Propaganda Machines: Dictator 101

Nazi Book burning graphic

By Lynda Bryant-Work


“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with

power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny…”

Thomas Jefferson

Propaganda machines are dangerous to freedom.

Nearly every dictatorship or failing democracy in the world has one and generates what is conducive to attaining blind loyalty and obedience.

Consider Nazi Germany

Once Adolf Hitler and the Nazis succeeded in ending democracy and turning Germany into a one-party dictatorship, they organized a massive propaganda campaign to win the loyalty and cooperation of Germans using all forms of communication: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media.

During 1933, Nazi student organizations, professors, and librarians made up long lists of books not be read by Germans, and raided libraries and bookstores burning the books.  In one night more than 25,000 books were burned, including those by Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller and Sinclair Lewis.

Schools played an important role in spreading Nazi ideas. Newly written books were brought in to teach students blind obedience to the party, love for Hitler, and antisemitism. After-school meetings of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls trained children to be faithful to the Nazi party.

The Nazis demanded blind loyalty to their leader and party.

The aim of propaganda and censorship was to brainwash people into obeying the Nazis and idolizing Hitler. It was achieved by ensuring only the ideas and values of the Nazis were heard and seen by the masses.

How does propaganda work and what methods are used? The first critical element is censorship and establishing control of the media.

In Germany, censorship of the press was necessary, and after gaining control, newspapers could only print stories favorable to and approved by the Nazis. Daily briefings were held for editors to tell them what to print and where to place articles in their newspapers. Jewish journalists were banned, and editors had to join the Nazi Party or be dismissed.

Nazis gradually gained control over the media and public gatherings. 

By 1935, 1,600 newspapers were closed and by 1939, 69 percent of newspapers were directly owned by the Nazis.

Hitler loyalist rally.
Hitler demanded loyalty and adoration as was displayed at his massive rallies. Rallies were an opportunity to reinforce and stir people to latch onto the Nazi Regime propaganda.

Radio output was controlled by the Reich Broadcasting Corporation; listening to foreign stations was banned. Nine million radios were sold cheaply so that most Germans could afford one and be indoctrinated on Nazi stations. By 1939, 70 per cent of households owned one of them. Radio wardens ensured people listened to major speeches being broadcast.

There were mass rallies to show public support for Nazism, such as the annual Nuremberg Rally lasting a week.

Sports events were held to allow people to be either spectators or participants in mass activities. The Strength Through Joy movement organized many of these which the Nazis used as an opportunity to showcase their success and superiority of the Aryan race.

The propaganda machine used specific techniques.

Loudspeakers were placed in cafés, town squares and workplaces to blare out Nazi propaganda.

In 1934, the Malicious Gossip Act made anti-Nazi jokes punishable by fines or imprisonment.

Overall, propaganda helped reinforce existing beliefs but was less successful in getting people to accept new ideas.  German young people were less influenced by American ideas than in other European nations because of the Nazi ban on some foreign culture.

Sadly, propaganda and censorship hid the worst excesses of the regime from the public, which meant many Germans supported Hitler.

Other techniques were: the use of emotive language (i.e. playing on emotions); issues presented in black and white terms, and over-simplistic solutions offered; tailoring of propaganda to key groups; providing scapegoats; heavy emphasis on symbolism; modern means of communication; and big spectator spectacles.

Open opposition to the Nazis was rare due to fear.  

Many of Hitler’s political rivals were in exile, prison or hiding, and opposition groups didn’t trust one another enough to cooperate.Propaganda quote 100 years before the Nazi Regime.

The massive scale of indoctrination and censorship convinced many of Hitler’s greatness while concealing problems. The Nazis touted a few popular achievements, while hiding unpopular or hidden policies.

But there was opposition despite the police state and censorship. Some citizens did a great deal of private grumbling, displayed passive resistance and refusal to co-operate with regulations, and some open defiance of the regime existed in churches leaders and youth groups.

Hitler tried to unite the Protestant churches into the new Reich Church or the pagan German Faith Movement, but 6,000 Protestant ministers formed the Confessional Church instead. Eight hundred clergy were sent to concentration camps.

The Catholic Church stayed out of politics until the Nazis campaigned to stop children attending Catholic schools and imprisoned 400 priests.

Religious Christmas cards were banned in 1937 and religious education classes were forbidden in 1939.

In 1933, Hitler Youth took over youth movements to control activities of young people outside the classroom and make them loyal to Hitler. But still some were in opposition.

Opposition often was met with dire consequences.

The Edelweiss Pirates who opposed Hitler, killed the Gestapo chief in Cologne in 1944. The Nazis hanged 12 of them and over 700 were arrested. The White Rose published anti-Nazi leaflets, distributed posters, wrote anti-Nazi graffiti and marched in protest at Hitler’s policies. Its leaders were arrested and sentenced to the guillotine.Propaganda Fist Graphic

Nazi control of the legal system made opposition difficult. Judges had to swear an oath of loyalty and act in the interests of the state. Lawyers had to join the Nazi Lawyers’ Association; legal defense in criminal trials was weakened.

Some trials were staged as publicity stunts, most often in “People’s Courts” to convict those accused of “crimes against the state”.

Standard punishments were abolished. Local prosecutors decided what penalties to impose. The number of death penalty crimes increased from three to 46. “Protective custody” was introduced for those who might commit a crime, though no law was broken.

How did it get so far?

It began with propaganda, censorship and people who chose to believe or bend to it.  It is critical that any free nation remain vigilant of propaganda and manipulation, lest history repeat itself.

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