If you’re wondering how German people – and the rest of the world – just sat around and watched on as the Nazis committed atrocities in the lead up to and during WWII, there’s a pretty good reason. The Nazi Party was able to indoctrinate the German public with the help of propaganda that included radio, mass rallies, newspapers, speeches by Hitler himself, and posters.
The Party even had a government department set up for this exact purpose; in 1933, the Nazis founded the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which was fronted by Joseph Goebbels and made a very skilful use of censorship and propaganda to support Nazi policies.
Goebbels was able to improve support for the Nazis with his ministry by executing a number of successful propaganda campaigns that included huge Party rallies, political meetings and aircraft campaigns to deliver political speakers such as Hitler during electioneering.
In Nazi Germany under Goebbels’ orders, newspapers were either banned or censored, and any literature or art that failed to conform to the Nazi view was banned. The Nazis also introduced their own paper, the Völkischer Beobachter (or the Peoples’ Observer in English), which was used as an eerily effective propaganda tool from 1920 until 1945. And in 1933, Goebbels organised a burning of books that contained ideas that were not approved by the Party, or that were written by non-Aryan authors. Sounds terrifying, because it was.
The Nazis were also able to achieve total domination by making cheap radios available, placing loudspeakers in all workplaces and public areas and controlling everything that was broadcast. The use of loudspeakers in workplaces and public areas meant that few could escape Nazi propaganda.
Soon enough, the majority of Germans had joined the cult of the Führer, which was a fancy way of saying they had uncompromising loyalty to Hitler as an individual and as leader of the nation. The cult of the Führer developed as a result of Goebbels’s propaganda.
One of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda’s biggest successes was the Nuremberg Rallies, which were held every year during the summer. The rallies, which entailed a great deal of marching, speeches and flying displays, gave Germans a sense of belonging whilst simultaneously demonstrating how the power of the Nazis had brought order out of chaos to Germany.
The Nazis’ reach didn’t stop at newspapers, controlled broadcasts and rallies, though; they had their fingers in all sorts of pies, and were also able to reach the public through the school system and the workplace.
Education played an incredibly important role in Nazi Germany, as it was the best platform to cultivate a devoted following to the Führer and the Nazi Party. Basically, you can thank your lucky stars you didn’t go to school while Hitler was in charge – the primary aim of education under the Nazis was to consolidate the future of the regime by instilling Nazi values and beliefs in the youth.
The Nazis made sure their ideas were taught in school by forcing teachers to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, and making them join the Nazi Teacher’s League. Meanwhile, Jewish teachers were dismissed.
The Party also rewrote the school curriculum to put a heavy emphasis on physical education in order to prepare young Germans for their role in a Nazi state, and to teach the Nazi version of history and eugenics or racial theories. It also enforced membership of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Maidens in 1939 when membership started to fall.
The second key battleground for the Nazis was the workplace; the people of Germany had to work, and so it was a pretty important place to indoctrinate the masses. One of Hitler’s main promises was reducing unemployment smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression; the Nazi leader was able to do this by creating the German labour front, with rearmament, and by reintroducing conscription into the Armed Forces.
Of course, unemployment within Nazi Germany was also low because certain groups such as the Jews and Communists, and those in concentration camps were not counted as unemployed. These groups were known as the “invisible unemployed”.
In order to boost employment within the groups Hitler did deem worthy enough of work, the Nazi Party created the National Labour Service. To reduce the number of unemployed, it was compulsory for all men aged 18 to 25 to work on state work projects for a period of six months. The programme, which was known as the Reichsarbeitsdienst in German, saw workers create the likes of the Autobahns for the purpose of future military movements.
The National Labour Service was complemented by the Strength Through Joy movement, which was a propaganda organisation aimed at keeping workers happy by providing cheap holidays and leisure activities. In reality though, it served to ensure the obedience of the population.