How did the Nazis use propaganda to indoctrinate the German people?
Dr Josef Goebbels was instrumental to Nazi propaganda.
As Reich Propaganda Minister, he controlled the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. This was split into 12 departments; Legislation, Budget and Personnel, Propaganda coordination, Broadcasting, German Press, Film, Theatre, Foreign Press, Literature, Fine arts, Music and Folk culture. Due to its massive importance, there are Reich Propaganda offices in all regions.
Meanwhile, he was the President of the Reich Chamber of Culture. This was split into seven chambers; Reich Press Chamber, Reich Radio Chamber, Reich Chamber of Film, Reich Chamber of Literature, Reich Theatre Chamber, Reich Chamber of Music and Reich Chamber of Fine Arts. To manage this, there were 31 special regional sub-offices.
Finally, he was the director of the Central Propaganda Office of the Nazi Party. This was split into two departments; the first in-charge of Active Propaganda, Films, Broadcasting, Culture and Liaison and the second in-charge of Management, Party Propaganda, Mobile Technical Equipment Units, Party Exhibitions and Trade Fairs. To control this, there are local party offices in all regions.
Types of Propaganda
The Nazis controlled journalists, editors and publishers through compulsory membership. The Reich Press Chamber included the Reich Association of the German Press which kept a register of acceptable editors and journalists. In Oct 1933, a law made editors responsible for infringements of government directives, and the content of newspapers had to be pro-Nazi, otherwise, publication would be suspended. It became treason to spread false news and rumour (or anything against the Nazi State). Over time, the Nazi ownership of the media grew from 3% in 1933 to 69% in 1939 and to 82% in 1944.
Goebbels described the Radio as the ‘spiritual weapon of the totalitarian state’. In 1933, 50 broadcasts were transmitted, and in 1935 the estimated audience for Hitler’s key speeches reached 56 million (out of a population of just under 70 million). In 1934, the Nazis established a unified radio system and purged it of anti-Nazi elements. In 1935, there were 7 million radio sets in Germany and by 1943 this had increased to 16 million due to government subsidies and investment. Thus by 1939, 70% of households owned a radio. There were also communal loudspeakers in order to reach those who could not afford radios.
From 1933 to 1942, the Nazi government increased its share in the major film companies and nationalised all of them. The Reich Film Chamber regulated the content of both German made and imported films, with many foreign films being banned. Films were classified under categories such as ‘politically and artistically valuable’, ‘culturally valuable’, a ‘film of the nation’ and ‘valuable for youth’. Over one thousand feature films were produced by Nazi producers. One of the most famous producers was Leni Riefenstahl who was commissioned to make detailed recordings of rallies and festivals. Their most famous films were Triumph of the Will, released in 1935 about the 1934 Nuremberg Rally and Olympia, released in 1938 about the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Some films glorified the struggle for power and three anti-semitic films were released in 1940 to stress the ‘Jewish problem’. The infamous film, The Eternal Jew, showed Jews as a parasitic race within the nation.
With the aid of disciplined mass movements often held at night, stirring music, striking flags and symbols, they created a powerful feeling of belonging, encouraging more supporters. The rallies were followed by Hitler’s charismatic speeches, often with a particular subject and purpose, as with the programmatic title which was given to the annual Nuremberg Rallies.
Festivals & Modifications to the Calendar
The Nazis also modified the calendar to create a cult of personality around Hitler and the Nazis. Key dates of the Nazi Party were celebrated, such as on 30 Jan ‘Day of the Seizing of Power’, 24 Feb Anniversary of the Founding of the Party, 20 Apr Hitler’s birthday, May (2nd Sunday) Mother’s Day, etc. On these days rallies were held in cities, while streets were draped with swastika flags. Those who failed to celebrate the festivals were reported to the Gestapo.
The mass sporting displays used as propaganda presented a strong and healthy nation. The 1936 Olympic Games also showed the strength of Germany as they won the most medals, and used the event to show off their military strength.
The fast-paced construction of autobahns showed the industrial might of the German nation. In 1942, 3870km had been completed. Photographers, the news, and even painters conveyed the message of a revived German nation working together for the common goal, symbolising the political strength, willpower and achievement of Hitler’s Germany.
All working artists had to become members of the Reich Culture Chamber. A series of well-attended national and local exhibitions were held, with titles including ‘Autobahns of Adolf Hitler through the Eyes of Art’, ‘The Glory of Labour’, ‘German Father: German Land’, ‘Blood and Soil’ and ‘Race and Nation’. A series of massive sculptural muscle men paraded on or in front of Nazi buildings, reflecting the biologically pure and vigorous Aryan race.
Hitler also drew up plans for a magnificent restructured centre of Berlin, aiming at creating a new world capital, Germania, in order to present a strong nation. Hitler's plans aimed at displaying the architectural and industrial might of Germany, whilst also embracing traditional German heritage through architecture and creating a sense of community (Volksgemeinschaft).
In May 1933, the Nazi Party organised a cleanse of literature, called the Burning of Books ceremony, in which 20,000 books that were not approved by the Nazis were burnt.
Music was controlled by the Riech Chamber of Music. Stirring music and tales of German heroes were used to create a sense of patriotism, and were especially played in marches and rallies.
Posters were a massive element of Nazi propaganda. They were widely used to promote Nazism and Hitler's policy aims, namely antisemitism, anti-communism, domestic policies and Hitler’s strong leadership.