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Definition: Goebbels from The Macquarie Dictionary

1897--1945, German Nazi politician; minister of propaganda under Hitler 1933--45.

Summary Article: GOEBBELS, (PAUL) JOSEPH (1897-1945)
from World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia

One of Hitler’s closest associates and head of the Nazi propaganda machine. Hitler probably owed his success as much to Goebbels and his propaganda skills as to any other Nazi chief. Goebbels, who grew up in a strict Catholic home, was excluded from military service in World War I because of osteomyelitis. This affliction left him with a crippled foot, which he would later claim to be the result of a war wound, and with an inferiority complex to match. This was made even worse by the fact that he was small in stature, so that he looked the very opposite of the tall, blonde Aryan of Nazi myth. In 1920 he acquired a Ph.D. in literature (on the Romantic movement) after studying in Freiburg, Bonn, Würzburg, Munich, and Heidelberg. He subsequently began to indulge a taste for a Bohemian lifestyle. His record of employment at this period included a stint in a bank, acting as a clerk in the Cologne Stock Exchange, and a position with a publisher. He wrote a novel, Michael, in 1923, though it was not published until 1929: it reflects a deeply rooted antibourgeois feeling. After initial contacts with the National Socialist movement in 1924, he became editor of papers like Völkische Freiheit (1924), Der Angriff (1927), and Das Reich (1940). Having first sided with the Strasser brothers and expressed suspicion of Hitler, he turned to the dominant Hitler faction in 1926, becoming a slavish adulator of the latter. Goebbels was rewarded with the position of NSDAP- Gauleiter of Berlin the same year. He subsequently became one of the most unscrupulous agitators in the Nazi movement, exploiting the worries of the unemployed during the world economic crisis and presenting Hitler as the savior of the German people. His speeches were replete with extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism. In 1929, Hitler made him chief of the NSDAP propaganda apparatus after Goebbels had repeatedly provoked violent clashes with left wingers in working-class areas of Berlin.

Joseph Goebbels, the driving force behind the hugely innovative, wide-ranging, and effective Nazi propaganda campaigns. He was remarkably successful in ’branding’ Nazism as a powerful progressive force that could lift the German people to a new greatness. (Library of Congress)

Goebbels was responsible for many of the propagandistic innovations that gave the Third Reich such a powerful and imposing reputation. He was responsible for elevating the versifier Horst Wessel to martyr status, despite the latter’s ignominious death in a brawl and the feebleness of his doggerel. In Der Angriff Goebbels played relentlessly on certain repetitive themes—the November Criminals, the ineptitude of parliamentary government, and the wickedness of the Jews. He composed the Ten Commandments for National Socialists, which amount to a manic call to hypernationalist pride in Germany and her destiny combined with an unashamed exultation in violence. In 1930 he became a deputy in the Reichstag. Upon becoming Reich secretary for public enlightenment and propaganda (March 1933), Goebbels established an extensive propaganda apparatus embracing radio, newsreels, and feature films, and he pushed ahead with a policy of tight control of the news media and the cultural sector: his philosophy could be summed up in the phrase “total propaganda.” He was now effectively the “dictator of culture” in all of Germany. His propaganda pamphlets majored in the exploitation of crispness in phrasing and the obsessive use of capital letters, which he probably borrowed from the practice of some contemporary U.S. newspapers.

Goebbels took an active part in the expulsion of antifascist artists and in a wide range of terrorist activities, such as the boycott of Jewish shops on 1 April 1933 and Kristallnacht. Later he demanded the deportation of the Jews living in Berlin and indeed called for the extermination of Jews and Gypsies. Goebbels played a prominent role in mobilizing the German population for the expansionist policy that led to open war in 1939. After the defeat of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad, Goebbels delivered his “Sports Palace speech” in which he demanded “total war.” In July 1944 he became the “total war” plenipotentiary and tried to mobilize Germany’s very last resources for a final victory. Hitler had once designated him as his successor as chancellor, but by the final period of the war he had been disgraced. Staying with Hitler in a bunker in Berlin right down to the last days of the war, Goebbels killed his family and himself on 1 May 1945.

See Also: anti-semitism; aryanism; books, the burning of the; culture; film; germany; gleichschaltung; hitler, adolf; holocaust, the; kristallnacht; nationalism; nazism; night of the long knives, the; november criminals/novemberbrecher, the; propaganda; radio; roma and sinti, the; stalingrad; strasser brothers, the; third reich, the; wall street crash, the; wehrmacht, the; wessel, horst; world war i; world war ii

  • Bärsch, Claus-Ekkehard. 2004. Der junge Goebbels: Erlösung und Vernichtung. Munich: Fink.
  • Fetscher, Iring. 1998. Rede im Berliner Sportpalast 1943: Joseph Goebbels “Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?” Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt.
  • Herzstein, Robert E. 1986. The War that Hitler Won: Goebbels and the Nazi Media Campaign. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.
  • Lemmons, Russel. 1994. Goebbels and Der Angriff. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
  • Rentschler, Eric. 1996. Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Reuth, Ralf Georg. 1995. Goebbels: The Life of Joseph Goebbels, the Mephistophelean Genius of Nazi Propaganda. London: Constable.
  • Roberts, Jeremy. 2001. Joseph Goebbels: Nazi Propaganda Minister. New York: Rosen.
  • Fabian Virchow
    Cyprian Blamires
    Copyright © 2006 by ABC-CLIO, Inc.

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