How did this man turn 80 million people's hearts and minds to believe in Hitler? All with the media's twists and turns, with theatrics, speeches and a pile of evil diabolical deception.
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Propagandist in Berlin
At Hitler's invitation, Goebbels spoke at party meetings in Munich and at the annual Party Congress, held in Weimar in 1926. For the following year's event, Goebbels was involved in the planning for the first time. He and Hitler arranged for the rally to be filmed.
Receiving praise for doing well at these events led Goebbels to shape his political ideas to match Hitler's, and to admire and idolize him even more.
Goebbels was first offered the position of party Gauleiter for the Berlin section in August 1926. He travelled to Berlin in mid-September and by the middle of October accepted the position.
Thus Hitler's plan to divide and dissolve the northwestern Gauleiters group that Goebbels had served in under Strasser was successful. Hitler gave Goebbels great authority over the area, allowing him to determine the course for organisation and leadership for the Gau. Goebbels was given control over the local Sturmabteilung (SA) and Schutzstaffel (SS) and answered only to Hitler.
The party membership numbered about 1,000 when Goebbels arrived, and he reduced it to a core of 600 of the most active and promising members. To raise money, he instituted membership fees and began charging admission to party meetings.
Aware of the value of publicity (both positive and negative), he deliberately provoked beer-hall battles and street brawls, including violent attacks on the Communist Party of Germany. Goebbels adapted recent developments in commercial advertising to the political sphere, including the use of catchy slogans and subliminal cues. His new ideas for poster design included using large type, red ink, and cryptic headers that encouraged the reader to examine the fine print to determine the meaning.
Like Hitler, Goebbels practiced his public speaking skills in front of a mirror.
Meetings were preceded by ceremonial marches and singing, and the venues were decorated with party banners. His entrance (almost always late) was timed for maximum emotional impact. He usually meticulously planned his speeches ahead of time, using pre-planned and choreographed inflection and gestures, but he was also able to improvise and adapt his presentation to make a good connection with his audience.
Goebbels' tactic of using provocation to bring attention to the NSDAP, along with violence at the public party meetings and demonstrations, led the Berlin police to ban the NSDAP from the city on 5 May 1927. Violent incidents continued, including young Nazis randomly attacking Jews in the streets.Goebbels was subjected to a public speaking ban until the end of October. During this period, he founded the newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack) as a propaganda vehicle for the Berlin area.
It was a modern-style newspaper with an aggressive tone.To Goebbels' disappointment, circulation was initially small, only 2,000. Material in the paper was highly anti-communist and antisemitic. Among the paper's favourite targets was the Jewish Deputy Chief of the Berlin Police Bernhard Weiß. Goebbels gave him the derogatory nickname "Isidore" and subjected him to a relentless campaign of Jew-baiting in the hope of provoking a crackdown he could then exploit.
In his newspaper Berliner Arbeiterzeitung (Berlin Workers Newspaper), Gregor Strasser was highly critical of Goebbels' failure to attract the urban vote. However, the party as a whole did much better in rural areas, attracting as much as 18 per cent of the vote in some regions.This was partly because Hitler had publicly stated just prior to the election that Point 17 of the party programme, which mandated the expropriation of land without compensation, would apply only to Jewish speculators and not private landholders.
After the election, the party refocused their efforts to try to attract still more votes in the agricultural sector. In May, shortly after the election, Hitler considered appointing Goebbels as party propaganda chief. But he hesitated, as he worried that the removal of Gregor Strasser from the post would lead to a split in the party. Goebbels considered himself well suited to the position, and began to formulate ideas about how propaganda could be used in schools and the media.
The rapid deterioration of the economy led to the resignation on 27 March 1930 of the coalition government that had been elected in 1928. A new cabinet was formed, and Paul von Hindenburg used his power as president to govern via emergency decrees. He appointed Heinrich Brüning as chancellor.Goebbels took charge of the NSDAP's national campaign for Reichstag elections called for 14 September 1930.
Campaigning was undertaken on a huge scale, with thousands of meetings and speeches held all over the country. Hitler's speeches focused on blaming the country's economic woes on the Weimar Republic, particularly its adherence to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which required war reparations that had proven devastating to the German economy.
He proposed a new German society based on race and national unity.The resulting success took even Hitler and Goebbels by surprise: the party received 6.5 million votes nationwide and took 107 seats in the Reichstag, making it the second largest party in the country.
To celebrate Hitler's appointment as chancellor, Goebbels organized a torchlit parade in Berlin on the night of 30 January of an estimated 60,000 men, many in the uniforms of the SA and SS. The spectacle was covered by a live state radio broadcast, with commentary by longtime party member and future Minister of Aviation Hermann Göring.
Goebbels was disappointed to not be given a post in Hitler's new cabinet. Bernhard Rust was appointed as Minister of Culture, the post Goebbels was expecting to receive. Like other NSDAP officials, Goebbels had to deal with Hitler's leadership style of giving contradictory orders to his subordinates, while placing them into positions where their duties and responsibilities overlapped.
In this way, Hitler fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximise his own power. The NSDAP took advantage of the Reichstag fire of 27 February 1933, with Hindenburg passing the Reichstag Fire Decree the following day at Hitler's urging.
This was the first of several pieces of legislation that dismantled democracy in Germany and put a totalitarian dictatorship—headed by Hitler—in its place.On 5 March, yet another Reichstag election took place, the last to be held before the defeat of the Nazis at the end of the Second World War. While the NSDAP increased their number of seats and percentage of the vote, it was not the landslide expected by the party leadership.
Goebbels finally received Hitler's appointment to the cabinet, officially becoming head of the newly created Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda on 14 March
The role of the new ministry, which set up its offices in the 18th-century Ordenspalais across from the Reich Chancellery, was to centralise Nazi control of all aspects of German cultural and intellectual life. Goebbels hoped to increase popular support of the party from the 37 per cent achieved at the last free election held in Germany on 25 March 1933 to 100 per cent support. An unstated goal was to present to other nations the impression that the NSDAP had the full and enthusiastic backing of the entire population.
One of Goebbels' first productions was staging the Day of Potsdam, a ceremonial passing of power from Hindenburg to Hitler, held in Potsdam on 21 March. He composed the text of Hitler's decree authorizing the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, held on 1 April. Later that month, Goebbels travelled back to Rheydt, where he was given a triumphal reception. The townsfolk lined the main street, which had been renamed in his honour.
On the following day, Goebbels was declared a local hero. Goebbels converted the 1 May holiday from a celebration of workers' rights (observed as such especially by the communists) into a day celebrating the NSDAP. In place of the usual ad hoc labour celebrations, he organized a huge party rally held at Tempelhof Field in Berlin.
The following day, all trade union offices in the country were forcibly disbanded by the SA and SS, and the Nazi-run German Labour Front was created to take their place."We are the masters of Germany," he commented in his diary entry of 3 May. Less than two weeks later, he gave a speech at the Nazi book burning in Berlin on 10 May.
Meanwhile, the NSDAP began passing laws to marginalize Jews and remove them from German society. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on 7 April 1933, forced all non-Aryans to retire from the legal profession and civil service.
Similar legislation soon deprived Jewish members of other professions of their right to practise. The first Nazi concentration camps (initially created to house political dissenters) were founded shortly after Hitler seized power. In a process termed Gleichschaltung (co-ordination), the NSDAP proceeded to rapidly bring all aspects of life under control of the party.
All civilian organisations, including agricultural groups, volunteer organisations, and sports clubs, had their leadership replaced with Nazi sympathisers or party members.
By June 1933, virtually the only organisations not in the control of the NSDAP were the army and the churches. In a move to manipulate Germany's middle class and shape popular opinion, the regime passed on 4 October 1933 the Schriftleitergesetz (Editor's Law), which became the cornerstone of the Nazi Party's control of the popular press.
Modeled to some extent on the system in Benito Mussolini's Italy, the law defined a Schriftleiter as anyone who wrote, edited, or selected texts and/or illustrated material for serial publication. Individuals selected for this position were chosen based on experiential, educational, and racial criteria.
The law required journalists to "regulate their work in accordance with National Socialism as a philosophy of life and as a conception of government."
At the end of June 1934, top officials of the SA and opponents of the regime, including Gregor Strasser, were arrested and killed in a purge later called the Night of Long Knives. Goebbels was present at the arrest of SA leader Ernst Röhm in Munich. On 2 August 1934, President von Hindenburg died. In a radio broadcast, Goebbels announced that the offices of president and chancellor had been combined, and Hitler had been formally named as Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor).
Workings of the Ministry
The propaganda ministry was organized into seven departments: administration and legal; mass rallies, public health, youth, and race; radio; national and foreign press; films and film censorship; art, music, and theatre; and protection against counter-propaganda, both foreign and domestic. Goebbels style of leadership was tempestuous and unpredictable.
He would suddenly change direction and shift his support between senior associates; he was a difficult boss and liked to berate his staff in public. Goebbels was successful at his job, however; Life wrote in 1938 that "[p]ersonally he likes nobody, is liked by nobody, and runs the most efficient Nazi department."
The Reich Film Chamber, which all members of the film industry were required to join, was created in June 1933. Goebbels promoted the development of films with a Nazi slant, and ones that contained subliminal or overt propaganda messages.
Under the auspices of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture), created in September, Goebbels added additional sub-chambers for the fields of broadcasting, fine arts, literature, music, the press, and the theatre.
As in the film industry, anyone wishing to pursue a career in these fields had to be a member of the corresponding chamber.
In this way anyone whose views were contrary to the regime could be excluded from working in their chosen field and thus silenced. In addition, journalists (now considered employees of the state) were required to prove Aryan descent back to the year 1800, and if married, the same requirement applied to the spouse. Members of any chamber were not allowed to leave the country for their work without prior permission of their chamber.
A committee was established to censor books, and works could not be re-published unless they were on the list of approved works. Similar regulations applied to other fine arts and entertainment; even cabaret performances were censored. Many German artists and intellectuals left Germany in the pre-war years rather than work under these restrictions.
Goebbels was particularly interested in controlling radio, which was then still a fairly new mass medium. Sometimes under protest from individual states (particularly Prussia, headed by Göring), Goebbels gained control of radio stations nationwide, and placed them under the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (German National Broadcasting Corporation) in July 1934.
Manufacturers were urged by Goebbels to produce inexpensive home receivers, called Volksempfänger (people's receiver), and by 1938 nearly ten million sets had been sold. Loudspeakers were placed in public areas, factories, and schools, so that important party broadcasts would be heard live by nearly all Germans.
On 2 September 1939 (the day after the start of the war), Goebbels and the Council of Ministers proclaimed it illegal to listen to foreign radio stations. Disseminating news from foreign broadcasts could result in the death penalty.
Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and later Minister for Armaments and War Production, later said the regime "made the complete use of all technical means for domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought."
A major focus of Nazi propaganda was Hitler himself, who was glorified as a heroic and infallible leader and became the focus of a cult of personality. Much of this was spontaneous, but some was stage-managed as part of Goebbels' propaganda work.
Adulation of Hitler was the focus of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, where his moves were carefully choreographed. The rally was the subject of the film Triumph of the Will, one of several Nazi propaganda films directed by Leni Riefenstahl. It won the Gold Medal at the 1935 Venice Film Festival. At the 1935 Nazi party congress rally at Nuremberg, Goebbels declared that "Bolshevism is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself."
Goebbels was involved in planning the staging of the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin. It was around this time that he met and started having an affair with the actress Lída Baarová, whom he continued to see until 1938. A major project in 1937 was the Degenerate Art Exhibition, organised by Goebbels, which ran in Munich from July to November. The exhibition proved wildly popular, attracting over two million visitors.
A degenerate music exhibition took place the following year. Meanwhile, Goebbels was disappointed by the lack of quality in the National Socialist artwork, films, and literature.