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The Nazi Blindfold: Nazi Propaganda in Germany

It is the year 1933 and Germany is doing great once again. The Nazis have held true to their promise of repairing both Germany’s economy as well as their national pride. It seems like everything is going well despite the impending war. Although it looks that way evil is lurking behind the scenes of everyday life in the country. Before the eyes of the citizens of Germany rests a blindfold, carefully tied by the Nazi party to keep the true terror of the war a secret- the true terror of their intentions a secret. Every book, every television show, every radio program and all other forms of media were all meant to spoon-feed German citizens with a pro-Nazi message intricately designed by Adolf Hitler and fellow party members. Slowly but surely the Nazis would rise to the position of ultimate power before a brainwashed Germany. Through this propaganda aimed at the common citizen, children, and German soldiers the Nazi party was able to gain both the power and support they needed to take over Germany.

Propaganda put in its most simple terms it is the usage of imagery and words to reach a goal. Most propaganda is viewed as meant to deceive, mislead and confuse a people into believing one’s scheme. Everything is factored into propaganda to carefully design a brainwashing medium. Propaganda is most often seen in certain mediums including film, television programming, speeches, books, magazines, newspapers, posters, advertisements, and rumors. It generally is meant to evoke both emotion and reason in a person. When both come together it generally presents an internal conflict and makes people more susceptible to new information.[1] The Nazis were able to master the art of propaganda and utilize it.

Nazi propaganda was intended to unite all Germanic people throughout Europe for a common cause- support of the Nazi party.[2] Through carefully manipulated newspapers, books, radio programs, posters, advertisements, magazines, and television shows the Nazis were able to instill their beliefs upon German citizens throughout the world, but mainly those in Germany.[3] Propaganda was not just meant to make citizens support the party through common ideals but also through fear. By using both types of propaganda, the Nazis were able to be quite successful in manipulating German citizens.

When Hitler rose to power in Germany he planned his ascent well, taking the legal avenue which not only maximized his presence but made it possible to use less force in the long run.[4] He took advantage of both his powerful public presence, as well as his affiliation with the Nazi Party. According to Gordon Craig, Hitler had “political genius” as well as a great sense of timing, confidence, and an impressive presence.[5] He knew each one of his strengths very well. For example, through his mastery of public speaking, Hitler was able to capture a crowd and rally support.[6]

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-1989-0821-502,_Joseph_Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels

Hitler had big plans for Germany and his vision just so happened to draw the support of Joseph Goebbels, a powerful propaganda strategist.[7] Goebbels became the head of Hitler’s Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda and was responsible for most of the distribution and creation of Nazi propaganda, including deeming whether or not it was fit to be used in the support of the party.[8] Everything was factored into the creation of their propaganda, including the iconic and bold reds, dark blacks, grays and whites used in many of their posters. These colors not only created a striking appearance but also caught attention and stood out. Goebbels and Hitler both knew much about propaganda and how it had to be applied on a massive scale in order for it to be effective. Goebbels thought that propaganda was like the oil for a well-run machine and that machine was the German state.[9] Luckily through the organization of the Nazi party distributing, it on such a scale became an easy task.

CITIZENS OF THE REICH

Most Nazi propaganda was aimed at the common citizen including many working-class families. After the loss of World War I Germany’s morale and economy were both at an all-time low.[10] The Nazi party took advantage of this and used the impressionable citizens as a platform to grow their party from. They promised to help a downtrodden Germany and bring her back to her former glory.[11] After winning the election they seemed to keep true to their promises as well, making German citizens very happy. The golden years of the Nazi party were when the ministry was pumping out their best and most attractive propaganda yet, making Goebbels incredibly successful and indispensable to the party.[12]

Patriotic events like parades and rallies were frequent in Germany and led by the Nazi party, helping raise morale and rally national support with showy celebrations, but the biggest show of all came in 1936.[13] The 1936 Summer Olympics was one of the Nazi’s best chances to show off and put on a good image of the “New Germany.” During the opening ceremonies of the game, Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Shirach welcomed guests with a short greeting, “We, the youth of Germany, we, the youth of Adolf Hitler, greet you, the youth of the world.”[14]  This quote sets the tone for a whole series of impressive welcoming displays from Germany that were meant to show that nobody could put on a better show than the Nazis. From their impressive Olympic complex to their talented all-Aryan athletes, the Nazis knew exactly what to do to make their country look like a shining success.

Berlin_1936_olympiaden
Gustaf Adolf, Hitler & Göring at the 1936 Olympics

Ritual was a very important part of the Berlin Olympics and was meant to have a propagandistic effect.[15] Nazi party members, as well as citizens of the city of Berlin, gave the Olympic athletes red-carpet treatment. The German airship, the Hindenburg, flew back and forth over the stadium as a sign of both Germany’s inventive genius, as well as national pride. Impressive scores of music and performances, including an Olympic hymn by Richard Strauss himself, were all displayed with great organization and rigor.[16] Visitors to Berlin to view the Olympics had plenty to do when not watching the games as well. All over Berlin, there were cultural events, galleries, and exhibits that promoted the party and Germany.[17] By the end of the Olympics, the Nazis considered the event a huge victory overall. The country’s morale was at an all-time high, tourists left feeling good about their trip, and the reviews of the Nazi complex and athlete housing were raving about the lavishness of it all.[18] The victory helped the Nazi party exhibit the power of their new and improved Germany.

Olympia-Kanone_1936
Walter Bruch recording the 1936 Olympics

Among one of their more impressive varieties of propaganda was television programming. German television under the Reich was on air for nine years.[19] In the beginning, Nazi television was broadcast live for about four hours a day.[20] When it was first starting out not many people were able to afford televisions and instead viewed their favorite programs at T.V. parlors. Every day people would gather around the television to watch the newest T.V. show or news report.[21] By broadcasting current events as well, viewers were made to feel well informed about their country’s happenings. It was during the 1936 Summer Olympics that the Nazi party had their first real chance to show off their programming. Views skyrocketed as the Nazi party broadcast the event live and the nation was filled with a sense of pride.[22]

After their large success, the Nazis began to develop a wider variety of programming, made to appeal to everyone. The programs included shows about arts and crafts, cooking, hunting, politics, and many more topics to entertain the average viewer. Every single show, however, was carefully censored and contained one or more pro-Nazi messages in it.[23] During musical programs, Nazi party songs were sung by charming young men and docile young women. Programs about everyday life included many Nazi ideals in them. Celebrities even came on T.V. quite often to show their support for the Fuhrer, who was treated like a celebrity himself. Cleverly phrased metaphors often passed on anti-Semitic messages or information about the so-called “Jewish Conspiracy” and T.V. hosts always said, “Heil Hitler!” at the beginning and end of each program as if it were a greeting.[24]

Along with German television, the Nazis had another form of media at their disposal, that of radio. German radio programs were also popular among the people and censored much in the same way television was at the time. Joseph Goebbels thought “what the press was to the nineteenth century, radio will be to the twentieth”, making mastering the medium a must for the propaganda ministry.[25] Dr. Adolf Raskin, one of the men working under Goebbels for broadcasting, made it clear that the radio propaganda was all meant to fit in with the idea of German race, blood, and nation.[26] By 1936 it was clear that the Germans had managed to create a radio broadcasting system that rivaled all other counties at the time. The Nazis managed to secure some of the best technology and were well staffed with loyal party members.[27]

In Germany, anti-war material in any medium was banned and propaganda that supported war and loyal heroism were distributed in their place. Everywhere the average citizen turned, one-sided information was at their disposal, while all the opposing material was hidden away or burned. Pleasant posters asking for donations to “help build youth hostels and homes” were plastered on walls while in reality, the money was going toward preparations for the war.[28] Propaganda under the Reich went so far as to single out certain groups of people and idolize them, not only making other people see them as important but giving these people a boost of self-confidence as well. Some of these groups included farmers and workers and mothers- all advertised as important roles in German society.[29]Kinder, kuche, kirche” was a common saying describing the duties of a woman as children, kitchen, and church. Women who had at least four children were even given a medal called the Mother’s Cross every year on Hitler’s mother’s birthday.[30] These ideals for women kept them uninvolved in politics and busy with their so-called duties.

Mutter mit Kindern
German mother with her children c.1933

Nazis were even able to put many of their ideals in German churches through anti-Semitic sermons fed to church-goers every Sunday. These sermons focused on messages about “blood and race”.[31]  Hitler believed that churches needed to be carefully monitored just like any other potential threat to their party’s message due to the fact that churches were very important to everyday German culture and life.[32] The Nazi party accomplished this by not only threatening clergymen and other people involved with the church, but also by creating their own church called the “Reich Church.” The traditional crucifixes of the church were replaced with portraits of Hitler. These churches, however, were not so much filled with the teachings of God as they were filled with the teachings of the Nazis. Many pastors praised the party and Hitler’s messages as a national and religious renewal.[33] It seems impossible now to escalate anyone from our government to that same god-like position that Hitler had, but the Nazis managed to make the transition almost flawlessly by eliminating many of the other options people had. Nazis were at war with the Catholic and Bavarian Protestant church from the start due to the fact that they objected to many of their ideals and teachings.[34] When the Nazi Party’s power had grown enough, they were able to combat this by bribing or arresting clergy members and commandeering churches’ land.[35] To Christians throughout Germany, it seemed like the Nazi Party’s teachings were God’s will.

Since anti-Semitism was already fairly common among citizens it was also easier for the Nazis to build off that platform and instill even more extreme views onto the people.[36] Every day Germans were fed information about the Jews being the inferior race and how the Germans were the master Aryan race. Inferior treatment of the Jews, as well as other persecuted groups including anyone of non-German descent, homosexuals, and the disabled, were able to be spun as a part of everyday life.[37]

CHILDREN OF GERMANY

The Nazi party was also quick to produce propaganda aimed at German children of all ages and was known as a party of the youth.[38] Aside from family television programming, the Nazi party put their ideas into schools, the home, and youth groups, like the Hitler Youth. Goebbels was one of the first to realize the powerful effect linking the Ministry of Education and the Propaganda Ministry would have.[39] Because of this attitude, the Nazi party was very aware of how impressionable children were and were determined to raise loyal citizens from a very young age.

Young people were constantly exposed to this kind of ideology. Nazi propaganda even reached into the classroom and started as early as kindergarten. Children were taught proper National Socialist ideology and how to behave at home. Sometimes their teachers even made home visits with their parents to make sure their education was continuing at home.[40] In schooling at all ages, teachers gave anti-Semitic lectures and taught children to be obedient and to follow the Fuhrer and party no matter what. Educational films were shown, usually documentary style, that discussed ideals like German freedom and expansion under the guise of geography and history.[41] It was exposure like this that began to create a new pro-Nazi generation.

Hitler-Jugend_(1933)
Colored image of Hitler Youth c.1933

The Hitler Youth was the main way the Nazi party reached out to German youth. This party run organization was much like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts to German children. Though membership was originally optional it became required after 1939.[42] The Hitler Youth boasted six million German citizens under the age of 18 as members.[43] The Hitler Youth was created to teach children to be strong, brave, loyal, and obedient to their country while instilling the ideals and thoughts of the Nazi party into their heads.[44]

Young girls went camping and learned homemaking skills during their meets. They also played organized sports and were taught how to be good future mothers. These teachings were meant to keep them busy throughout their life, so they would be dissuaded from ever pursuing a career. Both genders participated in events where they got to meet Nazi party members who talked to them about the importance of their lessons through the Hitler Youth. When the Hitler Youth finally wrapped up it was considered an almost too successful venture for the Nazi party. So many members were enrolled that the organization had a hard time dealing with such a large number of children.[45]

Children’s most crucial role in Nazi Germany however, was the message they took home to their parents and other adults. Children were encouraged to tattle on anyone who said anything against the Fuhrer, the war, or the Nazi party as well as anyone who supported the Jews.[46] The party used them almost like spies. Children that were members of the Hitler Youth were even given small portraits of Hitler to hang on their walls at home.[47] This made parents that did not support the Nazi party’s ideals fearful. If they did not support the party their own children may have turned against them and ratted them out to the Nazis. The children who were once many parent’s source of happiness were now a source of constant fear.

Many of the children raised on Nazi ideology were also a later generation of soldiers, going off to fight in the war. From the beginning, the order and direction of the Nazi party’s German army attracted many young men who sought order in their life to join its ranks. Others joined for the sense of adventure, and others yet for the cause while some simply needed the job.[48]

SOLDIERS OF THE WAR

Propaganda was what really helped the soldiers of Germany into the right mindset, thoroughly convincing many that they were truly the superior race and fighting to protect their country. Even soldiers not of the Nazi party were often convinced that they were fighting for the noble cause of defending their country.[49] A Nazi party endorsed anti-Semitic newspaper called the Der Sturmer was given free to all soldiers as well.[50] National Socialist Leadership Officers were officials sent to the front lines to give informal lectures and pep talks meant to both boost soldier morale as well as hype them up in support of the cause.[51]

Auszeichnung des Hitlerjungen Willi Hübner
Goebbels awarding 16-year-old Willi Hübner the Iron Cross

Hitler gave a speech to his army on December 11th of 1941 when they declared war against the United States of America. In his speech, he convinced German soldiers that though they may be killed they will never be forgotten for their sacrifice to Germany. Hitler even addressed President Roosevelt’s refusal of Germany’s kindness and diplomacy as well, claiming he was trying to rile up his people to support the war in America. The German people watched this impassioned speech and felt as a country they must stay united. For better or for worse the German army had been brought together to defend their country against the enemy.[52]

Der_stuermer_logo
Der Sturmer logo

Killing the “enemy” was viewed as a heroic act, rewarded by the Nazi party and encouraged to be shown-off. That view is supported by this fragment of a letter, written by an unknown German soldier:

Can you receive Belgrade with your radio; every evening they broadcast German news at eight and 10 p.m.? Maybe you will have a chance to hear it. But don’t be shocked if the number of executed Jews and Communists happens to be announced. They are listed daily at the end of the news. Today a record was set! This morning one hundred and twenty two Communists and Jews were executed by us in Belgrade.[53]

From this, it’s easy to draw that soldiers felt that killing the enemy was for the greater good of Germany, and with the reward of being recognized, soldiers were encouraged even more.

The German army was also very good at trying to save face with soldiers who had seen the terrors of the war they were fighting. Soldiers were encouraged to go to their commanding officers and report to them if they no longer believed they were able to fight. When a soldier was deemed psychologically unfit he was relieved of his duty and sent back home to do another, less stressful line of work. Although this process seemed kind on its facade it was just to keep German soldiers from snapping and possibly shooting their comrades and wasting valuable supplies[54].

Though some may argue that the Nazi’s expertise in military was their true key to success, that isn’t the case. Though the Nazis had a strong military, without winning the support of the people they would have never been able to come to power. Every form of information was controlled- from books to movies, radio to television, magazines to the spoken word. German citizens were living in a controlled environment designed and meant to filter out anything that may challenge the Nazi party’s ideals. It was brainwashing and those who weren’t blindfolded and ignorant to the true horror of the Reich were controlled by their fear. Through the effects of propaganda, the Nazi government was able to gain the support they needed in taking over Germany- and from support comes power. When the war ended and Germany lost, it became quite apparent to the German people that they had been controlled by their consumption of biased media. Propaganda has the power to sway, to control, and to mislead a people and the Nazi Party employed their techniques upon Germany resulting in her takeover.

SOURCES

  • [1] Z.A.B. Zeman, Nazi Propaganda (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 11.
  • [2] Cherese Cartlidge and Charles Clark, Life of a Nazi Solider (San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001), 9.
  • [3] Ibid. 56
  • [4] Nathan Stoltfuz, Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 24.
  • [5] Alex Woolf, Nazi Germany (London: Hodder Wayland, 2004), 7.
  • [6]Z.A.B. Zeman, Nazi Propaganda (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 32.
  • [7] David Welch, Nazi Propaganda: The Powers and Limitations (Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983), 3.
  • [8] Ibid. 29.
  • [9] Ibid. 29-31.
  • [10] Alex Woolf, Nazi Germany (London: Hodder Wayland, 2004), 6.
  • [11] Ilse Koehn, Mischling, Second Degree (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1977), 20.
  • [12] David Welch, Nazi Propaganda: The Powers and Limitations (Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983), 39.
  • [13] Z.A.B. Zeman, Nazi Propaganda (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 8-9.
  • [14] David Clay Large, Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936 (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 192.
  • [15] Ibid. 190.
  • [16] Ibid. 195-196.
  • [17] Ibid. 203-205.
  • [18] Ibid. 202.
  • [19] Television Under the Swastika, directed by Michael Kloft (1999; CA: First Run Features), DVD.
  • [20] Ibid.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Ibid.
  • [23] Ibid.
  • [24] Ibid.
  • [25] Horst J.P. Bergmeier and Rainer E. Lotz, Hitler’s Airwaves: The Inside Story of Nazi Radio Broadcasting and Propaganda Swing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 6.
  • [26] Ibid. 6-7.
  • [27]  Ibid. 7-8.
  • [28] Linda Jacobs Altman, The Holocaust, Hitler, and Nazi Germany (Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 1999), 22.
  • [29] Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda The Art of Persuasion: World War II (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1976), 12.
  • [30] Linda Jacobs Altman, The Holocaust, Hitler, and Nazi Germany (Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 1999), 28.
  • [31] Nathan Stoltfuz, Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 55.
  • [32] Ibid. 79.
  • [33] Ibid. 55.
  • [34] Ibid. 68.
  • [35] Ibid. 69.
  • [36] Cherese Cartlidge and Charles Clark, Life of a Nazi Solider (San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001), 54.
  • [37] Nathan Stoltfuz, Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 20.
  • [38] David Welch, Nazi Propaganda: The Powers and Limitations (Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983), 65.
  • [39] Ibid. 69.
  • [40] Nathan Stoltfuz, Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 83.
  • [41] David Welch, Nazi Propaganda: The Powers and Limitations (Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983), 66-69.
  • [42] Ibid. 72.
  • [43] Ibid. 72.
  • [44] Ibid. 72.
  • [45] Linda Jacobs Altman, The Holocaust, Hitler, and Nazi Germany (Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 1999), 31.
  • [46] Ibid. 30-33.
  • [47] Ibid. 33.
  • [48] Tom Streissguth, Adolf Eichmann (Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 2005), 20.
  • [49] Cherese Cartlidge and Charles Clark, Life of a Nazi Solider (San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001), 9.
  • [50] Ibid. 54.
  • [51] Ibid. 56.
  • [52]  Adolf Hitler, “Speech Declaring War Against the United States” (December 11, 1941).
  • [53] Cherese Cartlidge and Charles Clark, Life of a Nazi Solider (San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001), 56.
  • [54] Ibid. 57.

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