The year 1945 saw an end to the reign of terror brought by the Third Reich based on the grounds of racial superiority and to the biggest conflicts mankind had ever seen. Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Nazi Germany, chose to commit suicide on 30th May, 1945, than fall into the hands of the Soviets who were closing in on Berlin. A day later, another lesser known leader, Joseph Goebbels, chose the same path. The events that led up to this day were nothing short of devastating and its after-effects horrendous. On this 29th of October, which is the 120th birth anniversary of Joseph Goebbels, we shall look into his life and examine how the Nazi leader affected the course of history.
Joseph Goebbels was born in an era when Germany was an empire ruled by a monarch and the powers of colonialism were at their zenith. The friction between the numerous ambitions of the powers in Europe at both home and in their colonies resulted in the First World War. Germany suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Allied powers and had to sign the “Versailles Treaty”, a treaty whose terms many Germans found to be unfair. Post-War Germany saw the rise of Hitler with the Weimar Republic and the Great Depression as a backdrop. It was this rapid rise of Hitler and the anti-Semitism that prevailed then in Germany, which had a profound influence on Himmler in his young years. It was with these ideologies imprinted in his mind that he came under the sway of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, better known as the erstwhile Nazi party in Germany and began to work for it.
Starting in 1924, Goebbels rose up the political ladder to be the Nazi Party’s primary authority for propaganda. His work was a major factor in facilitating Hitler’s rise to power and thus, it earned him Hitler’s praise. Goebbels’ devotion to Hitler and his cause was absolute and as such his anti-Semitic ideology was undeniably evident in his propaganda machine. In 1933, he became the ‘Reichminister for propaganda and national enlightenment’ and as the Reichminister in an authoritarian and totalitarian state, his control over all forms of mass media was almost complete. A good orator himself, he recognised the immense value of propaganda in a totalitarian dictatorship, occasionally indulging in provocative actions to remain in the limelight. He employed methods which were then used on a commercial scale to spread the Nazi thought. One of his famous quotes: “Repeat a lie thousand times and it becomes the truth.” is a widely applied truth used in modern journalism. The Nazi regime spearheaded by Goebbels, in the effort to suppress dissent, began burning books that taught about other ideologies like communism. Jews were wrongly portrayed as thieves, usurpers, enemies of the “Aryan” race. However, it was not just the Jews, the Nazi propaganda machine also denigrated Russians, Slavs, Gypsies and Poles.
As the Second World War started, Goebbels turned his attention to the newly-conquered regions, playing a major role in the dissemination of information there. As the war raged on, Goebbels relied heavily on radios and films to improve German morale and it undeniably was a tough task in the dying days of the War when first, major battles at Stalingrad and El Alamein were lost and later, when the collapse of the Third Reich was apparent. Racist content, especially anti-Semitic content, in Goebbels’ propaganda was an ever-present factor during the Second World War.
Finally, as Soviet troops reached Berlin, Goebbels was made the Reich’s Chancellor, prior to Hitler’s death and after Hitler’s death, Goebbels too committed suicide, but only after ensuring that his children were killed too. Thus ended the life of a leader whose legacy is certainly not one to be admired, but his methods can be studied and applied selectively in our world.