Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Goebbels, Joseph (1897–1945) from Encyclopedia of Political Communication

Paul Joseph Goebbels is credited by contemporary historians with being the single most influential person in propaganda history and the most important leader of the Third Reich next to Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring. For more than 12 years he served as Hitler’s minister for Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment and controlled virtually every aspect of Germany’s cultural life.

Goebbels was born on October 29, 1897, in Rheydt, a small town in the Rhineland. Due to an infection he caught when he was 7 years old, he was left with a club foot that prevented him from military service in World War I. In 1921, Goebbels graduated from the University of Heidelberg with a PhD in literature and philosophy and worked in various temporary jobs.

In 1924, he joined the NSDAP (National Socialist Party of Germany). In the first years, he belonged to the left wing of the party, which was advocating a merger of socialistic and nationalistic ideology. After his first meeting with Adolf Hitler in 1926, he changed sides and became a member of the anti-Semitic and strictly anticommunist faction of the NSDAP.

In 1926, Goebbels was appointed Gauleiter (district leader) of the NSDAP for Berlin; after 1930 he served as Reichspropagandaleiter (chief of propaganda) of the Nazi Party as well. On March 13, 1933, he was appointed minister of the newly created Ministry of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment. In 1944 he became Reichsbevollmächtigter für den totalen Kriegseinsatz (Commissioner for the Total War) and mobilized in a huge propaganda effort all the energies of German society for a war that was already lost.

Goebbels was an extremely skilled writer and a talented speaker, whose intelligence was clearly above the standards of the ruling National Socialists. Due to his short stature and his handicap, his craving for admiration was almost limitless. As the ruling propagandist of the Nazi Party he invented many propaganda techniques and strategies that raised the Nazi propaganda at its time (beside the inherent terror and threat, which always went along with it) to a new and until then unseen type of political communication. Goebbels invented the Hitler myth that infected many Germans and created a specific aesthetic style of the Nazi movement.

As minister, Goebbels was in charge of German film production as well as of the playlists of the theaters and concert halls. He turned the radio, then still very new, into a powerful propaganda weapon in the hand of the National Socialist state. Popular entertainment was to him one of the most efficient ways of carrying well-hidden propaganda messages to every German family, but he did not hesitate to use cruel atrocity propaganda when he believed it to be necessary. This was especially the case with the war against the Soviet Union in 1941–1945 and with the anti-Jewish propaganda of the Nazi regime. In 1938 he tried to counteract a decline in his prestige within the ruling Nazi group by organizing the Reichsprogromnacht against the German Jews, which for the first time clearly indicated that the Nazis would use direct violence in their fight against the Jews. Foreign countries were shocked at the Progromnacht, but Goebbels noted in his diaries that the Führer was “impressed” by this pseudo-spontaneous outbreak of violence—and what Hitler thought about him was the only thing that ever worried Goebbels. To him, it was the peak of his career: although he succeeded Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany on April 30, 1945, he remained in office only for one day, because the following day he committed suicide in the Führer Bunker in Berlin after he and his wife Magda had killed their six children.

    See also
  • Film and Politics; Mass Political Behavior; Persuasion, Political; Propaganda; Public Relations, Political; Strategic Communication

Further Readings
  • Balfour, M. (1979). Propaganda in war 1939-1945: Organisations, policies and publics in Britain and Germany. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Reuth, R. G. (1993). Goebbels. New York: Harcourt Brace.
  • Thymian Bussemer
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

    Related Credo Articles

    Full text Article Goebbels, Joseph Paul (1897 - 1945)
    The Companion to British History, Routledge

    Goebbels, an extreme German nationalist with socialist leanings, joined the Nazi party in 1925 and became Gregor Strasser's...

    Full text Article GOEBBELS, PAUL JOSEPH
    Encyclopedia of Nationalism: Leaders, Movements, and Concepts

    1897–1945 National Socialist politician and propagandist, born in Rheydt, Germany. As chief propagandist for the National Socialist German...

    Full text Article Goebbels, Josef (1897–1945)
    Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations

    Nazi “minister of enlightenment [sic] and propaganda,” 1933–1945; member of Hitler’s inner circle. His street name was “the poison dwarf” (he...

    See more from Credo