Why was Joseph Goebbels significant in controlling the German population?

Joseph Goebbels was a longstanding, skilled member of the Nazi elite. Hitler promoted him to Minister of People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1933. Why was Goebbels’ work effective, and how did he help control the German population in Nazi Germany?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes below.

Propaganda = Misleading information, usually created by a political party or government to help control its population.
Censorship = Banning information or ideas. Governments might ban newspapers, radio stations, books, films, etc., for example, in order to control the thoughts of its people.
Pervasive = Something that is spread very widely throughout society.

Take a look at the following questions and answer them:

1) What is a historical source?
2) Why are sources useful for Historians when they study something in history?

TASK ONE: Why was Goebbels so important in the Nazi Party?

Read the following information and complete a fact-file for Joseph Goebbels. The structure for the fact file is found on the worksheet. If you cannot download the worksheet, answer the following questions as you read the information.

1) Why was Goebbels different to most other Nazi officials?
2) How did Goebbels prove himself throughout his career?
3) How was Goebbels’ ideas on propaganda different to the rest of the Nazi Party?
4) Where did Goebbels believe propaganda should exist in German society?

Why was Joseph Goebbels so important to the Nazi Party?

Goebbels was not your typical Nazi official. Unlike other important Nazi leaders, he was a man with a high level of education. He held a doctorate in philosophy from Heidelberg University, and was a well-spoken man. He was also disabled, living with a club foot which hindered his walking. It’s safe to say he was an outlier when it came to your average Nazi leader.

Goebbels was not your average Nazi official. He was well educated and well-spoken.

He was not initially a close ally of Hitler, but the Bamberg Conference of 1926 won him over. He was initially the Head of Propaganda in Berlin, and his success led him to coordinating the propaganda surrounding Hitler’s elections to the Reichstag in the following years. His messages were so successful that he became the overall Head of Propaganda for the Nazi Party following Hitler’s Chancellorship in 1933.

Until Goebbels’ appointment to this position, the Nazi view of propaganda was rather simplistic. The emphasis was on repeating the message over and over again until people accepted it. Goebbels had a more complex idea on propaganda, believing it should be deeply buried in every corner of German society so that people accepted it as fact. This is highlighted in Goebbels own explanation:

‘The finest kind of propaganda does not reveal much itself. The best propaganda is that which works invisibly, penetrating every cell of life in such a way that the public has no idea of the aims of the propagandist’.

Goebbels explaining the importance of propaganda.

To Goebbels, propaganda should exist everywhere. It should be in the newspapers, on the radio, in sport, rallies, architecture, art, music, books and film. Propaganda should be completely pervasive in German society – it should exist everywhere.

CHALLENGE: Why might Goebbels’ vision of propaganda be more effective than the traditional Nazi view of propaganda? What effect might it have on the German people?

TASK TWO: Why was Goebbels’ propaganda so effective?

Look at the examples of propaganda orchestrated by Goebbels below. Read the information on each, look at the source and answer the questions following each source.

The press (newspapers)

Newspapers were the main way in which Germans understood the news during this time period, making the press extremely important in helping people formulate their opinions on current affairs. Newspapers did very well under the Nazi regime, but Goebbels made sure they did not print anything that criticised the Nazi Party in any way. Any newspaper that did was shut down by the Ministry of Propaganda. 1,600 newspapers were shut down in 1935 alone for this reason.

Newspapers were frequently given briefs by Goebbels as to what they should write about, meaning that they were told to produce propaganda. Journalists were also told what they could not report on frequently, meaning that newspapers were frequently censored.

SOURCE A: A Ministry of Propaganda Order

‘Photos showing Reich government ministers at dining tables with rows of bottles must not be published in the future. This has given the impression that members of the government are living it up’.

1) What does Source A show about how newspapers were organised in Nazi Germany?
2) How would this affect the opinions of regular German people?
3) Therefore, why is this source useful to the Historian who is studying propaganda in Nazi Germany?
4) Does the provenance of the source make the source more or less useful (consider who wrote it and when it was written). Why is this?

The radio

The radio became an important propaganda tool for Goebbels. From 1933, all radio stations in Germany were put under Nazi control and were heavily censored. Nazi officials, including Hitler himself, would regularly use the radio waves to spread propaganda and make speeches to the German people.

Radios began to be mass-produced by the Nazi Party and sold to the public at a very cheap price. Goebbels even gave away radios for free in Berlin on his birthday in 1938. They were made to have short ranges so that they could not pick up foreign stations. These radios were also placed in public places such as cafes, factories and schools.

By 1939, 70% of German homes had a radio – more than anywhere else in Europe.

SOURCE B: A painting called The Fuhrer Speaks, produced by a German artist in 1939. It shows a family listening to a radio broadcast by Hitler

1) How does the artist make the radio seem important in this picture?
2) Do these people look rich or poor? What does that suggest about the radio in Nazi Germany?
3) The source is from a painting made by a German person in 1939. How might this provenance affect the reliability of the source?

Nazi rallies

Image was everything to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Mass rallies and parades for the Reichstag elections saw large numbers of people waving the Nazi flag, with Hitler at the centre of these rallies.

When Hitler came to power and had the entire German state at his disposal, he made these rallies larger and more frequent. The annual Nuremberg Rally was the best example of this. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Nazi supporters attended, and the SS were extremely well organised.

At the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, the stadium was filled with 200,000 party supporters, waving 20,000 Nazi flags. Thousands of swastika banners surrounded the rally, and huge anti-aircraft lights lit up the sky around the rally. Hitler was at centre stage, positioned in front of a 100-foot wide statue of a giant eagle – the animal made to represent the German state.

SOURCE C: A video from the German History Archive showing events at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally.

1) Why would this method of propaganda be effective in controlling the German population?
2) What impression might you have of Hitler and the Nazi Party if you attended the Nuremberg Rally?

TASK THREE: How useful question.

For the following question, watch the video below.

How useful are sources A and B for an enquiry in to the effectiveness of propaganda in Nazi Germany? [8 marks]

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