Write a text critique of a document of your choice taken from this section ‘selected documents’ of David Welsh, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda. The document you have chosen is the main prime source material of your analysis; in addition not as a substitute!), you may back up your critique by means of analyzing other primary sources contained in the book ( such as excerpts from speeches held by Goebbels or Hitler, or visual sources such as paintings, photographs, posters or book illustrations.
The document I have chosen is Dr Goebbels speech at the Kaiserhof on the 28th of March 1933. Goebbels addresses the Filmwellt just two months after Hitler became Chancellor. I have chosen this document because the presentation I gave on Goebbels use of cartoons or “Trickfilms” sparked not only an interest in Goebbels as a propagandist, but on the Nazi use and manipulation of the German film industry.
Before dissecting this speech however I wish to state some of Goebbels’s principals of propaganda. These principals are extracted from Leonard W.Doob’s book. We can use these principals to help us scrutinize his speech.
Aldous Huxley defines propaganda as ‘propaganda can be overt or covert, both are methods of confirming as it is about converting public opinion. Propaganda, if it is to be effective, must in a sense preach to those who are already partially converted’(David Welsh, The Third Reich Politics and propaganda, second edition, Routledge, London and New York, 1993) Propagandists assess the audience and use whatever methods they deem the most appropriate and effective. Goebbels and Hitler were masters of assessing crowds. This speech by Goebbels must be viewed as a piece of propaganda. Therefore we must examine it as such.
‘To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium’. For Goebbels this attention grabbing medium was cinema. Goebbels and indeed Hitler shared a great interest in film. Shortly after his appointment to the ministry, Goebbels declared his ‘special interest’ in cinema. He declared that cinema had a task of conquering the world. He gave films the important task of extending and influencing the culture of the new Germany. This speech is on a par with his address to representatives of the radio on March 25th 1933.Goebbels is approaching the film industry at a time when the film industry expressed fears about an uncertain future. Goebbels begins by flattery, expressing his gratitude for this opportunity. He then begins to empathies with his listeners. He speaks as a ‘passionate devotee of the cinematographic art.. Again this is similar to his speech to representatives of the press, 15th of March 1933. This seems to be a method which Goebbels chose to use. By placing himself in the position of his listeners, he would appear to be a trustworthy speaker. He expresses his belief in German cinema in a way which generates hope and faith in and amongst his listeners.
Goebbels believed he ‘must oversee other agencies activities which have propaganda consequence.’ As early as the 1920s the socialist movement had infiltrated their members into the world of cinema. Foreign films and foreign film reels could have done some severe damage to the Nazi party’s propaganda. If Goebbels could control the film industry he could control this extensive medium, he could ensure that the only message herd was his. Goebbels successfully ‘coordinated’ cinema owners, camera men, actors and even composers. Goebbels would eventually secure both economic and political conformity, while excreting a much greater control over censorship. Censorship has been described as both the antithesis of propaganda and its necessary adjunct. However censorship is a rather blunt instrument. Goebbels attempted to soften this instrument by introducing his ‘distinction marks’ which were actually a form of negative evaluation. Films which were culturally valuable such as films of the nation or films for the youth did enhance a films status. If films did not receive a (Pradikate) a distinction mark they would not be allowed to exhibit, however those who received such distinction benefited from tax deductions. Here Goebbels added incentive to producers to manufacture films which he desired. This speech was a step on the way to acquiring this power.
The timing of this speech was critical. As already acknowledged above one of Goebbels key principals of propaganda was timing. This speech could not have come at a more opportunistic occasion. The German film industry was virtually at its knees. Gate receipts were falling, companies were going bust and cinemas were changing hands at an alarming rate. The industry had recently undertaken the major task of converting their technologies for the advent of sound. .Also interesting to note, Hitler had just been appointed chancellor, he was now moving towards consolidating his own position in the Government and in domestic policy. Hitler and Goebbels knew that they would be relying heavily upon cinema for propaganda purposes in the coming future. As such they realized they should move to position themselves closely with the industry, without alienating the industry against them. Not only would film be important to gain mass support for the National socialist movement. It would become just as important to attack the Reich’s enemies through films. To do this the Nazi’s would need the whole industry at their disposal.
‘The propagandist must have information regarding public opinion’. Goebbels was aware that the industry was deeply concerned with its future. Not only this but Goebbels was very aware that the ‘film gentlemen held a hostile view of ‘National Socialism’. However rather than ignoring the industry’s unfriendly stance, he embraces it. He submits that with the Nazi party in power, the film industry has a firm basis on which to build. He stresses that the insecure times of Bruning and Muller are over, stating that they are going to stay in power for at least four years. He confidently asserts that ‘even the doubting will be convinced’. In these few short sentences we can see Goebbels enticing his audience. He is offering the industry stability and security. Two possessions which the industry desired most. In this way Goebbels his attempting to destroy their negative connotations and create a positive image of National Socialism among the film industry.
While expressing his belief in German cinema, He openly confronts the challenges facing German cinema. He presents the problems cinema is facing not only as a material crises but as a spiritual one. He says that for the last fourteen days that he ‘has been having discussions with every branch of the German film industry’. Goebbels intertwines facts and fictitious information in his speech. In doing so the fictitious becomes fact. By speaking of the work he is doing Goebbels is cleverly creating a sense of progress. Goebbels is attempting to reassure the apprehensive film industry. He chose to stress continuity with the past however stressed the need to change some aspects. This is a very clever strategy. By doing this he could reassure the industry while maintaining the more radical Nazi support.
Here we come to the point that ‘Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both’. Goebbels offers action. This action is presented as a ‘revolution’. Goebbels demands films which reflect actual situations of everyday life. By doing this he states that the industry has a greater chance of conquering the world’. He speaks of being able to continue to ‘fill cinemas’. Goebbels is cleverly appealing to the commercial side of his audience. ‘I would like to say to the producer Get the money back that you paid out on the training. This statement leads to his next point. Goebbels begins to suggest content for the films. This is clearly another form of censorship. However it is represented in such a way that it appears to be a totally rational necessity. He represents films as art, and affirms art must remain free however it must accustom itself with some norms. He comforts by suggesting there is an ample amount of scope for all sorts of artistic talent to roam freely. However ample scope is a matter of opinion. This leads on to our next point.
‘Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority’. Goebbels admits that the national socialist movement will be assuming an active role in the industry. He creates a sense of what is dangerous. He ingeniously inserts fear into the peoples mind. He gives examples of four films which left a lasting impression on him. Battleship Potemkin, Anna Kerenina, The Nibelungen and the Rebel. He claims that Battleship Potemkin is a great film, ‘that anyone without a strong political conviction could become a Bolshevik after viewing the film’. The film the rebel he claims could even convert a national socialist’. Goebbels uses the Battleship Potemkin and the Rebel as example of how even the worst kind of ides can be propagated if it is supported by an outstanding work of art. Goebbels claims that the medium is almost as important as the message. ‘The medium is a vital instrument in the shaping and manipulation of popular emotions and attitudes. Film is also able to distort truth and at the same time, impress the audience’ (Calvin College). However Goebbels goes on to speak on subject matter. Goebbels urges the industry to come to terms with the spirit of the time. He suggests film producer to deal with popular themes. Goebbels wishes to gradually improve public taste through films, rather than lowering them by making bad films for materialistic reasons. This is an ingenious statement. Goebbels is putting responsibility of German public taste in the film industry’s hands. By giving the industry a sense of duty, they will feel obliged to listen to Goebbels.
Goebbels even finds time to speak on the Jewish Question. Goebbels was aware that the industry was suffering and weakened by the exodus of the Jewish directors and producers. Goebbels defends this by saying that it is impossible to gain an idea on the German people. He claimed that one must have their roots ‘deeply embedded in German soil’. Goebbels claims it would be impossible for a Jew to gain an insight into the German psyche, therefore it would be impossible for a Jew to connect with the average German. This is a ridiculous notion. However if you had the mindset that if you were a Jew, you weren’t a German, this would seem a very realistic and rational conclusion.
Goebbels and Hitler often alluded to the failures of the past. This speech is no different. He berates the film gentlemen who ignored the greatest period of German suffering in its history. He articulates that there is a crisis in the industry, and that this crisis is also a personal one. For him cinema is going to be the new ‘flag’ which is to capture the spirit of the age. However he says that if the flag falls the flag bearer must fall with it. The use of flags in the Third Reich was prominent; it is interesting that then that Goebbels should choose the flag metaphor. By using the flag metaphor he can relate to the industry, how important cinema will be to the Reich. Cinema will be the flag bearer for the new government. As such it will naturally assume a significant role in the government. By bestowing upon them such an honor the industry may feel indispensable. However the more radical elements of the Nazi party could perceive this as Goebbels assuming control over the industry. He characterizes the general mood in cinema, as lacking personal conviction and courage. The power of conviction according to Goebbels is what made films like The Rebel and Battleship Potemkin worthy to mention. It is this crucial element that has been missing from German films in the past.
Goebbels concludes his speech illustrating his hopes and aspirations for the future. These of coarse are not his true intentions but what he needed the industry to believe. The speech finishes in a rather uplifting fashion. As always Goebbels ends in obvious flattery. ‘I myself on many evenings have sat in a cinema with the Reich Chancellor, and have found relaxation after trying battles of the day’ expressing his gratitude to the industry. His final request of the industry is for ‘trustworthy cooperation’ so that it will become possible to boast that Germany leads the world in the creation of films. Throughout the speech Goebbels refers to the ‘young men in the government’ or the new era. Goebbels is making a series effort to distance the new government from the past.
This speech is of great ambiguity. Goebbels speech should be looked at as a great literary feat. Goebbels manages to create a sense of security for the film industry, while pleasing more radical party members who were calling for wholesale changes. The speech is bursting with contradictions throughout. However these contradictions are presented in such a way that they don’t actually appear to be contradictory. ‘Art is free and should remain so, but of course, it must accustom itself to certain norms’, is just one of the many of his contradictory statements. We know that censorship laws existed even under the Weimar republic. Goebbels was to greatly increase their range of censorship even introducing a pre-censor (Vorzensor). However it is important to note that the films produced during the Third Reich were not overtly political. In fact only around a sixth of films produced between 1933 and1945 were directly political. Goebbels believed propaganda is as important for reinforcing existing beliefs, as it is at changing them. Films such as ‘Hitler youth Quex’ was extremely effective in this respect. Goebbels recognized the desperation the film industry felt in that difficult period, and he exploited it. His argument was well constructed, ‘rational’ and delivered no doubt with his usual charismatic oratory skills. It is a certainty that Goebbels would have coupled his speech with carefully planned hand movements and gestures. A technique which we know both he and Hitler employed habitually. Primarily this speech was concerned with winning over the support of the film industry. Goebbels was realistic enough to appreciate that in the early stages of the ‘National Revolution’ the Nazis would need support of the industry. Goebbels ends the speech in an inspirational manner, climactically ushering in hope and optimism for the future.
David Welsh, ‘The Third Reich Politics and propaganda’, second edition, Routledge, London and New York, 199
Leonard W. Doob,’ Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda’, oxford journals, Public Opinion and Propaganda, 1950, volume 14, page 419.
Leonard W. Doob, ‘edited for The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues’. November 12 20/11/09, <http://www.psywarrior.com/Goebbels.html>
David Welch, History Today, August 1999, ‘Power of Persuasion’, 18/11/09.
Calvin College, ‘Nazi propaganda example 1’September 08, 2006, 24/11/09, <http://www.hsse.nie.edu.sg/staff/blackburn/NazipropagandaExample1.html>