After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler established the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, to which he appointed Joseph Goebbels as leader. Himself a painter in his youth, Hitler understood the power of propaganda, though it was Goebbels who was to use it to the greatest effect.
Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people… Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea.
—Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf
Anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda came in the shape of speeches, actions, music, theatre, radio, publications, education and art. One of the chief jobs of Hitler’s propaganda machine was to convince those Germans who were not anti-Semitic.
Some propaganda was even so brazen as to proclaim that the Jewish people were not being persecuted by the Nazis, even while referring to Jews in insulting terms and displaying drawings with racist caricatures.
Arguably the most striking and memorable examples of the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda campaign come in the form of posters. Making use of stark imagery and blunt racial messages, this media penetrated all sections of German society, literally painting Jews as outsiders and sinister enemies of ‘ordinary’ people.
The Nazi propaganda machine also used posters — as well as other materials that made similar use of graphic art — in occupied territories, such as Poland and France.
Pro-Nazi newspapers, especially Der Stürmer (‘The Attacker’), frequently ran comics or cartoons depicting Jews as dangerous and subhuman. The use of these kinds of hate-stirring comics even extended to their inclusion in children’s books.
3. Articles and essays
Written materials in periodicals and pamphlets took on a more argumentative form, which lent ‘weight’ to the simplistic slogans and caricatures of posters and cartoons.
Essays like Kurt Hilmar Eitzen’s 1936 piece ‘Ten Responses to Jewish Lackeys’ were hardly subtle or philosophical, but they provided all manner of reasons to mistrust and hate the Jew, from economic and religious arguments to appeals for national pride.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ projects included anti-Semitic films such as Jud Süss, based on a popular 1925 historical novel, which was actually written by Lion Feuchtwanger, a successful author who was himself a Jew.
Director Veit Harlan turned Feuchtwanger’s philosophical story, as well as previous interpretations for film and theatre, on its head. Victim becomes villain and an oppressive justice system is instead portrayed as righteous.
Harlan’s Jud Süss is an inflammatory piece of film propaganda, which was successful at the box office as well as shown at indoctrination events by the SS and Hitler Youth.
5. Art exhibitions
‘The Eternal Jew’ exhibition took place in Munich’s German Museum library in 1937-38, followed by runs in Vienna and Berlin in 1938-39. Though the Nazi Party line was anti-modern art, the pieces shown at ‘The Eternal Jew’ were distinctly avant-garde in nature, the point being to invite the public to them.
Termed by the Nazis as ‘degenerate’, modern art was shown at other free exhibitions in a number of cities.
Though the purpose of these propaganda exhibits was to discredit the art they displayed, the long running ‘The Eternal Jew’ and other shows proved to be very popular, despite the Nazis associating the art with Jews and Communists.