Joseph Goebbels

The Nazi propaganda master

Joseph Goebbels was Adolf Hitler's right-hand man for propaganda from the Nazi party's early years to the end of World War 2. His innovative talent and mastery of all forms of propaganda and media played a key role in the Nazis political rise to power, and then, as the minister of propaganda, he dominated the emotions and thoughts of all Germans in every aspect of life and every day for 12 years, constantly pushing the racist Nazi ideology into their minds.

Frustrated author

When Joseph Goebbels graduated from high school in 1917, it was at the height of World War 1, but since he had a deformed right foot and walked with a limp, he was rejected by the German army. Instead of fighting, he studied literature and history during and after the war, and earned his doctorate in 1921. He wanted to become an author, but the book and plays that he published were not successful, and he worked for a living as a journalist and as a bank clerk. During the 1923 German hyper-inflation crisis, he lost his job at the bank, and like millions of other Germans then, the combination of personal, economical, and national frustrations, pushed him to political awareness and activity.

In 1924, following Adolf Hitler's highly publicized political trial and short imprisonment, which Hitler used well for his own propaganda, Goebbels was attracted by Hitler's charisma, character, and ideology, and joined the still small Nazi party as member number 8762. He was given a job, doing journalistic, public relations, and secretarial work for Gregor Strasser, then the party's chief in northern Germany, while most of the young party's electoral base was still in Bavaria in southern Germany. When the party became ideologically divided between Hitler and Strasser, Hitler, in an effort to dissolve Strasser's support, invited Goebbels and two others to a personal meeting, in which Goebbels was totally persuaded by Hitler and became his devout loyalist for the rest of his life, considering Hitler a genius, a leader, and a great man.

Party propaganda chief

Hitler, who was himself a gifted public speaker and propagandist, gradually recognized Goebbels' talents for speech, propaganda, and organization, as well as his personal loyalty to him, and the two men formed a friendship and a cooperation which lasted until they both committed suicide in Hitler's bunker in 1945. Hitler first invited Goebbels to speak at party meetings, then in the party Congress of 1926, then to also organize and film the party's Congress of 1927, and since 1928 he was also in charge of the party's election campaigns. Hitler also made Goebbels the chief of the Nazi party's Berlin district, Germany's capital city.

The Nazi party's propaganda aimed at the emotions of the masses. Facts, truth, logic, a practical political manifesto, debate, and ethics, were all pushed aside in favor of three main things that the Nazis did, aggressively, continously, and grandly :

  1. Demand change - after the defeat in World War 1, the national humiliation which followed with the dictates of the peace treaty, and the series of successive economical crises which followed, the German masses were frustrated, angry, desparate. The Nazi propaganda focused on what was wrong in Germany (practically everything, they said) and who was to blame for it (practically everyone else, they said, but especially the other political parties, and "the jews"). When asked what was their political plan, the Nazis answered : the opposite of everything we have now.
  2. Idolize Hitler as the only one who can bring the change, which all other political leaders failed. Goebbels presented Hitler as a combination of a genius leader, and a simple common person. Hitler was to be the messiah and saviour of the Germans, yet one of their own, who rose from the masses.
  3. Show! - the Nazis used every possible method and trick to affect people's emotions via their senses, and did so innovatively, skillfully, and at vast scale. They had large parades, enormous rallies, with powerful night lighting, uniforms and arm bands, songs, large colorful posters with very short strong slogans, radio broadcasts, cinematic productions, Hitler travelled from city to city by small aircraft and the aircraft circled over the waiting crowds before landing, carefully planned body language, and more. And the Nazi propaganda posters were everywhere. The Nazis put a mass effort into mass reach, in the streets, the newspapers (they had several of their own), and the new media of the time, radio and cinema.
Today it may all sound familiar, part of toolset of political advertising, but much of that was invented then, by Goebbels, and these methods and tricks, which still successfully affect voters and consumers today, were new then, and their effect was profound.

Propaganda Minister

When Hitler and the Nazis reached power, they acted quickly and decisively to ensure that they will remain in power forever. One of their actions was to establish the "Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda", with Goebbels in charge, and with absolute control over every publication of any type in Germany. The newspapers, the radio, the theaters and cinema, the streets, all types of education, of children and adults, civilians and soldiers, voluntary and trade union organizations' activities, practically everything that was to be published in any way in Germany, AND the personnel who prepared any such publication, required the approval of Joseph Goebbels or his staff. This was far more than just end-to-end censorship. The Nazis completely took over the entire information infrastructure in Germany and managed it themselves, and used it to massively control the emotions, the knowledge, and the opinions of the German people, everywhere, at all ages, all the time.

The main messages of the endless propaganda remained as before, but intensified. Germans were educated to think that they are a superior race with a birthright to conquer and enslave their racially inferior neighbours, that their leader Adolf Hitler is an undisputed genius, and that they are at war with a devious and powerful enemy, the jews, who are the real power behind all of Germany's troubles and enemies. The Germans were taught to love, adore, and obey Adolf Hitler, and to hate and destroy anyone, German or foreigner, individual or entire peoples, which were his enemies.

And so it was. The Nazi regime murdered anyone it considered a threat, or just a burden. It started with killing dosens of veteran Nazis, in "The Night of the Long Knives" in 1934, including the murder of Gregor Strasser, Goebbels' 1st party patron. It continued with the mass murder of German invalids and misifts, jews, and other groups. It started a war of aggression which included war crimes and atrocities of immense scale, including the enslavement of entire peoples, mainly but not only in Eastern Europe, and the systematic genocide of the jews of Europe. Joseph Goebbels played a key role in all that, both as a senior policy maker in Hitler's inner circle, and as the person who designed and managed an unprecedented system of racial hate education, intended to transform the Germans to a nation of predatory racial murderers, which it did.

The End

No propaganda talent could change the fact that the Germans were not superior people, racially or otherwise, and the war gradually turned against Germany. Goebbels did what he could in the field of propaganda, pushing it to the extreme, and in the last months of the war he was also given extensive powers over military and industrial human resources management, but to no avail. On April 30, 1945, utterly defeated, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his large underground command bunker in Berlin. Of Hitler's senior lieutenants, only Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann stayed with him until the end, and only Goebbels decided to die with Hitler. The next day, Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda killed their six children with poison, and then committed suicide.

Related essays:
Adolf Hitler
Heinrich Himmler
Hermann Goering
World War 2 leaders

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