Paul Joseph Goebbels was the Nazi Party's first and only minister for popular enlightenment and propaganda, serving from 1933 until 1945. He was the architect of Adolf Hitler's propaganda efforts and was a key official within the Nazi Party. He remained a dedicated supporter of the party, even after the tide of war turned against Germany.
Goebbels was born in the city of Rheydt, in the Rhineland region of Germany, on October 29, 1897. His father was a bookkeeper in a lampwick factory. His parents were strict Catholics and hoped that their son would study for the priesthood. When World War I began in 1914, Goebbels was kept out of the German Army because he had a deformed foot. After the war, he disappointed his parents' hopes that he would become a member of the clergy. Instead, he decided to study German literature and attended several universities, including Bonn, Freiburg, Würzburg, and Munich before finally earning a doctoral degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1921.
After graduation, Goebbels embarked on a literary career and wrote his first novel, Michael: Ein Deutsches Schiksal (Michael: a German Destiny), shortly after leaving school. The novel was based on his experiences at university and remained unpublished until the Nazi Party's publisher accepted it in 1929. After college, Goebbels tried to find work in journalism but was unable to secure a steady position. He was a rabid anti-Semite, and in 1922, he joined the fledgling National Socialist, or Nazi Party. His initial assignment was to organize the party's youth.
In 1924, Goebbels abandoned his efforts to find work in journalism and entered politics. Franz von Wiegershaus, a nationalist politician and member of the Prussian Parliament, hired Goebbels as his private secretary. Over the next several years, Goebbels remained active in the Nazi Party. He first met Hitler after Hitler's release from prison in 1925. Hitler had decided to reorganize the party, and in 1925, he appointed Goebbels to manage the party's affairs in the Rheinland-Nord district. Goebbels was also asked to act as secretary to Gregor Strasser, a prominent Nazi official. The following year, Goebbels was promoted to Gaulieter, or district commissioner, for the German capital of Berlin. It was in Berlin that he began to distinguish himself. He reorganized the Berlin Nazi Party and built the party's weekly newspaper, Der Angriff (The Attack), into a powerful tool for denouncing the ruling Weimar government in Germany and the party's enemies.
In 1928, Goebbels became the party's head of propaganda. Over the next several years, he masterminded the party's electoral strategy, organizing a propaganda campaign that ultimately resulted in a major Nazi victory in the elections of 1933. Once in power, Hitler selected Goebbels to run a new Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. Here, Goebbels exhibited a genius for propaganda. Under his control, the ministry employed a variety of modern media—including motion pictures, radio, and the press—to build a cult around Hitler and disseminate the Nazi message abroad.
Among Goebbels' most striking accomplishments was the organization of several Nazi rallies throughout Germany, including the infamous Nuremberg rally in 1929. He was also the driving force behind the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, during which thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps while their businesses and synagogues were destroyed. Goebbels provided an account of his role in the Nazi rise to power in two books, Der Kampf um Berlin (The Struggle for Berlin), published in 1932, and Vom Kaiserhof zur Riechskanzlei (From Kaiserhof to the Reich Chancellery), which appeared in 1934.
Goebbels led a scandalous private life, which jeopardized his position within the party. He married a divorcé, Magda Quandt, in 1934. After the marriage, however, he had several affairs, a practice that irritated Hitler and ultimately undermined Goebbels' relationship with the Nazi leader. After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Goebbels tried to influence Hitler's war plans. Though Hitler appreciated Goebbels' efforts as propaganda minister, he ignored his military advice and denied him a larger role in the war effort. Despite this snub, Goebbels remained a stalwart supporter of the party, even after the tide of war turned against Germany. During the final years of the regime, he remained the party's main propaganda voice.
In 1945, Goebbels' loyalty was finally rewarded when Hitler appointed him the Third Reich's trustee for total war. By this stage, however, the Nazi war machine had been destroyed on the Eastern Front, and the reich was doomed. In the final days of the war, Goebbels moved his wife Magda and their six children into Hitler's bunker in Berlin. Hitler's final act as the German leader, before he killed himself, was to appoint Goebbels to the office of Reich chancellor. On May 1, 1945, with the soldiers of the Russian Army surrounding Berlin, Goebbels helped his wife to poison their children, then shot her, and finally himself. Goebbels' unpublished diary during 1942-1943 was discovered among his papers after his death and published in 1948.
Bramsted, Ernst, Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda, 1925-45, 1965; Buse, Dieter K., and Juergen C. Doerr, eds., Modern Germany, 1998; Reuth, Ralf Georg, Goebbels, 1994; Zentner, Christian, and Friedemann Bedürftig, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, 1991.
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Why is propaganda during this time period very important?
Was Goebbels a “true” Nazi?
What was so scandalous about his private life?
What happened to his family at the end of the war?