Propaganda in Nazi Germany

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The propaganda used by the German Nazi Party in the years leading up to and during Adolf Hitler's leadership of Germany (1933–1945) was a crucial instrument for acquiring and maintaining power, and for the implementation of Nazi policies. The pervasive use of propaganda by the Nazis is largely responsible for the word "propaganda" itself acquiring its present negative connotations.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler devoted three chapters of his 1925 book Mein Kampf, itself a propaganda tool, to the study and practice of propaganda. He claimed to have learned the value of propaganda as a World War I infantryman exposed to very effective British and ineffectual German propaganda. The argument that Germany lost the war largely because of British propaganda efforts, expounded at length in Mein Kampf, reflected then-common German nationalist claims. Although untrue – German propaganda during World War I was mostly more advanced than that of the British – it became the official truth of Nazi Germany thanks to its reception by Hitler.

Mein Kampf contains the blueprint of later Nazi propaganda efforts. Assessing his audience, Hitler writes in chapter VI:

"Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. (...) All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. (...) The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. (...) The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood."

As to the methods to be employed, he explains:

"Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (...) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (...) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula."

Hitler put these ideas into practice with the reestablishment of the Völkischer Beobachter, a daily newspaper published by the Nazi Party (NSDAP) from February 1925 onwards, whose circulation reached 26,175 in 1929. It was joined in 1927 by Joseph Goebbels's Der Angriff, another unabashedly and crudely propagandistic paper.

During most of the Nazis' time in opposition, their means of propaganda remained limited. With little access to mass media, the party continued to rely heavily on Hitler and a few others speaking at public meetings until 1929. One study finds that the Weimar government's use of pro-government radio propaganda retarded Nazi growth. In April 1930, Hitler appointed Goebbels head of party propaganda. Goebbels, a former journalist and Nazi party officer in Berlin, soon proved his skills. Among his first successes was the organization of riotous demonstrations that succeeded in having the American anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front banned in Germany.

This page was last edited on 28 February 2018, at 15:43.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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