Sunday 10 November 2013

The Nazi Propaganda Machine

“Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.” (Adolf Hitler, 1924)

Countess Marion Donhoff, an East Prussian who joined the Exodus from the East, recounts how the Nazi leaders could no longer “distinguish between the truth and reality”.  Nazi Germany was a state of deception which indoctrinated its youth starting as early as 10.  Children in the Hitler Youth were seduced by the camping trips, hikes, parades and other activities, things they might not have been able to do otherwise.  One Nazi party event, held in Berlin’s Viktoria Gardens, attracted children with its swastika decorated balloons.  The Nazis presented themselves as the party of the youth -- a dynamic, resilient forward looking party.  By the time these children reached adulthood, Naziism was firmly ingrained in their psyche. 

From the time young German children started school they were subject to propaganda.  Biology teachers taught about racial differences and the superiority of the Aryans.  A children’s book called “Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher” or “The Poodle Pug Dachshund Pinscher” by Ernst Hiemer talked about the Jewish question.  One middle school textbook Lebenskunde fur Mittelschulen preached about how girls should have children and how boys should join the military, with direct quotes from the Fuhrer.    

Germans walking down the street would notice the ever-present propaganda:  the posters (“Yes, Fuhrer, we will follow you!”), the leaflets (One People, One Reich, One Fuhrer), the books (Mein Kampf) and the press (“Volkischer Beobachter” or “People’s Observer”).  Germany was considered a leader in the newspaper business with over 47000 papers in circulation and a readership of 25 million.  But journalism was not for every German:  Jews were banned from the profession in 1933. 

Hitler used his speeches as a propaganda tool.  The rhythm of his speeches hypnotized his audience.  He worked his listeners into a fever pitch.  Their responded with a resounding “Heil Hitler!”. 

Nuremburg Rally circa 1934 courtesy

The same year, a large book burning event took place in Berlin where more than 25,000 volumes were destroyed including the works of:  Albert Einstein, Sigmund Frued, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Victor Hugo, andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  The above were all considered “un-German”. 

For those who couldn’t read, there was always the radio.  The Nazi party did not take long to take over all of the media.  A poster for a “people’s receiver” advertised “Every National Comrade is a radio listener!”  Joseph Goebbels introduced unified radio programming in Germany in January of 1939.

Music was embraced, if it was of the classical variety written by Ludwig von Beethoven, Anton Bruckner or Richard Wagner, but it was banned if it was jazz variety including Irving Berlin’s “Samtliche” and Cole Porter’s “You Never Know”.  Jazz clubs and cabarets were shut down in 1935. 

Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels also took over the film industry.  Already in 1930, before the Nazis came to power, they tried to sabotage the premier of “All Quiet on the Western Front” releasing rats and stink bombs into the audience.  German movie sales more than doubled during the Second World War.  Once Hitler took over as leader, the Reich film chamber controlled who could direct, act or even participate in making films.  The Jew Suss was one such example. One of his favourite directors, Leni Riefenstahl, directed “The Triumph of the Will” about the Nuremburg rally of 1934, receiving many accolades for her work.  The film director became a personal friend of both Hitler and Goebbels.  By 1940, new Hollywood films were no longer shown in Germany. 

All Quiet on the Western Front courtesy

Television was a communal activity in Nazi Germany, where hundreds if not thousands of people would view programs in 3800 different theatres equipped for sound films.  Board games even got in on the act:  Radio Sende Spiel punished players who listened to foreign radio stations by having them lose a turn, pay or fine, or get expelled from the game. 

Life imitated art in the example of the painting “Hitler at the Front” which portrayed him as a larger than life messianic figure who would lead the nation to victory at any cost.  “In the Beginning was the Word”, by Hermann Otto Hoyer, shows Hitler speaking to a mesmerized crowd.  “Long Live Germany” shows the Fuhrer holding the Nazi flag with rays of light coming down from heaven.  The “Great German Art Exhibition” exemplified Nazi ideology in 1937.  Cartoons also spread Nazi propaganda.  One shows a dishevelled Jew eating two Germans who in turn are eating a lion with the caption:  “One eats the other and the Jews devour them all…” hinting that they were to blame for the Second World War. 

Photographs were another propaganda toy.  An early election photo shows Hitler in front of three red banners with the black swastika with the caption:  “Give me four years”.  How about the magificent photo of the League of German Girls dancing, with a sea of faces in the background, during the Reich party congress of 1938?  Another photo shows Hitler and the Nazi leaders, garbed in their trench coats and shiny boots, marching in front of the Eiffel Tower after they seized Paris.  Another photo shows Hitler beaming as he receives his 50th birthday present, a convertible Volkswagen.  A powerful image shows the German troops goose stepping past Hitler as he inspects them on his 50th birthday.  Spectators salute Hitler during the Berlin Olympics in 1936.  The Vienna choir boys saluted Hitler upon the occasion of his visit to Austria in 1938.  One photograph even showed Hitler bending down and kissing the head of a little fraulein, the Alps in the background.

Hitler visited German cities, including Koenigsberg, with his propaganda message.  Crowds would wait at the side of the road for the parade to start, with hopes of catching a glimpse of their Fuhrer.  Sometimes they would wait for three hours or more.  When he finally arrived, they would be overcome with excitement, sometimes soiling themselves in the process

Hitler’s success with the Germany economy appealed to many Germans.  They loved the fact that their Fuhrer introduced  them to the Volkswagen, the People’s Car.  He also provided them with roads, the autobahn, making travel within the country much easier.  Projects like the autobahn made jobs, something a nation like Germany was hungry for after the Recession of the 1920’s.  Election posters advertised “Adolf Hitler will provide work and bread!” in 1932.

Hitler promoted sports in an attempt to make the nation fit for war.  The 1936 Olympics showed the world how strong Germany’s athletes were and how capable they were of putting on a lavish display.  The event gave Hitler the chance to showcase the Aryan ideal.  A muscled athlete, clad only in his G-string and throwing a discus, was one poster boy.  However, Hitler frowned on American Jesse Owens, due simply to his brown skin.  Hitler made sure the Olympic Stadium in Berlin was full of reporters to cover Germany’s athletes; the other countries’ athletes didn’t count.

Churches were not immune from the Nazi propaganda.  The Lutheran church became the state church.  They tried to Nazify it.  They told the pastors to teach that Jesus was an Aryan, not a Jew.  They wanted to drop the Old Testament and renounce the Apostles’ Creed.  Hitler would be the new messiah.  Ministers were warned to stay away from talking politics; criticizing the regime was strictly forbidden.  Resisters, like Dietrich Bonhoffer, were murdered.

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