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Nazi Propaganda Campaigns Both At Home And

Abroad Essay, Research Paper

Between the years of 1939 and 1945, the world experienced the most devastating war in human history. A minor conflict between Germany and an Anglo-French coalition erupted into the greatest struggle modern society has ever endured. Throughout this period, Germany produced one of the most formidable displays of political propaganda ever. The propaganda campaigns began in Germany and later influenced other countries involved in the war. Ultimately, Nazi war propaganda became so widespread and successful that it had a profound effect even on the United States, an ocean away.

Nazi Germany used the tool of propaganda during World War II on a broad and calculated basis. It was as much a part of the Nazi war machine as tanks and guns. On March 11th, 1933, the German government established the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Well-known German politician, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, headed the ministry. Although Hitler’s ideas for the ministry were different from those of Goebbels, both men had the same intention. Film was often the primary vehicle. Hitler wanted to exploit and advertise German films as political propaganda, “in such a way that every filmgoer will know: today I am going to see a political film.” Goebbels’ idea was to mask propaganda within mainstream films. By the end of the war, out of approximately 1,150 feature films, almost 20 percent were purely political propaganda films. Both men sought to exalt Hitler to such a degree that he would be viewed as a demigod. Goebbels work began in March 1933 when he met with his representatives for the first time. Goebbels discussed his aspirations for the Ministry. He used three films as examples to model his films from: Anna Karenina, The Rebel, and The Nibelungen. These films illustrated the “correct” way to disguise propaganda in film. There was no intent to disguise his ultimate goals, however. Just weeks before, he had banned a movie, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, because it publicized the secret terror tactics of the Nazis. It soon became clear that the Ministry was to eliminate every right of free speech that still remained in Germany.

Goebbels knew that an excessive amount of “hidden” propaganda in film, journalism and radio would not work. This type of propaganda had to be “fed” to the public in small “doses.” Goebbels’ dream was to “allow” a “glimpse” inside the Third Reich in a National Socialist version of Battleship Potemkin. In the film, Goebbels wanted to preach life: everything good in the Third Reich. But in a letter from Sergei Eisenstein, the creator, Eisenstein attacked Goebbels for his ideas behind the film. He questioned how he could “advertise” life while he was “inflicting death and exile” on so many. He would not allow Goebbels to produce his version of the film. This event helped Goebbels consolidate power within the Ministry. Goebbels was upset by Eisenstein’s rejection of his film. He took over the department that issued the licenses that allowed filmmakers to work on films, decide whether a finished film could be released to the public, and select actors for every film. This gain in power by Goebbels was largely unknown by the public.

The new ministry also had a significant effect on the radio industry. Despite increases in power over the film industry, control over broadcasting was the most coveted sector of public communication. When Goebbels spoke at a radio exhibition in Berlin in August 1933, he quoted Napoleon, who called press the “seventh Great Power.” He then claimed that “one could alter the words of Napoleon, and call it (radio) the eighth Great Power.”

Goebbels put a special emphasis on the development of “political broadcasts.” These radio shows ranged from propagandist poems read to music to Hitler’s speeches. The first attempt to air Hitler’s speeches resulted in public criticism. Listeners complained they could not understand what their leader was saying as he was slurring his words. It took a second broadcast of the same speeches to result in positive feedback. These were the lessons Goebbels learned during the incipient stages of his office.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Goebbels and his committee was the creation of the mass audience. In May 1933, German radio manufacturers produced the first set of inexpensive radios, the Volksempf nger. By the start of the war, 3,500,000 sets had been sold and 70 per cent of all German households owned a radio. However, the committee did now view this audience to be large enough. Soon, speakers were added into all factories across Germany. Laborers listened to poems and speeches by Hitler while working. By the start of the war, 6,000 loudspeakers had been installed into factories all over Germany. This was still viewed as insufficient. Goebbels began to broadcast Nazi propaganda to territories inhabited by Germany in the east. Although issues of foreign policy were raised, too many people were motivated by the confidence of German rulers to change anything. Propaganda had “entered” the world of radio and was efficiently operating by the start of the war.

The German government attempted to use propaganda in different ways. Firstly, they used it explicitly. When the government established the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, their intentions immediately became obvious. There was no secret; people knew what the government was trying to do. Secondly, the government tried to use propaganda on a more subliminal level. With help from Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi government attempted to bury Nazi war propaganda into film and radio. Hitler was trying to reach the public on both levels; if one failed, the other one would replace it.

The subliminal aspect of Nazi propaganda can most easily be seen in the work of German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl directed one of the most famous propaganda movies of all time, Triumph of the Will. It is the only film in which Hitler “played” the leading “role.” During the film’s prologue, Hitler descends from the heavens like the messiah to masses waiting for him in search of salvation.

Although it is now thought that Riefenstahl was put up to making films that glorified Nazi Germany by Hitler, and received Nazi funding, some believe that she was an innocent and aspiring filmmaker destroyed by speculation and rumor mongering. Evidence of propaganda in her films did not stop at Triumph of the Will. Riefenstahl went onto produce two films about the Berlin Olympics, a worldwide event dominated and controlled by Nazi Germany, both of which carried subliminal messages of Nazi propaganda. Festival of Nations and Festival of Beauty provided a glimpse into the Berlin Olympics, while at the same time offering a new dimension to the reality of the Third Reich. The films suggested that the German athletes were not merely competing for themselves and pride in their country, but to defend and worship Hitler. Similar to other films of the time, these works reaffirmed the belief that Hitler was a god to the German people; and that the only way to worship and demonstrate loyalty toward him was to defeat all competitors. Riefenstahl’s films brought the comparison between Hitler and a demigod to an entirely different level. Where other films simply showed people giving praise to him, Riefenstahl’s films showed people praying and bowing to Hitler. Her films brought a religious fervor to the “worship” of Hitler that had never been seen before in any Nazi propaganda films.

Goebbels awarded Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will the “best film” prize at a 1935 International Film Conference. With this award, Goebbels made his intentions apparent while at the same time “unmasking” propaganda that lay beneath the surface of Riefenstahl’s film.

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German propaganda campaigns made their mark in the United States with the establishment of the German American Bund. This pro-Nazi organization was founded in 1932 in Chicago under the name of “Friends of the New Germany.” The name was soon changed to the German American Bund in an attempt to attract more members. The group, led by naturalized American citizen, Fritz Kuhn, was closely connected to the Nazi party in Germany and consistently received both financial aid and guidance from the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. In its heyday, the German American Bund consisted of over 20,000 members nationwide, most of whom were located in New York City.

The people of Germany were witnessing propaganda in many different forms: radio, film and journalism. But Hitler was also concerned about those Germans living in other countries. The two principal goals of the German-American Bund were “to implement Hitler’s desire to indoctrinate people of German decent living abroad,” and to “sway American public opinion in favor of the New Germany.” Organizers attempted to make meetings a microcosm of German propaganda being “produced” in Germany.

The Bund gained power between 1936-1939 predominantly by its use of storm troopers. Throughout this period, brown-shirted young storm troopers were featured in well-known newspapers around the nation. Newspapers such as the New York Times contained pictures of these men with their arms raised high in the Nazi salute, marching in military form. These young men were generally first and second generation German-Americans, fanatically attached to their homeland. Others were non-Germans intrigued by the Bund’s militarism and ethnic code. By using young storm troopers, the Nazis accomplished two goals: firstly, they were able to establish a defense group in the United States. Secondly, the troopers also attracted the attention of the media. This allowed the Bund to gain much-desired publicity. In 1939, Fritz Kuhn held a rally of 22,000 troopers at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The meeting centered on Kuhn’s idea of Hitler as the modern counterpart of George Washington. Meetings like these were held in an attempt to gain the attention of the media and preach Nazism throughout the United States.

Attempts to expand Nazism by the German-American Bund went so far as the establishment of summer camps to preach Nazi beliefs to America’s youth. During the 1930’s, Camp Sutter in California was established as a youth camp of the national Jugendschaft movement. Jugendschaft, or “Community of Youngsters,” modeled itself after the Hitler Youth in Germany. Children were brainwashed with Nazi customs, ideals and traditions.

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Nazi propaganda used in Germany during World War II provided as an easy means for the government to indoctrinate their population. The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was assembled to hide the fascist beliefs of the Nazis in radio, film, and journalism. Yet Hitler was still concerned about Germans living outside of Germany. In order to assure that all Germans were exposed to Nazi propaganda, Hitler authorized the funding of the German-America Bund, an organization founded in the United States, designed to preach Nazi beliefs and customs to Germans living abroad. The German-American Bund was the largest example of the effect of Nazi war propaganda in the United States.

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