The Nazi Propaganda Machine

“The perfect Aryan is blonde like Hitler, slim like Goerring and tall like Goebbels.”- German joke

Nazi propaganda was not defined by the minorities being rejected by the Third Reich. While many images, particularly later in the war, focused on “the evil Jew” or harmful minority, often, Nazi propaganda was focused around ideas of inclusivity and the “Volksgemeinschaft” (people’s community).[1] It strove to make the Aryan race feel superior but also part of something bigger than themselves. It made them feel part of a community of people ready to sacrifice for a better, stronger Germany. Often, Nazi propaganda excluded its target groups by highlighting who was included.[2]

With Joseph Goebbels at the helm, Nazi propaganda worked like a well-oiled machine, inserting itself into literature, film, music, art, radio and school lessons. It ensured that nothing bad about the Third Reich could be seen or read about.[3] Intelligently, the Nazi propaganda machine did not invent ideas from scratch and try to place them on society. Rather, it worked slowly and drew on stereotypes that were already engrained in society.[4] For example, anti-Semitism was already fairly common in Europe (although not to the degree you may think in Germany). By combining this with a severe bitterness towards a raw deal at the end of WWI that Germans felt they received, the Nazis managed to pin this loss on the Jews- portraying them as lazy and traitorous.[5] This was something that was accepted by many because of the way it was presented. As the Nazis moved into the Soviet Union, the Nazis began to link Communism with Jewry.[6] Slowly, these ideas linked into society and SLOWLY targeting was easier.

In school lessons, Jews were often portrayed as a poisonous mushroom. Metaphorically, this meant Jews may not seem any more harmful than the other “mushrooms in the forest” but they were lethal and damaging.[7] In essence, even the most Aryan-looking Jew was a danger and menace to society and the war effort. Further than this, as teacher positions were filled by Nazi party members, children were brought to the front of the classroom (often a Jewish child when still in school) and compared to various charts of Aryan physical traits. In this way, the Nazi party implemented their ideas on the youngest generations.[8]

Children's book, "The Poisonous Mushroom" from Julius Streicher's publishing house.
Children’s book, “The Poisonous Mushroom” from Julius Streicher’s publishing house.

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While one can always point to the many examples of awful, brutal propaganda that portrayed horrible stereotypes like the money-hungry Jew, we should also make note of how the Third Reich managed to bring propaganda to this point. It drew upon existing threads within society. Like many of their plans, they were implemented slowly so as to give people time to adjust and slowly accept rather than hit them like a wave. Take note of this in everything you read, watch and listen to. What messages are being filtered to us? How full are our view points?

[1] Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community, David Welch , Journal of Contemporary History , Vol. 39, No. 2, Understanding Nazi Germany (Apr., 2004), pp. 213-238

[2] Karen Priestman, The Holocaust, Western University, 2013-2014.

[3] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/propaganda_in_nazi_germany.htm

[4] Welch, 213-238.

[5] Karen Priestman, The Holocaust, Western University, 2013-2014.

[6] http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/resources/

[7] Karen Priestman, The Holocaust, Western University, 2013-2014.

[8] Karen Priestman, The Holocaust, Western University, 2013-2014.

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