Goebbels at Nuremberg - 1934
by Joseph Goebbels
It is difficult to define the concept of propaganda thoroughly and precisely. This is especially true since in past decades it was subject to unfavorable definitions, particularly as the enemy defined it with regards to us Germans. First, then, we must defend it. Those abroad sometimes claim that in the past we Germans were particularly good in this area, but that unfortunately is not consistent with the facts. We learned this all too clearly during the World War. While the enemy states produced unprecedented atrocity propaganda aimed at Germany throughout the whole world, we did nothing and were completely defenseless against it. Only when enemy foreign propaganda had nearly won over the greater part of the neutral states did the German government begin to sense the enormous power of propaganda. It was too late. Just as we were militarily and economically unprepared for the war, so too with propaganda. We lost the war in this area more than in any other.
The cleverest trick used in propaganda against Germany during the war was to accuse Germany of what our enemies themselves were doing. Even today large parts of world opinion are convinced that the typical characteristics of German propaganda are lying, crudeness, reversing the facts and the like. One needs only to remember the stories that were spread throughout the world at the beginning of the war about German soldiers chopping off children's hands and crucifying women to realize that Germany then was a defenseless victim of this campaign of calumny. It neither had nor used any means of defense.
The concept of propaganda has undergone a fundamental transformation, particularly as the result of political practice in Germany. Throughout the world today, people are beginning to see that a modern state, whether democratic or authoritarian, cannot withstand the subterranean forces of anarchy and chaos without propaganda. It is not only a matter of doing the right thing; the people must understand that the right thing is the right thing. Propaganda includes everything that helps the people to realize this.
Political propaganda in principle is active and revolutionary. It is aimed at the broad masses. It speaks the language of the people because it wants to be understood by the people. Its task is the highest creative art of putting sometimes complicated events and facts in a way simple enough to be understood by the man on the street. Its foundation is that there is nothing the people cannot understand, but rather things must be put in a way that they can understand. It is a question of making it clear to him by using the proper approach, evidence and language.
Propaganda is a means to an end. Its purpose is to lead the people to an understanding that will allow them to willingly and without internal resistance devote themselves to the tasks and goals of a superior leadership. If propaganda is to succeed, it must know what it wants. It must keep a clear and firm goal in mind, and seek the appropriate means and methods to reach that goal. Propaganda as such is neither good nor evil. Its moral value is determined by the goals it seeks.
Propaganda must be creative. It is by no means a matter for the bureaucracy or official administration, but rather it is a matter of productive fantasy. The genuine propagandist must be a true artist. He must be a master of the popular soul, using it as an instrument to express the majesty of a genuine political will. Propaganda can be pro or con. In neither case does it have to be negative. The only thing that is important is whether or not its words are true and genuine expressions of the people. During its period of opposition, the National Socialist movement proved that criticism can be constructive, indeed that in a time which the government is in the hands of destructive powers it may be the only constructive element.
The concept of popular enlightenment is fundamentally different. It is fundamentally defensive and evolutionary. It does not hammer or drum. It is moderate in tone, seeking to teach. It explains, clarifies, and informs. It is therefore used more often by a government than by the opposition. The National Socialist state, growing out of a revolution, had the task of centrally leading both propaganda and education, uniting two concepts that are related but not identical, molding them into a unity that in the long term can serve the government and people.
Even during the time when we were in the opposition, we succeeded in rescuing the concept of propaganda from disfavor or contempt. Since then we have transformed it into a truly creative art. It was our sharpest weapon in conquering the state. It remains our sharpest weapon in defending and building the state. Although this is perhaps still not clear to the rest of the world, it was obvious to us that we had to use the weapon with which we had conquered the state to defend the state. Otherwise we faced the danger that we could lose the people even though we had power, and that without the people we would lose power. We put what we hard learned during our attack on the November pseudo-state in the service of our state. The great wealth of ideas and never failing creativity of our propaganda, proven during our struggle for power, was perfected to the last detail. Now we turned it to serve the state itself to find meaningful ways and flexible forms to immunize the people's thinking. The people should share the concerns and successes of their government. Its concerns and successes must therefore be constantly presented and hammered into them so that the people will consider the concerns and successes of their government to be their concerns and successes. Only an authoritarian government, firmly tied to the people, can do this over the long term. Political propaganda, the art of anchoring the things of the state in the broad masses so that the whole nation will feel a part of them, cannot therefore remain merely a means to the goal of winning power. It must become a means of building and keeping power.
This requires alert attention to the events of the day, and a trained and lively creativity that must include a complete knowledge of the soul of the people. The people must be understood in their deepest depths, or intuitively understood, for only then can one speak in a way that the people will understand. Propaganda must be the science of the soul of the people. It requires an organized and purposeful system if it is to be successful in the long run.
That is what we lacked during the war. That is where our enemy was superior to us. We must make up for that. We must take the techniques and dominance of the other side's opinion apparatus and fill it with the fire of the soul and the glow of new ideas.
Propaganda, too, has a system. It cannot be made any old way. In the long run, it can only be effective in the service of great ideals and far-seeing principles. And propaganda must be learned. It must be led only by people with a fine and sure instinct for the often changeable feelings of the people. They must be able to reach into the world of the broad masses and draw out their wishes and hopes. The effective propagandist must be a master of the art of speech, of writing, of journalism, of the poster, and of the leaflet. He must have the gift to use the major methods of influencing public opinion such as the press, film, and radio to serve his ideas and goals, above all in an age of advancing technology.
Radio is already an invention of the past, since television will probably soon arrive. On the one hand successful propaganda must be a master of these methods of political opinion, but on the other it may not become stale in using them. It must find new ways and methods every day to reach success. The nature of propaganda remains the same, whatever the technical means, but the means nonetheless are becoming ever broader and far-reaching. One need only consider the revolutionary impact of the invention of radio, which gave the spoken word true mass effectiveness. This has had great effects on the technical apparatus of propaganda, but the art of propaganda has remained the same.
Understood in this sense, propaganda has long since disposed of the odium of inferiority. It holds first rank among the arts with which one leads a nation, It is indispensable in building a modern state. It is something of a connecting link between government and people.
Each propaganda had a direction. The quality of this direction determines whether propaganda has a positive or negative effect. Good propaganda does not need to lie, indeed it may not lie. It has no reason to fear the truth. It is a mistake to believe that people cannot take the truth. They can. It is only a matter of presenting the truth to people in a way that they will be able to understand. A propaganda that lies proves that it has a bad cause. It cannot be successful in the long run. A good propaganda will always come along that serves a good cause. But propaganda is still necessary if a good cause is to succeed. A good idea does not win simply because it is good. It must be presented properly if it is to win. But a good idea is itself the best propaganda. Such propaganda is successful without being obnoxious. It depends on its nature, not its methods. It works without being noticed. Its goals are inherent in its nature. Since it is almost invisible, it is effective and powerful. A good cause will lose to a bad one if it depends only on its rightness, while the other side uses the methods of influencing the masses. We are for example convinced that we fought the war for a good cause, but that was not enough. The world should also have known that our cause was good. However, we lacked the effective means of mass propaganda to make that clear to the world. Marxism certainly did not fight for great ideals. Despite that, in November 1918 it overcame Kaiser, Reich and the army because it was superior in the art of mass propaganda.
National Socialism learned from these two examples. It drew the correct practical conclusions from that knowledges. The ideal of a socialist national community did not remain mere theory with us, but became living reality in the thoughts and feelings of 67 million Germans. Our propaganda of word and deed created the conditions for that. Mastering them kept National Socialism from the danger of remaining the dream and longing of a few thousand. Through propaganda, it became hard, steely everyday reality.
That which we only imperfectly and inadequately understood during the war became a virtuously mastered art during the rise of the National Socialist movement. Today one can say without exaggeration that Germany is a model of propaganda for the entire world. We have made up for past failures and developed the art of mass influence to a degree that puts the efforts of other nations into the shadows. The importance the National Socialist leadership placed on propaganda became clear when it established a Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda shortly after it took power. This ministry is entirely within the spirit of National Socialism, and comes from it. It unites what we learned as an opposition movement confronting the enemy and under persecution from an enemy system, sometimes more from necessity than desire. Recently some have tried to imitate this ministry and its concentration of all means of influencing opinion, but here, too, the slogan applies: "Often copied, never equaled."
The organizational union of mass demonstrations, the press, film, radio, literature, theater, etc., is only the mechanical side to the matter. It is not so much that all these means are in one hand. The important thing is that this hand knows how to master and control them. Establishing a central office is not difficult. What is difficult is finding people who are experts in an area previously not a concern of the state.
We could not have done that ourselves if we had not been through the great school of our party. She was our teacher. During 14 years of opposition we gathered an enormous amount of knowledge, experience, wisdom and ability. This made us able to use the wide-reaching methods of government propaganda without running the risk of losing the spirit behind them. Effective propaganda avoids any form of bureaucracy. It requires lightning-fast decisions, alert creativity and inexhaustible inventiveness. The machinery of the organization would remain lifeless and rigid if it were not constantly driven by the motor of the spirit and the idea.
It is therefore also wrong to think that a ministry could replace what the movement alone is able to do. Cooperation between the party and the government was necessary for the major successes that we are proud of. Only when all means of propaganda are concentrated and their unified application assured will it be possible to carry out major educational and propaganda battles as we did before 12 November 1933 [the referendum Hitler called to approve Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations] or 19 August 1934 [the referendum called to approve Hitler's absolute power after the death of Hindenburg], which were of true historical significance.
If such an art of active mass influence through propaganda is joined with the long-term systematic education of a nation, and if both are conducted in a unified and precise way, the relationship between the leadership and the nation will always remain close. From authority and following will develop that type of modern democracy for which Germany is the model for the entire world in the twentieth century.
That is also the basic requirement for any practical political activity. A government that wishes to be successful over the long term cannot ignore it. Its projects and plans would fail were they not supported by the people. But the people must understand them in order to accomplish them.
One can but smile when one looks over our borders at the efforts of parliamentary-democratic parties that are all concerned with this: "How can I tell my children?" A fear of the people is the characteristic of liberal government theory. It has set the people free, and now does not know what to do with them. The hunt for popularity usually means nothing other than concealing the truth and speaking nonsense. One dares not say what is right, and what one does say leads to disaster. But that is presumably what the people want. One no longer has the courage to say unpopular things, much less do them. The result is that great European problems are lost in useless debates while political, economic and social crises of unprecedented magnitude face the nations.
There are times when statesmen must have the courage to do something unpopular. But their unpopular actions must be properly prepared, and must be put in the proper form, so that people will understand. The man on the street is usually not as unreasonable as some think. Since it is he who usually has to bear the heaviest burdens that result from unpopular policies, he at least has a right to know why things are being done this way and not that way. All practical politics depends on its persuasiveness. It is no sign of wise leadership to acquaint the nation with hard facts from one day to the next. Crises must be prepared for not only politically and economically, but also psychologically. Here propaganda has its place. It must prepare the way actively and educationally. Its task is to prepare the way for practical actions. It must follow these actions step by step, never losing sight of them. In a manner of speaking, it provides the background music. Such propaganda in the end miraculously makes the unpopular popular, enabling even a government's most difficult decisions to secure the resolute support of the people. A government that uses it properly can do what is necessary without running the risk of losing the masses.
Propaganda is therefore a necessary life function of the modern state. Without it, seeking great goals is simply impossible in this century of the masses. It stands at the beginning of practical political activity in every area of public life. It is its important and necessary prerequisite.
Let me give several recent examples. I need only sketch the details. They are too fresh in our memories to require elaboration.
There are no parliamentary parties in Germany any longer. How could we have overcome them had we not waged an educational campaign for years that persuaded people of their weaknesses, harms and disadvantages? Their final elimination was only the result of what the people had already realized. Our propaganda weakened these parties. Based on that, they could be eliminated by a legal act.
Marxism could not be eliminated by a government decision. Its elimination was the end result of a process that began with the people. But that was only possible because our propaganda had shown people that Marxism was a danger to both the state and society. The positive national discipline of the German press would never have been possible without the compete elimination of the influence of the liberal-Jewish press. That happened only because of the years-long work of our propaganda. Today particularism in Germany is something of the past. The fact that it was eliminated by a strong central idea of the Reich is no accident, but rather it depended on psychological foundations that were established by our propaganda.
Or consider economic policy. Does anyone believe that the idea of class struggle could have been eliminated only by a law? Is it not rather the fact that the seeds we sowed in a hundred thousand meetings resulted in a new socialist structure of labor? Today employers and workers stand together in the Labor Front. The Law on National Labor is the foundation of our economic thinking, realizing itself more and more. Are not these social achievements the result of the long and tireless labor of thousands of speakers?
What about the shortage of foreign currency? This affects the people in serious ways. Propaganda once again is the key to dealing with the problem.
The Herititary Farming Law, the idea of the Reich Agricultural System, market regulations in agriculture, all these need propaganda to show the people their importance, which is necessary if they are to succeed.
We could eliminate the Jewish danger in our culture because the people had recognized it as the result of our propaganda. Major cultural achievements such as the unique "Kraft durch Freude" are possible only with the powerful support of the people. The prerequisite was and is propaganda, which here too creates and maintains the connection to the people.
The Winter Relief last year raised about 350 million marks. This was not the result of taxation, but rather many gifts of every amount. Everyone gave freely and gladly, many of whom in the past had done nothing in the face of similar need. Why? Because a broad propaganda using every modern means presented the whole nation with the need of this program of social assistance.
45 million Reich marks of goods and services were provided. 85 million Reich marks worth of fuel were distributed. 130 million Reich marks worth of food were given out. Ten million Reich marks worth of meals were provided, and 70 million Reich marks worth of clothing.
Some of these achievements were the result of donations in kind, others the result of cash donations. Street collections, donations of a part of paychecks, contributions from companies, and gifts subtracted from bank accounts resulted in cash totaling 184 million Reich marks. 24 million marks alone were the result of "One Dish Sundays." [On some Sundays, people were encouraged to have a simple meal at home, donating the money saved to the Nazi charity.] The Reich itself added 15 million marks to the contributions of the people. The railway system provided reduced or free shipping with a value of 14 million marks.
Of our population of 65,595,000, 16,511,00 were assisted by the Winter Relief. There were 150,000 volunteers. There were only 4,474 paid workers, of whom 4,144 were in the 34 Gaue and 330 in the Reich headquarters.
Propaganda and education prepared the way for the largest social assistance program in history. They were the foundation. Their success was that, over a long winter, no one in Germany went hungry or was cold.
Over 40 million people approved of the Führer's decision to leave the League of Nations on 12 November 1933. That gave him the ability to speak to the world in the name of the nation, defending honor, peace and equality as the national ideals of the German people. The issues of disarmament were put on firm and clear foundations. Once again, propaganda was the foundation for the nation's unity on 12 November, and therefore of the freedom of action that the Führer had.
Each situation brings new challenges. And each task requires the support of the people, which can only be gained by untiring propaganda that brings the broad masses knowledge and clarity. No area of public life can do without it. It is the never resting force behind public opinion. It must maintain an unbroken relationship between leadership and people. Every means of technology must be put in its service; the goal is to form the mass will and to give it meaning, purpose, and goals that will enable us to learn from past failures and mistakes and ensure that the lead National Socialist strength has given us over other nations will never again be lost.
May the bright flame of our enthusiasm never fade. It alone gives light and warmth to the creative art of modern political propaganda. Its roots are in the people. The movement gives it direction and drive. The state can only provide it with the new, wide-ranging technical means. Only a living relationship between people, movement, and state can guarantee that the creative art of propaganda, of which we have made ourselves the world's master, will never sink into bureaucracy and bureaucratic narrow-mindedness.
Creative people made propaganda and put it in the service of our movement. We must have creative people who can use the means of the state in its service.
It is also a function of the modern state. Its reach is the firm ground on which it must stand. It rises from the depths of the people, and must always return to the people to find its roots and strength. It may be good to have power based on weapons. It is better and longer lasting, however, to win and hold the heart of a nation.
pre-1933 section of the German Propaganda Archive. The portrait was done by Wilhelm Otto Pitthan. For further information on theGerman Propaganda Archive, see the FAQ.
Nazi articles on Joseph Goebbels:
“Dr. Goebbels and his Ministry”: A 1934 article by Hans Fritzsche.
Pictures of Goebbels speaking in 1935.
“On the Art of Speaking to the World”: An introduction by an aide to Goebbels’ book Die Zeit ohne Beispiel. It presents the Propaganda Minister in a flattering light.
Goebbels’ speeches on the eve of the new year:
31 December 1933: Goebbels looks back on Nazism’s first year.
31 December 1938: Goebbels reviews 1938 and complains about complainers.
31 December 1939: Goebbels reviews 1939, and finds Germany innocent.
31 December 1940: Goebbels is optimistic...
31 December 1943: Despite the disasters of 1942, Goebbels predicts German victory.
Goebbels’ annual speeches on the eve of Hitler’s birthday:
“Our Hitler” (1933)
(1934): No speech on Hitler. Instead, Goebbels delivered a speech on the press.
“Our Hitler” (1935)
“Our Hitler” (1936)
“Our Hitler” (1937): Available inLandmark Speeches of National Socialism.
“Our Hitler” (1938)
“Our Hitler” (1939)
“Our Hitler” (1940)
“Our Hitler” (1941)
“Our Hitler” (1942)
“Our Hitler” (1943)
“Our Hitler” (1944)
“Our Hitler” (1945)
“German Women”: Nazi views of women (March 1933).
“Radio as the Eighth Great Power”: On radio (18 August 1933).
“The Racial Question and World Propaganda”: Goebbels at the 1933 Nuremberg Rally.
Goebbels on Propaganda: His speech at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. Available inLandmark Speeches of National Socialism.
“Communism with the Mask Off”: His1935 Nuremberg Rally Speech.
“The Coming Europe”: The Czechs must get used to German occupation (11 September 1940).
“Youth and the War”: The German youth are fortunate... (29 September 1940).
“Christmas, 1941”: Goebbels says Germans have a lot to be thankful for (24 December 1941).
Total War: The printed version of Goebbels’s most famous speech (18 February 1943).
Total War: The spoken version. Available in Landmark Speeches of National Socialism.
“The Winter Crisis is Over”: Goebbels remains confident of German victory (5 June 1943).
“In the Front Ranks”: A memorial meeting for the victims of Allied bombing raids (18 June 1943).
“Immortal German Culture”: Opening a wartime art exhibition (26 June 1943).
A selection of Goebbels’ articles:
“More Morality, Less Moralism”: Goebbels wants freedom in the private sphere (27 January 1934).
The Battle of the Pharus Hall: A 1927 battle in Berlin.
Adolf Hitler as a speaker: Goebbels praises his master.
“What Does America Really Want?”: Goebbels is unhappy with the USA (21 January 1939).
“The Coffee Drinkers”: An attack on those who are dissatisfied (11 March 1939).
“Great Days”: Goebbels on the end of Czechoslovakia (18 March 1939).
“The Morals of the Rich”: Britain has no right to complain about Germany (25 March 1939).
“Children with their Hands Chopped Off”: On British propaganda (24 June 1939).
“England’s Guilt”: Goebbels explains the reasons for World War II (Fall, 1939).
“A Unique Age”: Goebbels’ first lead article for Das Reich (25 May 1940)
“Missed Opportunities”: On the invasion of France (2 June 1940).
“Churchill’s Lie Factory”: Churchill, it seems, is guilty of the “big lie.” (12 January 1941).
“Winston Churchill”: On Winston Churchill (2 February 1941).
“The Veil Falls”: The invasion of the Soviet Union had just begin (6 July 1941).
“Mimicry”: An attack on the Jews (20 July 1941).
“The Door to a New Era”: On foreign press criticism (28 September 1941).
“The Matter of the Plague”: Why Germans may not listen to the BBC (5 October 1941).
“When or How?”: Goebbels on the war situation (9 November 1941).
“The Jews are Guilty”: An attack on the Jews (16 November 1941).
“The Clay Giant”: Why England will lose the war (23 November 1941).
“Roosevelt Cross-examined”: Goebbels on FDR (30 November 1941).
“A Different World”: The war after Pearl Harbor (21 December 1941).
“The New Year”: On the outlook for 1942 (4 January 1942).
“The Good Companion”: On German radio policy (1 March 1942).
“Churchill’s Trick”: Goebbels is happy with Winston Churchill (1 March 1942).
“An Open Discussion”: Why food rations are being cut (29 March 1942).
“The Paper War”: On bureaucracy and complaining during war (12 April 1942).
“Heroes and Film Heroes”: Germans are better heroes than Americans (7 June 1942).
“The Air War and the War of Nerves”: On British night bombing of Germany (14 June 1942).
“The Tonnage War”: Goebbels on the U-boats (21 June 1942).
“The So-called Russian Soul”: The Russian soul is of inferior quality (19 July 1942).
“God’s Country”: An unflattering portrait of the USA (9 August 1942).
“Don’t Be Too Fair”: Germans must be taught to hate (6 September 1942).
“What is at Stake”: Encouraging determination to win the war (27 September 1942).
“The Optics of War”: Preparing the public for Stalingrad (24 January 1943).
“The European Crisis”: An anti-Semitic article (28 February 1943).
“The War and the Jews”: Goebbels predicts the Jews will not survive the war (9 May 1943).
“Morale as a Decisive Factor in War”: Germany deserves to win (7 August 1943).
“The Realities of War”: The war situation is favorable for Germany (22 August 1943).
“A Classic Example”: The fall of Mussolini (19 September 1943).
“30 Articles of War for the German People”: Support the war effort (26 September 1943).
“The New Year”: An optimistic look to the future (2 January 1944).
“The Battle of Berlin”: Goebbels discusses Allied bombing (13 February 1944).
“Why Are Things So Difficult for Us?”: Germany’s difficult situation (9 April 1944) .
“Life Goes On”: On Allied bombing, with a hint of the V-weapons (16 April 1944).
“The Background of the Invasion”: A commentary on D-Day (18 June 1944).
“The Question of Revenge”: The V-1 rocket bomb (23 July 1944).
“The Call of Duty”: After the 20 July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler (6 August 1944).
“The Higher Law”: Germany will win because it is morally superior (24 September 1944).
“The World Crisis”: The other side has it just as bad (17 December 1944).
“The Creator of the World’s Misfortunes”: The last major anti-Semitic essay (21 January 1945).
“The Year 2000”: What will happen after Germany wins the war (25 February 1945).
“Fighters for the Eternal Reich”: The Allies are near collapse, Goebbels says (8 April 1945).
“Resistance at Any Price”: Goebbels’ final published article (22 April 1945).