To what extent was the Nazi state a propaganda state?
In studying Hitler’s rise to power previously, we were able to establish that propaganda was one of the key factors that helped to get him into power. However, once power had been obtained, I do not think that it was possible for the Nazi state to be a total propaganda state due to the necessity to keep people happy by delivering on promises and to make progress as a unified Germany. Nevertheless, propaganda would continue to play a significant role in the state following Hitler’s ‘takeover,’ particularly in maintaining the ‘Hitler myth’ itself, and would in certain areas, determine policy.
On the whole, prior to Hitler’s arrival, Germany was not overtly anti-Semitic, and such racial sentiment principally existed in minority groups. However, Hitler and his propaganda machine led by Goebbels, were able to stir anti-Semitic feeling to a huge extent. Films such as ‘Der Ewige Jude’ showed Jews as parasites, while stereotypical posters identified the archetypal Jewish appearance. This in turn endorsed the racial extermination that followed, whether it be through active support or passive co-operation.
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Propaganda would play a great role in attempting to win the hearts and minds of German youth. Most importantly, youth were impressionable, so Hitler thought that propaganda would be sufficient to instil them with his Weltanschauung. Youth movements and education steered in favour of the Nazi movement achieved the desired effect for a while, and at one time, historian Wilt suggests that 95% of German youth backed Hitler. However, propaganda was insufficient here, as minor, but nevertheless important opposition built up in the Hitler Youth movement due to Nazi education being ‘poorly thought out and lacking in substance’ [Fischer]. Hitler’s attempt to impose a propaganda state upon the youth of Germany was in effect a failure.
An area that was equally flooded with propaganda, but which perhaps reaped greater rewards for Hitler was economic policy. In his rise to power, Hitler had made many promises to particular social groups like farmers and the Mittelstand, particularly regarding employment. Although employment increased, promises made to farmers, who in particular had voted for Hitler in great number, were quickly forgotten, as Hitler was more concerned with larger more efficient estates which would aid Germany’s fight to achieve autarky. Evidence suggests a consequential reduction in rural employment from 21% to 19%. However, despite evident economic difficulties, such action had no major repercussions on the stability of the state, due to the usage of propaganda in this area. People were made to believe that their quality of life was better. The autobahns are a striking example, which despite only creating limited employment at a time when the people didn’t really have access to their so-called ‘people’s car,’ still made the people feel more united and free.
For Hitler himself, his aim for Germany was to create a Volksgemeinschaft, a new German nation sharing his Weltanschauung. One can argue that by the mid-1930s, most people regarded the regime positively, and on the surface, people appeared to respond to attempts to unify the German community eg. the Winterhilfe scheme to raise money for the unemployed. However, the scheme also saw people being pressurised into making contributions, and this pattern of social pressure to conform was often repeated. Consequently, I am of the opinion that Hitler’s achievements regarding an ideologically unified Germany were rather artificial, and that Germany was never really recreated at all. Rather, propaganda acted by increasing support for the existent regime, rather than creating new ideologies based on Hitler’s World View.
Propaganda also often disguised the realities of the regime, like the myth that the Gestapo were all-seeing all-knowing and everywhere, rather than being in the sparse proportions of 1 officer per million citizens. Also, the propagandist ‘Hitler myth’ that saw his personal popularity swell, was able to cover up inconsistencies and failures in the party, blaming subordinate authorities rather than the ‘great leader.’
Although it is apparent that the uses and effectiveness of propaganda varied greatly, Hitler was clearly unable to maintain a strong and secure regime on propaganda alone, and it only worked in certain circumstances. D. Geary in Hitler and Nazism, states that ‘In general, Nazi propaganda … was most successful where it could play upon the traditional prejudices and values of German middle-class society … but where the regime opposed traditional loyalties, it was far less successful...,’ notably in attempts to oppose the traditional church. It would appear that factors such as the creation of a totalitarian state and the associated fear played a greater part in determining the nature of the regime, making the job of propaganda easier, because even if people were unhappy at being deceived by propaganda, they were to afraid to do anything about it.