Joseph Goebbels was one of the greatest propagandists of all times. He knew how to mold the German peoples’ minds so that the German war effort had their belief and support. Known for his keen sense of public speaking and his deep hatred of Jews, his world was a world built on lies and deception on top of a world built on lies, deception, and distorted truths. And he was utterly loyal to Hitler and the Nazi Party. This is the story of Joseph Goebbels, who shaped the German minds and built the imagery and the vision of Germany that people would see, both in and outside of Nazi Germany.
Joseph Goebbels: Early Life
Joseph Goebbels was born on October 29, 1897 into a middle-class Roman Catholic family. He was a sickly child, suffering from long bouts of lung infections and having a deformity in his foot that forced him to wear a brace. This deformity precluded him from being able to serve during the First World War.
As a young man, Goebbels was extremely studious, winning top marks in his class for the entrance exam to university. He studied at various universities across Germany, majoring in literature and history. Initially, he considered following his family’s wishes and becoming a priest, but the more he studied, the more he distanced himself from the idea.
The next few years saw him in and out of relationships, struggling to make a career as a writer, and all the while solidifying his right-wing views. In late 1924, Goebbels offered his services to the Nazi Party.
Goebbels Versus Strasser Versus Hitler
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In 1926, Joseph Goebbels began working for Gregor Strasser, doing secretarial work for the party’s offices in Northern Germany. During this time, Goebbels worked representing Rhineland-Westphalia and was employed for his oratorship.
Strasser had very different views from Hitler, and, as a result, the party was run differently in his areas of Northern Germany compared to how it was run in Bavaria. Strasser earned the ire of Hitler and, in 1926, penned several revisions to Nazi Party doctrine that Hitler simply would not accept.
Hitler organized a conference in Strasser’s area of control and gave a speech repudiating Strasser’s vision for the party’s future, claiming that it would lead to the political bolshevism of the party. Goebbels, however, lost much faith in Hitler after Hitler claimed that socialism was a Jewish construct and that there would be no nationalization of private property in Germany.
Nevertheless, Goebbels had his mind changed after reading Mein Kampf. He gave speeches and distributed pamphlets emphasizing how Nazism differed from Marxism.
Although Hitler organized an understanding between the factional disparities among the Nazi leadership, and despite the fact that animosity between Goebbels, Hitler, and Strasser was assuaged, Strasser still found himself a victim during the Night of the Long Knives when the SA leadership was purged.
From 1926 onwards, Goebbels formed a close friendship with Hitler, and Goebbels was invited to speak at the Party Congress in Weimar.
Promotion to Gauleiter
In 1926, Hitler promoted Goebbels to Gauleiter over Strasser’s recent position. This move gave Goebbels significant power in organization, and he began in earnest restructuring elements of the Nazi Party and making use of developments in commercial advertising. He also arranged violent brawls in beer halls and organized confrontations with Germany’s communist institutions. The constant provocations led the police to ban the Nazi Party, and Goebbels was given a public speaking ban until October 1926. During this time, he published a violent and anti-Semitic newspaper called Der Angriff (The Attack).
Later, in May 1928, the ban on the Nazi Party was lifted before the Reichstag elections. The Nazi Party performed abysmally at the polls, earning only 2.6% of the vote nationwide. Nevertheless, Goebbels and several Nazi officials managed to be elected to the Reichstag. During the early years of his ministerial career, Goebbels was named Hitler’s propaganda director. The poor results at the polls meant little to the impetus of the Nazi Party’s growing popularity. Goebbels organized massive events, placing microphones and speakers, cameras, and imagery in pivotal areas designed to accentuate Hitler and his speaking abilities. These events were intended to convince the German people that unwavering support of Hitler was the only way the German people could regain the honor of their country.
Goebbels’ Rise in Government
After Hitler became chancellor in 1933, he named Joseph Goebbels the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. With this position came Goebbels’ complete control over all media within Germany. He used this control to paint Hitler in the most favorable light while at the same time censoring opponents of Nazism and stirring up hatred for Jews.
Goebbels led the charge against Jews at the behest of Hitler. In April 1933, Goebbels spearheaded the boycott against Jewish businesses, and in May, he organized the infamous burning of books deemed to be “un-German.”
Later that year, in September, Goebbels became the director of the Reich Chamber of Culture, a newly-created department tasked with upholding German culture. One of its actions under Goebbels was to ban all forms of modern art, which the Nazi Party deemed immoral and decadent. Galleries had their works confiscated and replaced with more traditional artworks.
The following month, Goebbels passed the Reich Press Law, which banned not only Jewish people but also non-Nazis from editing newspapers and magazines.
Goebbels’ Propaganda & the War
It was absolutely necessary for the German government to be able to control the thinking of the German people. Even before the beginning of the War, Goebbels had the massive task of downplaying fears of war in Germany while similarly trying to gain support for the integration of Germans in the Sudetenland. After 1938, Goebbels directed his propaganda machine against Poland, drumming up the narrative of Poland being a belligerent neighbor.
Although Goebbels was not privy to the military preparations and plans for Nazi conquests, he was needed in newly conquered territories. As soon as countries and territories were conquered, Goebbels and his department disseminated prepared speeches using existing announcers to gain the local citizenry’s trust. Back in Germany, the propaganda continued, with more than half the films made being propaganda. Goebbels found that film was a massively powerful tool that complimented radio broadcasts. Mobile film vans drove around Germany, providing propaganda to the masses.
As the war progressed and Germany lost the initiative, Goebbels presided over an increasingly difficult task of keeping Germany’s morale up. After the setback of the North African Campaign and the utterly disastrous Battle of Stalingrad, Goebbels gave a speech at the Berlin Sportpalast on February 18, 1943, where he emboldened the German people to commit to Total War.
As the war progressed to its climactic end, Hitler’s need for Goebbels waned as the focus became aimed more at military matters than with matters of propaganda. Despite only seeing each other approximately once a month, Goebbels remained absolutely loyal to Hitler and his vision.
The Downfall & Defeat of Joseph Goebbels
By the last months of the war, Goebbels’s speeches and articles became apocalyptic in nature. Unlike many others of the Nazi leadership, Goebbels stood by Hitler in his vision for a final last stand instead of escape or surrender.
In their absence, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering had been disgraced. Goebbels had finally found his place as Hitler’s most loyal confidant, but it was not to be a lasting success, as Hitler would commit suicide shortly thereafter.
Goebbels retreated to Hitler’s bunker with his family and spent his final days in the presence of the Führer. Before Hitler shot himself, he dictated his last will and testament. He named Joseph Goebbels as the Reich Chancellor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as the Reich President, and Martin Bormann as Party Minister. Although Hitler gave Goebbels the order to leave Berlin, Goebbels recounted that it was the only order from the Führer that he would ever disobey for reasons of humanity and loyalty.
After Hitler shot himself, Goebbels carried out his only act as Reich Chancellor, sending a message to Soviet Marshal Chuikov under a white flag and delivered by the German General Hans Krebs. The message stated that Hitler was dead, and Goebbels called for a truce, but this request was denied.
Seeing no alternative, Joseph and his wife, Magda, decided to murder their six children before committing suicide. Magda employed the help of an SS dentist in the bunker to administer morphine and then crush ampoules of cyanide into their mouths. Later that night, Joseph and Magda walked out into the gardens and shot themselves.