National Socialist Propaganda:
On the cover of a National Socialist children's book entitled Der Giftpilz, (The Poison Mushroom) is a forest of mushrooms bearing faces, the noses bulbous, the eyes shadowy, and the beards in need of a shave. Each mushroom's trunk bears a Star of David. The book is composed of a series of stereotypes of the Jewish male, who is consistently pictured as short, fat, and balding, with thick glasses; his expression a frown or a sadistic grin. In one illustration, a boy at a chalkboard demonstrates that, "the Jewish nose resembles a 6." Other depictions perpetrate the image of the Jew as pedophile: a physician staring at a young Aryan girl, and a Jewish man robed entirely in black dispensing candy to blonde children in the street (Grunfield 201).
Propaganda has been termed "one of the most deadly weapons of total war" (Taylor 3), and in Hitler's personal crusade against the Jews, it was one of his most formidable tools. From the time German children entered Volksschule, the equivalent of American elementary grades, they were engulfed in a flood of bigotry that eventually colored their feelings and thought processes. This anti-Semitic propaganda permeated the education system, the youth organizations, all aspects of popular culture, and the arts and sciences. Banking on ancient stereotypes, the Nazis conditioned the German people to accept the destruction of European Jewry.
Anti-Semitism has a historical basis far older than the Third Reich. "...the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets..."(Authorized 1291). This Biblical passage, I Thessalonians 2:14-15, presents a statement that is the basis of Anti-Semitism in the Christian World: the accusation that the Jews perpetrated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Brown 10). When Christianity became the state religion of the Byzantine empire, Jews were immediately singled out for persecution, developing patterns and stereotypes that endured until the Third Reich. In 1215, the Church's Fourth Council required Jews to wear an identifying badge on their clothing at all times and relegated the Jewish populations to ghettos (Meltzer 22). Martin Luther even wrote in 1543 that the Jews were rapacious and greedy, accompanying his stereotypes with a plan for the elimination of this "damned people of the Jews" reminiscent of what occurred during the Holocaust. (Waite 288-289). This background of the historical normality of Jewish persecution aided the Nazi regime's new effort to permanently solve the "Jewish Problem."
Hitler's entire racial supremacy policy rested on the belief that there was one creative force in all of history, the Aryan race, which was only held back by the Jews from establishment of one Volksgenmeinschaft, or racially pure community (Waite 96). To eliminate them from society, Hitler accused the Jews of pervasive evil, writing in Mein Kampf, "Was there any form of filth or profligacy, above all in cultural life, in which at least one Jew did not participate?" (Hitler 75). He decries the horrible thought that Jews had polluted the Aryan race, comparing the "crossing" to a cat procreating with a mouse (Hitler 390). His final paranoid accusation appears in a pamphlet written with Dietrich Eckart in 1924: the Jews intended to "master the world and then destroy it...If not stopped they will destroy us" (Waite 99).
Three major events in the lives of the common German provided a platform for Hitler's anti- Semitic propaganda: the loss of World War I, the Depression, and the failure of the Weimar Republic. Hitler transferred all blame for Germany's military, economic, and political distress onto the Jews, fueling the bitterness necessary for acceptance of the drastic "Final Solution." The combination of making the Jews seem inherently inferior and then casting them as the cause of Germany's ills was sufficient rationalization for the acceptance of the genocide to come.
...suddenly this man, who has been awkwardly standing around...begins to speak, filling the room with his voice, suppressing interruptions or contradictions with his domineering manner, spreading cold shivers among those present by the savagery of his declaration, lifting every subject of conversation into the light of history...the listener is filled with awe and feels that a new phenomenon has entered the room. This thundering demon was not there before.... (Waite 240-241).
This stupefaction was Hitler's effect on his audience through his favorite medium, the spoken word. In Mein Kampf he explains the reason that oratory is the most effective form of propaganda: the speaker is able to judge "Whether [the audiences] understand what he speaks, whether they are able to follow what has been said, and thirdly, in how far he has convinced them of the correctness of what has been said" (Hitler 704-706). The most important facet of verbal Nazi indoctrination was the mass meeting, usually an emotional and passionate experience ending in near-riot. Hitler wrote that the mass meeting was essential because the politically disillusioned individual only can gain espirit de corps through seeing that he is part of a larger organized movement (Hitler 715).
To a large degree, the written word was shunned by the Propaganda Ministry in favor of the spoken during the Third Reich, as revealed by Goebbels' standing directive to the journalists who worked for the party-sponsored papers: "The reader should get the impression that the writer is in reality a speaker standing beside him" (Grunberger 393-394). The ubiquitous newspaper was a favorite Nazi method for propaganda dispersal. Before and throughout the Third Reich, the party owned and controlled numerous newspapers, each adapted to its readership. The main voice of the party was known as the Völkische Beobachter. Other smaller papers included Der Angriff, Der Stürmer, the Berliner Tageblatt and the Frankfurter Zeitung (Grunberger 392-398). All of the papers published standard editorials and were controlled by a strict set of directives produced by the Propaganda Ministry.
In addition to Nazi control and use of the press, literature had a place in Reich propaganda. The most widely circulated form of anti-Semitic literature was Mein Kampf, which eventually became the best selling book in German history second only to the Bible (Waite 33). In addition, many copies of Second Reich anti-Semitic works were reprinted, including those from which Hitler drew slogans and ideas, such as the work of Heinreich Treitschke, who coined the phrase, "The Jews are our misfortune" (Waite 328). Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings were a Nazi favorite for dispersal, since the founder of Protestantism was a prominent historical Aryan (Meltzer 23).
Hitler wrote these words in Mein Kampf as part of his theory of correct education for the German child: "His whole education and training must be so ordered as to give him the conviction that he is absolutely superior to others. Through his physical strength and dexterity he must recover his faith in the invincibility of a whole people" (Heyes 29). This education, or rather indoctrination, was presented in two forms: the scholastic education system and the groups collectively known as the Hitler Youth. The new educational policies involved little matter that was not tainted with propaganda. Sciences especially were slanted: biology's principle concern was Rassenkude, or race studies. A German teacher said that one of the main aims of their educational system was the elimination of questions and discussions as a means of discouraging individual thought. The corporate thought was anti-Semitic from the outset of education (Daniell 7).
One of the most chilling aspects of the Nazi campaign for the minds of Germany's young was the group of organizations known as the Hitler Youth, begun in 1927 solely for the purpose of forming a pool of future devoted party members and storm troopers. A man who was a part
of the Hitler Youth at age ten directly before the war began states that the propaganda was nonstop, including "lectures on the purity of the Aryan race" (Heyes 22-23, 36).
Nazi propaganda assumed other forms to a lesser degree. A small number of anti-Semitic plays and dramas were produced; one major production was Jud Süss. This was a very important
film, however: it was "the cinematic curtain-raiser for the Final Solution," an announcement to the German public of the plan for extermination (Grunberger 344). This work was wildly popular and so acclaimed by Nazi authorities that it became compulsory viewing material for all police and SS members (Reuth 277-278). In addition to the personal public speaking which Hitler espoused, he transmitted a multitude of radio-broadcast speeches, with fifty in 1933 alone (Grunberger 85). Music and visual arts were controlled to favor Aryan styles and masters, but were largely unexploited for anti-Semitic purposes.
Hitler wrote in 1925 his plans for the destruction of the fragile peace existing between
Jew and German. He gave his analysis of propaganda psychology distinctly, directly, and without conscience. "It [propaganda] will not lead to success unless a fundamental principle is considered...it must confine itself to little and to repeat this little eternally" (Hitler 239). Hitler was, of course, unable to scientifically prove the racial inferiority of the Jews, but by repetition of unfounded stereotypes, he was able to incense a people to hysterical rounds of"Jude verrecke!" (Jew perish!). Propaganda was the vehicle which drove this fury into acceptance of an incomprehensible evil, permeating the Third Reich: the rallies, the radio, the newspapers, the schools, the children. Without the blatant, screamed tirades and the subtly whispered maledictions, the Nazi regime could not have created the horrific experience now known as the Holocaust.
Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Brown, Richard. "The Narratives of Jesus' Passion and Anti-Judaism."' America 1 Apr. 1995:
Daniell, Raymond. "German Schools Wholly Nazified." The New York Times II Apr. 1945:
Grunberger, Richard. The Twelve-Year Reich. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.
Grunfield, Frederic. The Hitler File. New York: Random House, 1974.
Heyes, Eileen. Children of the Swastika. Brookfield: The Millbrook Press, 1993.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939.
Meltzer, Milton. Never to Forget. New York: Dell Publishing, 1976.
Reuth, Ralf. Goebbels. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.
Taylor, Edmond. "Hitler's 'Frightful Weapon': Propaganda." The New York Times Magazine 1 June 1941:3-5.
Waite, Robert. The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 1977.
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