During World War II, the German population was subjected to Nazi Propaganda, which gradually eroded their judgment and moral values. Hitler and the Nazi party employed propaganda as a means of controlling and manipulating the German people during this period. Propaganda played a pivotal role for Hitler, enabling him to exert dominance over various forms of media such as the press, radio, film, art, and literature (Rhodes 11).
Hitler employed propaganda to mesmerize and sway the German population into believing that his party was the optimal choice for Germany’s future. Rhodes asserts that propaganda served as Hitler’s most potent tool, effectively convincing Germans that the Nazi regime would revive their nation’s excellence. Propaganda exerted such a significant influence in Nazi Germany that an entire governmental department was exclusively devoted to its implementation.
In order to control and monitor the information received by the German population, the German government established a separate division solely responsible for overseeing propaganda. On March 13, Dr. Josef Goebbels was appointed as the leader of this newly created Ministry for Popular Enlightenment according to Rhodes (11). Moreover, Hitler acknowledged Goebbels’ ability to persuade through speech and thus named him as the head of the Party Propaganda department in 1926 (Rhodes 13).
Goebbels possessed a profound understanding of crowd manipulation and what motivated the masses. He also had a keen insight into the desires of the German people, effectively portraying Hitler as the leader they sought through the strategic use of propaganda. According to Rhodes, Goebbels would go on to be recognized as one of the most influential political propagandists in history (12).
Goebbels understood that propaganda was ineffective with intellectuals, as well as the fact that the masses desire a leader who embodies both superior qualities and a common touch. According to Rhodes, Goebbels believed that a modern dictator must simultaneously possess characteristics of a superman and a man of the people – someone who is both distant yet approachable, wise yet uncomplicated, isolated in his elevated position yet willing to engage with the crowd. This multifaceted persona is crucial in shaping the perception of the leader as a heroic figure. Goebbels further contended that “the masses love a commander” (Rhodes 12).
Goebbels utilized propaganda to manipulate public opinion and portray Hitler as a formidable figure. He employed this strategy to deceive the German populace into accepting his desired beliefs, thus suggesting that he believed the population to be gullible. Goebbels further demonstrated his disdain towards the masses despite acknowledging their significance in controlling the state(Winkler 32).
Goebbels understood that by repeatedly presenting the same message to the people, they would eventually be persuaded to believe it. According to Rhodes (10), he famously remarked that “leading the people on a leash is effortless. I simply display a captivating campaign poster, and they obediently follow.”
Goebbels believed that the German people would quickly become supporters of the Nazi Party due to the extensive propaganda campaign. The Party began their propaganda efforts years before the start of World War Two in order to gradually gain control over the population. As early as five years before the War, the Nazis effectively utilized various forms of media such as press, radio, film, and posters to manipulate and organize the masses (Rhodes 11).
The Nazi Party infiltrated the minds of the people with their ideals through various means. According to Rhodes (18), Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry had gained full control over the press, radio, theater, cinema, creative arts, music, writing, and art exhibitions by the onset of World War II. Essentially, they held authority over virtually everything that had a public reach.
Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry understood that if all sources of information consistently conveyed the same message, people would unquestioningly believe it. The idea was that when everything people read, watch, and listen to repeatedly promotes a certain viewpoint, they lose the ability to critically analyze and consider other perspectives. This lack of judgment arises from the absence of alternative reports (Winkler 18).
Throughout Germany, Nazi messages were prominently displayed in various media forms, such as newspapers and press. The Propaganda Ministry, led by Goebbels, held significant power over the press. In fact, during World War II, the ministry’s authority reached its highest point where they provided detailed instructions to newspaper editors across the country on a daily basis. These directives were so specific that they practically wrote the articles themselves (Rhodes 11).
All journalists were under strict surveillance and control by the Propaganda Ministry, led by Joseph Goebbels. The objective was to ensure that newspaper articles aligned with the Nazi Party’s interests. Before the Nazis gained power, there were 4,500 newspapers representing various political perspectives. However, this number had significantly dwindled to only 1,000 by 1939, all of which followed the Party’s ideology (Rhodes 29).
Every newspaper that refused to be reviewed by the Nazi Party was closed down to ensure complete control over the information that reached the people. Adolf Hitler specifically entrusted Joseph Goebbels with overseeing all forms of media, including the film industry. Recognizing the immense influence of cinema, the Nazis compelled all personnel involved in filmmaking, such as actors, directors, electricians, and cameramen, to pledge their loyalty to the Fuhrer without delay (Rhodes 19).
All scripts underwent review by the Propaganda Ministry prior to their production and adaptation into a film. The vast majority of these movies were required to not only gain approval from the Propaganda Ministry, but also revolve around a Nazi theme. Many films were centered around war narratives, showcasing heroic soldiers battling against adversaries and either achieving victory in war or exhibiting honorable defeat in combat. These movies served as a tool to demonstrate to the public the righteousness of war and the acceptability of sacrificing one’s life in combat. The film industry served as an effective medium through which the Nazi ideology could be conveyed to the population, as it was wrapped in an appealing story format. As Rhodes notes, “The Propaganda Ministry further controlled the content of foreign films through censorship” (20).
The film “Jud Suss” was an anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews in the Middle Ages. It depicted a “crooked-nosed” Jew who coerces a German woman into having relations with him under threat of harm to her husband. In the film’s conclusion, the woman tragically takes her own life, while the Jew is executed by hanging. A German critic described the Jew’s hanging as a “joyous crescendo.” (Rhodes 20)
By portraying a message that demonizes Jews and justifies violence against them, the Nazi Party sought to shape public opinion through movies. In this manner, they systematically undermined the Jewish community, tarnishing their reputation and stripping them of their dignity. Moreover, the Propaganda Ministry exploited the cinema industry to specifically target German youth. According to Baird (22), “Goebbels’ propagandists found the youth an easy prey,” as they believed that the younger generation would be particularly susceptible to ideological manipulation. Rhodes (21) also emphasizes that indoctrinating the young was a primary objective, highlighting the cinema’s pivotal role in this process.
They brought many children to movie theaters to watch propaganda films about war. Karl Ritter, a fanatic Nazi and film director, celebrated death in battle in his films (Rhodes 21). The goal was to educate the children that the individual is not important; what truly matters is the country as a whole. Ritter himself stated, “my films all focus on the insignificance of the individual… anything personal pales in comparison to the Cause” (Rhodes 21).
The films had a profound effect on Germany’s unity and its desire for global domination. Many members of the Hitler Youth, who were required to watch these films in large numbers, later became prisoners of war. When questioned by the Allies, they acknowledged the deep impact these films had on their mindset. Their indoctrination was so extreme that they blindly followed their leader when war began. If Germany had won World War II, these young individuals could have remained under the influence of a system created and perfected by Goebbels throughout their entire lives.
Little did they know, the ideas in their heads were implanted by a movie producer many years ago. Rhodes (22) explains that, along with cinema, posters played a crucial part in the Nazi’s rise to power as visual propaganda. The use of posters allowed them to effectively communicate messages to the general public.
In Germany, there were numerous large posters of Hitler portraying him as strong and powerful. These posters also depicted young German boys in Nazi uniform assisting Hitler in his efforts to improve Germany. According to Rhodes (22), Goebbels’ propagandists recognized the power of visual impressions, as people tend to remember pictures more than newspaper articles, especially when they are repeatedly exposed to them and their message is clear. This is why they chose to create simplistic posters.
The poster’s message was meant to be immediately understood by everyone. The poster was impossible to avoid, unlike pamphlets, newspapers, the radio, political meetings, and even the cinema. As everyone walks on the streets at some point, they cannot escape the message portrayed by the poster (Rhodes 22).
Goebbels aimed to fully immerse the population in Nazi culture, leading them to forsake their own thoughts and values. Additionally, he effectively employed the radio as a propaganda tool within Germany. According to Rhodes (28), the radio became the primary medium for disseminating propaganda, serving as a direct means of communication with the people and fostering a sense of belonging. Furthermore, live broadcasts of Nazi rallies were aired on the radio, allowing individuals who couldn’t attend in person to still feel included from their homes. As Goebbels once stated, quoted by Rhodes (26), the impact of radio on 20th-century society would be akin to that of newspapers in the 19th century.
Every evening, hundreds of Germans were subjected to propaganda filled with Nazi ideologies. In his first year, Hitler delivered more than fifty significant speeches at meetings and rallies, rather than through studio broadcasts. By doing so, the listeners at home could experience the atmosphere of the rallies themselves. The Propaganda Ministry placed great importance on utilizing the radio as a propaganda tool. To ensure wider access, they appointed a “radio warden” for every block of houses or apartment buildings. These Party members would encourage their neighbors without radios to purchase one, often providing them with financial assistance. Thus, they could either listen to important speeches in their own homes or at the homes of friends.
The warden played a crucial role in providing Hitler and the Nazis with immediate feedback on their rallies. They would send regular reports documenting the peoples’ reactions to the broadcasts, allowing Goebbels to determine what was supported and disapproved of by the people at home. As the war progressed, the radio warden’s significance grew as they also reported on individuals who listened to foreign broadcasts.
Under Hitler’s regime, the Propaganda Ministry, led by Goebbels, closely monitored radio broadcasts to prevent Germans from accessing foreign programs and being informed about actual global events. Hitler deliberately isolated the German population, leading to a distorted presentation of the war. The news they received was heavily influenced and manipulated through propaganda.
Other forms of propaganda were not as similar as those listed above. Propaganda conveyed through literature, for instance, was not widely embraced. Literature, being a medium of intellectual expression, primarily appealed to the intellects of the nation. “Literature is addressed primarily to the intellect and has little mass appeal” (Rhodes 29). Thus, Goebbels did not have to put as much emphasis on altering German literature. This is because literature did not have the same reach as a radio broadcast, a newspaper article, a movie, or a street poster.
Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry effectively employed propaganda to manipulate the German population, ensuring its widespread dissemination through various mediums such as newspapers, radio broadcasts, movies, and posters. Goebbels diligently ensured that every individual had the opportunity to view and hear his propagandistic messages. Their relentless efforts aimed at maximizing the reach of their propaganda campaign.