Undoubtedly, propaganda was vitally important to the Nazis and the German people were constantly subjected to it, whether it was during Hitler’s rise to the top or when he was trying to indoctrinate the people of Germany. The propaganda was very organised, spreading the Nazis views and policies, and creating the ‘ideal’ that was the Volksgemeinschaft. However, looking back at that time, it is hard to establish whether or not the propaganda was entirely successful. This is because Hitler wanted propaganda to be everywhere, and he took away the basic rights that the people had, so there are no opinion polls available, and no neutral newspapers.
Historians cannot fully justify that the mass of propaganda produced at that time actually worked. Indeed many people seemed to support the Nazi regime (or perhaps had no other alternative) but how many were actually serious hard-core Nazis? The mastermind behind the propaganda was Goebbels. His attitude towards it was that it should be subtle and simple, and must surround the Germans so that they become unaware of how it worked upon them. The role of the propaganda in Hitler’s view was that it must be the link between the government and the people, thus, it was touching on ideals and beliefs that were already popular with them.
The sheer mass of propaganda shows the dedication the Nazis have toward this idea of indoctrination, and they can be put into three categories: media, arts and social. The media propaganda dealt with press, radio, and films. The Nazis took control of the radio by 1934 and established a unified radio system. By 1939 70% of Germans owned a radio (aided by the fact they were sold cheap) Goebbels described the radio as ” the spiritual weapon of the totalitarian state”, and it was one of the most powerful ‘weapons’ the Nazis had.
Hitler used the radio to broadcast his speeches, and in 1935 an estimated 56million tuned in to listen to him. Films were controlled, and some were banned. They had to convey the images of brave Germans, and carry ideals in their story. This is where Goebbels and Hitler had conflicting ideas. Goebbels thought that the films should carry a subliminal message, and therefore should be made to boost morale among the people, whilst Hitler thought that they should always have the propaganda message.
In the end, evidence showed that only 6% were Hitler’s ‘type’ of film, so this type of propaganda was used to keep the Germans happy. The arts were totally changed during Hitler’s reign. Images used in pictures, sculptures and buildings all had to carry the same message, that Germany was a strong and powerful country. Images had to be traditional, depicting things like the brave warrior, the supreme athlete, the productive mother, and of course, the wise leader that was Hitler. Art that was not stereotypical, was classed as degenerate art, and was banned.
Many artists moved away form Germany because of this firm grip on their artistic talent. Buildings were described as “the word in stone” by Hitler, and were built for the thousand year Reich. The individual was dwarfed in front of buildings, symbolising the absolute authority. Alongside this monumental style for major public buildings, the regime also fostered a more traditional Germanic style for homes, which reflected the backward-looking pro-countryside aspect of Nazi ideology. The social propaganda was important as it conveyed the spirit of Volksgemeinschaft to the Germans.
Indeed, this was also a type of propaganda. Social events such as mass rallies and national holidays gave the idea of the community working together as a whole which seemed important, especially after the weak Weimar government and the Treaty of Versailles. Concrete expression of a new united Germany was the Autobahns, but the success was far more propagandist than real. It sold the message of a revived German nation working together for the common goal, symbolising the political strength, willpower and achievement of Hitler’s Germany.
This image was conveyed to an international as well as a domestic audience. Despite all this propaganda and much more, some of it proved to be unsuccessful. This happened when it tried to counter long held and deep beliefs. Historians like Geary use two examples. The churches, with their popularity (they had more members than the Nazi party,) gave opposition to the Nazis, when they tried to set up their faith movement. The other is with the workers, despite the formation of “Strength through joy” (KDF) were very against the closure of their Trade Unions.
We can also see Aryan opponents to the Volksgemeinschaft, such as the many professional women who lost their jobs, and the farmers who felt cheated by their fixed prices and the prevention of them doing improvements on their land. The social revolution that Hitler wanted was not achieved, and the only success came from eradicating outsiders such as Jews. Propaganda worked when it touched on ideas already popular with Germans, such as nationalism, the fuhrer principle, rebuilding the economy, the hostility to communism, and the traditional family values.
Eradicating outsiders was based on anti-Semitic ideals, which was felt among Germans at that time. Whether Germans believed Nazi propaganda and supported the regime enthusiastically is hard to work out, because all press was censored, there was no freedom of speech, and the use of terror form the Gestapo and the SS to crush opposition was intimating, and so many Germans complied with the Nazi regime. The fact that Hitler was enjoying his successes in Foreign policy and at home no doubt helped him to get support.
Thus to call the propaganda a failure cannot be accepted. We can clearly see that people did support him, although we cannot fully establish if it was forced on them to do so. There was criticism, but only from a minority at that time, which isn’t hard to work out why! We have to keep in mind that that amount of propaganda and the sheer effort to make sure it was everywhere must have been effective in some way, although as Hitler was so good at controlling the masses, we will probably never know just exactly how much.