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.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler described how “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”.
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 antisemitic to attack Jews.
Some propaganda was even so brazen as to proclaim that the Jewish people were not being persecuted by the Nazis, all the while referring to Jews in de-humanising terms and displaying drawings with grotesquely racist caricatures.
The most striking and memorable examples of the Nazi antisemitic propaganda campaign are seen in the form of posters. Making use of stark imagery and explicit racial messages, this media penetrated all sections of German society, literally painting Jews as outsiders and sinister enemies of ‘ordinary’ Germans.
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. Propaganda that de-humanised Jews ultimately served to gradually prepare the German population for harsher war measures, such as mass deportations and, eventually, genocide.
Nazi propagandists exploited pre-existing stereotypes to falsely portray Jews. This hateful view painted Jews as an ‘alien race’ that fed off the host nation, poisoned its culture, destroyed its economy and enslaved its workers.
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.
Through their control of cultural institutions such as museums and schools under the Reich Chamber of Culture, the Nazis had new opportunities to disseminate anti-Jewish propaganda. University professors and religious leaders gave these antisemitic themes further weight by using them into their lectures and sermons.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ projects included antisemitic films such as Jud Süss. The film was based on a popular 1925 historical novel written by Lion Feuchtwanger, a successful author who was in fact Jewish.
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. It was successful at the box office, and later shown at indoctrination events by the SS and Hitler Youth. As a German woman active in Nazi youth programs wrote in her postwar memoirs:
“I became a National Socialist because the idea of the National Community inspired me… What I had never realised was the number of Germans who were not considered worthy to belong to this community.”
5. Art exhibitions
‘The Eternal Jew’ exhibition took place in Munich’s German Museum in 1937-38, attracting some 412,300 visitors (more than 5,000 per day) during its first run. These were followed by tours 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, enticing the public to visit. 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 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.