Anne Frank

Studying Media

Josef Goebbels and Nazi Propaganda

In establishing themselves in power the German Nazi party tried to be very scientific, using the latest technology to build support for the state.

It did this especially through a cult of personal loyalty to Hitler, the so-called Führer, and to the Vaterland (“Fatherland” or Latin “Patria”).

Dr. Josef Goebbels was among the most intelligent and committed of the Nazi leaders.

From 1933 to 1945 he was the Minister for Enlightenment and Propaganda.

He was very sophisticated in his use of psychology to manipulate public opinion, and opposed some of Hitler's much cruder ideas.

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Nowadays we use the name “propaganda” to refer to any organized policy by a state or other powerful body to control or coerce people's thinking.

The word is really very old, dating back at least to 1627, when Pope Urban VIII founded a College of Propaganda in Rome, for educating missionary priests.

To see some of the materials used by the Nazis, go to the German Propaganda Archive, by clicking on the link below:

Weblink - German Propaganda Archive website.
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Propaganda in Different Media


In western Europe radio was the mass medium for giving information and entertainment during the Second World War and the period leading up to it.

It may be hard, however, to find recordings of such broadcasts, as recording technology was not well-developed at the time.

In most countries there were some controls on what was broadcast - even today, few countries do what the USA does, and guarantee freedom of information.

In Germany and Britain the broadcasters used popular and traditional songs to reinforce the sense of national pride.

Some of the performers became stars because of this - Marlene Dietrich in Germany and Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn in Britain.

The Germans also used radio technology to broadcast propaganda to Britain, in the English language, in an effort to make the British people more favourable to the Nazi cause.

They did this in a series of talks by a Nazi-sympathiser, William Joyce, who was nicknamed “Lord Haw-Haw”, because he was a caricature (comic exaggeration) of an upper-class Englishman.

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Film was a medium the Germans used very effectively for propaganda purposes.

A big problem for the modern student is that many of the films are impressive as works of cinematic art, if we can suspend judgement on their content.

But it is hard to do this when the content is so offensive to modern ways of thinking. (A similar problem affects some of the earliest American films, like Birth of a Nation, which depicts coloured people negatively and is sympathetic to racist groups.)

Among the more skilful films would be those of Leni Riefenstahl, whose Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) is seen by many people as the best feature length documentary film ever made.

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Der Ewige Jüde - the Eternal Jew

This is certainly not a great work of cinema.

But it is powerful and cynical in its manipulation of the audience's attitudes and emotions.

At its heart lies a horrible metaphor - or series of linked metaphors: the Jewish people are likened to a plague of rats, which are parasites and plague carriers.

Goebbels' ministry made sure that the German audience would get the intended message, by giving them a program to read before the film and during any intermissions.

Images from Der Ewige Jüde. Click on a thumbnail image to enlarge.

Der Ewige Jüde
Der Ewige Jüde
Der Ewige Jüde

Der Ewige Jüde
Der Ewige Jüde
Der Ewige Jüde

You can find out more about this and other films by clicking on the links below:

Weblink - Wikipedia's information about Nazi propaganda films.
Weblink - Wikipedia's information about Der Ewige Jüde.
Weblink - The International Movie Database's information about Der Ewige Jüde.
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Jüd Süss

In 1934, Jew Süss a British made film appeared, based on the 1925 novel Jüd Süss by Lion Feuchtwanger, a German Jew.

In 1940, a new version was directed by Veit Harlan.

One of the stars, Werner Krauss, who plays a rabbi, was put on trial after the war, for his part in the making of the film.

“...The early 18th century Wurttemberg court Jew, Süss Oppenheimer, appears as a half-assimilated Jew who goes from ghetto to court within a few years.

Through money and Black Magic, he and his fellow Jews, such as Rabbi Loew (Werner Krauss in one of six portrayals of Jews in the film) scheme to seize power by manipulating the corrupt, drunken duke, whom they see as the archetype of the typical goy (slang term for a gentile).

Not content with his power at court, Süss wants the hand of the daughter of a local councillor.

The father rejects his suit.

Oppenheimer and his clique conspire to use the duke to suck the blood of the good people of Wurttemberg.

When the duke dies of apoplexy, Süss's power base is gone, and the righteous wrath of the people cause him to be seized and tried.

Protesting his innocence to the end, he is ultimately hanged in a cage, as snow blankets the newly tranquil Wurttemberg countryside.”
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Jüd Süss is problematic in the way that The Merchant of Venice is.

Though it depicts Jews through negative stereotypes, these are not as extreme as those in The Eternal Jew, while the historical setting makes the film seem more romantic and melodramatic.

And it is very powerful cinematically - is Süss an evil character who happens to be Jewish, or is he shown as evil because he is a Jew?

The ending of the film where the villain is justly punished as the drums roll and the snow falls over the picturesque old town is especially powerful.

The Eternal Jew is also more objectionable because it is the form of a documentary film, whereas Jüd Süss is a fictitious narrative.

On the other hand, perhaps Jüd Süss is the more harmful, because people are more likely to believe it.

Weblink - Wikipedia's information about Jud S.
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Poster Art and Visual Propaganda

Nazis made great use of visual arts to influence attitudes.

In some ways their art was typically modern, but the official Nazi view of much contemporary art, especially abstract art, was disapproving.

Nazi art is clearly representational, but what does it show or represent?

Look at the images below.

What do they tell you about official German attitudes in the Nazi era?

Postage stamps of the 1930s

Stamp 1
Stamp 2
Stamp 3
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A political poster

A Nazi looks down on a fallen comrade

To find many more images, go to the German Propaganda Archive.

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Responding to Propaganda

Creative Tasks

One way to show your understanding is to make some propaganda of your own.

If you are a teacher, you may set this as a task for your students.

You may need to be sensitive.

Some methods teachers have used show how easy it is to create prejudice - children encouraged to pick on tall people or those with blonde hair have quickly learned to discriminate.

Perhaps as social animals we are easily persuaded to follow the lead of the dominant individual, who may be the teacher!

So, for reasons of social health, it might be best to create propaganda for or against things or ideas which will not ultimately suffer - perhaps to stir up hatred against bananas or polar bears or television, or to promote powerful loyalty to oak trees, porridge or the right to ride a bike without lights at night.

Choose your own examples.

When you have chosen, see if you can create works of propaganda in a range of media, such as:

  • Films (narrative or documentary; a short episode or a part of a script may be enough)
  • Programmes (notes) to accompany the films
  • Posters for public display
  • Radio and TV broadcasts (again, you may wish to produce only the scripts for these)
  • Public “information” messages
  • Magazine and newspaper articles

These tasks could be done as spoken activities or written tasks.

You could have a mixture of both, and use appropriate computer software to present the work, e.g. using Presentation Graphics application software (like Microsoft ™ PowerPoint).

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Reading with Understanding

Use books, magazines and information and Internet technologies to find images and texts which were used as propaganda, in Nazi Germany, or some other historic situation.

Do your best to show these as examples.

Now (in speech or writing) develop explanations of the propaganda techniques used - for example:

“By alternating between images of rats swarming and unwashed people of supposedly Jewish appearance, The Eternal Jew makes the filmgoer associate Jews with rats, in an illogical way.

The film appeals to our emotions rather than our reason. ”

Use resources like the Holocaust History project to help you identify different techniques, find examples and explain how they work.

Consider as many of these things as you can:

  • Still images
  • Moving images
  • Use of colour
  • Symbolism
  • Words
  • Stereotypes
  • Narratives
  • Sounds
  • music
  • direct comparisons
  • indirect or implied comparisons
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As well as explaining the techniques you can explain the purposes of the propaganda - what are the attitudes or beliefs that they are meant to spread.

For example, does a particular piece of propaganda suggest that:

  • Jewish people have harmed Germans in the past
  • Jewish people are really rather irresponsible
  • Jewish people should certainly be killed
  • Jewish people are not human in the same way Aryan Germans are
  • Jewish people are incapable of being like Germans
  • History reveals the terrible truth about Jewish people

You could try to put these in order to show which of them are most true of the propaganda you have studied.

Remember when you find yourself writing some unpleasant things that these are not what you think.

They are what you have found that other people wrote or said.

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Explorations of Propaganda in Contemporary Fiction and Media

For more explanation of how propaganda works you could look at the following prose texts:

  • Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
  • George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

Look also at these feature films:

  • Bob Fosse (director): Cabaret
  • Louis Malle (director): Lacombe Lucien
  • Louis Malle (director): Au Revoir les Enfants

Look for episodes which show how Propaganda works, such as in Cabaret the song, If You Could See Her Through My Eyes.

When you have seen these examples and explanations, try to compare them with the real uses of propaganda, and decide which comes closest to an accurate explanation of how propaganda worked in Nazi Germany and in other historical situations.

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