The Roles of propaganda, indoctrination and terror in the third reich- Booklet 3

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The Nazi Propaganda Machine

Propaganda played a key role in welding together the political attitudes of the nation. Goebbels was appointed 'Minister of popular enlightenment and propaganda' (RMVP) in 1933. (radio and press were most important)

Control of Radio

Goebbels and Hitler had always recognised the effectiveness of the spoken word over the written word.

  • Goebbels brought all German broadcasting under Nazi control by the creation of the Reich Radio Company.
  • He removed 13% of staff on politcal and racial grounds, replacing most of them with his own men
  • In 1932 only 25% of German househlds owned a wireless so the gov produced a cheap set the Volksempfanger (people's receiver)
  • By 1939 70% of German homes had access to radio (highest national figure in the world) and it became a medium of mass commnication. 

Broadcasting would also take place in public places by means of loudspeakers (cafes, restaurants, factories and offices). 

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Control of the Press

This was more difficult as Germany had over 4,700 daily newspapers in 1933.

To achive control the party introduced a number of measures..

1. A Nazi pubilshing house 'Eher Verlag' bought up numerous newspapers so that by 1939 it controlled 66% of the German press.

2. The various news agencies were merged into one, the DNB (deutsches Nachrichtenburo).- This was state controlled with the result that new material was vetted before it got to journalists.

3. Goebbels introduced daily press conferences at the propaganda Ministry to provide 'guidance' on editorial policy

4. Under the so called Editors Law of October 1933, newspaper content was made the responsibliity of the editor.- It became his job to to satisfy the requirements of the propaganda Ministry or face the appropriate consequences

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Film was seen more as a means of relaxation than directly for explict propaganda purposes

Yet audiences incresed by over 400% between 1933 and 1942. (potenial for propaganda was clear). 

  • The Reich Film Chamber regulated the content of both German made and imported films.
  • Films were classified due to their content- 'politcally and artiscically valuble', 'cutrally valuble' etc and were given more money accrodingly. 

During the regime over 1,000 films were produced, with only about one sixth being of a propagandaist nature.

  • Most famous producer was Leni Riefenstahl who was comissioned to make detailed recordings of rallies and festivals, to tell people what was happening and to encourage involement. 
  • Her most famous flim was triumph of the Will (1935), about the 1934 Nuremberg rally
  • Hitler disscussed with her the details and it was intended to illustarte the Fuhrerprinzip (leadership priciple) and fusion of party and nation. 

A number of anti-semitic films were made in 1940 to stress the 'Jewish Problem'. e.g. The Eternal Jew

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Photographs and Posters

Hitler made considerably use of photographs.

  • He had a offical photographer, Henrich Hoffman. 
  • Key images were carefully posed before being relesed. 

The nazis (like other parties) made considerable use of polical posters during the democratic Weimar Republic

  • After their consolidation of power in 1933-4 they used posters on a large scale to spread their views regaurding a whole range of issues
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Art and Culture in the Third Reich

The Nazis were determined through the Reich Chamber of Culture to exersize control over all aspects of culture for the purpose of introducing and reinforcing their values. Hilter as a failed artist took great interest in painting. 

  • In power he took conforted with what he described as 'degenerate' art and sought to replace it with art offering a much more Aryan perspective. 
  • As a result modern reflective, abstract art which had flourished during the Weimar Republic was replaced with clear visual images that ordinary Germans could underserstand and be inspired by
  • Nazi art was to be clear, direct and heroic

In the new nazi art people were drawn not as real individuals but as heroic idealisations (the healthy peasent, the wise leader, the supreme athlete and the protective mother). Hitler was potrayed as the wise leader. He considered true art to be art of the masses.

  • all working artists had to be members of the Reich Chamber of Culture and were licensesd for the purpose of being allowed to teach and paint
  • The Exibition of Degenrate art(july 1937) inculded works by Van Gough. (later sold/destroyed)
  • Works that were accepectable= Exibition of german art
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Books and Music

The nature of the new Nazi state was dramatically illustrated in May 1933 with the organised Burning of Books ceremony in Berlin. 

  • 20,000 books, both fiction and non-fiction, were burnt in order to cleanse the new Germany.
  • Several famous novelists- Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig and Eric Maria Remarque went into exile. 

The lively diversity which charactirsed German Music during the Weimar republic was quickly ended by the Nazis .

  • Experimental music such as compostions of schoenburg was banned as decadent, as was music by jewish composers like Mendelssohn. 
  • Jazz which was very popular in Europe was considered unacceptable as it was 'black music'.
  • Prominence was given to Hilter's Favourite composers such as Wagner and Strauss
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Other forms of propaganda and Indoctrination

The Nazis also used other mediums to get across their propaganda inculding: Architecture, Theatre, Literature, Public Works (autobans), sports, festivals and meetings and rallies. 


The Nazis wanted to indoctrinate people with their Weltanschauung (view of the world), seeking to turn them into comitted members of their Volksgemeinscahft

The Nazis used indoctrination throught their propaganda, but also in Nazi organisations and state institutions.

For example- in education, youth movements, social policy, racial policy, German Labour Front- 'Strengh through joy', womens organisations etc.

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Terror in the Third Reich

Until 1935 each state in Germany had its own police force. By 1936 they had been centralised under Himmler as Cheif of Police. 

The Nazis developed a typically confusing variety of repressive agencies that overlapped and developed overtime. 


After the Night of the Long Knives, the SA was disarmed and reconstructed, and many members were purged. - Its revolutionary power was broken, it became a subservient body

  • it remained as an imtimidatory force againsit potential opposition
  • It remained a vible presence on the streets beating up alleged opponnents
  • It was central in helping to organise the boycotts againsit jewish businesses. 


It developed into the main terror instrument of the regime. From an elite bodygauard it became a mass organisation, with a wide variety of roles

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The Gestapo, The SD and the RHSA

The Gestapo orignally the Prussian secret police, eventually covered all German States. 

  • In 1933 SS leader Himmler was appointed as head of the Gestapo, so it came under SS control.
  • From 1936 it became the most important secrity agent in the state able to decide for itself what the law was

The SD or Secrity police was the internal secrity/intelligence service of the SS.

Headed by Henydrich in some ways it was the eliteof the elite. Its reports of public opion in Nazi Germany have become a useful source for historians

The RHSA (Reich Main Security Deoarment) was created in 1939 to try and draw together state and party secrity apparatus into one organisation. 

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The Role of the SS

The Black Shirted SS were origanally Hitler's personal bodygaurd

In 1929 there were only 280 members, but by the late 1930s it had become a vast organisation, a virtual state within a state, involed in many aspects of the third Reich. - It had been called the 'SS state'.

It worked alongside the Gesatapo and when Hitler came to power in the SS were authorised to act as auxiliary police

  • it used the Emergancy powers of decree of Febuary 1933 to take suspects into 'protective custody' and after weakening of the SA the SS emerged as the cheif of police arm of the party
  • Between 1933 and 1939 about 225,000 germans were convicted of political crimes.
  • By 1939, another 162,000 were in 'protective custody' without trial. 
  • It also established a vast economic empire of 150 factories which expolited slave labour to produce both armaments and manufactured goods. 

It diected its powers againsit all enemies of Nazism, weather politcal or racial, later taking over the concentrationa and extermination camps. -Members who were recruited into the SS had to be Aryan

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Divisions of the SS

By 1939 there were 240,000 members organised into divisons. 

Main branch was the Waffan-SS, primarily an elitist military organisation (Aryan). 

The Death Heads formation administred the concentration camps and formed panzer units

When germany invaded the Soviet Union many Former soviet citizens in Ukraine and the Baltic republic viewed the Germans as liberators againsit the hated rule of Stalin

These areas organised their own SS divions, which commited numerous atrocities. At the Nuremburg trials the SS were declared to be a criminal organisation

  • The SS was not merely a police,surveillance and parlimentary organisation
  • Its main objective, from which it derived its legitimate use of force, was to create the racially pure Volksgemeinschaft- it was charged with creating a new order
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Opposition to the Nazi Regime

Up to 1934, opposition elements were divided; not many people expected Hitler to remain in power for long. 

Hitler had been legally appointed, the army was appeased, and there was widespread hope of a national revival

After 1934 there was no legal way to remove Hitler and opposition activity was banned

Despite all there 'best efforts' to create a state in which the Fuhrer was total authority and unchallenged, the reality was far differant

There was oppistion to the regime which took on a varitey of forms

The two main types are namely Passive Oppisiton and Active opposition. 

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Communists (Active opposition)

The KPD had a mass membership of 300,000 and felt the full force of Nazi Repression from early on in 1933. 

  • over half its members were put in concentration camps during the first year of Nazi power. 
  • By 1935 the Gestapo had infiltrated the remnants of the party, which had tried to continue in exsistence. (There followed a series of mass trials) 

Secret undergorund Cells continued to exsist .

  • The most famous of its cells was the Rote Kapelle (Red orchestra), a communist spy network which successfully penetrated elements of the government and the Military, and from 1938-42 sent vital information to Moscow

There actions should not be Overstated- the communist were put in a very difficult postion by the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939-41

Active communist resistance to the Nazi State was limited and in the end it became more geared towards self preservation

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SOPADE (SPD in exlie)

The SPD operated as SOPADE for the duration of the 1930s and 1940s.

It was based first in Prague, then in Paris and eventually in London by 1940. 

  • SOPADE had agents who operated inside Nazi Germany and then sent reports back to leadership. 

These reports have become extremely useful for historians. Due to their purose, these reports gave a largerly true reflection of life in Nazi Germany

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Sudents- White Rose Group

Probably the most famous of the youth resistance groups because it went beyond simply non-conformety to the regime.

  • It was led by Hans and Sophie Scholl.
  • The White Rose was a name given to a series of leaflets printed in 1942-3 and distrobuted among sudents of Munich Universty and towns in central Germany. 

The content of the leaflets was highly political and openly condemned the moral and spirtual values of the Nazi regime. 

  • One of the earlier leaflets was entiled 'isn't every decent German today ashamed of the Government?' 

The Group represented a brave gesture of defiance and self-suacrifice for it was only a matter of time before the Gestapo closed it down. 

  • In Febuary 1934, the 6 leaders were arressted and executed. 
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Conservative Elites

Most of the active resistance came from the German upper class, who dominated the civil service and officer corp of the army. 

  • The army in particular was never fully coordinated and did enjoy a degree of independance from Nazi control. It also had access to arms.
  • The opposition from the conservative elites emerged slowly. 
  • The army in particular welcomed the events of the night of the long knives and the miltary expansion hitler undertook. 

It took them a while to realise how radical Nazism was. 1938 marked a watershed in the emergance of what became the conservative resistance.

  • Ulrich von Hasell, the ex-ambassador in Rome, and Carl Goerdeler, mayor of Leipzig and a one time member of Hitler's early government both went over to the side of Nazi Oppisition at this time.
  • Ludwig Beck, a former cheif of staff, was conviced that Hilter's intentions to invade Czechoslovakia would lead to war. 
  • Plans were drawn up to stage a coup, but these were abandoned when Hitler made diplomatic gains.
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Conservative Elites 2

Resistance began to re-emerge in the winter of 1942-3. 

The Kreisau Cirlcle was a wide ranaging group of officers, ariocrats, acidemics and chruchmen

They met up and drew up a programme.

  • in the main they discussed plans for a post Hitler Germany 
  • Pacifist individuals within the group were againsit a coup.
  • some individuals did support the most drammtic plot againsit Hitler- July bomb Plot (20th July 1944). 

The conservative elities did not weaken the in any way the Nazi regime so in that sense they failed. 

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Passive Resistance

This area of resistance was more widespread than active resistance, but was far less dramatic in scope. 

In consisted in the main of oridanry people who simply did not buy into the Nazi Vison of a New Germany

Passive resistance can Maifest itself in ways which suggested an unwillingness to conform- a refusal to give the 'Heil Hitler' salute, refusing to hang out the Nazi flag ect. 

Groups inculded..

1. youth

2. Christians 


4. Humor

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Recent reserch suggests that there were sizeable groups of young people who chose not to conform to the Nazi State. 

Edelweiss Pirates-They were mainly working class youths who rejected the militraism and disciplined of the Hitler youth. 

They met and organised their own activites- hikes and camps which came into conflict with the offical ones. In some instances the Pirates became involed in more active resistance. 

  • In Cologne in 1944,twelve of them were publicly hanged because of their attacks on military targets and the assassnination of a Gestapo officer

Swing Groups-Mainly upper/middle class youths. (many orignally member of the Hitler youth).

  • Swing groups developed in the late 1930s, they rejected Hitler youth ideals, but they were generally anti-politics. 
  • Their approach was to develop a counter identity, expressed through forbidden music (Black/Jewish jazz) 
  • The nazis closed down some bars and made some arrests but a only a small minority of German youths were connected to swing groups. 
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The Nazi state only achived limited success with their religous polices. Neither the catholic or protestant churches were coordinated

In main they were concered to maintain their postions and did not enage in any overt acts of resistance. 

Effective Christian resistance was carried out by men who put their lives at risk in order to uphold their belifs.

  • The most outspoken was Dietrich Bonhoffer whose opposition brought him in direct contact with elements of the conservative resistance.
  • Martin Niemoller, the founder of the confessional church who was placed in a concentration camp in 1937.
  • Bishop Galen of Munster, whose outspoken sermon attacking Nazi Euthanasia policy in 1941 proved so powerful that authorites felt unable to arrest him and actually stopped the programme. 

Hundreds of pastors and presits died in concentration camps because they refused to operate within the regime. 

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Workers and Humor


Although the vast majority of workers did not engage in the active resistance encourged by the communist cells, working class culture did have a distinct identity based on working men's clubs and links with banned SPD. 

Industrial action proved to be inaffective. Reports of low morlae and poor work disciplined did not suggest univerisal or enthusiasic support for the reigme. 


Anti-nazi jokes were a low key expression of resistance. The penalty for an anti hitler joke was death. 

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'the real threat posed by those who oppsed the regime was in actual fact fairly limited' - Layton

It would be safe to assume that the Third Reich did not win the hearts and minds of everyone. Few Germans took the leap from passive to active resistance. 

For the majority it would appear that beliving the propaganda and getting on with theri lives was the safest option in a state where terror and intimidation was very much a part of everyday life

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Key interpretations linked to Propaganda, Indoctri


  • Gestapo agents were on every street corner spying on the public.
  • Gestapo had realtively few agents compared to population.
  • The majority of information was supplied to the Gestapo by the public.
  • The public used and manipulated the Gestapo.

Support for the Regime

  • Genunie support
  • Looking for economic solutions. 
  • Use of propaganda and govt policies.
  • Intimidation and terror.


  • Propaganda was successful
  • Propaganda was not suceessful amongst certain social groups. eg. working classes.
  • Certain propaganda campaigns were unsuccessful e.g. attacks on the Churches. 
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