“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.
It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels
By the time Nazism arose in Germany in the 1930s, anti-Semitism was nothing new — not by a long shot. The Jewish people had suffered a long history of prejudice and persecution. And although Nazis perpetuated centuries-old lies, this time those lies would have their most devastating effects. Like never before, anti-Semitism was manifested in a sweeping national policy known as “the Final Solution,” which sought to eliminate Jews from the face of the Earth.
To accomplish this, Adolf Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, launched a massive campaign to convince the German people that the Jews were their enemies. Having taken over the press, they spread lies blaming Jews for all of Germany’s problems, including the loss of World War I. One outrageous lie dating back to the Middle Ages claimed that Jews engaged in the ritual killings of Christian children and used their blood in the unleavened bread eaten at Passover
Using Jews as the scapegoat, Hitler and his cronies orchestrated what they called “the big lie.” This theory states that no matter how big the lie is (or more precisely, because it’s so big), people will believe it if you repeat it enough. Everyone tells small lies, Hitler reasoned, but few have the guts to tell colossal lies
. Because a big lie is so unlikely, people will come to accept it.
Propaganda within Nazi Germany was taken to a new and frequently perverse level. Hitlerwas very aware of the value of good propaganda and he appointed Joseph Goebbels as head of propaganda.
Propaganda is the art of persuasion – persuading others that your ‘side of the story’ is correct. Propaganda might take the form of persuading others that your military might is too great to be challenged; that your political might within a nation is too great or popular to challenge etc. In Nazi Germany, Dr Joseph Goebbels was in charge of propaganda. Goebbels official title was Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment.
As Minister of Enlightenment, Goebbels had two main tasks:
to ensure nobody in Germany could read or see anything that was hostile or damaging to the Nazi Party.
to ensure that the views of the Nazis were put across in the most persuasive manner possible.
To ensure success, Goebbels had to work with the SS and Gestapo and Albert Speer. The former hunted out those who might produce articles defamatory to the Nazis and Hitler while Speer helped Goebbels with public displays of propaganda.
To ensure that everybody thought in the correct manner, Goebbels set up the Reich Chamber of Commerce in 1933. This organisation dealt with literature, art, music, radio, film, newspapers etc. To produce anything that was in these groups, you had to be a member of the Reich Chamber. The Nazi Party decided if you had the right credentials to be a member. Any person who was not admitted was not allowed to have any work published or performed. Disobedience brought with it severe punishments. As a result of this policy, Nazi Germany introduced a system of censorship. You could only read, see and hear what the Nazis wanted you to read, see and hear. In this way, if you believed what you were told, the Nazi leaders logically assumed that opposition to their rule would be very small and practiced only by those on the very extreme who would be easy to catch.
Hitler came to power in January 1933. By May 1933, the Nazi Party felt sufficiently strong to publicly demonstrate where their beliefs were going when Goebbelsorganised the first of the infamous book burning episodes. Books that did not match the Nazi ideal was burnt in public – loyal Nazis ransacked libraries to remove the ‘offending’ books. “Where one burns books, one eventually burns people” commented the author Brecht.
The same approach was used in films. The Nazis controlled film production. Films released to the public concentrated on certain issues : the Jews; the greatness of Hitler; the way of life for a true Nazi especially children, and as World War Twoapproached, how badly Germans who lived in countries in Eastern Europe were treated. Leni Riefenstahl was given a free hand in producing Nazi propaganda films. A young film producer, she had impressed Hitler with her ability. It was Riefenstahl who made “Triumph of Will” – considered one of the greatest of propaganda films despite its contents.
What was seen in the cinemas was controlled. “Hitlerjunge Quex” was made in 1933. This film told the story of a boy brought up in a communist family in Germany who broke away from this background, joined the Hitler Youth and was murdered by the Communists in Germany for doing so. “The Eternal Jew” was a film that vilified the Jews – comparing the Jews in Europe to a hoard of rats, spreading disease etc. “Tarzan” films were banned because the Nazis frowned on so little clothing being worn especially by women. One film that celebrated the might of the German Navy was not screened as it showed a drunken German sailor. However, the cinemas were not full of serious films with a political message. Goebbels ordered that many comedies should be made to give Germany a ‘lighter’ look.
The ensure that everybody could hear Hitler speak, Goebbels organised the sale of cheap radios. these were called the “People’s Receiver” and they cost only 76 marks. A smaller version cost just 35 marks. Goebbels believed that if Hitler was to give speeches, the people should be able to hear him. Loud speakers were put up in streets so that people could not avoid any speeches by the Fuhrer. Cafes and other such properties were ordered to play in public speeches by Hitler.
Goebbels and his skill at masterminding propaganda is best remembered for his night time displays at Nuremberg. Here, he and Speer, organised rallies that were designed to show to the world the might of the Nazi nation. In August of each year, huge rallies were held at Nuremberg. Arenas to hold 400,000 people were built. In the famous night time displays, 150 search lights surrounded the main arena and were lit up vertically into the night sky. Their light could be seen over 100 kilometres away in what a British politician, Sir Neville Henderson, called a “cathedral of light”.
Part of the Nuremberg Stadium’s “Cathedral of Light”
Why was so much effort put into propaganda?
At no time up to 1933, did the Nazi Party win a majority of votes at elections. They may have been the largest political party in 1933, but they did not have a majority of support among the people. Therefore, those who had supported the Nazis needed to be informed on how correct their choice was with an emphasis on the strength of the party and the leadership. Those who opposed the Nazi Party had to be convinced that it was pointless continuing with their opposition. The fact that Goebbels had so much power is indicative of how important Hitler thought it was to ensure that the people were won over or intimidated into accepting Nazi rule.
“The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it.” Goebbels
“Propaganda is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. If the means achieves the end then the means is good………the new Ministry has no other aim than to unite the nation behind the ideal of the national revolution.”