Joseph Goebbels: Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment


Figure 1.--Goebbels as Propaganda Minister liked to be photographed with children. Here he is with a Hitler Youth boy. This was a cigarette card. The Germans were avid card collectors. There was an extensive series on the NAZIs. The cards had decriptive text on the back. (Click on the image to see the German text.) The reason for the series may not have been pressure from Goebbels, but rather an attempt by the tobacco companies to placate the NAZIs. The NAZIs pursued a healthy body and exercise policy and were the first government to discourage smoking as a public health issue. Click on the image for more information about these cards.

After HItler sized power he made Goebbels Minister of Propaganda and National Enligtenment (1933). Many newspapers, magazines, publishers, and movie studios were privately owned. NAZI directives and the possibility of arrest and confiment in concentration camps established by Himmler's SS soon gave him virtually complete control over all all German media outlets. One of the first actions he organized was the ritual book burnings across Germany (May 1933). It is starling to think that an academic with a PhD. in Germam literature oversaw the book burning campaign. Goebbels was also responsible for regimenting German culture and bringing it into conformity with NAZI ideology. Goebbels effectively used his control of German media to perpetuate NAZI idelology. Hitler was pictured as a virtually infalable leader. Goebbels also carfully tailored German media to promulgate NAZI ideas such as the need to regain lost territory, Lebensraum, and protect the Aryan race. The Germans were told that Aryan German would rule the world and its inferior races. NAZI propaganda today sounds to us brutish, evil, and ignorant. Many Germans, however, accepted it. Those that did not soon learned that it was dangerous to express disenting opinions. Some educated older Germans recognized Goebbels' propagaganda for what it was. It was the young people that were most suspectable. They had little of the education and experiences that enabled some older Germans to question NAZI propaganda. An important element of the Hitler Youth was Goebbel's prpaganda. An example here is the experience of one of our German readers--Hans. He was not old enough to join the Hitler Youth, but his grandparents who were critical of the War did not dare be seen as discouraging him from participating.

Appointment

After HItler sized power he made Goebbels Minister of Propaganda and National Enligtenment (1933). Goebbels was not at first pleased with the appointment. He wanted a more important assignment. Hitler correctly identified Goebbells' abilities and foresaw the critical importance of propaganda to remake contentious Weimar Germany.

German Media

Many newspapers, magazines, publishers, and movie studios were privately owned. Germany even during the Imperial period had pne of the livliest press in Europe and during the Weimar period there were very few restrictions on the press.

Establishing Control

Hitler was aware that after 10-years of competing in a free democratic system, that it was impossible to convince the majority of the Germany peole that he was right. To do this, he had to gain control over the German media. NAZI directives and the possibility of arrest and confiment in concentration camps established by Himmler's SS soon gave him virtually complete control over all all German media outlets. This should not be seen as entirely a matter of force. There were many subtle ways this was brought about. Journalists with Communist sympathies were arrested, but many others were brought around with persuasion. Of course the threat of losing ones newspaper or job was a major factor in establishing NAZI control. The ease with which Goebbeks accomplished this was astonishing.

Book Burnings

One of the first actions Goebbels organized was the ritual book burnings across Germany (May 1933). It is startling to think that an academic with a PhD in Germam literature oversaw the book burning campaign. The campaign was launched against art and books with an "un-German spirit". This meant books written by Jews or Marxists, actually the two in the NAZI-mind were inseperable. Also included were authors who wrote anti-war books. Included on the list was Helen Keller's book. There was no room in the Third Reich for the hsndicapped and they would be targeted for elimninatiin even before the Jews. When the book burnings occurred in May, German newspapers now firmly under Goebbels control, triumphantly reported on the events.

Promoting NAZI Ideology

Goebbels was also responsible for regimenting German culture and bringing it into conformity with NAZI ideology. Goebbels effectively used his control of German media to perpetuate NAZI idelology. Here control of the media was vital. Goebbels was able to ensure that no one in Germany could read or here any critism of the Hitler and the NAZIs. At the same time the media was used to put across the NAZI message in a persuasive way. And no one was allowed tio challenge these ideas. Hitler was pictured as an infalable leader. Goebbels also carfully tailored German media to promulgate key NAZI ideas such as regaining lost territory, Lebensraum, military strength, and racial purity. The media trumpted the apparent NAZI successes and the welare activities. The Germans were told that Aryan German should rule the world and its inferior races. The implications of this of course was war, but the Propaganda Ministry assured the German people wjo feared another War that the NAZI miklitary program was a defensive one.

Reich Chamber of Commerce

Goebbels set up the Reich Chamber of Commerce as the principal institution to control German media (1933). Unlike Soviet Russia, German media were privately owned businesses, including companies and private individuals publishing books, magazines, and newspapers as well as radio broadcast stations and movie studios. There were also large numbers of people engaged in art, literature, music, and dance. New decrees requited that companies and individuals involved in any of these areas had to join the Reich Chamber. And the NAZI Party in the person of Propagabda Minister Gebbels decided who could join. Jews were denied membership. Thus Jews involved in any of these activities found themselves denied the ability to pursue their livlihood. Others with known anti-NAZI views like Communidts and Socialists were also denied membership. And without Chamber membership, individuals could not have their work published or performed. Violation was grounds for arrest. This effectively imposed a system of censorship without seizing control of publishers and studios. The companies and individuals involved adopted a form of self censorship out of fear of losing their property or jobs. The Reich Chamber thus played a key role in achiving the NAZI goal of making sure Germans only read or heard what the NAZIs wanted them to read and here. Some Germans understood what was happening. It is difficult to assess public opinion at the time, but the majority seem to have believed what they read in the newspspers. Thus the Gestapo had the relatively simple target of targeting only those on the political margins.

Propaganda Methods

While Goebbels turned his brillance to sinister purposes, there is no doubt that he had a keen understanding of mass psychology. He was an effective orator. It is difficult for non-Germans to understand the almost hypnotic affect that Hitler had on German audiences. Listening to Hitler he doies not seem at all appealing. He of couse was to the Germans and in the NAZI hyerarchy Goebbels as an orator was second only to Hitler. Not only did Goebbels had absolute control over German media, but he had an undeniable flare foir showmanship. His staging of mass meetings and parades was rotinely flawless. Goebbels may well have been the master propagandist of all time. Expers have studies his methods to assess why he was so effective. While much of his effectveness flowed from NAZI control of all media outlets, it must be remembered that he helped the NAZIs compete effectively in the Weimar Republic in which freedom of expression florished.

NAZI Publishing

The NAZIs, upon seizing power, began strictly censorsing what was published in Germany. Books were one of the first casulties of the NAZI regime which organized mass burnings of books written by Jews or expressing "degebnerate, "un-Germkan views. The NAZIs organized Wagnerian spectacles, marching in longlines by torchlight, singing Party songs, and chanting the twelve "theses,"--their manifesto for the "purification" of German literature and thought. The NAZIs proceeded to rewrite German textbooks and unabashedly use schoolbooks for propaganda purposes. They also introduced their major themes into children's books.

NAZI Films

After the NAZI takeover, considerable resources were given to cinema and other media. Lavish resources were provided the industry. Making money was no longer the primary goal For the NAZIs, the primary purpose of the movies was to manipulate popular thought. Technically the movies continued at a high level, but the propoganda element stifiled creativity, There were some powerful films, like Triumph of the Will. Another important production was Hitler Youth Quex. The overall quality of the films declined during the NAZI period. They were still often high quality productions technically. The originality and creativity so imprtant in films was lacking in the NAZI films.

Radio

Radio was a new phenomenon of the 1920s. It quickly became a huge success. The middle-class had radios. German workers, however, earned salaries far below American levels. And German manufacturers generally focused on relatively expensive sets. German companies made high-quality products, but in this amnd other areas were slow to adopt mass production methods. (This would prove to be a weakness in the German war effort after Hitler launched World War II.) Thus many workers did not have radio sets. Goebbels promoted the production and sale of inexpensive radios. This meant that Hitler's speeches and NAZI propaganda could reach every German home. These radios were called the Volksempfänger (People's Receiver) and could be purchased for only 76 marks. And a smaller version was released for only 35 marks. Goebbels also initiated a program of installing loud speakers so that people in the streets could here the Füuhrer's speeches. Businesses such as cafes, bars, and restaurants were ordered to play radios when the Führer spoke. Once the War began and esoecially after the War began to go against German, Hitler's speeches became less and less common.

Nuremberg Rallies


Public Acceptance

NAZI propaganda today sounds to us brutish, evil, and ignorant. Many Germans, however, accepted it. The fervent nationalism struck a cord with many Germans. Those that did not soon learned that it was dangerous to express disenting opinions. Some educated older Germans recognized Goebbels' propagaganda for what it was. It was the young people that were most suspectable. They had little of the education and experiences that enabled some older Germans to question NAZI propaganda. An important element of the Hitler Youth was Goebbel's prpaganda. An example here is the experience of one of our German readers--Hans. He was not old enough to join the Hitler Youth, but his grandparents who were critical of the War did not dare be seen as discouraging him from participating.

Sources

Doob, Leonard W. "Goebbbels' Principles of Propaganda"," Public Opinion and Propaganda (The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues).

Goebbels, Joseph. Diaries.






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Created: 2:10 AM 9/7/2010
Last updated: 2:10 AM 9/7/2010