Joseph Goebbels

Joseph Goebbels is one of the most infamous Nazi politicians due to his masterminding of the intense Nazi propaganda programme that influenced an entire nation to the Nazi cause. But what did he do that made the propaganda programme so effective? Let's look at Joseph Goebbels and propaganda!

Joseph Goebbels Joseph Goebbels

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Table of contents

    Key terms

    Below is a list of key terms that we need to understand for this explanation.

    Censorship

    The suppression of any material that was considered obscene, a threat to security, or politically unacceptable.

    Propaganda

    Often misleading material used to promote a specific cause or ideology.

    Reich Chamber of Culture

    An organisation that was formed to control all forms of culture in Nazi Germany. If anyone wanted to work within art, music, or literary professions, they had to join the Chamber. Subsections of the Chamber controlled different aspects - there was a press chamber, a music chamber, a radio chamber etc.

    Reich Broadcasting Company

    This was the official broadcasting company of the Nazi State - no other broadcasting companies were allowed.

    Biography of Joseph Goebbels

    Joseph Goebbels was born in 1897 to a strict Roman Catholic family. When the war broke out, he tried to join the army but was rejected on account of his deformed right foot, which meant he was not medically fit to join the army.

    Joseph Goebbels Portrait of Goebbels StudySmarterFig. 1 - Joseph Goebbels

    He attended the University of Heidelberg and studied German literature, gaining a doctorate in 1920. He worked as a journalist and writer before he joined the Nazi party.

    Goebbels married Magda Quandt in 1931, with whom he had 6 children. However, he also had numerous affairs with other women during his marriage, which was a cause of tension between Goebbels and Hitler.

    Career in the Nazi party

    Goebbels joined the Nazi party in 1924 having become interested in Adolf Hitler and his ideology during the Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. His organisational skills and clear talent for propaganda soon brought him to the attention of Hitler.

    From there, Goebbels' rise in the Nazi party was meteoric. He became Gauleiter of Berlin in 1926, was elected to the Reichstag in 1928, and was appointed Reich leader for Propaganda in 1929.

    Gauleiter

    A leader of the Nazi party in a particular region. When the Nazis took over Germany, their role became that of a local governor.

    When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, Goebbels was given the official position 'Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment', a position he retained until the end of the Second World War.

    Joseph Goebbels Propaganda Minister

    In his role as propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels was responsible for some vital aspects of the Nazi regime. He was in charge of the public image of the Nazi party and its senior leaders, which affected the opinions regarding the regime and recruitment. There were two prongs that Goebbels worked on: censorship and propaganda.

    Censorship

    Censorship was a fundamental aspect of the Nazi regime. Censorship in the Nazi state meant the removal of any media that the Nazis did not approve. Joseph Goebbels was at the heart of organising censorship efforts throughout the Nazi dictatorship - but how was this done?

    • Newspapers: Once in power, the Nazis took control of all newspapers circulating in Germany. All those employed in journalism had to become members of the Reich Press Chamber - and anyone with 'unacceptable' views was not permitted to join.
    • Radio: All radio stations were brought under state governance and were controlled by the Reich Radio Company. The content of programmes on the radio was strictly controlled, and radios made in Germany were unable to pick up broadcasts from outside Germany.
    • Literature: Under the supervision of Goebbels, the Gestapo regularly searched bookshops and libraries to seize banned material from a list of 'unacceptable' literature. Millions of books from schools and universities were banned and burned at Nazi rallies.
    • Arts: Art, music, theatre, and film were also victims of censorship. Anyone who worked in the arts had to join the Reich Chamber of Commerce, so their production could be controlled. Anything that did not fit Nazi ideology was labelled as 'degenerate' and banned - this mainly applied to the new styles of art and music like Surrealism, Expressionism, and Jazz music.

    Triumph of the Will

    A particularly important aspect of Nazi propaganda was cinema. Joseph Goebbels was eager to use the art of cinema to inspire devotion to the Nazi regime. He also felt that establishing a strong German film industry was key to countering 'Jewish' Hollywood.

    One of the famous and influential Nazi film directors was Leni Riefenstahl. She produced several key films for the Nazi film effort, and none was more central to this than 'Triumph of the Will' (1935). This was a propaganda film of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. Riefenstahl's techniques, such as aerial photography, moving shots, and combining music with cinematography were very new and impressive.

    It won several awards, and is considered one of the greatest propaganda films ever made - though the context of the film is never forgotten.

    Essentially, Goebbels ordered the destruction or suppression of any media that did not fit or opposed Nazi ideology.

    Joseph Goebbels Nazi Book burning StudySmarterFig. 2 - The burning of thousands of banned books by Berlin University students, organised by the Nazis

    He also implemented strict systems of certification to ensure that only people deemed 'appropriate' by the Nazi state could be involved in the production of media in Germany.

    Joseph Goebbels Propaganda

    Now we know what the Nazi state banned, what image and ideology did they want to promote?

    Focuses of Propaganda

    The Nazis had several key parts of their ideology that they wanted to promote to the German people, with the aim of fulfilling the policy of Gleichschaltung.

    Gleichschaltung

    This was a policy that aimed to change German society to fit the ideology of the Nazis by establishing complete and unbending control over all facets of German culture - media, art, music, sport etc.

    They wanted to encourage the aspiration of a society that was filled with strong, Aryan men and women who were proud of their heritage and free from 'degeneracy'. Here are the key focus points of the propaganda:

    • Racial supremacy - The Nazis promoted a proud, Aryan society and demonised minorities, Jewish people, and Eastern Europeans as a big feature of their propaganda.
    • Gender roles - Nazis promoted traditional gender roles and family structures. Men should be strong and hard-working, while women should remain in the home with the goal of raising their children to be proud members of the Nazi state.
    • Self-Sacrifice - The Nazis promoted the idea that all Germans would have to suffer for the good of the nation and that this was an honourable thing to do.

    Tools of Propaganda

    The Nazis had many ways of spreading propaganda to the German people. Goebbels theorised that the Germans would be more receptive to propaganda if they weren't aware that what they were consuming was propaganda.

    Radio was Goebbels' favourite propaganda tool, as it meant messages from the Nazi party and Hitler could be broadcasted directly into people's homes. Goebbels set out to make radios cheap and easily available by producing the 'People's Receiver', which was half the price of the average radio set in Germany. By 1941, 65% of German households owned one.

    Did you know? Goebbels also ordered radios to be installed in factories so that workers could listen to Hitler's speeches during their workday.

    Future generations may conclude that the radio had as great an intellectual and spiritual impact on the masses as the printing press had before the beginning of the Reformation.1

    - Joseph Goebbels, 'The Radio as the Eighth Great Power', 18 August 1933.

    Another subtle propaganda tool was newspapers. Although second to the radio in Goebbels' eyes, he still realised the benefits of planting particular stories in the newspapers to influence the public. It should be noted that since the newspapers were under strict state control, so it was easy for the Propaganda Ministry to plant stories that portrayed the Nazis well.

    Joseph Goebbels Student propaganda StudySmarterFig. 3 - A Nazi propaganda poster promoting the National Socialist German Students' Organisation. The text reads 'the German student fights for Fuhrer and people'

    Of course, propaganda posters were used to promote a variety of causes, from dehumanising Jewish people to encouraging young people to join Nazi organisations. The youth was a key target for propaganda, as they were impressionable and would form a new generation of people who had grown up solely in a Nazi state.

    Joseph Goebbels Role during WW2

    During the Second World War, Nazi propaganda only intensified and broadened to include slandering Allied countries. Goebbels put even more focus on promoting the ideology of self-sacrifice for the nation and encouraging young people to put all their faith in the Nazi party.

    Joseph Goebbels Death

    As it became clear that Germany could not win the Second World War, many senior Nazis began to contemplate what the loss of the war would mean for them. Goebbels saw that there was no chance of him escaping punishment after the war.

    In April 1945, the Russian army was quickly nearing Berlin. Goebbels decided to end his life and the lives of his family, so they would not be punished by the Allies. On 1 May 1945, Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda, poisoned their six children and then took their own lives.

    Joseph Goebbels and Propaganda - Key takeaways

    • Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda in the Nazi party and led the Nazi propaganda effort during their rise to power and the Second World War.
    • He enacted a programme of censorship across all forms of media in order to ensure that only Nazi-approved culture and media could be published and broadcasted in Germany.
    • Nazi propaganda focused on the image of a strong, unified Germany along three key messages: racial supremacy, traditional gender/family roles, and self-sacrifice for the state.
    • Goebbels loved the radio because it meant propaganda could be broadcasted at all hours of the day into people's homes and workplaces. He theorised that the German people would be more receptive to propaganda if it was subtle and constant.
    • The intensity of Nazi propaganda only grew with the outbreak of the Second World War as Joseph Goebbels worked to promote the ideology of self-sacrifice and total devotion to the state.

    References

    1. Joseph Goebbels 'The Radio as the Eighth Great Power', 1933 from the German Propaganda Archive.
    2. Fig. 1 - Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1968-101-20A, Joseph Goebbels (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1968-101-20A,_Joseph_Goebbels.jpg) by German Federal Archives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives) Licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 DE (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)
    3. Fig. 2 - Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14597, Berlin, Opernplatz, Bücherverbrennung (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-14597,_Berlin,_Opernplatz,_B%C3%BCcherverbrennung.jpg) by German Federal Archives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives) Licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 DE (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Joseph Goebbels

    What did Joseph Goebbels do? 

    He was the minister for propaganda and controlled censorship and propaganda during the Nazi dictatorship.

    How did Joseph Goebbels die?  

    Joseph Goebbels took his own life on 1 May 1945.

    How did Joseph Goebbels use propaganda?  

    Goebbels used propaganda to ensure continued and growing support of the Nazi party and allegiance to the state.

    Who was Joseph Goebbels? 

    Joseph Goebbels was a Nazi politician and Minister for Propaganda during the Nazi dictatorship.

    Did Joseph Goebbels design propaganda? 

    He masterminded the Nazi propaganda effort, but Nazi-approved artists and writers designed propaganda.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False: Joseph Goebbels fought in World War One.

    Joseph Goebbel's main position in the Nazi party during the 1930s and WW2 was...

    True or False: Triumph of the Will was about the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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