"All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself."
Hitler, Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"), Vol. I
As Germany prepared for and carried out World War II, it implemented a variety of forms of propaganda. This was necessary for several reasons, but primarily to serve two main Nazi agendas. It was important to convince the public to fight and that it was necessary to fight. German had just recently gone through a power struggle establishing the Nazi Party as superior over the socialists, but it still lacked enough political support to go to war. The main body of German propaganda consists of material increasing or fueling the wartime effort. Also, Hitler and many of the higher Nazi leaders harbored racism and wished to begin the extermination of races they deemed inferior. Although there was some discontent between the German Jews and other Germans already, it was still necessary to convince the German population that action was necessary against them. This anti-Semitic material formed the second main body of German propaganda.
German wartime propaganda utilized a variety of forms in its delivery. Much of the propaganda was implemented through the recently invented radio, as well as through speeches from the main Nazi leaders. Posters and other visual material were also widely circulated and vital to the persuasion. Much other visual and printed material, such as books and leaflets, was only circulated to specific groups, such as Nazi party members or soldiers. However, almost all the propaganda was spread though a variety of media.
As it was to the Americans, production was extremely important to the Germans. This poster (top, at right), which reads as You are the Front! advertises the significance of labor and production. Germany, which maintained a highly mechanized army of tanks, required additional production in order to combat the Allied forces. Posters like this, which demonstrates the importance of labor, were extremely common after the beginning of the war, when increased production really became necessary. Once the Reich leaders realized that their current forces would not be enough, the push for additional labor war strengthened. Other posters of a similar type often portrayed a union between soldiers and workers, or urged workers to do their part in the war effort while displaying graphic scenes of battle. Posters of this type often displayed muscular men at work, because masculine strength was thought to inspire confidence. This type of propaganda, also known as production or labor propaganda, was a sizable chunk of the German propaganda effort.
Posters such as this one (second from top), which advertises a paper drive, were also very common and were related to production propaganda posters. These types of posters urged German citizens to conserve materials for the war effort. Although this poster specifically concerns paper, many drives were organized for a variety of materials. During the war, many materials that would have been commonplace and easy to produce during peacetime began to get scarce. Posters such as these prompted the viewer to help give to the Nazi cause. Like the production and labor posters, many conservation posters also displayed images of battle and urged the average person to do their part. When they did not show battle, conservation posters, such as this one, often depicted contributors cheerily giving to the war effort, pleased at being able to aid their government. In most cases, however, German citizens were reluctant to give up their luxuries. This type of propaganda is often titled conservation propaganda and was especially common in America and Germany during World War II.
This poster and those of its kind (third from top), which suggests that spies are listening, were not particularly common in wartime Germany. However, they were important to the propaganda effort. Posters such as these implied that spies were everywhere and would hear any gossip or loose talk about the war effort. Although this was of no particular importance to the Nazis, as most citizens knew very little about troop movements and military plans, it also served another purpose. The implication that spies were close and listening in also helped to bring the reality of war home to most people. In most cases, this served to make the public work harder and be more careful about conservation, two of the main other reasons for propaganda. As long as the public felt threatened, they would obey commands that would, in their eyes, remove that threat.
poster (fourth from top),
which reads One People, One Reich, One Führer, was a piece
of one of the most important parts of the German propaganda. By establishing
a rudimentary worship for the Führer (Leader) that was almost mythological,
Adolf Hitler was established as the absolute head of the government and
to some a semi-deity. This inspired the public to work harder and do more
for the Reich, having been convinced by the Führer propaganda that
the war was a sort of holy quest or crusade. The Führer worship also
helped instill pride in Germany and the Reich among the German population.
This type of propaganda was also heavily reinforced by speeches and radio
broadcasts. Goebbels himself often spoke about Hitler, and did his part
in his speeches and propaganda to continue to glorify him. Other posters,
and many of the books distributed to party members, showed Hitler being
adored by the public, especially by the German youth. Other images depicted
him in settings meant to imply nobility or honor; for example, several
pictures were taken of him outside with his dog. Also, Hitler had many
portraits painted of him, which further serve to glorify him. This type
of propaganda was very important to the Nazi cause in that it defined
the Führer as an embodiment of all the good of the Nazi Reich. This
not only glorified the Reich, but also persuaded many people to further
follow its commands. This helped in the war effort and also generated
pride in the German nation and the Reich.
Posters like this one (fifth from top), which advertises the Nazi film The Eternal Jew, served to dehumanize the German Jews. The film The Eternal Jew itself compares the Jewish people to rats. By dehumanizing Jews, the Nazi leaders began to prepare for Hitlers Final Solution. The Nazi leaders knew that when the deportations began it would be much easier for the German people to watch friends and neighbors shipped away if they associated them with rats or with age-old stereotypes about cheating with money. The propaganda was able to play off the existing racial difficulties in Germany has well as to enhance the original nationalistic pride of the German people that they were somehow chosen or holy. Anti-Semitic propaganda was common in wartime Germany, and often depicted Jews in league with communists or another hated group causing harm to Germans.
This picture (sixth from top), which depicts a supposedly innocent German citizen paying a Jewish man as the he sprays lies onto him, comes from a humor booklet circulated among the Nazi party, called Die Brennessel. Propaganda of this type is very rare among examples of wartime propaganda, and is almost exclusively found in World War II. This is probably because propaganda that demeans races or political groups, other than the enemy, does very little to boost or aid the wartime effort. However, propaganda of a type very similar is much more common than thought today, and comes to us in the form of political cartoons or political advertising. Political cartoons often demean or mock groups based of stereotypes or prejudices. Although the purpose of these cartoons is undoubtedly different from the German anti-Semitic propaganda, many comparisons can be drawn between the two. Both, and all of this type of propaganda, use humor to make a point, and exaggerate stereotypes of the group it wishes to demean. Although this propaganda is rarely used heavily in wartime, in peacetime it becomes extremely important. Political cartoons very similar to those in Die Brennessel and other Nazi publications can be found in almost any newspaper or magazine published today.
German propaganda was extremely important to the course of World War II. By taking control of the media and only printing or broadcasting Nazi material, the Reich was able to effectively flood Germany with its propaganda. This, combined with the genius of men like Joseph Goebbels, created one of the most potent barrages of wartime propaganda in history.