How far-reaching was the Nazi propaganda machine?

Whilst Goebbels made use of the radio and the newspapers to, rather obviously, spread the Nazi message, he also ensured Nazi propaganda was found everywhere in society. Where could this propaganda be found, how far-reaching was it, and was it effective?

You can download the worksheet here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, complete the questions as outlined in the yellow boxes below.

KEY WORDS:
Subtle = Something that cannot be easily spotted.
Gleichshaltung = synchronization, or consistency. This was the idea that all types of propaganda should spread the same overall message.
Neo-classical = An architectural style that takes inspiration from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

STARTER:

Hitler and his Nazi officers loved Walt Disney films. Yet these animated films were American, and Goebbels was worried that they would spread American values throughout Germany. The Ministry of Propaganda therefore created its own version of Micky Mouse – Hansi the Canary.

Watch some of the film Armer Hansi (1943) below. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. What subtle propaganda can you pick out from this animated film? You may want to focus on what Hansi looks like.

TASK ONE: How did the Nazis achieve their policy of Gleichshaltung?

Read the information below on the different ways Goebbels and his Ministry of Propaganda spread the Nazi message throughout society. As you are reading, complete the table below to outline (a) how the Nazi message was spread, and (b) why this would have been effective in controlling the population.

How did the Nazis achieve their policy of Gleichshaltung?

Sport

Goebbels saw sport as a great opportunity to encourage the German people to celebrate the strength of German athletes, and therefore the strength of the German nation. Every victory by a German national team could be turned into evidence that the German race was strong and mighty for the Nazis.

Major sporting events were ‘Nazified’ as Nazi symbols were implemented everywhere. Sporting stadiums were covered in Nazi symbols and banners. In addition, all teams that participated in playing sports in Germany (even the international away teams in football, for example) had to perform the Nazi salute whilst the German national anthem played.

Germany vs England international friendly, May 1938. Notice how both teams are performing the Nazi salute before the game kicks off.
German football fans at White Hart Lane (Tottenham Hotspur’s ground) at an international friendly between England and Germany in 1935. It’s interesting that some men are not participating in the salute, but most are.

The Berlin Olympics of 1936

Goebbels had his chance to formulate his most widespread and high-profile propaganda campaign when Germany had the chance to host the Summer Olympics in 1936. Sport was used by the state to promote propaganda like never before.

A 110,000 capacity Olympic stadium was built, surrounded with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. This was the biggest stadium in the world. It’s even bigger than the modern day Wembley stadium (90,000 capacity) or the London Stadium (80,000 capacity).

Germans won the most medals at the games (33), and the newspapers were ordered to report on the success of the German race by Goebbels. The games were even filmed with state-of-the-art cameras, filmed by Germany’s top film directors, Leni Riefenstahl. The footage was turned into a propaganda documentary that was released in cinemas in 1938.

The 1936 Olympics were famous for Jesse Owens, a black American, winning the 100-metre sprint. Hitler, who was at the awards ceremony, refused to shake the athlete’s hand.

The opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympics showcased the military strength of the Nazi state. I’m not sure they could have fitted in any more swastikas even if they wanted to…

Art

Remember the art style, new objectivity that became so popular in Weimar Germany? Well, unsurprisingly, the Nazis hated it. They criticised the liberal thinking of the Weimar era, arguing that it had made the country unstable. New objectivity inspired the artist to paint or sculpt events that were actually happening. Instead, Goebbels wanted a return to a traditional style that promoted the strength of the German nation.

To ensure all artists adhered to this expectation, Goebbels set up the Reich Chamber of Culture in 1933 to make sure artwork produced by Germans was consistent with the Nazi message. This was a key way in which the Nazis could achieve gleichshaltung.

All painters and sculptors were required to become members under the Reich Chamber of Culture. 42,000 artists were accepted. Those who were not were forbidden to teach, produce or sell art. Any artists who were accepted and began making ‘questionable’ art would have their license removed, and probably punished. The gestapo even made surprise visits to artists’ studios to check up on the artwork they produced.

In 1936 alone, over 12,000 pieces of art were removed from art galleries, including work by Picasso and Van Gogh. Competitions were held by the Reich Chamber of Culture, whereby artists could win large sums of money for their work. The Greater German Art Exhibition was held in 1936, and 900 exhibits of work was shown for this competition.

An image of one of the exhibits at the Greater German Art Exhibition in 1936. Notice how the sculptures depict the strong Aryan man and the ‘perfect’ Aryan woman.

Architecture

Remember the architectural style, Bauhaus, that was so popular in Weimar Germany? Well, once again, unsurprisingly, the Nazis hated that too. The architectural style encouraged liberal thinking, according to Goebbels – it was too futuristic and encouraged people to think about what they could have rather than what they already have.

Instead, a neo-classical style was encouraged. This drew on inspiration from buildings in ancient Rome and Greece, and made Germany seem powerful like these civilizations.

A typical neo-classical building built in the Nazi regime. Notice how the pillars are made to represent strength.

Architects like Albert Speer were favoured by Goebbels. He designed buildings that were large, giving the Nazi state an impression of being powerful. He used features like domes, arches and pillars that were popular in ancient Greece and Rome. The buildings therefore looked historic and powerful.

Music

New, popular music, such as jazz, had taken off in Weimar Germany. This was subsequently banned on Nazi radio stations as it was seen as the work of black people, and therefore an inferior race. The works of Jewish musicians was also banned.

Classical and folk music was promoted instead. Richard Wagner was promoted as his music was inspired by Germanic legends. In addition, Beethoven and Bach were encouraged as they were successful German composers.

Literature

Similar ideas on who or what could be published in books was also strictly enforced. Every new book publication had to be approved by the Chamber of Culture; many new books were never allowed to be published.

Millions of books that the Chamber of Culture did not agree with were taken from universities and public libraries. These books were burned in the streets on large bonfires.

In May 1933, students in Berlin burned 20,000 books written by Jews, communists and others that the Nazi Party disagreed with. This included work by Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and others.

A member of the SA contributing to a book burning bonfire in Berlin, 1933

Film

The cinema was becoming more and more influential to everyday Germans. Cinemas registered attendances of 250 million in 1933. It was clear to Goebbels that he needed to embed propaganda into film.

Similar to book publications, every plot detail of new films had to be approved by the Chamber of Culture. Many were rejected.

Every cinema screening began with a 45-minute news-reel about the successes of the Nazi state.

The Nazis made a series of films directly themselves. They frequently made films for entertainment, but had underlying political messages. The film Hitlerjunge Quex (1933) depicts a young boy in the Hitler Youth being murdered by a communist. Cartoons like Hansi the Canary were produced for young children. Hansi, the lovable protagonist, was made to look like Hitler, whilst evil crows were made to represent Jews. By the end of their reign in 1945, the Nazis had made 1,300 films in total.

TASK TWO: How useful is Source A for an enquiry in to the use of propaganda in Nazi Germany?

For this task, you are not expected to write an answer in the exam style. However, I’d like you to look at the source and try to put as much information as you can regarding the content of the source, its provenance and as much context you can think of to back up the source. Input your information in the table below.

SOURCE A: Extracts from the Twelve Theses against the Un-German Spirit. This set out guidelines for German university students on banned literature. It was posted around German universities in May 1933.

1. It is the German Volk’s [people’s] responsibility to assure that its language and literature are the pure expression of its traditions.

2. At present there is a chasm [gap] between literature and German tradition. This situation is a disgrace.

4. Our most dangerous enemy is the Jew and those are his slaves.

5. A Jew can only think Jewish. If he writes in German, he is lying. The German who writes in German, but thinks un-German, is a traitor!

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