Is bigotry something that can be taught, or something you are born with? In Germany during the 1930’s and early 40’s bigotry seemed to be ubiquitous towards many minority groups, predominately the Jewish population. This bigotry and hatred came about because of the work done by the Nazi party since their inception in the early 1920’s. One of the most widespread and effective ways the Nazi party spread messages of hate throughout Germany was through multiple outlets of propaganda. These included newspapers/articles, speeches, films and posters/pictures. These forms of propaganda spread the notion that minorities such as the Jews were not welcome in Germany and did not fit the Aryan race beliefs. Through spreading these forms of propaganda Nazi’s were able to mold the thinking of the German population to despise Jews, allowing Holocaust acts of relocation to ghettos, concentration camps and extermination to be carried out. This essay will examine various Nazi propaganda films, speeches and posters to show the persuading and convincing ideals they spread, as well as using the propaganda to defend the notion that the Holocaust would never have been carried out without the backing of the German population.
When Hitler took power in 1933 there was noticeable hatred of the Jews within the Nazi party. But they had no clear answer to the Jewish Question and no clear plan what to do with them. At the time there was no intentional plan to exterminate the Jews, but they felt something needed to be done. The Nazi’s began to try to make the lives of German Jews as miserable as possible with legal efforts to emigrate them anywhere besides Germany. They succeeded in exiling about 600,000 Jews from Germany, but with the 2,000,000 additional Jews in Poland and millions more in Russia, their success would soon fade. As the problem began to grow Hitler and other Nazi leaders began to consider extermination as one of the only options remaining. Quickly they realized they could not carry mass murder without some sort of probable cause or reason. They knew that propaganda would have to be used to create probable cause for these heinous acts. They concluded that painting a picture of Jews as sub-humans would bias the public opinion against the Jews and make mass murder easier to carry out (Bytwerk, 38).
To create the illusion that the Jews were sub-human, the Nazi’s needed to show how terrible the Jews really were. They wanted people to see how the Jews were out to destroy Germany and all that it stood for and that the Nazi’s actions were only in defense to thwart the Jew’s goal. In Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he asserted that, the world would spin through space, empty of humanity, where the Jews would dominate the planet (Hitler, Mein Kampf). In 1939 Hitler gave a speech at the Reichstag building on January 30th proclaiming, If the international Jewish financiers in and outside of Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of the Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe! (Hitler, Reichstag). Although actions of the Holocaust had begun years before this speech, this was one of the few moments when Hitler publicly called for the complete annihilation of Jews. All propaganda prior to and after this speech continued to intensify as the war went on (Bytwerk, 39).
One of the most famous pieces of Nazi propaganda was a film called Triumph des Willens (Triumph of The Will). The film was released in 1935 under the direction of Leni Riefenstahl with Hitler serving as an unofficial executive producer. Much of the film takes place at the rally in Nuremburg during 1934. In the film there are many prominent authoritarian speakers from the Nazi party who spoke of the prosperous and wonderful Germany under the ruling of Hitler. The first speaker at the rally proclaims to Hitler, Mein Fuher, when you act, we act. When you judge, we judge. Our gratitude is the promise to stand by you, through thick and thin, whatever comes our way (Riefenstahl, 24:30).
Another excerpt that is rather interesting from Triumph des Willens is from the speech by Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was the Reich Minister of Propaganda for Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was known for being the mastermind behind all the Nazi propaganda towards Jews and took direct orders from Hitler himself. In Triumph des Willens Goebbels says, May [your] enthusiasm never be extinguished. It alone gives the [art] of [propaganda] its light and warmth. From the depths of the people it rose [from] and into the depths of the people it must descend to find its strength. It may be good to have power in [arms], but it is better [to win] and keep the hearts of the people (Riefenstahl, 30:00).
The purpose of this film was for the empowerment of Germany and its citizens, not an anti-semitic production as other propaganda films were. It glorified the Nazi party and Hitler by painting them as the savior of all. Showing how they had brought the country back to its eternal glory from the suffering of WWI reparations and punishments. The quote by the first speaker in the film at the rally does not speak of any anti-semitism but it still backs up the fact that the nation was willing to stand by Hitler’s side through all his decisions, including the mass annihilation of the Jewish population in Europe. The quote by Goebbels was also interesting because he was directly addressing the people about how their enthusiasm was helping propaganda spread and gain influence, as well as saying that having the public back their cause was far superior to having a strong army. This could again be contributed to the Jews and how through spreading propaganda, the citizens were more willing to back the Nazi’s reasoning of Jewish persecution and showing that it would be very likely actions of the Holocaust would not have happened without the nationalism of the people and spreading of propaganda.
The anti-semitism in the film was still widely recognized especially by those in Germany. In an excerpt from Jew Suss: Life, Legend, Fiction, Film by Susan Tegel we learn that the film was often screened to those running concentration camps. This led a few guards at the camps to beat up Jewish prisoners the following day after the screening (Tegel, 245). Acts like this clearly display the effect these films had on German citizens and how they influenced their thinking to despise Jewish minorities. This film also backs up the point that the Holocaust would not have possible without the work of these propaganda outlets. In addition, it also promoted ongoing Holocaustic acts such as the ones mentioned in Jew Suss.
The second film that explicitly pushed the national socialism’s idea of anti-semitism was a film called Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew). Der Ewige Jude was released in 1940 shortly after the release of Jud S??»??. This was a documentary style film that portrayed the Jews in their original state without their fasade of being civilized Europeans. The film was released throughout Europe, but had to have certain scenes omitted in some countries because of the blatant lies that were said. Some of the more outlandish facts that were said in the film were the comparison between rats and Jews. [Rats] represent the elements of sneakiness and subterranean destruction among animals, just as the Jews do among mankind (Hippler, 17:30). The film also paints the home life of Jews as, filthy and neglected. It proclaimed that although they have made a living for themselves and live in comfortable homes, they still choose, to live in the same dirty and bug-ridden dwelling (Hippler, 3:40). Many of the scenes in the film were specifically edited and filmed for the sole purpose of highlighting unsanitary living conditions. It also pushed false characteristics of Jews such as sneakiness, disease carriers and prone to committing crimes.
As it was clearly shown the idea behind this film was to distort the thinking of how a Jew lives, acts, works and looks. The idea was to create a real imagine of the European Jew by using scientific, naturalistic and laboratory techniques to reveal what is not visible just by looking at the surface. In reality, the technique that was used was the power of suggestion. By having a narrator explain what was going on in the scenes, the viewer is being deceived to see what is not there. These techniques carried the agenda of the Nazi’s to eradicate the Jewish population and mold the thinking of non-Jewish citizens to again despise the Jews. In turn, the techniques allowed the horrific acts of the Holocaust to take place without any outcry from the German public (Hansen, 82).
Not only did the film content of Der Ewige Jude serve as a propaganda tool, the poster itself for the film also served as a very strong propaganda outlet as well. There are two variations of the poster, both portraying an overly dramatized and almost caricature like picture of a Jewish man. Fig. 1 displays the poster of the 1937 exhibition of Der Ewige Jude which would later become one of the propaganda posters for the film Der Ewige Jude. The image displays an elder Jewish man slouched over, holding out a handful of money, while holding a cutout of the Soviet Union branded with the hammer and sickle. All the details that are displayed have some sort of propaganda meaning behind them and were carefully thought out by the creator. The slouching over and awkward pose is to show that Jews are not normal and do not look like the rest of the civilized European population. The hand being held out with money can be attributed to the stereotype that Jews were very greedy and always concerned about money as quoted in Der Ewige Jude (Der Ewige Jude, 14:20). The hammer and sickle on the map of the Soviet Union is used to signify the Jews link to the Soviets, communism and how they were in partnership with the Soviets to destroy Germany. Lastly, the words Der Ewide Jude seemed to have been written specifically in a hieroglyphic looking font to again signify difference and contrast between the rest of the population.
The second variation of the film poster again displays an overly dramatized drawing of an Eastern Jew as shown in Fig. 2. The photo displays a grotesque looking elderly man with demonic/piercing eyes, a very long wrinkly face, a long untamed beard and an abnormally large nose. As was done in the previous poster, all these choices were made for the purpose of painting the picture of a Jew as dirty, cunning and parasitic. The face and beard were purposefully made to show the Jew as dirty, angry, tired and old to make the image as unpleasant as possible. The abnormally large nose was a stereotype created to distinguish Jews from non-Jews. This was often one of many indicators posted throughout cities to warn citizens on how to distinguish a Jew from a German citizen.
These two examples were only a small percentage of massive amounts of propaganda cartoons, posters and caricatures that were spread by the Nazi’s. It is also interesting to note that all of these posters are of male Jews and not female Jews. Often in propaganda posters and photos men were humiliated by having otherwise unnoticeable physical features drastically emphasized to show the clear deviation between the Jew and non-Jew. They were also humiliated in photographs by having their beards and sidelocks cut off by amused German citizens and soldiers. Women were often depicted sexually in propaganda posters and photos, sometimes forced to display their breasts and strip naked and perform lewd sexual acts on each other to the prove the immoral habits of the Jews (Struk, 114). This was all for the purpose of differentiating Jews and non-Jews.
Posters and pictures were one of the most used forms of propaganda because they could reach a much larger audience, as opposed to films and speeches that required you to go to a theater or visit the venue of the speech. By being able to get propaganda out to a larger audience more people will talk about it, making it more likely they will be persuaded and stand behind the meaning of the propaganda. Just as the films served a purpose to craft the feelings towards European Jews into a hatred and disgust, so did posters and photos. And by crafting the thinking of the non-Jews to back the Nazi’s ideal of eradicating the Jewish race, non-Jews were much more likely to not oppose the eradication and stand with the Nazi’s.
Jeffrey Herf an American historian who specializes in WWII era Germany and who famously wrote The Jewish Enemy stated in his book that, wartime anti-semitic propaganda was the most integral piece to Nazi motivation (Herf, 131). Not only did propaganda spread the notion of hatred towards Judaism, it also strengthened the feeling of nationalism throughout all German citizens. Some would argue that using propaganda to persuade the German population towards Nazi anti-semitic ideals was pointless and the Holocaust would have occurred even without the backing on the citizens. If that was the case, why would the Nazi’s spend all their time and effort to spread the propaganda in the first place? It wasn’t to convince themselves that their cause was just, they already believed in it. As Goebbels stated, It may be good to have power in [arms], but it is better [to win] and keep the hearts of the people (Triumph des Willens, 30:00). By winning over the people and giving them a sense of nationalism through propaganda and solidify that the Nazi’s actions towards the Jews were just, citizens were more likely to stand behind anything the Nazi’s had proposed.
As time went on and the Holocaustic acts towards the Jews intensified the propaganda approaches needed to change as well. By being able to constantly adapt the propaganda, the Nazi’s were able to keep the hearts of the people. By using multiple outlets such as film, speeches, posters, photos and word of mouth, they were able to shower the German public with messages designed to build support and gain acceptance of their vision for the future of Germany, including the eradication and persecution of the Jewish race.
The exact definition of propaganda is information that is intended to persuade an audience to accept a particular idea or cause, often by using biased material or by stirring up emotions, which is exactly what Hitler, Goebbels and the Nazi’s were trying to do. Hitler believed that controlling the spread of information was just as important as controlling the military, economy and other aspects of Germany. This can also be said about propaganda today. In the current age of fake news there are always governments, news outlets and organizations that are feeding the public what they want them to hear. It is very uncommon that you truly get the full story with any unbiased opinions attached. This technique was used by Hitler and the Nazi’s to feed the public only what they wanted them to hear about the Jews. They needed to alter the true reality of the characteristics of the Jewish people to build support for their cause. Without the use of nationalistic and anti-semitic propaganda the Nazi’s would never have been able to build support for their vision of hatred towards Jews and the Holocaust would never have been as much of a success.
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