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 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.



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.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The Holocaust has left its mark as one of the darkest moments in history. However, even during the darkest of times, there was still love. Here, Casey Titus tells us about a love story between a Nazi concentration camp prisoner and an SS Guard at Auschwitz.

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  Helena Citronova (left) and Franz Wunsch (right) fell in love at Auschwitz.

Helena Citronova (left) and Franz Wunsch (right) fell in love at Auschwitz.

In September 1935, the Reichstag (the parliament during the Third Reich) voted unanimously to for the passing of the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, otherwise known as the Nuremberg Laws that not only excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship but from marrying or having sexual relations with people of “German or related blood.”

Persons accused of having sexual relations with non-Aryans faced public humiliation and those convicted were “typically sentenced to prison terms, and (subsequent to 8 March 1938) upon completing their sentences were re-arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Nazi concentration camps.”

Even with the punishments for forbidden affection severe, especially for Nazi soldiers, that was not enough to stop Auschwitz SS officer Franz Wunsch from falling in love with a Jewish Slovakian prisoner named Helena Citronova. Across the world, Auschwitz concentration camp has become a symbol of genocide, terror, war, and the Holocaust.

However, after 70 years, PBS in America as well as an Israeli television brought to life the forbidden romance story between an SS guard and a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz that highlighted the complexity of human relationships in the most horrifying of world events.

In 1942, Franz Wunsch was serving as a 20-year old SS guard in charge of the gas chambers of Auschwitz. On his birthday, March 21, his Nazi comrades brought in a Jewish girl, Helena Citronova, to sing him birthday songs. Helena was imprisoned at Auschwitz from Slovakia and was forced to sort all of the incoming prisoners’ belongings before they were shipped to Berlin to fuel the Nazi war efforts.

Helena and her sister Rozinka had both been sentenced to die in the gas chambers earlier that very day so Helena attempted to sing the very best she could, melting the heart of the SS guard. When Wunsch realized she wouldn’t be alive the next day, he hurried and managed to postpone the execution of both sisters.

Helena would say years later in Israel, “When he came into the barracks where I was working, he threw me that note. I destroyed it right there and then, but I did see the word "love" — "I fell in love with you". I thought I'd rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. For a long time afterwards there was just hatred. I couldn't even look at him.”

Over time, though unclear of exactly when, Helena succumbed to her feelings for Franz, especially after her SS devotee rushed to prevent her sister and her sister’s children from being sent to the gas chambers.

“'So he said to me, "Tell me quickly what your sister's name is before I'm too late." So I said, "You won't be able to. She came with two little children." Helena later recalled.

'He replied, "Children, that's different. Children can't live here." So he ran to the crematorium and found my sister.'

Helena admitted she had slept with her rescuer and at times had even forgotten who he was and came to terms with the romance. Wunsch would provide Helena with food, clothing, and protection. Though their relationship would not develop any further, Helena would repay him years later for risking his life to protect a Jewish prisoner on the pain of death.

When the war ended, the SS guards fled the Allied advance, even destroying parts of the concentration camps to cover their war crimes. Helena and her sister Rozinka attempted to return home with other displaced people through an Eastern Europe that contained violent and raping Soviet soldiers. Both sisters avoided being raped when Rozinka claimed to be Helena’s mother and defended her. Following the founding of Israel in 1948, Helena moved there while Franz returned to Austria.

Thirty years following Nazi Germany’s defeat and the end of World War II, in 1972, Wunsch was put on trial in Vienna, accused of being cruel towards prisoners by beating men and women alike and operated at the gas chambers to insert the lethal gas. Testimonies include camp survivors describing Wunsch as a “natural Jew hater” and sometimes participated in the selection of inmates all over occupied Europe to live or die. With more than enough evidence for the guilty verdict, life imprisonment and death most likely would have awaited him.

In a twist of events, Helena and her sister defended Wunsch at his trial. Even with ‘an overwhelming evidence of guilt’ as the judge commented in Wunsch’s participation in the Nazi’s largest concentration camp’s mass murder, Wunsch was acquitted of all charges due to the statute of limitations over war crimes in Austria.

“Desire changed my brutal behavior,” Wunsch said. “I fell in love with Helena Citronova and that changed me. I changed into another person because of her influence.”


Citronova died in 2005. Wunsch died in 2009.


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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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Samantha Jones looks at the Nuremberg Trials in a modern context. These trials took place in the aftermath of World War II and sought to condemn those Nazis who had committed some of the most heinous crimes in the history of the world.

A Nazi parade.

A Nazi parade.

Politics tells us justice is blind, and that it is justice that is fundamentally right in our society. Yet history shows us this may not be true. In the aftermath of World War II, the Western world’s form of justice was put to the test. And looking back we are troubled with the question: did democracy fail?

As Nazi leaders were confronted with their crimes against humanity in front of an international military tribunal, the entire world learned the truth behind The Final Solution, Concentration Camps, medical experiments, and the extent of Nazi genocide. These war crimes shined a spotlight onto a new and modern form of warfare, where civilians became targets and war no longer had to be declared upon a country to invade it. It was no easy feat to punish the Nazis, as the victorious Allied Powers had to question and convict those they had caught, as well as deter future nationalists from committing such crimes again. But that is what the Nuremberg Trials attempted to do.

It is said the infamous Nuremberg Trials marked the end of the Third Reich and Hitler’s Nazi Empire. Indeed, despite the Soviet Army storming Berlin, Nazi uprisings were still a threat to the triumphant Allies. So it was decided that to ‘clean up’ Europe legally and politically, the Allies were to hold a series of trials in order to fully understand and punish Nazi criminals in a democratic setting. The trials were held from November 20 1945 to October 1 1946, in the German city of Nuremberg. This site was chosen because of the somewhat intact Palace of Justice, a suitable building for the event, and the symbolism attached to Nuremberg, after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws against the Jews in 1935.

One prosecutor, one judge and one alternative judge from the Allied Powers oversaw the trial. Those that were caught included 23 high ranking Nazi officials, including the notorious Goering, Speer and Hess. Of course the highest Nazis such as Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were not present, as they had escaped punishment through suicide before capture.

But as the news of the devastation of the war in Europe spread to the corners of the globe, interest and attraction into the Nazis grew enormously. Because of this, the Nuremberg Trials were filmed and covered by the global media, something that was to follow in other major world events.



The Nuremberg Trials are a small sliver of history, particularly among the World War Two era, yet this event marks the beginning of several major practices and institutions. For example, the power and dominance of democracy, the involvement of the media, and the use of knowledge and education as a deterrent were present during the Nuremberg Trials. However, looking back, would the trails be undertaken differently today?

One theme that needs to be addressed is the arguable leniency upon the Nazi prisoners. For example, even today it is debated whether it was unjust that Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, was sentenced to merely twenty years in prison and lived the rest of his life a free man. Despite being sentenced to death, Hermann Goering, Hitler’s successor, escaped justice by committing suicide in his cell. It remains a mystery how this was able to happen. And Rudolf Hess, Hitler`s Deputy Fuhrer, was sentenced to prison where he too committed suicide. Discussing these awful things in such a dismissive tone is not my intention. But remember the graphic pictures of the Holocaust victims and the Concentration Camps that still stand today because of these men. Just under half of those charged at Nuremberg were sentenced to death, yet it was these Nazi men that were committed to gassing, killing and removing an entire people from the face of the earth. Perhaps justice was not served, but nor was revenge.

Aside from this somewhat macabre observation, the Nuremberg Trials did make advances. The organization of evidence and the methods used to explain the Nazi occupation helped the world to understand what actually happened. The Trials also contributed to the development of international legal institutions that attempt to seek justice in global crimes, such as the United Nations and the Genocide Convention. Of course it is debated whether these institutions are successful, yet the message they stand for began in Nuremberg.

History has and will repeat itself though. Crimes against humanity have been committed on an unimaginable scale quite recently, as seen in Rwanda and with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, with these events in mind, it is hard to argue whether or not justice can remain democratic or if can it be transformed into a form of revenge.

It is easy for our generation to look back upon Nuremberg and judge those in charge for their leniency or their harshness. But equally, as time pushes the deep dark crimes of the Nazis further back into history, I wonder how future generations will judge us on what we do. Perhaps justice will be served then.


You can read about how the radical Freikorps were one of the pre-cursors to the Nazis in issue 3 of History is Now Magazine. The magazine is available for iPad and iPhone and is free for at least one month when you try the magazine on a subscription. Click here for more information!

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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