, Research Paper
Like most nations of Europe in the mid 1930?s, Germany was suffering from the consequences of the Great Depression. During this period of economic and political diffculty, the country had become more susceptible to extreme political parties promising solutions to the problems which faced the country. The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, was one such group, and came to power in 1933 with the promise of making Germany great once more. Propaganda was used intensively by the Nazis as a means of achieving power in 1933, and again was the main method of tightening their hold on power. Propaganda was an inescapable part of life in Germany under Nazi rule – the press, the radio, literature, theatre, film and other forms of art and culture hammered the message, sometimes crudely and sometime subtly (Walsh, p.2). The Nazi propaganda of the 1930s was an instrumental part of persuading the German people to believe in Nazi doctrine and its foundation issue of loyalty to the state. Hitler and the Nazi party consolidated their hold on Germany (1933-36) by instilling fear in the German people, as well as preying on existing fears, and achieving surrender of individual rights through an intensive propaganda campaign.
Germany under Hitler was a society with little personal choice, and few individual rights. Only in this way could Hitler be sure that his power would not come under threat. Suppression of individual rights and liberties could be seen in a number of ways, and is illustrated in White & Hadley?s Germany 1918-1945 (see appendix 1). This illustration shows Hitler and his subordinates standing on a platform which is supported by bound and gagged German people, each representing religious freedom, academic freedom, labour and trade unions, and freedom of the press. This illustration, featured in American newspaper The Nation, would imply that surrender of individual rights was demanded, and that this suppression was part of the basis of the Nazi party?s success. The bias in the illustration is apparent – to an outsider it would seem that Hitler ?restored honour and freedom to the German people? by suppressing their basic rights. This was done by distributing propaganda that would have the populous believe that their sacrifices were for the economic and social good of the country. Being in the midst of economic instability, the German people did not oppose sacrificing their rights for a more stable economy and future. Further examples of suppression of individual rights can be seen in the Nazi control of schools – religious education was limited to once a week and only the Fuhrer?s viewpoint was taught.
One could wonder how this suppression of the most basic of civil liberties could be accepted by the German people, and this can be explained by the propaganda that infiltrated the daily lives of Germans under Nazi rule. Hitler?s propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, ensured that every aspect of the press was covered and was espousing only Nazi ideas. In this way the entire population could be converted to the Nazi way of thinking (Holt & Pickard, p. 220), and would believe that their individual sacrifices were for the good of Germany. After all of the advantages promised by Hitler on his election, such as the rebuilding of the German economy and the expansion of the army, the sacrifices made by the average German paled in comparison (Legislation in Hitler?s Germany, class handout). Holt and Pickard continue: “Individual rights counted for nothing; only the rights of the community were recognised and who, or what was useful to the community only had recognition in law.” (Holt & Pickard, p. 221). Indeed, Hitler?s Nazi regime was consolidated so successfully because no one dared refute the Nazi way of thinking, which was that the good of the German state should be prioritised before individual rights and opinions. Thus, “political indoctrination and propaganda seemed to rob the majority of the German people of their will to protest” (Moss, p. 119).
Another factor in the German peoples? reluctance to protest against the Nazis was the fear that they had of the Party, whether it was real and justified or instilled in them by propaganda. Germany under Hitler was “a dictatorship which was being maintained with the most ruthless methods of terror.” (Gray, p. 71). This was one of the most abhorred tactics employed by the Nazis, and one which was experienced by many Germans living under Hitler?s rule. A deep fear of the men of their own government was a constant for the German people. With the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, on every street corner or in every apartment block, individual political opinions could not be expressed without fear of being arrested or killed.
The Gestapo were also a cause for fear for parents of school-aged children. The Hitler Youth was a prominent youth organisation under Nazi rule. The Hitler Youth was itself a form of propaganda, or at the very least a vehicle for it. As membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory, all children were encouraged to betray their parents to the Gestapo if they expressed anti-Nazi views. Members constantly encountered Nazi propaganda, with the message that loyalty to the state was essential above all else. Teachers were also subject to this monitoring by members of the Hitler Youth. Simply, anyone who was near children had to be careful about what they said concerning their political views, or risk being arrested. The same was true about expressing anti-Nazi opinions around anyone who could not be trusted – however the fear felt by the German people was so strong that, as aforementioned by Moss, the majority of Germans did not have the will to contradict the Nazis. Even if there was will, however, it was almost impossible to carry out a course of action for fear of punishment or death.
Furthermore to this, there was one group in particular who had even more reason to fear the Nazi party – Germany?s Jewish population. Hitler?s views on the Jewish population were well known, and he regarded Jews as ?international conspirators? and as the cause of dreaded diseases such as syphilis (Hitler, p. 336). Hitler also utilised a prevalent German tradition of anti-Semitism, and further publicised predominant opinions that the Jews controlled the economic life of the country (White & Hadley, p. 79). Nazi propaganda soon made Hitler?s views even more public, and the propaganda stretched as far as anti-Semitic beer mats (see appendix 2) claiming that supporting a Jew by buying from his business made a person a national traitor. Julius Streicher?s anti-Semitic newspaper, Der Sturmer (The Stormer) ran for 22 years and denounced Jews in crude, vicious and vivid ways (Bytwerk, p. 279). An example of this can be seen in a cartoon called The Decent Jew (see appendix 3) featured in the July 1936 issue. It portrays the a Jewish man asking politely for room on a bench, and then pushing the other occupant off. The accompanying poem notes that all Jews would behave in the same way in other circumstances. In April of 1933, a boycott of Jewish shops was ordered by Hitler. A private letter from a Jewish refugee describes the “Boycott Saturday” of 1933: “Nearly everyone is faced with the question – what will happen to us? Dr. K. has been discharged from the hospital, Dr. W. has been fired from his school.” It can clearly be seen in this letter the circumstances which faced Jews, and the fear of what lay ahead for them was obvious. The letter continues: “Nazis shouted down through loudspeakers: “Down with the Jews! Jews, die like beasts!”. Quite obviously these threats would have created a great amount of fear among the Jewish communities for their personal safety. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 added to this fear, with their decrees that Jews could not be citizens of Germany or enter into a marriage with a non-Jew. If these laws were broken, imprisonment and death were the likely punishment. It therefore can be clearly seen how fear permeated the lives of all Jewish Germans.
Aside from a strong angle of anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews, the propaganda which was so evident during Hitler?s rule was aimed at instilling in the German people a fear of Communism and other political systems – particularly the Weimar republic, which was seen to have coped so badly with the depression – and espoused Hitler as the ?preferable alternative?. Much of the Nazi propaganda spoke about the poor economic reparation that Weimar had done, and professed the evils that would befall Germany if the people chose Communism or Social Democracy over Nazism. A Nazi leaflet, distributed soon after the burning of the Reichstag, proclaims:
“The Reichstag in flames! Set alight by Communists!
This is what the whole country would look like if Communism
and its ally, Social Democracy, came to power!” (see appendix 4)
In accusing Communists of instigating the fire, the Nazis instilled in the German people a fear of Communists and the notion that Hitler was the only truly safe option. The leaflet goes on: “Innocent citizens shot down as hostages! Farmers? houses burnt down!?stamp out Communism! Smash Social Democracy!”. Continuing to portray communists as an evil party who would kill its citizens and burn their homes, the Nazis very successfully instilled a feeling of fear towards Communists, indeed “many German industrialists, fearful of Communism?.gave the (Nazi) party financial backing.” (Legislation in Hitler?s Germany, class handout.).
The rise to power in 1933 of a party with “a policy to rescue Germany from the disgrace of weak democratic leadership and the threat of world Communism” (Open Access Support: Ed. Qld – class handout) could not have been possible without the propaganda machine that the Nazis orchestrated so successfully. Nor could the Nazi party have consolidated its hold on Germany without relying on propaganda to instill fear in the German people, as well as preying on existing fears, and achieving surrender of the individual rights of the German population.