Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (or National Socialist German Worker’s Party) created in the Third Reich the most extreme and terrifying example of a totalitarian regime the world has ever seen. It is often wondered quite how a sophisticated and highly developed 20th century nation was politically overpowered by the Nazis. One answer, and a major factor in the Nazi’s effectiveness as a political force, was that not only did they ruthlessly deploy violence against dissidence, but they also utterly mastered the art of propaganda, fabricating a national ideology around their twisted beliefs. Here we take a look at some of their most evil and insidiously effective propaganda techniques.
1. Posters – Using symbolic imagery
Hitler and his leaders understood the power of propaganda in conveying the party line, and poster art was often at the heart of the publicity machine. Both at home and in occupied territory, posters were a powerful means to simply communicate the main Nazi policies, through simplified and metaphorical imagery. At home, posters often focused on boosting the morale of production workers, telling them ‘You are the Front!’ Abroad, the posters offered a romanticized ideal of the Nazi Party as a force for good, often employing religious imagery which represented Hitler as a liberating hero.
2. Anti-Semitism – Scapegoating of minorities
Following the devastating outcome of WWI and the Wall Street of Crash of 1929, Germany was in a precarious economic position, with hundreds of thousands out of work. To explain this, the Nazis blamed the Jews. The Nazi Party accused them of being a parasitic race that attached itself to capitalist nations to destabilize the economy and culture of their ‘host’ nation. Hitler’s own fanatical anti-semitism became even more pronounced in party policy after the Nazi’s rise to power in 1933. By blaming a minority racial group for all of the country’s ills, the Nazis created a set of scapegoats who could be blamed at every opportunity for almost anything. In posters, art, cartoons and film, the Jews were equated with rats and caricatured as hook nosed misers, stealing money from the honest ‘Aryan’ German workers.
3. Radio – Controlling mass media
The radio broadcast was recognized by the Nazis as one of the most important propaganda tools in their arsenal. In 1933, their Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, called radio the ‘eighth great power’ and predicted that it “will be for the 20th century what the press was to the nineteenth.” He initiated a scheme whereby the German government subsidized the production and sale of cheap radio sets – the Volksempfanger, or ‘people’s receiver’ – limited in range to local German and Austrian stations. This placed the party’s voice in every home in the country. By the start of the war, nearly the entire nation had fallen under the radio’s spell and was bombarded with speeches and ‘news’ designed to brainwash the population.
4. Film and Cinema – Controlling the social sphere
While the party entered German homes, it also entered the social sphere, controlling what people would pay to go and see. A Department of Film was set up in 1933 with the expressed aim of “spreading the National Socialist world view to the entire German people.” Primarily it did this by holding film shows, a frequent and popular occurrence in German cities and towns. Hitler and Goebbels were both fascinated by the medium and regularly showed films in their own homes. Two of the most famous examples of Nazi cinema are Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, which documents the Nuremburg rally of 1934, and 1940’s The Wandering Jew, a documentary style attack on the Jewish people.
5. Newspapers – Controlling the press
Newspapers have always been a powerful means of influencing thought and opinion. The most notorious of the Nazi newspapers was Der Sturmer (‘The Attacker’). Although separate from the official party regime and Goering’s own departments (he actually forbade it from his offices), it was a major part of the propaganda war. Published by Julius Streicher, its tabloid style, rabid anti-semitism and obscene content won it favor with other party officials. Hitler himself praised its effectiveness in speaking to the ‘man on the street’ and was said to ‘read it with pleasure, from first page to last.’
6. Mein Kampf – Mythologizing the party
Adolf Hitler began work on his sprawling semi auto-biography Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’) while imprisoned after the failed Munich Putsch. Combining elements of his own life with political ideology and violent racial arguments, the book was unsurprisingly (and still is) a controversial work. Playing on the death of 16 party members in the failed coup, the Nazis invented a myth around the event which they would continue to play on throughout their time in power. From the publication of Mein Kampf in 1925 and especially during Hitler’s time in power, the book was incredibly successful, and 10 million copies had been produced by the end of the war. However, not everyone was enthused. One of Hitler’s closest foreign political allies, Benito Mussolini, described it as ‘a boring tome that I have never been able to read.’
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