"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."

Cormac McCarthy

Last updated 4 October  2019  © Julia Edwards

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(1897-1945)

Joseph Goebbels was a key figure in Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Although he was not a military man, his role as Hitler's Minister for Propaganda between 1933 and 1945 made him one of the most important people in Germany in the run up to the Second World War.

Propaganda is one-sided, often untruthful information which is deliberately spread through the media (in this case, film, radio and newspapers) or sometimes by other means (such as advertising posters, or leaflets dropped from aeroplanes), to influence what people think.

 

Joseph Goebbels' propaganda was crucial in building support for the Nazis. He was one of the earliest members of the Nazi Party, joining in around 1924. He ran several Nazi newspapers and helped Hitler to build his reputation and reach a wider audience by filming some of his early rallies.

Joseph Goebbels, © Bundesarchiv

The Wall Street Crash in 1929, and the Great Depression that followed, was extremely helpful to Hitler and Goebbels. Lots of people lost their jobs, and Goebbels began to campaign hard, blaming Germany's economic problems on the German government for keeping the promises they'd been forced into by the Treaty of Versailles (see the page about Hitler for more on this). In the 1930 election, the Nazis got 6.5 million votes and became the second largest party in the Reichstag (like the House of Commons in Britain).

Goebbels went into overdrive, organising massive political rallies for Hitler, and then filming them. He also created enormous poster campaigns, demonising communists and Jews, saying they were responsible for the suffering of Germans who were unemployed and unable to support their families. Once Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Goebbels grew more and more powerful. His propaganda ministry encompassed all areas of daily life, including mass rallies, public health, youth, and race. He had total control of the press and of film production, censoring films (which means controlling the information, opinions and images shown in them), as well as books, art, music, and theatre. Many German artists left the country because they weren't free to work the way they wanted or express their own views.

The people most specifically and evilly targeted by Goebbels' propaganda, however, were the Jewish citizens of Germany. Goebbels had been deeply anti-Semitic for many years - which means he hated everything Jewish. The lies he spread and the vicious "information" campaigns he created, portraying Jews as monsters and criminals, paved the way for the horrifying treatment of Jewish citizens all over Europe, including Anne Frank and her family. The 'Final Solution', the planned and systematic killing of Jewish people, with the aim of exterminating all Jews, was made possible by the work Goebbels did, poisoning the minds of ordinary people against their friends, colleagues and neighbours.

Goebbels with his family. Appropriately enough for a man like him, this is an early example of 'photo-shop': the man in uniform was added in later. He was Goebbels' stepson, who was away on military duty. More sinisterly, about a year after this was taken, all six of the angelic looking children would be killed by Goebbels and his wife. They couldn't be allowed to survive when Germany was defeated.

As Hitler successfully occupied one country after another through 1940 and 1941, Goebbels took over the media networks in those countries, broadcasting propaganda to the citizens of occupied Europe. However, even Goebbels' best efforts couldn't disguise the fact that by 1945, it was clear that Germany was going to lose the war.

 

When Hitler retreated to his bunker in Berlin, in the last few days of the war, Joseph Goebbels and his family moved in with him. On 30 April, Hitler shot himself. The following day, Goebbels arranged for a dentist to inject all six of his children with morphine so that they would be unconscious while a capsule of cyanide was crushed in each of their mouths, killing them. A few hours later, Goebbels and his wife also committed suicide. The war was over, and so was the life and career of one of the most infamous propagandists the world has ever seen.