Dr Joseph Goebbels was the Third Reich’s master propagandist. He was born on 29th October 1897 in the Rhineland, to a pious Catholic family. He attended a Roman Catholic school and later studied History and Literature at the University of Heidelberg under a Jewish literary historian. During the First world war, military service rejected him because of his crippled foot. His clubfoot was a result of contracting polio as a child. Also, he had a diminutive figure and black hair. His physique led the German people to refer to him as the “little doctor.” What he lacked for in physique his intellect made up for it. Being conscious of his disability, he strived to belong to the ruling class. The fear of being regarded as a self-proclaimed intellectual fueled his insatiable thirst for power. He was described as cynical, hostile and hateful to the entire human race. All these traits in his personality were as a result of self-loathing, and inferiority complex (“Joseph Goebbels”). He was also quite skilled at igniting the same emotional state of rage and hatred that he felt onto masses both verbally and via writing.
A friend introduced him to socialist and communist ideas. Later, he joined the NSDAP in 1922. Initially, he was not antisemitic. Goebbels was under Professor Friedrich Gundolf, a Jewish professor renowned as a Goethe scholar and a close disciple of the poet Stefan George, whom he looked up to and admired (“Joseph Goebbels | German Propagandist”). The development of his antisemitic beliefs is believed to be purely tactical. Before joining the Nazi party, his talents were unappreciated. He tried his luck as a novelist. He only wrote a single book that was published in 1926. Nevertheless, Goebbels was intelligent, sensible, sharp, and his oration skills were exceptional (Michael 3). He put his skills to use for the Nazi administration.
The Nazi saw his potential, and he became the district administrator of the National Socialist Worker’s Party (NSDAP) in Elberfeld. He established and edited the NS letters (Nationalsozialistischen Briefe). The main theme of these publications was to spread the anti-capitalist opinion and mobilise the citizens. The papers would draw examples from the Soviet Russia which he regarded as a socialist and nationalist country. He was among the co-authors of the Hanover conference in 1926, which called for the expulsion of Adolf Hitler (“Joseph Goebbels”). Goebbels’s political savvy instinct made him switch to Hitler’s side in the same year. Hitler rewarded him by appointing him as the Nazi district leader of Berlin-Brandenburg.
Berlin-Brandenburg was on the northern side of Germany where the Strasser brothers were superior. Goebbels was able to take control of the region by establishing and editing his weekly newspaper. He discovered the power of words both oral and written on the credulous German population. He hatched schemes, published propaganda, and orchestrated impressive parades to further his political agendas. Propaganda is biased information that is used to promote a political cause. By 1927, his powerful voice and his ability to appeal to people’s emotions made him the most influential demagogue in the capital city (“Joseph Goebbels | German Propagandist”). The onset of the great depression made the citizens more credulous to his manipulation. He silenced his opponents by combining slander and insinuation to attack them.
Hitler was quite impressed and appointed him as Reich Propaganda leader of the NSDAP in 1929. Goebbels was solely responsible for the creation of the myth that Hitler was the long-awaited messiah-redeemer. The facade created a theatrical element in almost all of the Nazi meetings, and through planned stage manipulation he was able to convince German masses to surrender to their “messiah” willfully. The main idea behind this was to create a pseudo-religious cult that revered Hitler as one who came to save them from the Marxist, Jews, and profiteers. He campaigned for Hitler all over the country. They organised thousands of meetings and speeches in which the two were able to convince the German people to vote for them(“Joseph Goebbels “). That year the party got 107 seats in the Reichstag. Goebbels used short silent films for the campaign. Often, he appealed to people’s fear, and his poster had an illustration of giants crushing his political opponents.
Once the election was over, he once again declared his hate for democracy by saying “We are entering the Reichstag, in order that we may arm ourselves with the weapons of democracy from its arsenal. We shall become Reichstag deputies in order that the Weimar ideology should itself help us to destroy it.” (“Joseph Goebbels”) During the next election in 1932, he used his mastery in the techniques of mass persuasion to win over the hearts of many citizens. However, his efforts were not enough, and they lost the election. In a shocking twist, the current president Peter Von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as chancellor. Goebbels organised a torchlight parade in Berlin to celebrate Hitler’s appointment to the chancellor (“Joseph Goebbels | German Propagandist”) . Hitler took his time before appointing Joseph as a Minister, but he was finally appointed as Minister of Propaganda on 4th March 1933 (Rentschler 27). This post gave him power over all the communication media such as radio, press, cinemas to mention but a few.
He quickly sought to control all the editors in the state. He made them publish propaganda through bribery and corruption. He propagated his racist ideals and even spearheaded the burning of books ritual. Books from Jewish writers and works that explained Marxist ideologies were set aflame in huge bonfires all across the country. He continued his propagation of hate and incitation of violence. He referred to the USA and London as the “Jewish financiers.” He managed to get the support of Soviet Russia in attacking London and Washington for being the chief enemy of the Third Reich. The boycott against Jewish penetration of professions was staged due to his mass persuasion. He convinced Germans that Jews had taken over their business and that was the reason that many Germans were unemployed.
The Nazi government sought to do things differently for a while and they suppressed Goebbels instincts to sow discord. However, he orchestrated the night of broken glasses, which was organized destruction of synagogues, Jewish houses, and shops followed by the arrest of Jewish individuals. Later, he aided in the organization and orchestration of the “Final Solution.” The final solution was the mass annihilation of the Jewish people(“Joseph Goebbels”). He had an inferiority complex that made him resent humanity.
Hence, the manipulation of the Germans to take arms against the Jews and the rise of such a tyrant to power can be explained by Joseph Goebbels manipulation. He was the little man that pulled all the strings and determined the reality of many people. Plato’s Allegory could describe the German society back then.
In Plato’s allegory, he described people who were imprisoned in a cave in such a way that they could not move and look what was behind them and only saw a wall. Behind these prisoners was a fire that was raised such that the only thing they saw was the shadows cast onto the wall in front of them (“The Internet Classics Archive | The Republic by Plato”). Those who imprisoned them set a stage and screen and periodically moved with objects of animals and people and like puppet masters. Hence the perception of these prisoners was limited to only the shadows they saw before them. One prisoner was released and hence had the chance to look behind. He took time before he figured of that what was behind was the reality as he had grown quite accustomed to the illusion of shadows. Then, he was led outside the cave. He saw the sun for the first time and could move freely. He took the time to appreciate the reality and felt sorry for those in the cave. He went back to enlighten them.
The story of Joseph Goebbels shows us the power of the intellectual individuals in society. Goebbels was a scholar. He used his intellect to paint illusions for the citizens that the Nazi party was working towards the unification of the nation. The perception that the citizens got from this demagogue was that of hatred towards diversity. Hence, according to this parable, the enlightened ones are the prisoner that got released. It would have definitely taken time to see what was happening as the Government was the puppet master. They controlled the information that the citizens received by taking control of the communication media and eliminating those who dared speak up. Those who were slightly enlightened about the government dealings had an obligation to help educate the citizens. However, the citizens, in this case, are like the prisoners that remained in the cave when the other came to educate them they sneered and laughed at him. They believed entirely in the illusion as they had not experienced the truth. Hence, the mockery to the enlightened prisoner.
The propaganda that Goebbels used was one that he cleverly orchestrated for it to be experienced by the people. Due to the fact that people believe that what they experience they completely fell for his traps. He would organize beer brawls and other violent acts and blame it on the opposition to get a good following.
To say that there is a disbelief in how an entire nation was able to turn a blind eye from the atrocities of a German dictator would seem like a lie in the modern age. Today, Hitler is considered to be ruthless, manipulative, and evil incarnate. Those around him, such as his minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, does not fall too far from the evil origin. Considering all the crimes and murders that happened, it seems almost impossible to believe that the Germans did not know that what was being done to the Jews during that time was an evil act. They were in the same country, there were Germans who had Jewish friends, and they were more or less at the heart of the conflict, a number of them saluting the Fuhrer.
However, it cannot also be denied that the atrocities look even more horrendous from an outsider’s point of view, especially when those on the inside have been forced to see a view that has already been filtered and beautified to be more accepting of this violence. This is the role that the little doctor, more known as the head of the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda during the Third Reich, Joseph Goebbels.
Goebbels earned the right to the name with the way he made use of the right communication tools, the strategy of going for the educational system as a foundation for his propaganda, and his fidelity to his Fuhrer. “A master of psychological manipulation and one of the earliest propagandists to recognize the enormous role that radio could play in controlling mass populations, Goebbels pushed the National Socialist agenda with the cold vehemence of a true believer” (Cosgrove). Because of his actions, he was told by Adolf Hitler that, “Dr. Goebbels was gifted with the two things without which the situation in Berlin could not have been mastered: verbal facility and Intellect. For Dr. Goebbels, who had not found much in the way of a political organization when he started, had won Berlin in the truest sense of the word.” (“Joseph Goebbels, 1897-1945”).
Early on in July 1932, Goebbels already knew the strategy that he wanted to take when he was appointed this position. His vision was on a massive scale; he wanted an empire that “would control schools, universities, film radio, and propaganda” (“Ministry Of Propaganda And Enlightenment”). This came to the point that the national education of the entire German people were entrusted in his hands. What is interesting with Goebbels approach is that he even had a disdain for the term, believing that propaganda pointed to lies. His reach had mandates for various sectors, including journalists who needed to follow instructions in reportage to school and their respective curriculum. The punishment for disobedience resulted in being terminated or sent to concentration camps.
The biggest change that he effected in Germany was to target schools books and curriculum to teach a history that was of their own writing. For Goebbels, propaganda here worked as a way to control the empire they were trying to create. “Propaganda is a necessity for those wishing to convince a population to accept their leadership and conform to their ideologies” (Appleby 3). In fact, the changes were gradual; swastika flags first made their appearances in textbooks, but before long, the revisions and censorships occured, all to stress Germany as the hero in the world’s history and everyone else as villains or minor roles.
According to Shani, “these books were not only in the schoolchildren’s satchel or in the school library. They were not considered propaganda; they were part of the official curriculum. Parents, grandparents, the children’s whole milieu, knew what they were learning and memorizing and what they studied for before exams,and proudly reinforced and supported them” (Shani). Because of the changes done to the textbooks and the indoctrination of the mishmash of fact with fantasy created by the propaganda behind Nazism, the belief became the absolute truth. “I wasn’t just education and training that made millions of students believe in it, not with such totality. They saw the light, they were strengthened in their belief and upheld scrupulously the ‘new scientific religion’” (Shani).
The term “little doctor” shares a very significant to the underhanded meaning of doctoring a particular situation, thing, or even person. Doctors are known to cure, heal, and provide comfort. Yet, even in the modern sense, the term “doctoring” can refer to an alteration, be it a document or even the more infamous one, going to a doctor to go under the knife and be changed via plastic surgery. As in the modern understanding, “the ‘little doctor’ is still a byword for the black arts of political spin and politicians regularly accuse each other of telling fibs ‘worthy of Goebbels’” (Jones). The title also applies to Joseph Goebbels, who was known to be Hitler’s “little doctor.” Perhaps the only irony in his moniker is the word “little,” for there is nothing little or insignificant about his actions and decisions that changed Hitler’s image and tidied it up to swallow Berlin whole in doubt and delusion.
If there was to be a great example of the cavemen in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” it would have to be Brunhilde Pomsel, Joseph Goebbels’ secretary. In an interview with The Guardian before the release of a documentary featuring her interview, Pomsel gave a few details about her time as secretary to the little doctor. Among the excerpts of her dialogue, the words that she uttered and the attitude that she had taken were disturbingly similar to those of the Cavemen.
The comfort and privileges she had as Goebbels’ secretary was her own cave. Whether it was enjoying a 275-mark salary worth a fortune during the time or being showered with gifts like the blue silk suit she was given as compensation for the destruction of the flat that she owned with her parents during the bombing raid, she was trapped with the projections of the shadows in front of her. She was unable to turn the other way, because she was even schooled from the start with a Prussian discipline and thrived in the attention that Goebbels’ advisers gave her as his secretary. From the beginning of the period, Pomsel was already trapped, her neck and legs chained only so she look forward to the deceptions that Hitler and his army had put up.
Goebbels was one of the passersby, the leader of them who would direct how objects were projected and what can be projected for them to see. He was the one moving behind the shadows, or if we can extend the metaphor, the one directing how the passersby would move around, how the would act, and what they would show the onlookers, such as Pomsel. This emphasizes Pomsel’s reactions about how they, as part of the Nazi party, were treated and seen. For her, she should not have been persecuted as she feels that she did no wrong. She was merely following orders; when she was told not to look at a document, she felt compelled to do so and was proud when she was able to do it (Connolly).
The objects that were being passed through the raised way to reflect shadows are the idealisms that Goebbels and the Nazi party had. They were changed and altered to become mere shadows of the reality of what they were. For instance, the reality of the world’s history was filtered through and projected back in a new form through a revised and censored education of the entire German people. And given how entire generations and children were taught these doctrines, it became hard for them to truly separate the reality of what they learned from the reality of the world. This is mostly because they were forced and chained to study a particular brand of history, and this came to be their truth. So even if someone who has seen the reality of the cave and come back to warn them, all they can do is either deny what happened like Pomsel or become defensive about the philosophies. It may not necessarily be that they are condoning evil willingly; they may not just be equipped enough to recognize that it is evil, with the background, education, and experience that they had growing up in a world of Nazi propaganda.
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