Aldous Huxley of Harper's Magazine once wrote that "propaganda gives force and direction to the successive movements of popular feeling and desire; but it does not do much to create these movements. The Propagandist is a man who canalises an already existing stream. In a land where there is no water, he digs in vain."1 Adolf Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment Joseph Goebbels recognized that prejudice, like water, runs deep within us all- hidden until provoked. Ultimately, these two men provoked and canalised these waters of prejudice in such an effective manner that the murder of six million Jews occurred without opposition or hesitation. Nazism and its propaganda machine serves as a disturbingly true example of how fear and racism can reduce a nation's citizens into a mass of ignorant people taught to "think and react as one, belabored until they succumbed to what was required of them."2 Controlled by the propaganda and its manipulation of their racial fears, the masses allowed Hitler's regime to act on its ultimate genocidal goals that would ensure the creation of a true Aryan nation and the subsequent elimination of the inferior Jewish population.
Prejudice flowed freely for the Nazis due to the German people's resentment of Jewish success. When the Christians, for example, were experiencing an all time low in their civilization known as the Dark Ages, the Jewish population was having its Golden Age of economic triumph and splendor. In addition, when successful Jewish families, such as the Rothchilds, rose to prominent positions in the late nineteenth century, the less fortunate German people thought that Jews were undeserving of such success and believed that this success was acquired only through corrupt methods. Even more, when industrial revolutions were modernizing nations around the world and the Jews were able to assimilate into this newly modernized world, a traditional Germany believed that these changes came from the Jewish community and therefore revolted against them. Furthermore, following the loss of World War I and the subsequent collapse of the German nation, the people looked for something or someone to blame. Their resentment fell once again on the Jewish community, therefore using the Jews as a scapegoat to yet another problem, yet another failure. Thus, historically, the Germans possessed a blinding hatred toward the Jewish community that Hitler recognized as a powerful force prone to simple, manipulative techniques. After all, Hitler believed that "comprehension is a shaky platform for the masses" and that the "only stable emotion is hate."3 And when Hitler's propaganda machine found a stable basis in such harsh prejudices, the canalising that Aldous Huxley spoke of began.
This canalising process revolved around Hitler's belief that Jews were a parasitic race within Germany; that they were the rats who plagued the health of the Aryan people. Hitler discovered Joseph Goebbels, a kindred soul in his crusade, and appointed him Minister of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment. Goebbels, as Hitler's perfect spokesman, created films that undermined all opposition to the regime and served to establish and maintain Hitler's status as the sole unifier of Nazi Germany. In The Wandering Jew, Goebbels developed the concept that Jews were a corruptive force within the German nation that had to be "separated from the rest."4 The film interspersed shots of rats and Jews to show similarities between the alleged long noses and shadows in order to frighten the masses about the disease that such forces carry. In this fright, Goebbels could dig even deeper into the stream of prejudice. Even more effective, however, was Goebbels' appeal to the viewer's subconscious. To further upset the turbulent sea of emotions, Goebbels had the narrator report statistics showing the association between Jews and crime. Though no source was cited, the film reported that Jews comprised 34% of the drug world, 82% of international crime organizations, and 98% of prostitution.5 According to historian David Welch, as these figures are being read off, a series of Jewish `criminal faces' were shown so that the audience would make the connection between the Jewish stereotype and the statistics.6 The rapid pace of the film did not allow the audience time for critical reflection and forced the people to conclude that these Jews were a danger in their disguises. Goebbels created yet another appeal to the viewer when the film climaxed with a particularly brutal sequence portraying the Jews' systematic slaughter of animals in accordance with their religion. The scene horrified viewers and portrayed the Jew as a butcher, an unfeeling brute. Immediately following this slaughter, the film ended with images of a Savior-like Hitler. The camera filmed him from down below, therefore placing him on a higher ground, a ground above that of the parasitic Jew. The viewer was left with an ultimatum: fall prey to these rat-like Jews or join forces with Hitler the Savior. When the people joined the Nazi cause, Goebbels and his propaganda machine prevailed.
Hitler and his propaganda machine continued to control the churning waters of hate as they developed the image of Hitler the Savior. After establishing Jews as dangerous parasites and Hitler as the future of Germany, Goebbels expanded on the latter concept. In his film Triumph of the Will, Goebbels maintained Hitler's Savior status. The film began with Hitler appearing in an airplane- he was the Savior descending. Camera shots served to mount him above the crowds as well as juxtapose him and the strong swastika symbol. To the viewer, Hitler appeared as the strong Savior who would raise Germany up and unify the nation forever. In fact, with the employment of a Wagnerian soundtrack, Hitler took on yet another role- that of a pagan hero. Richard Wagner, traditional opera composer, wrote operas with heroes of immense stature and according to historian William L. Shirer, his operas with gods and heroes, love and life, war and death, "inspired the myths of modern Germany."7 The propaganda worked quite efficiently for as historian Richard Taylor reports, the audience was "lulled into submission by the music."8 In such submission, they accepted Hitler as the heroic Savior, the Wagnerian pagan god, and of course, the man who would take the German nation to the "heavens from which the Fuhrer came in the beginning.9
In such triumph, Hitler and his propaganda machine were as strong as ever. In fact, in the midst of this whirlpool of hate, Hitler was able to carry out the extermination of some four and a half million people in the course of three years. His final solution was moving rapidly along and from this death count (which ultimately reached six million), one might wonder how the German people could stand by knowing that the Jews, fellow human beings, were being starved, gased, shot to death. Perhaps they did not know. Or perhaps they were too scared of the Nazi regime to voice any opposition. Or worse yet, perhaps the propaganda machine had won. Had it tapped so deeply into the German psyche as to cement the permanent disassociation of the Jews with the human race? Historian Richard Grunberger believes that it did and reports that "as far as the great majority were concerned, Jewish suffering affected beings in another galaxy rather than inhabitants of the same planet as themselves...the holocaust was not a real event for most Germans, not because it occurred in wartime and under conditions of secrecy, but because Jews were astronomically remote and not real people."10 Now that's scary. Human nature has reached an all time low if minor resentment of the neighboring family with more money justifies such boiling vindictiveness. To think that understanding of one another's differences, the acknowledgement that differences can be advantageous, could have prevented the implementation of such a fascist regime. This lesson was a hard one to be taught, but hopefully it will be an easy one to learn. Therefore, as a generation educated in the horrors of the Holocaust, we must acknowledge the petty jealousies and fears that run through all of our souls. We must attempt to amend them- to drain our waters of prejudice- before they can ever be manipulated again. We must make Aldous Huxley's propagandist dig in vain.
1David Welch. Propaganda and the German Cinema 1933-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983: 281.
2Ward Rutherfod. Hitler's Propaganda Machine. New York: Gallery Books, 1985: 22.
3Peter D. Stachura. The Nazi Machtergreifung. London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd, 1983:
4"Nazi Propaganda," narr. Jack Perkins, writer and prod. Laurence Rees, Time Machine.
5Richard Taylor. Film Propaganda. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1979: 195.
7William L. Shirer. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1959: 213-223.
10Josh Brooman. Hitler's Germany. New York: Longman Group Ltd, 1985: 29.
Brooman, Josh. Hitler's Germany. New York: Longman Group Ltd, 1985.
"Nazi Propaganda," narr. Jack Perkins, writer and prod. Laurence Rees, Time Machine, A&E, 1993.
Rutherford, Ward. Hitler's Propaganda Machine. New York: Gallery Books, 1985.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc. 1959.
Stachura, Peter D. The Nazi Machtergreifung. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1983.
Taylor, Richard Film Propaganda. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1979.
Welch, David. Propaganda and the German Cinema 1933-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler. Director Louis Clyde Stoumen. Narrator Marlene Dietrich. Image Production Inc., 1962.
Bramsted, Ernest K. Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-1945. USA: Michigan State University Press, 1965.
Deutschmann, Linda. Triumph of the Will: The Image of the Third Reich. Wakefield: Longwood Academic, 1991.
Herzstein, Robert Edwin. The War that Hitler Won. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Trans. Ralph Manheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943.
Reimann, Viktor. Goebbels. Trans. Stephen Wendt. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.
Taylor, Fred. The Goebbels Diaries 1939-1941. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1983.
Triumph of the Will. Director Leni Riefenstahl. NSDAP, 1935.
"World War II: The Propaganda Battle," Narrator Bill Moyers, Producer and Director David Grubin, A Walk Through the 20th Century with Bill Moyers, PBS, 1982.
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