Nazi propaganda

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Propaganda was one of the most powerful ways in which the Nazis aimed to achieve their objectives. The aim was to persuade people to abandon traditional loyalties to family, religion, class, region or trade union with loyalty to “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer”. Propaganda is the organised spread of information – in Nazi Germany much of this information was biased or false.

The various messages Nazi propaganda were designed to emphasise included the following:

  • Cult of the leader: Hitler had god-like power and wisdom.

  • N

    ationalism: the traitors who had stabbed Germany in the back should perish and the volk would be united in one Reich.

  • A
    nti-Semitism: hatred of the Jews who were presented in a stereotyped way.


Hitler was aware of the importance of propaganda and chose Goebbels, a brilliant follower, as his propaganda chief in 1928. He invented the “Hitler Myth” and published pamphlets and organised demonstrations and election campaigns. In January 1933 he was appointed Minister of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment. He took control of newspapers, films, radio and the arts. He was a master of publicity and exploited the Reichstag fire, the burning of books and the Berlin Olympics in 1936. He introduced the term “Heil Hitler” as a regular form of greeting for party members. His importance lessened as Hitler’s position became more secure after 1934 but his importance increased again towards the end of the war when German needed to be convinced of the need to keep on fighting. He said: “The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they will succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it”. He believed that the Nazis would have to use every possible means to proclaim its message.

  • Posters and paintings were aimed at all members of the community. People were encouraged to have a painting of Hitler in their homes and posters were aimed at all sections of society. The peasant was depicted as the backbone of German society and was romanticised in scenes showing peasants sowing seeds by hand and ploughing with horses

  • Radio - the Nazis gave priority to radio as this increased the impression of personal contact between the people and their leader. After 1933, Goebbels brought all German broadcasting under the control of the Reich radio Company. He placed party broadcasters in charge and insisted on the broadcast of Nazi ideology. In addition there were news bulletins, speeches by eminent Nazis and classical, folk and military music by German composers. In 1932 only 25% of German households had a radio; by 1939 70% had a radio – the highest figure in the world.

  • Press - during the depression, Hitler found a powerful ally in Alfred Hugenberg, a newspaper proprietor. In 1933 all opposition papers were banned. The Reich Press Law called for “racially pure journalism”. Newspapers were forced to sack all Jewish, left wing and liberal editors. The Nazi publishing house, Eher Verlag, bought up many titles so that by 1939, two thirds of the German press was controlled by the Nazis. Goebbels introduced a daily press conference at the Propaganda Ministry to provide guidance for editors. The Volkischer Beobacter (“People’s Observer”) and Goebbels’ Der Angriff (“The Attack”) were widely read. All foreign news came from the German Press Agency and the photographs were controlled. The result was drab and repetitive newspapers.

  • Cinema - although Goebbels realised that film was a potent way of influencing the masses he used it sparingly and intelligently. He removed all Jewish producers, directors and actors. Marlene Dietrich left for Hollywood. Leni Riefenstahl was commissioned to produce Triumph of the Will, a record of the 1934 Nuremberg rally, and a film about the 1936 Olympics. Many audiences found it too long and repetitive, but it was technically marvellous. Goebbels believed in the value of film as a method of escapism and during the war he considered that Germans needed good films to boost morale. He also produced anti-Semitic films like The Eternal Jew but audiences were repelled by the crude images.

  • Literature and Music - the Nazis denounced thousands of writers as degenerates and banned their works. In May 1933 there was a torch lit procession of students and young Nazis through Berlin’s streets – they ransacked private and public libraries and burned thousands of books in great bonfires. 2,500 authors fled; the most famous were Bertoldt, Brecht and Thomas Mann. The Nazis encouraged the music of revered composers like Beethoven and Wagner but they banned the work of the Jewish composer Mendelssohn, and foreign composers like Stravinsky and Mahler, who were considered too modern. Jazz was considered decadent and “negro”.

  • Architecture - Albert Speer was a distinguished architect who joined the Nazi party in 1931 and he served as advisor to Hitler from 1933-45. In 1933 Hitler appointed him as ‘master builder’ of the Third Reich and he designed monumental buildings in Nuremberg and Berlin. He was the inventor of the forest of flags and lighted vaults that gave a solemn setting to the mass rallies at Nuremberg. In 1942, he was put in charge of armaments production. He was sentenced to 20 years at Nuremberg. After his release he wrote Inside the Third Reich published in 1970 – it gives a vivid account of the lives and ideas of Nazi leaders. Hitler considered himself as something of an expert on art and architecture. Modern art was seen as degenerate and “cultural Bolshevism”. The Reich Chamber of Visual Arts preferred realistic portrayals of landscapes and scenes of everyday life that depicted the true Aryan spirit. Hitler considered that architecture would be the physical evidence of one thousand years of Nazi rule. He became obsessed with grandiose plans for the rebuilding of Berlin and Nuremberg. Speer designed the arena for the Nuremberg rallies and for the Berlin Olympics.


  • Hitler wanted to link the Nazis to the glories of Germany’s past. The heart of the movement was the city of Nuremberg, which was a medieval city.

  • The first official rally was held here in 1927 and was attended by 30,000 SA, SS, HJ. Hitler made speeches condemning Weimar and the Nazi party planned for government. Between1933-38 the rallies became much more elaborate.

  • The 1933 rally ‘The Rally of Victory’ was the first of the monster rallies; 500,000 people took part and it took place in an airfield called the Zeppelin Field (11 sq. kms). Hitler and Goebbels made speeches on “The Racial Question” and “World propaganda”.

  • The 1934 rally is the best remembered of all the rallies. It was devised as a means of promoting the Fuhrer cult; his followers were encouraged to think of him as a demi-god and much of the pageantry and ritual is quasi-religious.

  • Leni Riefenstahl, 31year-old actress filmed the entire rally; it is considered to be a masterpiece –Triumph of the Will. Here are some of the highlights of the film:

  • Hitler’s arrival: The Nazi theme song plays as Hitler arrives through clouded skies, descending god-like to meet the adoring crowds. The Messiah (Saviour) theme is emphasised by Wagner’s heroic music.

  • The motorcade: Hitler is driven to his hotel greeted by cheering crowds. His hand catches the sun – he is the saviour who brings light, power and purification.

  • Scenes from the rally: The tent-city of workers and soldiers is a happy, purposeful place. The presence of the Hitler Youth, SA and DAF to the accompaniment of military music shows blood brotherhood and male camaraderie. Goebbels speaks about the importance of propaganda. The film is dominated by scenes showing massed rows of Nazis in half-profile mesmerised by their leader and endless swastikas, close-ups of Hitler and torch-lit processions.

  • Loyal Ceremony of the workers: the workers use their shovels as rifles and they form an army of ‘work-soldiers’.

  • Hitler reviews the troops: The film shows spectacular scenes depicting the growth of German military might.

  • Hitler’s speech at the evening rally: Hitler is a demagogue, able to rouse the audience with his oratory. His speech is punctuated by applause.

  • The 1935 rally is best remembered for the proclamation of the Nuremberg Laws.

  • The 1936 rally again focuses on the Hitler cult and over 1m people attended. A great setting had now been created by Hitler’s architect, Speer. As Hitler was greeted, spotlights suddenly shot up 150kms into the sky, creating a dome of light. There were huge displays of flags, light and disciplined columns. Hitler announced his ‘Four year Economic Plan’ calling for rearmament and a drive to self-sufficiency.

  • The 1937 and 1938 rallies: Hitler had become more extreme in his views and was obsessed with the idea of a Reich which would last for a thousand years and the attack on “Jewish Bolshevism”.

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