Highly evocative and worryingly effective, Nazi propaganda targeted its viewers in a very specific way. By targeting the viewer’s emotions, Goebbels and his underlings turned many of the German populace into a nation of followers in the National Socialist agenda from when the Nazis took power in 1933. Emotions were key to the entire apparatus, from hate of the ‘other’ to joy of the German rebirth. Maddison Nichol explains the troubling Nazi propaganda machine.

 Adolf Hitler speaking in 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-506 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available  here .

Adolf Hitler speaking in 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0703-506 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0, available here.

It was in Mein Kampf, that now infamous political manifesto of the National Socialists, that Hitler wrote:

Particularly the broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. And all great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of literary aesthetics and drawing room heroes.[1]

 

 To simplify, Mein Kampf would never create a populace of believers. Nonetheless, Nazi propagandists worked tirelessly to create new forms of propaganda to evoke that emotional response from the viewer and realign the German masses with the ideals of the Nazis.

 

Films

Films were an important way to move the people in line with the ideology of the Nazis. Two films used two very different emotions to try to create a populace of believers in the Nazi cause, or at least a populace willing to follow Hitler. The first was the Triumph of the Wills.

The opening of Triumph of the Wills is a black screen with a small caption of text. It reads: “On 5 September 1934, 20 years after the outbreak of the World War, 16 years after the beginning of German suffering, 19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth, Adolf Hitler flew once again to Nuremberg to review the columns of faithful followers.”[2] By prefacing the film in this light, German citizens watching the film were reminded of their once dire situation, now being improved by Hitler. The film then launches into a scene with throngs of eager people waving, smiling, and cheering as their Führer drives past them, waving as he goes.

The people here are seen as being overjoyed by the arrival of Hitler because of the supposed improvements he had made since taking power in 1933. By showing the enthusiasm of the Germans in Nuremburg to a wider audience in Germany, Triumph of the Wills succeeded in creating an emotional response from the viewers. For the first time since the outbreak of WWI, the German people were led to be proud of their nation and their leader. Hitler was reviving Germany from its ill state under the Weimar Republic and the people could see it. That was the point of the film, to show an overjoyed populace where previously there was only uncertainty.

Alternatively, at the other end of the spectrum of emotions, hate films were conceived to rile up the German people against the ‘other’ that was supposed to be poisoning pure German blood. Jew Süss was such a film. The film briefly documents the fall of an honorable German duke in the Middle Ages by listening to a Jewish advisor. By tricking the duke into heavily taxing his people, Süss created an environment ripe for uprisings and revolt. The film goes on to show more vile sides to Süss and the other Jews who enter the city, depicted as a horde of dirty, unsavoury vagabonds marching into a pristine German city. The depiction of the Jews in Jew Süss is in line with previous Nazi anti-Semitism to drive the point home to the viewers that Jews were the creatures depicted in the film. Ultimately, the film ends with the downfall of the duke, and the Jews are exiled from the city.

Jew Süss was seen as being successful in creating an atmosphere of hatred towards the Jews and it was shown to the SS at times before a mission against Jews.[3] That’s a startling thought. The film was shown to everyone who had access to a cinema, including youth, especially youth. The central idea here is that the once honorable German duke was tricked by an evil Jewish man to betray his loving people. In Nazi propaganda, Jews were depicted as doing just that, twisting the righteous and corrupting them. [4] Through Jew Süss and other similar films, the Nazis encouraged anti-Semitism in the German populace.[5]

Nazi films used emotion just like modern films do, but in a politically charged way. By evoking emotions like hatred and pride, Nazi propaganda films wanted to create a population of believers motivated by National Socialism and loyalty to Hitler. To an extent, they succeeded, but by 1945 many Germans despised Hitler and the Nazis for the horrors of war they brought upon the German people.

 

Oration

Historian Felicity Rash quoted Hitler by saying that spoken word is better to replace one’s hatred with your own.[6] This was an important feature of Nazi propaganda as speeches and oration were given as frequently as possible. Cheap radios were manufactured so all Germans could tune into a speech given by Hitler or a member of the Nazis. We’ve all heard people speak in such a way that moves us into action, be it at a protest or listening to an inspirational speech like Charlie Chaplin’s famous The Dictator speech. Oration, when used well, moves people into action.

Hitler was infamously good at it. His speeches moved much of a nation to rally behind him and work towards his version of a brighter future. In a speech, Hitler once said:

“When someone says, ‘You’re a dreamer’, I can only answer ‘You idiot…. If I weren’t a dreamer, where would we be today? I’ve always believed in Germany. You said I was a dreamer. I’ve always believed in the rise of the Reich. You said I was a fool. I’ve always believed in our return to power. You said I was mad. I’ve always believed in an end to poverty! You said that was utopian! Who was right? You or me?! I was right!’”[7]

 

Unfortunately, people ate this stuff up. According to Goebbels, the task of propaganda was to mobilize the mind and spirit of the people for National Socialism.[8] By using oration powerfully and constantly, the people were mobilized to support Hitler and the Nazis. All of this was done through emotion. By reading the above quote we can see some semblance of an emotional response, but by listening to it you can feel it. Reading doesn’t really have the same effect as listening to someone passionately proclaiming it from balconies and from stages.

In the end, to create an emotional response from the viewer, you need to show them an emotional reaction yourself. Nazi propaganda was skilled at that, more so than most propaganda in WW2. By evoking emotions from the viewers, Nazism went from a radical fringe party to the radical ruling party of an industrial powerhouse in the middle of Europe. People flocked to the cinemas to see the latest propaganda film and the rallies. They listened to their leader speak on the radio in a highly provocative manner just to evoke an emotional response from the masses.

Emotion was key to Nazi propaganda because Hitler did not seek acquiescence or even acceptance from the German masses. He craved a nation of believers in the Nazi cause. Only through emotion would that happen. By showing people the supposed improvements since 1933 both politically and economically, people felt joy and pride. By harping on slogans and oration, people rallied behind Hitler. It was only at the beginning of the end of the German war effort that propaganda became less effective.

But that’s a whole other story.

 

What do you think of this article? Let us know below.

 

[1] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), 107.

[2] Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will, directed by Leni Riefenstahl, YouTube, Germany: (Universum Film AG,

1935), Viewed on YouTube, 12/04/2018.

[3] Eric Rentschler, The Ministry of Illusion, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 150.

[4] Andreas Musolff, Metaphor, Nation and the Holocaust: The Concept of the Body Politic, (New York, Routledge, 2010), 37.

[5] Ibid, 43.

[6] Felicity Rash, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), 47.

[7] Der Souverän, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer [ENG Sub], published December 2016, YouTube video, 2:35.

[8] David Welch, “Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community”, Journal of Contemporary History 39, No. 2 (April 2004), 217.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones