Published Date

July 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 2: What Is Propaganda? (1944)

Hitler is the arch propagandist of our time. These are examples of his strategy in attempting to mold the opinions and attitudes of his intended victims to his own purposes. Division, doubt, and fear are the weapons he uses within one nation and among Allied countries arrayed against him. His purpose is summed up in his own phrase—to sow “mental confusion, contradiction. of feeling, indecision, panic.”

Since Hitler’s propaganda is a weapon constantly used against us, we need to understand clearly his techniques and devices—not only those he employs today, but also the cunning and diabolical methods by which he and his Brown Shirts combined propaganda and other pressures, first to take over the German state, then to stamp out all vestiges of freedom in it. The story goes back to the early 1920’s.

The very name of the party headed by Hitler was chosen with great deliberation for its propaganda effect. The little group of fanatical men who called themselves the German Labor Party in 1919 later sought a name that would have widespread appeal. Hitler and his adherents chose “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” reduced by popular usage to “Nazi.” Each word of this title had a special significance for certain groups in Germany. “Socialist” and “National,” for example, were associated with causes that long antedated Hitler. That was what Hitler wanted  name that would prove a catchall, an omnibus upon which many could ride.

The Nazi banner was a product of Hitler’s contriving. He hated the black, red, and gold flag of the German Republic against which he was conspiring. Since the old imperial colors of the days of the kaiser could still arouse powerful emotions, he decided he must use some of the colors of this old banner—black, white, and red. In 1920 Hitler and his followers made up a striking flag with the hooked cross or swastika dominant, but with the colors that would capture the allegiances of various groups of Germans—red to capture Socialist sentiment and white to appeal to the Nationalists. The black swastika within the white circle is a symbol of the anti-Semitic platform of the Nazi leader and his fanatical supporters.

The Nazi salute—the upraised arm—was a device created to identify party members and the Nazi movement. Further identification was given through the use of the party salutation, “Heil Hitler,” and as time went on both members and nonparty Germans used it. Then came the invention of party slogans—Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil), and others that have a strange ring on democratic ears but which appealed to the followers of “the leader.”

Hitler hypnotized the German people by staging dramatic parades and gigantic and spectacular rallies and demonstrations. One department of the Nazi propaganda office spent all its time planning rallies, selecting badges, emblems, uniforms, costumes, flags, and “background” effects to give glitter to the assemblages. While marching men and massed bands incited party delegates, the ritualistic ceremonies and the emotional speeches of the leader stirred Nazi members into a further frenzy.

As an example of how mass propaganda was organized, look at a typical Nuremberg party rally. The participants or actors numbered 110,000 storm troopers, 50,000 labor servicemen and women, 180,000 party officials, and 120,000 ordinary party members—a total of 460,000, equal to thirty army divisions. Visitors numbering 550,000 looked on at the ceremonies.

These techniques were deliberately designed, as one propaganda expert points out, “to bring about identification of larger and larger numbers with first, the Nazi cause, and then with what, after they gained power, was termed the ‘true national community’.”

After they captured office, the Nazis were ruthless in stamping out all vestiges of the German Republic. The symbols of the Führer and the Nazi party became preeminent. The so-called “leadership principle” which exalted Hitler into an infinitely wise, an almost godlike, chieftain was one of the fictions created by his adherents.

The Nazis established a ministry of propaganda. They licensed and catalogued German newspapermen to keep them in control, suppressed or “integrated” unfriendly newspapers, and as the crisis developed in Europe, expelled foreign correspondents who sought to tell the truth of what went on in Germany. They took over the broadcasting system and every other agency that bore a relationship to the cultural life of the people.

But despite all Nazi cunning, the propaganda tricks and the creation of dazzling new symbols could not take the minds of the German people entirely off their troubles. The Nazis then cleverly drained away some of these resentments by finding scapegoats—minority groups against whom blame for difficulties could be charged. The trade unions were one scapegoat, the Versailles Treaty another, the Communists a third, and the democracies a fourth. But the Jew was the easiest target. The German people could blame all these “enemies” for their own state of affairs and thus seem to free themselves of fault.

Against the Jews, the Nazis turned their wrath. The Jew, they said, was not an “Aryan.” They claimed that he had “sold out” the Germans in World War I. He was in league, they charged, with “international capitalism.” They held him to be the chief cause of inflation in Germany. In a word, they accused him of causing most of the ills from which the nation suffered. They heaped their troubles on his head. The “non-Aryan” myth fitted into the dogma of the racial superiority of the Germanic stock, one of the fictions spread by the Nazi party “philosophers.”

The club and pistol, concentration camp, and secret police mere the means of putting down the Jews and other minority groups whenever propaganda by itself was not enough. To the weapons of propaganda and censorship, the Nazis had added a third—terror.

Germany became a nation built upon propaganda, plus force. The political state became the shadow of the Nazi party.

After establishing the dictatorship in 1933–34, Hitler used his energies for a time in fastening the Nazi yoke on the necks of the German people. The next step was to prepare the ground in countries that he wished to annex or control. Paul Joseph Goebbels, head of the propaganda ministry, got unlimited funds and authority to foment trouble among Germany’s neighbors. Here again propaganda was combined with terror. Uniting propaganda with threats, veiled bribes, subversive tactics, and outright violence, the Nazis “softened up” Austria and the Sudetenland for the “kill.” By propaganda and other means, they weakened France through stirring up class conflicts within the French Republic. Using similar methods, they forced minor states to submit to dictation from Berlin.

The Nazis have never disguised their lack of principles. Eugen Hadamowski, a Goebbels assistant, once said, “The use of force can be a part of propaganda.” The idea was first, to confuse and strike fear into the hearts of your own countrymen, and then to use similar techniques to demoralize the people of other countries. Here is the plan the Nazis used in their propaganda warfare against former friends and neighbors:

Nazi strategists sought out the “soft spots” in the areas they planned to absorb or attack. Rival economic interests, racial and religious antagonisms, tensions between political groups, cleavages between workers and employers—these were studied in every detail. If, in the nation about to be attacked, influential persons were discovered who could be bribed or corrupted, German agents made use of these quislings. In a careful index, German espionage services charted possible approaches to key politicians, businessmen, military leaders and others—knew their habits, peculiarities, even their vices. Every political faction was analyzed for its possible usefulness to Germany.

Then Nazi agents built up in the victim country a front of discontented elements who could be managed in times of crisis. Thus the rancors, grudges, and disloyalties of these elements would serve to divide a nation and destroy its unity. Every country has groups of discredited political figures, demagogues, extreme reactionaries, misguided idealists, and die-hards who can be misled by glittering promises. Play our game, the Nazis told some of these groups, and we will elevate you to positions of power and influence.

Another technique was to pretend friendship for the country against which force was to be used while secretly plotting its destruction. While a peaceful neighbor slumbered, hoping the German propagandists really meant what they said, the Nazis perfected their plans. When disunity, stimulated by Nazi underground tactics, developed, however, Germany grew bolder. Hitler then made threats and demands. Goebbels echoed his master. The Nazi propaganda machine issued a barrage describing the great strength of the German army and air force and the folly of even trying to resist them. Nazi attacks discredited the doomed country’s leaders, no matter how honest and sincere those leaders were. The “war of nerves” was unleashed. The Nazis were then ready to strike.

All this required careful preparation and the cynical union of propaganda and terror. Before attacks were made on Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, or, France, the Nazis planted their subversive agents in legations, consulates, and tourist bureaus, created Nazi party “cells” within a country’s borders, and established espionage services which ramified all over the world. Treacherous persons already in the pay or under the influence of the Nazis—the “fifth columnists”—were ready to “sell one” when the time came for the Nazis to strike.

That was the technique of the “invasion from within” and the propaganda attack from without. That was the means used to crush a nation even before the tramp of German soldiers rang in the streets of invaded cities.

Next section: Democratic vs. Enemy Propaganda