Joseph Goebbels was the mastermind behind Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine, and has been hailed as the inventor of marketing strategies that are still in use today, in addition to creating the idea of ‘fake news.’
However, once the Second World War broke out in 1939, problems in Goebbels’ propaganda paradise soon surfaced. Under the constant threat of invasion, and frequent allied bombings, the German public were not as willing to simply absorb Nazi values and principles. The pressure of war led to blunders in propaganda, along with the ever more eccentric ideas of Goebbels failing to hit the spot with the German population.
Although Hitler’s National Socialist Party was successful in altering the ideology of an entire country, not all of the Third Reich’s propagandist pursuits went to plan.
10 Hitler’s perfect Aryan baby
In 1935, Joseph Goebbels, launched a campaign in search of the ‘perfect Aryan baby.’
On the contrary to all Aryan values however, Goebbels selected a brunette, brown-eyed baby that opposed much of the Aryan propaganda at the time.
The baby’s face was soon appearing in printed propaganda of every kind across the country. But no one was more shocked to see a baby’s face appear amongst the usually militaristic propaganda of Nazi Germany, than the baby’s parents themselves; Jacob and Pauline Levinson. Particularly when they knew that their daughter was Jewish.
A rebel artist named Hans Ballin, had recently taken the Levinson’s daughter’s picture in his Berlin studio. Ballin hated the Nazi regime, and submitted this photo of Hessy Taft, in the hopes that it would undermine Goebbels’ entire competition.
Whilst Ballin did succeed in humiliating the Nazi regime, the artist’s decision put the Levinsons in a lot of danger, and they ended up having to flee Latvia.
9 Hitler’s Premier Example of a Full-Blooded Aryan Soldier
Werner Goldberg was a German who was of half Jewish ancestry, and appeared in posters across Nazi Germany as the ideal Wehrmacht Aryan soldier.
On December 1st 1938, Goldberg joined the German army and took part in the invasion of Poland in 1939. Shortly after the outbreak of war, Goldberg’s photograph appeared in the Berliner Tagesblatt Newspaper, with the caption “The Ideal German Soldier.” The photograph had been sold to the newspaper by the army’s photographer, and was later even used on recruitment posters.
Within less than a year, this ‘Ideal German Soldier’ would soon be banished from the army for which he had fought, after Hitler issued an order on April 8th, 1940, which stated that anyone with 1st degree Jewish ancestry must be expelled from the forces.
Not quite the ideal German soldier Goebbels had hoped for.
8 The Far Too Successful Degenerate Art Gallery
Before the Nazis came to power in 1939, Germany was the centre of Modern Art. Dadaism and the Bauhaus Movement were becoming renowned across the globe, and artists were looking to Germany for inspiration.
However, when the Nazis came to power, the liberty of the German art scene was destroyed. The party could sense the public’s anger towards these restrictions, and concluded that they were simply misled. An art exhibition, entitled, ‘Entartete Kunst’ or ‘Degenerate Art’ was arranged in Munich, in order to showcase why modern art was dangerous and shameful.
Over 650 pieces of art were taken from German galleries and arranged chaotically. Explanations on why the pieces of art did not support the Nazi regime were displayed alongside the works. At the same time, the Nazis opened an art gallery entitled the ‘Great German Art Exhibition,’ which showcased Aryan-approved art only, in a bid to prove the superiority of this art form.
This plan backfired however, and five times as many people visited the ‘Degenerate Art’ gallery. In fact, it was so popular that in one day over 36,000 visitors attended.
7 Radio Caledonia
Radio Caledonia’s sole aim was to turn the Scottish public against the British government, and was an arm of Goebbels’ Nazi propaganda machine.
Its broadcasts were written and hosted by Scottish fascist Donald Grant, who argued that a Hitler-Controlled Scotland was better than a Scotland ruled by an English Churchill.
Reception of Radio Caledonia in Britain was so poor however, that the station would frequently have lengthy periods of time off air. The Scots Independent actually openly denounced Radio Caledonia and regarded it as a risk, running a column which claimed that the radio station was not helpful to the cause of Scottish nationalism.
Radio Caledonia failed miserably, and ceased airing broadcasts in 1942.
6 Life Goes on
By 1944 most of the German population were prepared for an inevitable defeat, and a sense of hopelessness gripped the nation.
Even with the end of the war in sight, Goebbels still naively believed that propaganda would distract the German public. After watching, Mrs Miniver, which depicted Londoners banding together against the Blitz bombing, Goebbels decided that Germany needed its own uplifting film.
This film would come in the form of Life Goes On and Goebbels regarded it as his pride and joy; hiring the Third Reich’s leading cast and crew.
Filming began in January 1945, as Allied troops were quite literally driving onto German soil. In fact, by the time shooting of the film started, most of the Berlin buildings and landmarks in the film had already been destroyed by Allied bombings. Goebbels was determined to complete the movie, and even diverted vital materials from re-building efforts to the production instead!
Eventually, the director was forced to shoot his film on the run as the approaching Red Army would continually attack locations where the cast had been filming just hours before.
With only days left before German surrender, the production was finally suspended. The reels of film have never been found, with some rumours stating that they were hidden in the ruins of a cathedral. Historians have tried to track any remnants of the footage, however all that remains of Goebbels’ final piece of propaganda are storyboards and newsreel footage of the production.
5 Jesse Owens- 1936 Berlin Olympics
The 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, were the first to be televised around the world. Hitler consequently seized this opportunity for worldwide Nazi notoriety and channelled funds towards constructing an enormous new stadium.
At the time, Jesse Owens, a black American athlete, was taking the athletics track by storm- matching the world record for the 100 yard dash whilst only still in High School! American decision makers were aware of Nazi Germany’s discriminatory policies against Jewish athletes and nearly boycotted the 1936 Olympic Games. However, the politicians were overruled by the American Olympic Committee and their attendance went ahead.
Owens in fact openly expressed his desire to attend the Olympic Games, regarding the politicians’ stance against Germany as one laced with hypocrisy. Growing up in a country which endorsed Jim Crow Laws and blatant discrimination- in the eyes of most black athletes, the politicians who were debating the boycott had no moral high ground to stand upon.
The games reached viewers in 41 countries, and much to Hitler’s dismay, it was a black American, Jesse Owens, who instantly became the star of the Summer Olympic Games. Winning four gold medals in track and field events; Owens became the first American to win 4 gold medals in a single Olympics.
Whilst Owens couldn’t single handily halt the rise of the Nazi regime, he did managed to undermine an entire nation’s ideology and steal the spotlight from one of history’s most fanatical leaders.
4 William Shakespeare
By the end of the 19th Century, William Shakespeare became known in Germany as “our Shakespeare”, and in no other country on Earth were his plays performed more often. Shakespeare was thus a central pillar of Germany’s culture which could not simply be pushed aside by Nazification.
For the Nazis, theatre did not solely function as a political weapon; with Goebbels himself noting that “a good mood is an instrument of war…and even a factor in determining the outcome of war.” In May 1934 therefore, Goebbels introduced the Unified Theatre Law Act, which meant all theatres were officially under his control.
Nonetheless, a dynamic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet made its way onto the Berlin state theatre stage, and entirely undermined the principles of heroism that Goebbels wanted all main characters to follow. The production consequently contained subversive messages, and yet was proclaimed by Goebbels himself as ‘a summit of German theatre,’ and was even used as a piece of propaganda in a state visit to Vienna. The director Jurgen Fehling took this one step further and openly undermined the Nazi regime’s tyrannical dictatorship through a production of Richard III. The character of Richard of Gloucester was given a limp that directly mimicked Goebbels and the costumes replicated the same style as SA troops. Unfortunately for Goebbels, this was one of the most popular theatre productions throughout the Third Reich.
Shakespeare would not be squeezed and manipulated into such a tight fitting, propagandist straitjacket. Although endless Theatre Laws could dictate a theatre’s reparatory, the Nazis could never gain ultimate control of a population’s imagination.
3 The V-2
The V-2 rocket was the German army’s most advanced weapon of the Second World War. It was promoted widely as one of Hitler’s ‘revenge weapons,’ and paraded to the public as the weapon which would win Germany the war.
The V-2 was an enormous ballistic missile which carried a one ton warhead, it was rocketed to the edge of space before falling at supersonic speeds onto its unsuspecting target below. The weapon was used predominantly against London and Antwerp during the war, and there was no defence against it at the time.
Although the rocket’s development began before the war, it was not actually ready to be used until the Autumn of 1944- a time when arguably, Germany was already losing. Overall, the weapon inflicted very little damage in comparison to the huge sums of money that had been invested in its development. Only 3,000 V-2s were ever launched and it is believed that they killed a total of 9,000 people; a figure which was far lower than the number of slave workers who perished whilst building the missiles. Even more embarrassingly, the total quantity of explosives delivered by all of the V-2s ever launched, was far less than could be dropped by a single air raid from RAF Bomber Command.
2 Ark Royal
H.M.S Ark Royal was an aircraft carrier of the British Royal Navy that served during WW2, and was the first purpose built aircraft carrier.
Her reputation was enhanced when her crew successfully sunk the first German U-boat of the war, torpedoed the German Battleship Bismarck and successfully scuttled the German’s ‘Admiral Graf Spee’ – an embarrassing affair for the German Navy.
The Ark Royal soon became known as the ‘Lucky Ship’, narrowly avoiding two torpedoes which missed the ship’s stern by only a few 100 yards, surviving a U-boat attack and an attack from three Luftwaffe Dornier seaplanes.
The successful sinking of the Ark Royal was falsely reported on the German radio several times, with the British crew of the ship even choosing to listen in to the blatant propagandist lies as a form of entertainment. The sinking of the Ark Royal was so pivotal in Goebbels’ militaristic propaganda, that Lieutenant Adolf Francke who led the Luftwaffe attack on the ship and reported a successful sinking, was publicly decorated.
In reality, the bombing had broken nothing but the ship’s cutlery and Winston Churchill himself invited the US Naval Attache to view the Ark Royal in dock, in a bid to both reassure the Allied forces and embarrass the German Navy.
1 Axis Sally
Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, nicknamed ‘Axis Sally’, was an American broadcaster employed by the Nazis to broadcast propaganda on the German state radio.
In 1942, Gillars was cast in a radio show called ‘Home Sweet Home’, whose sole aim was to make US forces feel homesick. Gillars’ key tactic was to discuss the potential infidelity of soldiers’ wives and girlfriends back home. Gillars also broadcast a show called ‘Midge at the Mike’ which brought American Jazz interrupted by defeatist propaganda across the radio waves of Europe. Most disturbingly however, was her show titled ‘GI’s Letterbox’ in which she broadcast information on captured or wounded American soldiers in order to worry families in America.
Nonetheless, this propaganda did not have the effect that Goebbels had intended, and instead many accounts by US Troops found Axis Sally very entertaining- even gaining fans amongst the forces. How else were the troops going to be able to listen to hot jazz in the midst of war?