By Julia Chamberlin, VI Form
The Third Reich Propoganda’s Effects on the Average German
We were pushed through to the main gate, and once we entered there we thought we’d entered hell. There were bodies everywhere, and there were these watchtowers with machine guns pointing at us…this terrible grey ash falling around us. There were the barking dogs, viciously walking around, there were loudspeakers always and these SS men walking around, with shiny boots and guns on their back. I mean, we were just frightened out of our wits… You couldn’t fight, because if you touched the guard you were shot—right in front of me I saw that. You couldn’t flee because if you touched the barbed wires, you were electrocuted. When we took a shower, we didn’t know whether gas is coming out of the water…I remember a young boy. I think he picked up a potato skin or something. Whenever there was a hanging, we were all called out to watch it, and I remember us shouting, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ A young boy hung because he picked some bit of food up.Sophia Hollander, “Auschwitz Survivors Recall Harrowing and Heroic Moments from the Death Camps,” History, last modified January 26, 2021, accessed January 11, 2022, https://www.history.com/news/auschwitz-holocaust-survivors-stories.
Five years. Six million Jews murdered. 232,000 children dead.Natasha Frost, “Horrors of Auschwitz: The Numbers behind WWII’s Deadliest Concentration Camp,” History, last modified January 5, 2022, accessed January 11, 2022, https://www.history.com/news/auschwitz-concentration-camp-numbers.
Those who implemented the Holocaust regarded Jews as less than human. Jews were transported in cattle cars and stripped of their names, clothes, hair, and any other remnants of their identity and humanity. Those in death camps endured unimaginable treatment, and survival was a game of luck. Nazis’ and SS officers’ cruelty was horrific and unimaginable. So how did this happen? The only explanation for a long time was “a few bad apples”; Hitler and his high-level subordinates were awful people capable of awful things, but it was just them, right?
In 1918, Germany signed an armistice ending World War Ⅰ. One year later, the Allied powers forced Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles, placing much of the blame for the War on Germany. This defeat angered many Germans and left them feeling deceived by their government and the rest of the world. During this time, Hitler was gaining more power in his political party, the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). In 1923, he staged a coup, known as the Beer Hall Putsch, which failed and sent him to prison for five months. While in prison he began to work on his manifesto, Mein Kampf, which became the basis for much of the political campaign and propaganda that he utilized during his time as dictator. Six years later, the New York stock market crashed, and Germany’s reliance on the United States meant that its economy also imploded. In 1933, Hitler became Germany’s Chancellor, and about a month later the Reichstag fire occurred. Hitler blamed this attack on communists and used it to seek more control over Germany. Throughout this time, Hitler slowly passed legislation to ensure his role as a dictator rather than a chancellor. He introduced censorship of the press and the Enabling Act, effectively making himself dictator. Before the war and the Holocaust, Hitler rolled back democratic freedoms and liberties. He placed restrictions on Jews’ ability to move throughout Germany freely, forcing them into ghettos and stripping away their businesses. He limited the media that Germans could consume and infiltrated every aspect of Germans’ lives. The war began in 1939, and the Holocaust started two years later.
However, Hitler did not act alone. In reality, the German peoples’ complicity and participation in every stage of Hitler’s campaign are what propelled Germany into the Holocaust. The “average German” was a crucial part of Hitler’s success because, once he controlled and convinced the majority of Germany’s population, he could continue on his path of terror without consequence. Although the atrocities of the Holocaust should alarm the average person, Hitler conditioned the German populous into thinking that he was a valuable leader. The Third Reich used different modes of propaganda, such as movies, television, schooling, youth groups, and toys to promote their ideology. As German life became intertwined with Nazi principles, the people were desensitized to the Holocaust’s horrors. Additionally, Hitler’s propaganda worked to change Germans’ mindsets and convert them into Nazis; this was especially effective in children. Without the support of the German population as a whole, Hitler wouldn’t have been able to commit mass genocide. This paper will outline the ways in which the Third Reich used propaganda to make the German populace complicit in the Holocaust. First, I will discuss the average German mindset before the Holocaust, throughout it, and during World War Ⅱ. This section will also articulate different theories to explain why such a large population was able to accept such a horrific atrocity. Then, I will detail specific propaganda that the Third Reich used in their campaign, namely, the films Der Ewige Jude and Jud Suss. Additionally, I will explore broader effects of film propaganda in the Holocaust. Lastly, I will outline the use of youth and the education system as propaganda for the Nazi party. This section will examine the transformation of the school system and other youth programs in Germany. All of these sections will help articulate the ways in which propaganda was crucial in creating a society accepting of the Holocaust.
Julia Chamberlin is a VI Form boarding student.