Association.
Textbooks and children’s books, as well, had heavy military and anti-Semitic overtones.
A modern bomber can carry 1,800 incendiaries.
How long is the path along which it can distribute these bombs if it drops a bomb every second at a speed of 250 kilometers per hour? How far apart are the craters?
Some children’s books even intimidated Nazi members, because they were so biased that they were horrifying. Perhaps the author that best exemplifies this was the notoriously relentless and obsessive anti-Semite, Julius Streicher.
Born in Fleinhausen, Bavaria in 1885, Streicher was a German politician and journalist. He was one of the earliest and most extremist members of the Nazi party. In fact, he even participated in Hitler’s 1923 rebellion. He is best known, though, for his notoriously rabid anti-Semitism displayed in his books and newspapers. Some of is works include The Poisonous Mushroom, a children’s book, and “Der Strmer,” a Nazi newspaper. While his works appalled even some Nazis, Hitler was intrigued by his “skillful and amusing campaign.”
With the campaign aimed at children, the Nazis integrated both anti-Semitic ideology and encouraged children to join the Hitler Youth, for boys, and the League of German Girls, for girls. Indeed, the enrollment rate was very high, but the storm of children joining the two youth organizations were not all going for their hatred toward Jews. Rather, many saw it as a good opportunity to go camping, make friends (activities which the to organizations did, in fact, often do); in a way, the equivalent of our Boy/Girl Scouts of America Organization.
Billboards, poster, leaflets, and flyers were everywhere. Some were aimed at the adult population, some at children. Most commonly, they were to urge the public to join Hitler’s crusade, for there was a job and a place for everybody. The Nazi’s offered men jobs in Hitler’s army. If they were inexperienced, they offered training camps, seminars, and classes, in which they were taught everything from military maneuvers to how to identify a Jew.
As effective of the other forms of Nazi propaganda were, the best results came from the media: newspapers, radio, and film. Control of the media was the key to gaining control of the people’s minds.
Joseph Goebbles took the first step to assuming full control of the news-wire services. He then merged the different wire-services into the German News Bureau. This allowed him to control the distribution of news at its source. Now that the Nazis had full control of the news circulation in Germany, they began making laws pertaining to it. For example, in 1933, Goebbles instituted the Editor’s Law. This stated that all newspapers had to go through his ministry. Accordingly, the editors were responsible for every picture and word in their publication, and if Goebbles did not like what was being printed, the editors would be punished. Although, they would most commonly lose their jobs, Goebbles, on occasion, would have the person sent to a concentration camp. His regulations on new circulation so limited the liberty of the reporter, that daily press conferences were often held. There, Goebbles would dictate what should be written in the article and how it should look. Unfortunately for the Nazis, mu ch of the population of Germany stopped reading newspapers, altogether, for they already knew what would be written.
Since Goebbles realized he could not brainwash the people just through the newspaper, he then took over radio communication. By making sure stores kept a plentiful stock of inexpensive radios, a record seventy percent of German families owned at least one radio. If in the event that a family did not own one, the Nazis encouraged gathering in groups at home, at work, and at eating places to listen to the broadcasts. With over a quarter of a typical day’s broadcasting time being reserved solely for Nazi propaganda, the people became very vulnerable to what they heard. To be sure not one person was without the privilege of listening to daily broadcastings, the Nazis had loud speakers installed all over the country.
Goebbles also seized control of the cinemas. Still a fairly new concept, motion pictures were very popular among the Germans. The Nazis began making both movies and documentaries with extremely anti-Semitic messages. There were documentaries that were merely intended for the glorification of the Nazis, while other were tasteless, explicit movies based on mere blatant lies and biases produced by the Nazis and other anti-Semitic organizations. Some were so anti-Semitic that the actors requested that a telegraph be sent out publicizing that they themselves were not really Jewish. Despite the horrifying motion-picture campaigning, countless numbers attended these films.
By now, the German population was predominantly anti-Semitic. Stage one of the Nazis’ plan was done. However, Nazi missionaries began coming over to the United States. Although quickly deported, they left behind their ideas. Organizations such as the Christian Front and the German-American Bund were formed and strongly supported the Nazis. Newsletters and leaflets were being mass produced throughout the country. Luckily the majority of Americans retained their morals and acceptance of Jews.
In their quest for both world and racial domination, the Nazis covered all possible territory/subject-matter, and all possible means of accomplishing their goal. They monopolized and strictly monitored all branches of the communications and media industry. By doing this, the Nazis only allowed the people to hear what they wanted them to hear, and nothing more. In the midst of a major economic depression, the German people were both vulnerable and desperate, and the unemployment rate was very high. Thus, many people had nothing else to do beside listen to the radio and read the newspaper. Naturally, there was no commercial or industrial market, almost everything fitting into those two categories was failing, so it was not difficult to take over. Hitler’s plan was working very well.
Reflecting on the manner in which the term “propaganda” is used in this paper, it could be understandable why one could see the word as a negative term. Even though the dictionary defines “propaganda” as publicity to either further or damage one’s cause, I am unable to picture myself defining Hitler’s publicity scheme as merely marketing, promotion, or advertising. Rather, I see it as a disgusting form of “disinformation” (See, p. 1). In conclusion, even though the word, “propaganda,” can be used in reference to either positive or negative campaigning, it is how we have come to, most often, identify ideology which we do not approve of or think not to be true.