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Propaganda, the coordinated attempt to influence public opinion through the use of media, was skillfully used by the Nazi Party in the years leading up to and during Adolf Hitler's leadership of Germany (1933–1945). Nazi propaganda provided a crucial instrument for acquiring and maintaining power, and for the implementation of their policies, including the pursuit of total war and the extermination of millions of people in the Holocaust.

The pervasive use of propaganda by the Nazis is largely responsible for the word "propaganda" itself acquiring its present negative connotations.[1]


In opposition (1919-33)[]

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler devoted two chapters of his 1925/26 work Mein Kampf, itself a propaganda tool, to the study and practice of propaganda.[2] He claimed to have learnt the value of propaganda as a World War I infantryman exposed to very effective British and ineffectual German propaganda.[3] The argument that Germany lost the war largely because of British propaganda efforts, expounded at length in Mein Kampf, reflected then-common German nationalist claims. Although untrue – German propaganda during World War I was mostly more advanced than that of the British – it became the official truth of Nazi Germany thanks to its reception by Hitler.[4]

Mein Kampf contains the blueprint of later Nazi propaganda efforts. Assessing his audience, Hitler writes in chapter IV:

"Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. (...) All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. (...) The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. (...) The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood."[5]

As to the methods to be employed, he explains:

"Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (...) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (...) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula."

Hitler put these ideas into practice with the reestablishment of the Völkischer Beobachter, a daily newspaper published by the Nazi Party (NSDAP) from February 1925 on, whose circulation reached 26,175 in 1929. It was joined in 1926 by Joseph Goebbels's Der Angriff, another unabashedly and crudely propagandistic paper.

During most of the Nazis' time in opposition, their means of propaganda remained limited. With little access to mass media, the party continued to rely heavily on Hitler and a few others speaking at public meetings until 1929.[6] In April 1930, Hitler appointed Goebbels head of party propaganda. Goebbels, a former journalist and Nazi party officer in Berlin, soon proved his skills. Among his first successes was the organization of riotous demonstrations that succeeded in having the American anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front banned in Germany.[7]

In power (1933-39)[]

Before World War II, Nazi propaganda strategy stressed several themes. Their goals were to create external enemies (countries that allegedly inflicted the Treaty of Versailles on Germany) and internal enemies (Jews). Hitler and Nazi propagandists played on the anti-Semitism and resentment present in Germany. The Jews were blamed for things such as robbing the German people of their hard work while themselves avoiding physical labour. Hitler blamed Jews for “two great wounds upon humanity: Circumcision of the Body and Conscience of the Soul.” Der Stürmer, a Nazi propaganda newspaper, told Germans that Jews kidnapped small children before Passover because “Jews need the blood of a Christian child, maybe, to mix in with their Matzah.” Posters, films, cartoons, and fliers were seen throughout Germany which attacked the Jewish community, such as the film The Eternal Jew.

Reaching out to ethnic Germans in other countries such as Czechoslovakia, France, Poland, the Soviet Union and the Baltic states was another aim of Nazi party propaganda. In Mein Kampf, Hitler makes a direct remark to those outside of Germany. He states that pain and misery is forced upon ethnic Germans outside of Germany, and that they dream of common fatherland. He finished by stating they needed to fight for one’s nationality.[8] Throughout Mein Kampf, he pushed Germans worldwide to make the struggle for political power and independence their main focus.

Nazi propaganda efforts then focused on creating external enemies. Propagandists strengthened the negative attitude of Germany towards the Treaty of Versailles by territorial claims and ethnocentrism. When the Treaty was signed in 1919 non-propagandists newspapers headlines across the nation spoke German’s feelings, such as “UNACCEPTABLE” which appeared on the front page of the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1919. The Berliner Tageblatt, also in 1919, predicted “Should we accept the conditions, a military furore for revenge will sound in Germany within a few years, a militant nationalism will engulf all.”[9] Hitler, knowing his nation's disgust with the Treaty, used it as leverage to influence his audience. He would repeatedly refer back to the terms of the Treaty as a direct attack on Germany and its people. In one speech delivered on January 30, 1937 he directly states that he is withdrawing the German signature from the document to protest the outrageous proportions of the terms. He claims the Treaty makes Germany out to be inferior and “less” of a country than others only because blame for the war is placed on it. The success of Nazi propagandists and Hitler won the Nazi party control of Germany and eventually led to World War II.[10]

For months prior to the beginning of World War II in 1939, German newspapers and leaders had carried out a national and international propaganda campaign accusing Polish authorities of organizing or tolerating violent ethnic cleansing of ethnic Germans living in Poland.[11] On 22 August, Adolf Hitler told his generals:


The main part of this propaganda campaign was the false flag project, Operation Himmler, which was designed to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany, which was subsequently used to justify the invasion of Poland.[12][13][14]

At war (1939-45)[]

Until the conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad on February 4, 1943, German propaganda emphasized the prowess of German arms and the humanity German soldiers had shown to the peoples of occupied territories. Pilots of the Allied bombing fleets were depicted as cowardly murderers, and Americans in particular as gangsters in the style of Al Capone. At the same time, German propaganda sought to alienate Americans and British from each other, and both these Western nations from the Soviets.

After Stalingrad, the main theme changed to Germany as the sole defender of what they called "Western European culture" against the "Bolshevist hordes". The introduction of the V-1 and V-2 "vengeance weapons" was emphasized to convince Britons of the hopelessness of defeating Germany.

On June 23, 1944, the Nazis permitted the Red Cross to visit concentration camp Theresienstadt to dispel rumors about the Final Solution, which was intended to kill every Jew. In reality, Theresienstadt was a transit camp for Jews en route to extermination camps, but in a sophisticated propaganda effort, fake shops and cafés were erected to imply that the Jews lived in relative comfort. The guests enjoyed the performance of a children's opera, Brundibar, written by inmate Hans Krása. The hoax was so successful for the Nazis that they went on to make a propaganda film (Theresienstadt) at Theresienstadt. Shooting of the film began on February 26, 1944. Directed by Kurt Gerron, it was meant to show how well the Jews lived under the "benevolent" protection of the Third Reich. After the shooting, most of the cast, and even the filmmaker himself, were deported to the concentration camp of Auschwitz where they were killed.[citation needed]

Goebbels committed suicide on May 1, 1945, shortly after Hitler had killed himself. Hans Fritzsche, who had been head of the Radio Chamber, was tried and acquitted by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.



The Völkischer Beobachter ("People's Observer") was the official daily newspaper of the NSDAP since February 1925. It disseminated Nazi ideology in the form of brief hyperboles directed against the weakness of parliamentarism, the evils of Jewry and Bolshevism, the national humiliation of the Versailles Treaty and other such topics.[15] It was joined in 1926 by Der Angriff ("The Attack"), a weekly and later daily paper founded by Goebbels. It was mainly dedicated to attacks against political opponents and Jews – one of its most striking features were vehemently anti-semitic cartoons by Hans Schweitzer – but also engaged in the glorification of Nazi heroes such as Horst Wessel.[6]

Other Nazi publications included Das Reich, a more moderate and highbrow publication aimed at intellectuals and foreigners; Der Stürmer, the most virulently anti-semitic of all; and Das Schwarze Korps, an SS publication. After Hitler's rise to power in 1933, all of the regular press came under complete Nazi editorial control through the policy of Gleichschaltung, and short-lived propaganda newspapers were also established in the conquered territories during World War II.


Poster art was a mainstay of the Nazi propaganda effort, aimed both at Germany itself and occupied territories.


The Nazis produced many films to promote their views. Themes included the virtues of the Nordic or Aryan type, German military and industrial strength, and the evils of the Nazi enemies. On March 11, 1933, The Third Reich established a Ministry of Propaganda, appointing Joseph Goebbels as its Minister. On September 22, 1933, a Department of Film was incorporated into the Chamber of Culture. The department controlled the licensing of every film prior to its production. Sometimes, the government would select the actors for a film, financing the production partially or totally, and would grant tax breaks to the producers.

Under Goebbels and Hitler, the German film industry became entirely nationalised. The National Socialist Propaganda Directorate, which Goebbels oversaw, had at its disposal nearly all film agencies in Germany by 1936. Occasionally, certain directors such as Wolfgang Liebeneiner were able to bypass Goebbels by providing him with a different version of the film than would be released. Such films include those directed by Helmut Käutner: Romanze in Moll (Romance in a Minor Key, 1943), Große Freiheit Nr. 7 (The Great Freedom, No. 7, 1944), and Unter den Brücken (Under the Bridges, 1945).

Triumph of the Will, by film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. It features footage of uniformed party members (though relatively few German soldiers), who are marching and drilling to classical melodies. The film contains excerpts from speeches given by various Nazi leaders at the Congress, including speeches by Adolf Hitler.

The Eternal Jew (or The Wandering Jew) was directed by Fritz Hippler at the insistence of German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, though the writing is credited to Eberhard Taubert. The movie is done in the style of a documentary, the central thesis being the immutable racial personality traits that characterize the Jew as a wandering cultural parasite. Throughout the film, these traits are contrasted to the Nazi state ideal: while Aryan men find satisfaction in physical labour and the creation of value, Jews only find pleasure in money and a hedonist lifestyle.


The Nazis and sympathizers published many books. Most of the beliefs that would become associated with the Nazis, such as German nationalism, eugenics and anti-Semitism had been in circulation since the 19th century, and the Nazis seized on this body of existing work in their own publications.

The most notable is Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf detailing his beliefs. The book outlines major ideas that would later culminate in World War II. It is heavily influenced by Gustave Le Bon's 1895 The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, which theorized propaganda as a way to control the seemingly irrational behaviour of crowds. Particularly prominent is the violent anti-Semitism of Hitler and his associates, drawing, among other sources, on the fabricated "Protocols of the Elders of Zion". For example, Hitler claimed that the international language Esperanto was part of a Jewish plot and makes arguments toward the old German nationalist ideas of "Drang nach Osten" and the necessity to gain Lebensraum ("living space") eastwards (especially in Russia).

Other books such as Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (Ethnology of German People) by Hans F. K. Günther and Rasse und Seele (Race and Soul) by Dr. Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss attempt to identify and classify the differences between the German, Nordic or Aryan type and other supposedly inferior peoples. These books were used as texts in German schools during the Nazi era.


The Nazi-controlled government in German-occupied France produced the Vica comic book series during World War II as a propaganda tool against the Allied forces. The Vica series, authored by Vincent Krassousky, represented Nazi influence and perspective in French society, and included such titles as Vica contre le service secret anglais, and Vica défie l’Oncle Sam.[16]


Signal was a propaganda magazine published by the Wehrmacht during World War II. It was distributed throughout occupied Europe and neutral countries. "Signal" was published from April 1940 to March 1945, and had the highest sales of any magazine published in Europe during the period 1940 to 1945—circulation peaked at two and one half million in 1943. At various times, it was published in at least twenty languages. There was an English edition distributed in the British Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Sark—these islands were occupied by the Wehrmacht during World War II.

The promoter of the magazine was the chief of the Wehrmacht propaganda office, Coronel Hasso von Wedel. Its annual budget was 10 million Reichmarks, roughly $2.5 million at the pre-war exchange rate.

The image that Signal hoped to create was that of Nazi Germany and its New Order as the great benefactor of European peoples and of Western civilization in general. Germany and its allies were depicted as the humane liberators of the occupied nations. Some articles displayed color photographs of dramatic battle scenes. The magazine contained little anti-Semitic propaganda, and the Jews were hardly mentioned.[17][18][19] [20]


The radio was an important tool in Nazi propaganda and it has been argued that it was the Nazis who pioneered the use of what was still a relatively new technology as a tool of genocide.[21] Certainly the Nazis recognised the importance of radio in disseminating their message and to that end Goebbels approved a sceme wherby the production and distribution of millions of cheap radio sets was subsidised by the government. By the start of the Second World War over 70% of German households had one of these radios, which were deliberately limited in range in order to prevent them picking up foreign broadcasts.[21] These so-called Volksempfänger featured little beyond propaganda and speeches.[22] Radio broadcasts were also played over loudspeakers in public places and workplaces, where listeners were frequently observed by radio wardens.[21]

As well as domestic broadcasts, the Nazi regime also used radio to deliver its message to both occupied territories and enemy states. One of the main targets was the United Kingdom to where William Joyce broadcast regularly, gaining the nickname 'Lord Haw-Haw' in the process. Joyce first appeared on German radio on the 6th September 1939 reading the news in English but soon became noted for his often mischievous propaganda broadcasts.[23] Joyce was executed in 1946 for treason. Although the most notorious, and most regularly heard, of the UK propagandists Joyce was not the only broadcaster, with others such as Norman Baillie-Stewart, Jersey-born teacher Pearl Vardon, British Union of Fascists members Leonard Banning and Susan Hilton, Barry Payne Jones of the Link and Alexander Fraser Grant, whose show was aimed specifically at Scotland, also broadcasting through the 'New British Broadcasting Service'.[24]

Broadcasts were also made to the United States, notably through Robert Henry Best and 'Axis Sally' Mildred Gillars. Best, a freelance journalist based in Vienna, was initially arrested following the German declaration of war on the US but before long he became a feature on propaganda radio, attacking the influence of the Jews in the US and the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[25] He would later be sentenced to life imprisonment for treason. Gilders, a teacher in Germany, mostly broadcast on similar themes as well as peppering her speech with allegations of infidelity against the wives of servicemen. Her most notorious broadcast was the 'Vision of Invasion' radio play, broadcast immediately prior to D-Day, from the perspective of an American mother who dreamed that her soldier son died violently in Normandy.[26]

France also received broadcasts from Radio-Stuttgart, where Paul Ferdonnet, an anti-Semitic journalist, was the main voice during the Phoney War.[27] Following the occupation Radio Paris and Radio Vichy became the main organs of propaganda, with leading far right figures such as Jacques Doriot, Philippe Henriot and Jean Hérold-Paquis regularly speaking in support of the Nazis. Others who broadcast included Gerald Hewitt, a British citizen who lived most of his life in Paris and had been associated with Action Française.[28] The use of domestic broadcasters intended to galvanise support for occupation was also used in Belgium, where Ward Hermans regularly spoke in support of the Nazis from his base in Bremen[29], and the Italian Social Republic, to where Giovanni Preziosi broadcast a vehemently anti-Semitic show from his base in Munich.[30] Pro-Nazi broadcasts were even heard in North Africa, where Mohammad Amin al-Husayni helped to insure the spread of Nazi ideas in the Arabic language.[31]


Nazi propaganda is a relatively recent topic of close study.[32] Historians of all persuasions, including Eastern Bloc writers, agree about its remarkable effectiveness.[32] Their assessment of its significance, however – whether it shaped or merely directed and exploited public opinion – is influenced by their approach to wider questions raised by the study of Nazi Germany, such as the question whether the Nazi state was a fully totalitarian dictatorship, as argued by Hannah Arendt, or whether it also depended on a certain societal consensus.[33]

In addition to media archives, an important primary source for the study of the Nazi propaganda effort are the reports on civilian morale and public opinion that the Sicherheitsdienst and later the RMVP compiled from 1939 on. Another are the Deutschland-Berichte, reports gathered by underground agents of the Sopade that particularly dealt with German popular opinion.[34]

See also[]

  • Big Lie
  • Hans Schweitzer poster artist
  • Leni Riefenstahl film director
  • Lord Haw Haw radio voice
  • Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
  • Lapplandsender
  • American propaganda during World War II
  • Propaganda in the Soviet Union
  • Censorship in Germany


  • Welch, David (1993). The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda. Routledge. ISBN 0-203-93014-2. 


  1. Welch, 6.
  2. These are chapter VI, "War Propaganda", and chapter XI, "Propaganda and Organization".
  3. Welch, 10; see Mein Kampf, ch. VI.
  4. Welch, 11.
  5. Mein Kampf citations are from the Project Gutenberg-hosted 1939 English translation by James Murphy.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Welch, 13.
  7. Welch, 14.
  8. Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999
  9. Abel, Theodore. Why Hitler Came Into Power. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.
  10. German Propaganda Archive, "Hitler Speech" 2004. Calvin College. 25 Oct. 2007
  11. [1] German newspaper editor outlining the claims of Polish atrocities against minorities
  12. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named WirtzGordon
  13. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Lightbody
  14. Roger Manvell, Heinrich Fraenkel, Heinrich Himmler: The SS, Gestapo, His Life and Career, Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007, ISBN 1602391785, Google Print, p.76
  15. Welch, 12.
  16. Vica Nazi Propaganda Comics, Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.
  17. Meyer, S.L. Signal:Hitler’s Wartime Picture Magazine London:1976 Bison Publishing Co. Introduction, Pages 1-2
  18. Photographs of the interior of Albert Speer's Reich Chancellery from Signal magazine:
  19. Review of collected magazine at Amazon
  20. Signal Magazine 1940-1945
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Radio Propaganda and Genocide
  22. Hitler's Radio
  23. Mary Kenny, Germany Calling, Dublin, 2003, p. 175
  24. Sean Murphy, Letting the Side Down: British Traitors of the Second World War, Stroud, 2006, pp. 50-102
  25. The Press: Worst Best
  26. John Carver Edwards, Berlin Calling: American Broadcasters in Service to the Third Reich, New York, 1991
  27. Philippe Randa, Dictionnaire commenté de la Collaboration française, 1997
  28. Murphy, Letting the Side Down, pp. 85-87
  29. David Littlejohn, The Patriotic Traitors, London: Heinemann, 1972, p. 155
  30. Ray Moseley, Mussolini: The Last 600 days of Il Duce, 2004, p. 118
  31. Hate Radio
  32. 32.0 32.1 Welch, 4
  33. Welch, 3–5.
  34. Welch, 7

External links[]

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