Chapter One: The Mythical World of Nazi Propaganda
The term "propaganda" is more often used than understood. The reason for the confusion is evident: there has never been a definition of propaganda to which all scholars will adhere, as Professor Barghoorn has pointed out in his work Soviet Foreign Propaganda. Holt and van de Velde define it as the "attempt to influence behavior . . . by affecting through the use of mass media of communications, the manner in which a mass audience perceives and ascribes meaning to the material world." Harold Lasswell speaks of "the management of mass communications for power purposes." But none of these definitions nor any other is satisfactory in itself to come adequately to grips with National Socialist propaganda.
Nazi propaganda was unique in the way it merged the practical and political with the mythical. Hitler, more than any other twentieth century leader, focused on the irrational through myths and symbols in his propaganda; all the day-by-day themes he employed were subsumed in the mythical whole, the Hitlerian ethos based on race. The Jewish enemy was clearly defined as the group on which the collective fears of the nation might be directed, and thereby purged. Further, the Hitler cult offered a safe harbor against the storms of dissonant modernity symbolized by mass man. For those who would not respond to the offbeat racial ideas of the National Socialist Party, Hitler offered renewed pride in the German nation, so shamed by Versailles and the subsequent humiliations perpetrated by the Allies.
The peculiar genius of Hitler and Goebbels was to merge the themes of traditional German patriotism with Nazi, ideological motifs, a course pursued from the days of the earliest Munich rallies in 1919 until 1945. At many points German biases became indistinguishable from National Socialist thought, a situation the Party exploited by claiming sole authority to define genuine Germanness. By uniting patriotism and Nazi ideology, Hitler forged a compelling weapon against what he termed the "immorality of Weimar rationalism," the symbol of cultural decadence, racial impurity, and Jewish putrefaction.
Nazi propaganda has only recently come to receive the attention commensurate with its importance. Both Helmut Heibet's biography of Goebbels and Z. A. B. Zeman's Nazi Propaganda are adequate ntroductory works. Ernest K. Bramsted's Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-1945 is a creditable survey but is flawed by the author's limited use of the captured German records and he inaccessibility of the propaganda elite for interview purposes during the 1950s when the work was being researched. Marlis Steinert offers a cogent analysis of Stimmung and Haltung in wartime Germany in her Hitlers Krieg und die Deutschen.
Myth was at the core of National Socialism, but heretofore this theme has been underplayed in studies on the propaganda of the movement. When Goebbels told his lieutenants in the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda during the war that "propaganda does not have anything to do with the truth! We serve truth by serving a German victory," he was voicing his conviction that he authoritarian power network and the mass communication and propaganda machinery all served a higher ideal, the National Socialist world view based on myth and the irrational. It is the purpose of this book to analyze the development of Nazi propaganda during Norld War II as a function of Party ideology.
Nazi ideology and in turn Goebbels's propaganda embraced a veritable mythical solar system. At the center was the primary myth of Aryan man's racial struggle against the "international Jewish conspiracy," and a descending mythical hierarchy ranged from the Fuhrer cult to the nobility of the warrior's death, from "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans" to the English "plutocrats." The prime importance which Goebbels assigned the myth of the "international Jewish conspiracy" reflected Hitler's obsession with this theme. As Karl Dietrich Bracher has argued, "National Socialist . . . control and victory over Jews and 'inferior peoples', the volkisch-racial revolution, remained the single genuine core in Hitler's Weltanschauung . . ." What made the theory even more effective in the hands of the Nazis was that it was never challenged within the Party in any meaningful way, and as a result Nazism did not suffer the dislocations resulting from major theoretical disputes which characterized the Soviet experience.
Hitler's exploitation of anti-Semitism conforms to the dictum that he offered little ideology that was new; instead he utilized themes which already enjoyed considerable popularity. The Jew had been stereotyped long before the Nazis began to make unashamed use of the prejudice. Age-old Christian anti-Semitism was as pervasive as ever, and the Party inherited an especially virulent case of modern man's resentment of an urban, industrial, money-centered civilization. The Jews epitomized this civilization as well as did any other cohesive group.
The widespread contempt for the Jews had been given the appearance of scientific respectability by Gobineau, Vacher de Lapouge, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Their racism, Nolte observed, was "first and foremost an instrument of defense of a leading class which was threatened or had already lost its power, but yet which still remained influential, and self-conscious." Franz Neumann has contended that racism was a substitute for the class struggle. Whatever its nature, racism spoke to the needs of modern man and became a natural component of cultural pessimism, whose spokesmen, de Lagarde, Langbehn, and Moeller van den Bruck, reflected the basic insecurity of the era and contributed through their writings to the hatred of the Jews.
This hatred was exacerbated by the currency given to one of the more clever hoaxes of the modern period, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." According to the "protocols," an international clique of Jewish conspirators was preparing to assume total power over all the nations of the world. Despite the absurdity of the "protocols" they were widely disseminated. The predilection of many Germans for the mystical was exploited by the Franconian gauleiter Julius Streicher, whose newspaper, Der Stiirmer, spread the age-old tales of Jewish ritual murders and magic to a reading public who responded to his unrelenting warnings of the threat to "Aryan womanhood" posed by the stealthy Jew.
According to Hitler, the war was less a struggle among nations than a fight to the finish pitting Aryan against Jew. As Goring declared in a Sports Palace address in October 1942, "This is not the Second World War, this is the Great Racial War. The meaning of this war, and the reason we are fighting out there, is to decide whether the German and Aryan will prevail or if the Jew will rule the world." Hitler began the war, led it, and ended his life with a curse against the Jews on his lips.
In order that the German people would be cognizant of the dangers posed by Jewry, the Nazis produced a documentary film entitled The Eternal Jew. Filmed in the ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz and released in 1940, it contrasted Jewish individualism and "self-seeking" with the National Socialist ideal of Volksgemeinschaft. Secondly, it revealed that the Jew was motivated solely by "lust for money," the antithesis of the cherished values and ideals of the German cultural tradition. The Jew was a parasite. Not only did he differ from the Aryan in body, but more significantly in soul, for the Jew had no soul!
Pitiable ghetto scenes were shown to incite contempt and hatred for the race which allegedly had urged the Allies to attempt to destroy the Nazi state founded on social justice. After seemingly endless footage of Jewish slaughter practices, which depicted the agony of animals being bled to death, the narrator made it clear that National Socialist Germany would eradicate the perpetrators of such cruelty and barbarity from the face of the earth. The message of The Eternal Jew was obvious--a parasitical race dedicated to gold and stealth, and devoid of soul, was fit only for liquidation.
By all accounts, The Eternal Jew enjoyed little of the success of the1940 release Jud Suss which featured several of Germany's most outstanding stars in a pseudohistorical dramatization of the Jewish question. Goebbels took a consuming interest in the production of this film which was directed by Veit Harlan and served as a medium to contrast Aryan-Jewish stereotypes. Jud Suss was based in part on the career of Joseph Suss-Oppenheimer, who in fact had gained notoreity as a financial adviser to Duke Karl Alexander of Wilrttemberg from 1732 to 1737, but Goebbels's directives to Harlan made a mockery of poetic license. The Nazis' Suss not only cheated the state, but what was much worse he used his position to commit an unspeakable crime against the blood of the German--Volk-Rassenschande--by defiling a blonde, Aryan maiden played by Kristina Soderbaum. Ferdinand Marian gave a stellar performance as Suss, whose character as the archetype swindler, cheater, and " race defiler" symbolized world Jewry. Only after his lust had run its course--the beautiful seduced victim had found redemption in a drowning suicide and the state was bankrupt--did the Swabian Volk awake and demand justice. The last scene depicting Jud Suss dangling from the hangman's noose conveyed Goebbels's brutal message to the German people. Himmler was so impressed with the production that he ordered every SS man to see it. The actors who played Jewish roles were so convincing that they asked Goebbels to announce publicly that they were not Jews but good Aryans merely playing parts as actors in the service of the state. Without question, Jud Suss contributed to the radical anti-Semitism already prevalent in Germany and eased the way for the evacuation of the Jews.
Hitler was explicit about the fate of the Jews and several months before the war he warned what lay in store for them: "I want to act as a prophet once more today: if international Jewry should succeed in driving the powers into a world war once more, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the world and thereby the victory of Jewry, but instead the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." This prophecy was clearly echoed early in the war when Helmut Sundermann, second in command to Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich, published an article entitled "Twilight of the European Jews," which asserted that the end of the "bastardized, poisonous Jewish race" was drawing near. Soon the Jews would be but an "ugly memory." Although public mention of the "final solution" was avoided, every means short of an announcement of the mass liquidations were taken to prepare the nation psychologically for the fait accompli.
The Nazis offered the Germanic myth of racial purity as the antithesis of "Jewish racial decadence and decomposition." God lived in the Volk. As an obscure song of the period entitled "You Are the Chain without End" rhapsodized, "That is the meaning of life, that God is astir in one's blood, but God is present only in pure blood." The striving for a pure race demanded in turn the sacrifice of many members of the Volk community so that the nation might live. And Providence, immanent in the Volk, inspired struggle and individual sacrifice which would deliver heroes to the racial community.
War was an important facet of Nazi mythical ideology, for the movement had a dialectic and teleology of its own which was expressed in the symbols of combat. Just as history progressed organically through struggle, so those who made history fulfilled their mission through warfare. According to this world view, war was life spirit fed from the spring of German blood and sanctified by the fallen. The sacrifice of one's blood would ensure eternal life and inspire Germans in the future centuries of the Thousand Year Reich.
German soil was fertile for a new heroization of life. As a U-boat captain observed of his compatriots in Morgenrot, a film of 1933 vintage, during a climactic scene when death lay near in the Atlantic, "We Germans don't know much about living, but in death, yes in death, we're fantastic."" Hitler Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach raised a generation on romantic poetry extolling the sweet death of the noble:
Even if the last stars
die, and all hope fades away
still no power can corrupt us,
still no one will betray the flag.
And even if heaven, hell, and the world
were to be allied against us,
we would hold our heads high
and fight until our last man fell wounded.
The apotheosis of the Nazis' glorification of sacrificial death came with the wartime feature films. In Stukas, ecstatic pilots sing, "We are the black hussars of the air!" on their way to deliver England its "just punishment." In Wunschkonzert, a film which took advantage of the popularity of a regular Sunday request concert feature on the radio, Schwarzkopf signals his comrades by playing a Bach fugue in a church, even though he realizes that this will result in his own destruction. In a macabre marriage of art and force, Schwarzkopf dies a heroic death for Germany, and we last see him bent over a baroque organ going up in flames. Kolberg, drawing on a historical parallel with the Napoleonic wars, was released in 1945 to encourage a bold defense against the invaders to the last cartridge. Kolberg reflected the declining fortunes of the Wehrmacht and the progressive retreat into myth which characterized Nazi propaganda during tiie last years of the Third Reich.
The anti-Bolshevik motif was also central to the Nazi mythical structure. Jewry was equated with Marxism in Nazi ideology, a political equation traceable to Hitler's Vienna period: "I discovered the relations existing between this destructive teaching and the specific character of a people who up to that time had been almost unknown to me. Knowledge of the Jews is the only key whereby one may understand the inner nature and the real aims of Social Democracy." According to Hitler, blame for the Marxist "pest" could be laid at the door of that "ferment of decomposition of race and society," international Jewry, which he was certain found its twentieth-century expression in Russian bolshevism's drive to control the world. This, he said, explained the Bolshevik intention to destroy all non-Jewish national states. Thus Hitler concluded that his mission was to annihilate both Jewry and bolshevism and to conquer the source of both--Soviet Russia. Hitler never wavered in his anticommunism; even when all was lost in 1945, he tenaciously held to his fading dream that "it is eastwards, for all time eastwards, that the veins of our race must expand."
The myth of "British plutocracy" also assumed an important'place in Nazi ideology. It became the leading horse in the Nazi stable from the outbreak of the war against Poland until Hitler turned eastward in 1941, after which it was relegated gradually to the status of a subordinate myth. But at its height the motif of "British plutocracy" came to symbolize Germany's love-hate for the English, a curious amalgam of respect and jealousy. As Goebbels once admitted privately, "English rule has something really phenomenal about it. I have always felt myself drawn to the English world." For his part Hitler had long shared this sentiment, and his feelings were racially inspired: he was convinced that the English were of Germanic stock and thus fellow Aryans.
Because of their ambivalent attitude toward the English, the Nazis berated them all the more when the final break came. They rewrote the history of Great Britain to conform to the charge that the English character expressed itself in violence, murder, and the exploitation of enslaved peoples. Goebbels made a timely discovery of the "clique of plutocrats" who ruled England and were intent on restricting Germany to its overcrowded territory in central Europe, thereby suppressing a nation that was in dire need of living space. England, a country with colonies around the globe, was attempting to deny the Reich its right to life and would try to starve Germany into subjection once more just as it did in the bleak days after World War I. Again it was the Jews, firmly rooted in the cities of England, who were responsible; as for the English, they were the "Jews among the Aryan peoples."
The Fuhrer cult was a vital link in the National Socialist mythical structure and there are remarkable parallels between Christian and Nazi myths. The Fuhrer was at once Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He was the Father because his essence was cosmic and he was sent to earth on a mission which was both of this world and beyond it. He rode the wave of the historical dialectic, which would culminate in the victory of Aryan man, and as the reawakened Barbarossa he fulfilled the prophecies of the German right wing who longed for a "great one come from above." He was also the Son, the Son of Providence, who in his infinite wisdom had created the Aryan Volk. As such it was Hitler's role to lead his people along the paths to greatness, a way fraught with danger and one which might demand that they perish in their own flame in the service of the higher ideal. The Nazi parallel to the Christian concept of the Holy Ghost was the spirit of Providence, reflected in the mystical source and life spirit of the Volk. Hitler was at once of this world and beyond. His flesh was the flesh of the Volk, and his spirit was their own life spirit.
As the sands of time began to ruh out for Hitler, the more he and his followers returned to their roots in the irrational and the more they ignored the world of verifiable reality. General Eduard Died registered the fanaticism of the last ditch at a time when it was obvious that the end was in sight: "I believe in the Fuhrer. The more trying the situation, the more I trust him." When the end came, reality was completely eclipsed by Nazi myth. Instead of announcing the banal truth that Hitler had commitLed suicide inhis bunker, the Nazis claimed that the Fuhrer had died leading in a band of loyal followers in a final effort to turn back the "Jewish-Bolshevik" influx into the sacred European heartland. Myth, after all, need not be reconcilable with the truth; but it muust be vindicated on the field of battle to survive in the material world.
Before allegedly sacrificing himself for the German people, Hitler cursed them for not measuring up to his greatness; he expected them to perish in the flames of the Reich. He was convinced that blood had betrayed blood, that the Volk had betrayed their Fuhrer in the same way that Judas had betrayed Jesus. But such a contention was inconsistent with Nazi ideology, and the caretaker regime under Admiral Karl D6nitz chose to ignore the distinction. In that way the pantheon of National Socialist myth remained inviolable and without inner contradiction until the entire structure collapsed.
The present work will detail the gradual retreat of nazism into myth from 1939 to 1945. National Socialist ideology, at its core an irrational, mystical body of doctrine, failed to survive in a world of objective reality, and there was a remarkable transition in the nature of the propaganda as the war progressed. War reporting could be based on fairly accurate factual accounts during the blitz victories of 1939 and 1940, but the same approach could not be used in dealing with Stalingrad, the loss of Africa, the Allied invasion in 1944, and the final battles of 1945. When they were at the end of their rope, Hitler and Goebbels made one final, frantic effort to survive--they blurred the distinction between Party and nation in an attempt to convince the people that the demise of the one guaranteed the destruction of the other. The red flag flying over the Brandenburg Gate signaled that a more powerful set of myths had prevailed--the symbolic garment for the superior power of the Allied military coalition.