How did the use of propaganda change change the eyes of many?
It is no secret that propaganda is everywhere. No matter where you look, where you are, chances are you will find videos or posters advocating political ideals. It is therefore important to analyse what propaganda really is and how effective it can be. And if there is one regime that I could think of immediatly where the effect of propaganda is discernible, it has to be the Nazi regime. Capable of convincing an entire population with different ideologies, to vote for the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). I wondered how this was possible, what techniques the Nazis used to effectively convince a majority. That’s why this article takes a deeper look at the many forms of propaganda the Nazis used.
But to understand the use of propaganda in Nazi Germany. It initially is crucial to comprehend the idea of National Socialism. National Socialism is derived from the idea of fascism that was first introduced in Italy in 1915.
An ideology founded by Benito Mussolini during his Fascio d’Azione Rivoluzionaria. Looking at the word fascism first, etymologically we can see the word “fascio”.
A bundle or sheaf in Italian. This has latin origins, coming from the word “fasces”. The fasces is a symbol of an ax that stays in the center in a bundle of rods. The ax symbolises the Roman magistrates during classical antiquity.
This roman symbol shows that the fascists see a clear connection between themselves and their Roman past.
National Socialism on the other hand, was introduced in 1920, with the creation of the NSDAP. But indirectly it refers to socialism, which was an ideology the Nazis rejected.
But the socialism the Nazis introduced was that of general welfare. It is therefore important to express the “National” in National Socialism. It is all about the people, the people of Germany.
What they perceived as intruders like Jews, Slavs, Gypsies etc. were thus in their eyes “Untermensch”. Poisoned people, bringing bad blood to Germany, let alone Europe.
Hence why they perceived them as vermin, they lack purity and quantitively are in high numbers. But more on that when we analyse the propaganda.
National Socialism also views world dynamics as a struggle for survival where only the strongest can conquer.
One of the first works that show Nazi propaganda, is of course Mein Kampf, written by Hitler himself in 1925. The work predominantly is made to show the people of Germany his views, his antisemitic and fascist views.
Mein Kampf was written while Hitler was emprisoned, after a failed coup d’état during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Having read Mein Kampf myself, it is clear that it is filled with pseudoscience and dellusional views of Pangermanismus (The idea of unifying all the Germanic speaking territories).
But how effective was this book during and after the rise of the Nazis? Considering the complexity of Mein Kampf, I would have to write a whole seperate article on the topic.
So for this article, I will simply summarise my observations to see the effectiveness of the work and the techniques that Hitler used.
Mein Kampf is an interesting work to understand the technique of rejection and contraction. This work has many chapters dedicated on the Jews who got blamed and rejected in German society.
A group of peoples, who had been living in Germany for centuries, now were perceived as intruders. They were Untermensch, who lacked the qualities that the Germanic race has.
The pure Germanics, so called Aryans, were illustrated and described as being blonde, they had blue eyes, big and strong. But the Jews were the exact opposite. Dark hair, dark eyes, and weak.
They were also seen as a plague. As said before, they had bad blood in Hitler’s eyes. If they mix with the Germans who had good blood. It would mean the end of the Germanic race, meaning the end of the world.
So the effectiveness of selecting this group, putting them in contrast with the so called “native German population”, is not to be underestimated. No longer were Jews seen as fellow humans, but as true plagues in society.
Thus the physical elimination of the Jews could get propagated in the minds of the Germans. If you don’t see a human in someone, then there is no remorse.
The Nazis had a way of making their own documentaries. Without directly showing you in what you should believe, they give you imagery so you have to make your own conclusions.
The technique makes you think you made your own observations. While in reality the film techniques encourages you to take a certain point of view. The best way to explain that is by giving some examples.
One famous documentary of the Nazis was Der Ewige Jude, directed by Fritz Hippler. The title Der Ewige Jude is comes from the Christian legend of the Wandering Jew.
The legend is from 1228, written in Flores Historiarum by Roger of Wendover. As the name implies, it’s about a wandering Jew, who was a guard of Pontius Pilate. In this legend, Jesus had to go through Pilat.
But the Jew was teasing Jesus and hit him in his back. Jesus spared him, but he would get punished on the day of judgment. The documentary simply gives fragments of the life of the Polish Jews.
The ghettos are placed in the picture and various politicians and artists of Jewish descent get introduced also Religious Ceremonies, Prayer Services and Ritual Slaughters get displayed.
Although the documentary seems harmless, they actively compare the Jews to rats and show their lives as being shabby in the eyes of the Germans. Jews are also shown as workers.
Not as hard volunteer workers, they would be too “lazy” according to the documentary. They work because the Germans “encouraged” this. Of course this was forced labour, they were not encouraged, they had no other choice.
Jews are also, of course, presented as merchants. This shows how far stereotyping goes in this documentary. Many passages are also associated with the holy book of the Jews.
The Torah. Passages are interpreted literally so that the viewers get a perspective that the Jews are turning against the Gentiles and that their faith is barbaric compared to other religions.
Another way of propagating the ideal is by showing the empire’s greatness. A typical example is the documentary of Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph des Willens, created in 1935.
The movie itself, used many interesting film techniques like moving cameras and telelenses, manipulation of perspectives, aerial photography etc. Which makes the video the more interesting for cinematographers today.
Triumph des Willens, shows scenery that could change the perception of the viewers. It already starts by giving the viewers a beautiful look of the clouds wandering above the city. It is a magical scene that could entrance any viewer.
It also shows soldiers marching through the gorgeous streets of Nuremberg. It then presents you with a recording taken in the air of the Junkers Ju 52/3M piloted by Hans Baur.
Transporting Hitler and other Nazi officials like Joseph Goebbels, giving you the perception of how great the German aircrafts are.
After landing, Hitler and his companions were greeted by an enormous crowd, showing you the popularity, the power and greatness of the Führer. That greatness of Hitler, is a central topic for the documentary.
Showing you a fragment of his speech and him standing ellegantly on his car. But especially the loyalty and the dominance of his followers is very crucial.
If you look back to the front image of this article, you see the most famous scene of Triumph des Willens.
Riefenstahl creatively used an elevator to give you that elevating perception of the crowd. Although it never directly describes what you see.
You can conclude yourself, how technologically advanced the Nazis were, how popular they were and organised.
In case you were watching the documentary of Leni Riefenstahl, you may have stumbled on the song Horst Wessel Lied without realising. That was the first song that was played.
The song was first published in 1929, but actively played in 1933 in, for example documentaries as we have seen in Triumph des Willens. The song was actively sung by the Hitlerjugend.
The Hitlerjugend was a youth movement founded by the Nazis in 1926. It created new followers and future military units. This was a youth movement for boys, the one founded for girls was the BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel).
What makes the Horst-Wessel-Lied so propagating, is the feeling of “collectivity”. The song starts with “Kamaraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen”. The word “comrades” you see in a lot of marching songs.
You can draw parallells with the Soviet marching songs. Both expressed the importance of solidarity. For the Soviets it were the proletariats, for the Germans it was the nation.
So when you listen to this, you feel like you belong to this system. As seen in Triumph des Willens, the willingness to express the greatness of the followers is also noticeable in the verse “ Es schauen aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen”.
Millions of people apparently would look at the swastika with hope. Indirectly referring to the quantitative dominance of the Nazi supporters.
Nazi posters were everywhere. In the tabloids like Der Stürmer, on the streets etc. A poster I found was about the race issue, called Rassenschande. The author has written that Julius Streicher, founder of Der Stürmer, had been raising awareness of race change since 1923.
Showing the viewer the importance of the awareness of the race issue. Warning them it is a strong offence for the Jews to racially mix with the German population.
This propaganda therefore seems to address both sides. Both the non-Jews and the Jews. Warning the Jews, to never get along with German women. And warning the Germans the dangers of falling in love with the Jews.
Claiming they are criminals and that they are a disgrace.
The Nazis used all kinds of media to illustrate their ideology. May it be music, video fragments, posters etc. But they never directly tell you in what you should believe. The Nazis simply show you imagery, centralised around an idea. It gives you an illustation, and you should draw the conclusions. And that feeling that you made your own conclusions, makes it the more convinceable. You would believe it is something you came up with by watching the propaganda. But it actually is intended that way. A hot topic of Nazi propaganda was for example the greatness of Germany. Showing you a big army, a good leader in for example Triumph des Willens. Giving you a feeling of patriotism. Which strengthened the nationalism that was taking place in Germany. But even more effective was the targeting of groups. There was severe unrest, many believe the Imperial State of Germany could have won World War I. But many that Jews backstapped the German gouvernment into forcing them to sign the Armistice on the 11th of November 1918 (Dolchstoßlegende). This was of course untrue but it was thus easier to centralise around this idea of the Jews causing unrest. No longer would it simply be greatness Germany as it being a important for propaganda, but there also is an enemy — the Jews.