How did the Nazi regime manage to manipulate the minds of its population to gain enough support to survive for over a decade and engage in perennial atrocities?
Firstly though, it is important to establish that the Nazi leadership were in fact exceedingly interested in public opinion and perceptions towards the regime. Even in overtly totalitarian regimes, the consent of the people on some level is imperative for the regime to survive any period of time.
Joseph Goebbels, the head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda from 1933 to 1945, frequently received extremely detailed reports from numerous state agencies on the mood of the German people (Welch 1993: 1). In Nazi Germany, numerous agencies were involved in taking the pulse of the population, with the Secret Police (SD) alone having around 50,000 part-agents by 1939 who reported on conversations they were part of, or had overheard (Welch 1993: 1). Adolf Hitler was also concerned with public opinion, as the Führer constantly tried to prevent food prices from rising out of fear that this would reduce support for the Nazi regime (Welch 1993: 1). Although Hitler was not shy to express his disdain for the average person privately, he understood that he had to appear as though he was the champion of the people to give his regime some sense of legitimacy (Speier 1943: 362-363).
Obviously, it is important to note that Nazi propaganda cannot be separated from the threat of violence and terror from Nazi thugs, which at least underlined any propaganda campaigns aimed at inducing compliance (Speier 1943: 358). Yet there were still concerted Nazi propaganda campaigns that did not purely rely on violence.
A central theme through the Nazis internal propaganda operations was the emphasis on the state or community being more important than the individual. Slogans such as – ‘One People! One Reich! One Führer!’ – were relentlessly used to persuade the population to value the community over the individual (Welch 1993: 4). Cheap cinema tickets, radios and the introduction of the Volkswagen (or people’s car), were all designed to symbolise the triumphs of the national community (Welch 1993: 4).
The Nazi regime also introduced social initiatives to amplify this sense of national community. The Winter Help program was one, which consisted of collections of clothing, food and money to help those families who had been hit hardest by unemployment (Welch 1993: 10). Another initiative was known as one pot, where families were encouraged to only have one meal on a Sunday and give what they hadn’t used to people who came to the door (Welch 1993: 10).
Rising out of the ashes of a country that had been devastated by national humiliation and economic depression, the Nazi Party’s vision of a new national community resonated with many (Welch 1993: 3). The core aim of Nazi propaganda was to break down divisions based on class and religious allegiances, and replace these with a “heightened sense of national awareness” (Welch 1993: 3). In this context, Nazi propaganda was quite effective (Welch 1993: 8).
Another major feature of the Nazi regime was its focus on targeting the German youth for propaganda operations. In a 1933 speech, Hitler articulated the logic of this strategy, declaring: “When an opponent says: ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say: Your child belongs to us already … you will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp” (Welch 1993: 13).
The Nazis understood that indoctrinating the young people of the country was the most effective way to ensure you had an obedient citizenry in the future. The Nazi party progressively gained control over the teaching profession until almost completely dominating it by 1937. A professional teachers association had been founded in the late 1920s, which came to be known as the National Socialist Teachers League (NSLB). This association ensured teachers were ideologically aligned with the Nazi party, with the NSLB providing political references for every appointment and promotion (Welch 1993: 11-12). To gain membership in the teachers association, all teachers had to submit their ancestry tables, allowing the Nazi party to impede individuals of Jewish and other ancestries that the Nazis opposed (Goutam and Gautam, 2014: 1018). By 1937, 95 per cent of all teachers are thought to have been members of the association (Welch 1993: 11-12).
Party control was also strengthened by the Führer Decree of 1935, a decree which gave the Nazis the power to politically screen all civil service appointments (Welch 1993: 11). These avenues to maintain control were supplemented by the youth comradeship organizations in the form of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls, organizations where Nazi ideology was reinforced and Hitler was worshipped as a demigod (Welch 1993: 12).
Goutam, U., & Gautam, U. (2014). Pedagogical Nazi Propaganda (1939-1945). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 75, 1018-1026.
Welch, D. (1993). Manufacturing a Consensus: Nazi Propaganda and the Building of a ‘National Community’ (Volksgemeinschaft). Contemporary European History, 2(1), 1-15.
SPEIER, H. (1943). Nazi Propaganda and its Decline. Social Research, 10(3), 358-377.
Note: the sources consulted to construct this narrative do not necessarily endorse the narrative constructed.
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