Propaganda in Nazi Germany
The success of propaganda in Nazi Germany is an are of intense debate. The variety of propaganda used makes judgement of overall success challenging as different methods worked with varying degrees of efficiency. Geoff Walsh insists on the success of the Hitler Myth, yet, Tim Mason asserts that blue collar workers heavily resisted Nazi indoctrination. This highlights how predisposition to conform to Nazi ideals affects the response of different societal groups to the regime.
Whilst Walsh is correct in asserting the importance of Hitler’s Cult of Personality, many other forms of propaganda proved far less effective at changing the convictions of the German people. Propaganda proved highly effective at exacerbating pre-existing prejudices and legitimising underlying beliefs, nonetheless, propaganda would not have been able to instil Nazi ideology without the peoples’ inclination to believe it. For this reason the most effective propaganda targeted the young youth as they were most easily inculcated with their new, extreme ideas.
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Overall , Nazi propaganda encouraged acceptance of the state, yet, its failure to create true conviction undermines its final success. From the start of their political campaign until the end of the war in 1945, the Nazi’s use of new technologies in propaganda gave them significant advantages over rival parties. As part of the 1932 Flight over Germany campaign, Hitler used the party aeroplane to deliver three speeches a day in different locations. This not only enabled him to address more people than his opposition, but also increased the speed of Nazi idea propagation.
Innovative use of modern technology clearly distinguished the party from their 30 or so competitors. Nevertheless, following their rise to power, the effectiveness of these methods decreased rapidly. His use of radio clearly illustrates how many propaganda policies proved to be counterproductive at times. Whilst Hitler’s mass rallies and speeches were tailored to an audience interested in politics, the radio broadcasts reached people who had no desire to engage in ideological debates.
By forcing politics on the people they were reducing their desire to accept it. Hence, subliminal messaging, such as programmes glorifying arian families, proved to be more effective than the evening political broadcasts that alienated many. Whilst the decision to introduce the Volksempfanger, or people’s radio, proved to be popular, overemphasis on the political, such as the Nuremberg rallies, most certainly was not. Although 2. 7 million Volksempfangers were sold pre 1937, this is an indicator of the desire for entertainment not of support for the regime.
In reality, the state’s presence in the home had an unforeseen consequence of encouraging their policies’ rejection; a phenomenon also observed in Nazi use of film. Openly political propaganda, such as the 1938 film Olympia, saw its popularity decline significantly during Hitler’s time in power. The release of the Eternal Jew in 1940 proved to be a box office disaster implying that the state had gone too far. As Evans correctly asserts “a constant of diet of speeches an exhortation had already led to widespread indifference to Nazi propaganda before the war”.
By contrast, Nazi attempts at reeducation resulted in a few resounding successes, most notably the embracing of the Hitler Myth. The most important contributor in this domaine was the emphasis that Hitler and the Nazis placed on indoctrinating the “beautiful youth”. National curriculum focused on identifying racial outsiders, encouraging anti-semitic ideas and promoting gender roles so that later children could fulfil their duties to the state. Flagrantly racist publications such as the “Poisonous Mushroom” became common place in order to encourage conviction from a young age.
Arguably Hitler’s youth groups, such as the BDM, for girls, and the HJ, for boys, were the most extreme versions of Nazi propaganda as the children were forced in to experiencing a small scale construction of a National Socialist world. Whilst this may have been met with cynicism by older adolescents, young children would grow up perceiving Nazism as the norm. Although evidence suggests that population of these groups declined following their compulsory introduction in 1939, they created an understanding of the regime that would later facilitate growth of political conviction.
The level of belief that the Nazis sought was only truly achieved in their propagation of the Hitler Myth. By the mid 30’s, films such as the 1933 Triumph of the Will caused Hitler’s approval rate to soar to 90%. Hitler’s use of a personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, ensured that his image as national unifier or Furherprincip was controlled. Out of all of all of Nazism’s aims, the elevation of Hitler was undoubtedly the most successful.
Ironically, it proved so successful that it contributed to the loss of the war as unadulterated belief in Hitler prevented any strategic flexibility. This proves that, unlike many methods of propaganda, Hitler’s image remained potent until the end of the war. However, it was Nazi control of press and publications that exemplifies the overall success of propaganda; whilst the Nazis came up with original ideas, they were fundamentally able to instil conviction in the regime when it did not align with the individual’s beliefs.
Theoretically the party had total control following the Reich Editor’s Law of 1933, yet liberal remnants of Weimar mentality could not be wholly undone. Goebbels, as head of propaganda, divided the country up into Gau, in which each Ort was to have a specific propaganda budget. Theoretically, this Nazi structure enabled them to specifically target propaganda publications to specific groups in society. To the wealthy, they were able to offer protection from communism, whereas to the working class, Hitler promised the creation of a Volksgemeinschaft, or people’s community.
Even so, Mason justly observes that the working class were far from convinced; policies such as the Eintopf meals proved to be highly unpopular as it undermined their independence. This implies that people did not believe propaganda when it was in contention with their own experiences. The state never managed to inculcate belief in National Socialism as they underestimated the ability of the individual to contrast the regime’s projected images with their own experiences. The weight of evidence suggest that as the German people became habituated to propaganda its effectiveness decreased.
However when judging success it must be considered that the party changed their aim from attempting to achieve conviction to attempting to achieve conformity. Hitler realised that creating true faith in the regime was impossible over such a short time frame. Consequently, he shifted the party’s goal to ensure that the population would comply with, if not endorse, his changes. This pragmatic response is undoubtedly a symptom of the pressures of war preparation. Their ideological agenda had to be scaled back in order to maximise the probability of a German victory.
Resultantly, propaganda’s success actually improved; Hitler came closer to achieving his aims when his aims became less ambitious. It is also apparent that propaganda proved most effective when it aligned itself with the views of the individual. Consequently, when it targeted children who did not know otherwise or the middle classes who feared socialism, it proved most effective. Overall, whilst propaganda yielded good results, it was by no means the all encompassing route to Nazi conviction that Hitler and Goebbels had hoped it to be.