2.3 Propaganda

This exercise contains posters and images featuring Nazi propaganda. By the end of this activity you will have developed your ability to evaluate information and gained a more critical understanding of your sources. You will also have reflected on how propaganda affects us today.

What to do?

Read the text and then look closely at the images and read the accompanying texts. Discuss the questions presented below.

Propaganda in Nazi Germany

Although propaganda is something that we are exposed to on a daily basis, it isn’t always apparent to us when it is propaganda. Propaganda can be regarded as someone trying to present a specific message with the intention of arousing positive or negative feelings about its subject and, in so doing, influence how we think, feel and act. For example, adverts can be seen as a type of propaganda, often with the aim of getting us to buy a specific product. Propaganda isn’t objective; rather, it always takes an open or hidden position. It is always skewed and can be entirely imaginary or based on lies.

In Nazi Germany, those in power frequently used propaganda, but not in order to sell harmless products. Instead, they sold a racist view of the world that split people up into “us” and “them”. The goal of the Nazis was to create a "Volksgemeinschaft", a “People’s Community”, a social order of “healthy” and “racially pure” Germans which would overcome class struggle and social strife so that Germany could regain its strength and rightful place in the global racial struggle of power and resources.

To achieve this, German society had to be “cleansed”, i.e. those that were deemed “racially unfit”, “hereditarily ill” or were “non-Aryans” had no place in the German "Volksgemeinschaft". In particular, the Jews were seen as the main “enemy” which had to be removed.

Different groups in society were picked out as evil, dangerous, less worthy, or costly “problems” that needed to be “rendered harmless” or “eliminated”. A picture was simultaneously painted of the noble “Aryan” who, according to the ideal, was blond, blue-eyed and tall.

According to the Nazis, only “Aryans” were a part of the German people, and “racial mixing” between “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” was forbidden. A personality cult was built around Hitler, who was portrayed as saviour and father of “the New Germany”.

Joseph Goebbels

The German Ministry of Propaganda was led by Joseph Goebbels.

Nazi German propaganda was produced above all by the German Ministry of Propaganda led by Joseph Goebbels. A large part of material for public consumption by radio, newspaper, film, theatre, music etc. was controlled by the Ministry of Propaganda.

Not all Germans agreed with the ruling Nazi Party, but all were exposed to state propaganda through leaflets, newspapers, radio, films, literature, course books and public mass meetings. The aim was to persuade the population to support Nazi politics.

In a speech to party officials on 9 January 1928 (when the Nazi Party had very little support among the German population), Goebbels gave his view on the role of propaganda:

"Propaganda is good that has the desired results, and propaganda is bad that does not lead to the desired results. It does not matter how clever it is, for the task of propaganda is not to be clever, its task is to lead to success. No one can say that your propaganda is too crude or low or brutal, or that it is not decent enough, for those are not the relevant criteria. Its purpose is not to be decent, or gentle, or weak, or modest; it is to be successful. […] If someone tells me: 'Your propaganda has no civilized standards,' I know there is no point in even talking with him. It makes no difference if propaganda is at a high level. The question is whether it achieves its goal."

Joseph Goebbels


Techniques Still Common Today

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis used techniques that are still common in propaganda today. In the list you find some examples.

  • Symbols and highlighted keywords that are easily identifiable.
  • Glorifying images (e.g. heroic images of strong “Aryan” men and idyllic images of happy, “genetically sound” families).
  • Playing on positive or negative emotions (e.g. sympathy and disgust).
  • Assertions that there is only one solution to alleged problems in society.
  • Attacks on and caricatures (i.e. ridiculing images) of opponents.
  • Dehumanising comparisons (e.g. with vermin or diseases as symbols for “evil”).

Discuss the images

Based on the propaganda images, discuss the questions and try to answer as detailed as possible. The article can be used as an aid. Write down your answers.

“The Jew. Warmonger, war-extender.” (1941)

“Our last hope: HITLER.” (1932)

“We women are voting for List 2. National Socialists.” (1932)

“The German student is fighting for the Führer and the People.” (1936)

“Youth are serving the Führer – all ten-year-olds to the Hitler Youth.” (1939)

Top heading: “The NSDAP [Nazi Party] is protecting the People’s Community.” (1937)

The title of an anti-Roma article: ”Traveller People – New Ways to Combat the Gypsy Plague.” (1938)

Poster for Bund Deutscher Mädel, the Nazi Party’s League of German Girls. The text reads “You Also Belong to the Führer”. (1937)

“This genetically ill person will cost our People’s Community 60 000 Reichsmarks over his lifetime. People’s comrade, that’s also your money.” (1938)

  • 2.3.a Which propaganda “techniques” mentioned above are visible in the images?

  • 2.3.b Which groups in society did the Nazis try to convince with these images?

  • 2.3.c Which minorities in society were picked out as a problem and why?

  • 2.3.d How do you think the German population was affected by the images?

  • 2.3.e Many of the images were aimed at children and teens. Why do you think that was?

  • 2.3.f Have you seen images with similar messages nowadays, e.g. online? Give examples and describe how the images affected you emotionally.

  • 2.3.g In what ways are we today influenced by propaganda? What can this lead to?

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