The Holocaust is a warning that the unthinkable is possible and that human nature makes all of us susceptible to the abuse of power, a belief in the inferiority of “the other,” and the ability to justify any behavior—including inaction. The Holocaust’s significance is not only that it happened, but that it happened in one of the most educated, advanced regions of the world and was led by a nation— albeit a struggling one— with a democratic constitution, a rule of law, and the freedom of expression.
The Nazis used the latest, most sophisticated technologies and techniques to disseminate their propaganda, often employing words and images that on the surface appeared benign or even positive. They used print, film, broadcasts, and even toys, parades, and other media to convey their messages.
Propaganda: uses truths, half-truths, and lies, omits information selectively, simplifies complex issues or ideas, plays on emotions, advertises a cause, attacks opponents, and targets desired audiences.
“Our Last Hope: Hitler”
Propaganda plays on human emotions—fear, hope, anger, frustration, sympathy—to direct audiences toward the desired goal.
Hitler argued that the successful propagandist had to understand how to psychologically tailor messages to the public’s emotions in order to win people over.
For the many Germans left destitute by the Great Depression, this 1932 presidential election poster appealed directly and simply to the idea that a vote for Hitler was Germany’s last hope. With unemployment at nearly 30 percent in 1932, the images of the unemployed and the destitute appealed to the fears of many Germans.
“Yes! Leader, We Follow You!”
Adolf Hitler likened propaganda to political advertising: it had to distinguish the party, cause, or individual from their competitors.
The Nazis branded themselves and their leader as young, patriotic, political outsiders who alone were capable of reforming Germany. They painted other political parties as special interest groups while portraying the Nazi Party as an inclusive movement representing all non-Jewish Germans, regardless of class, religion, or region.
Nazi propaganda constantly reinforced the notion that Hitler was the embodiment of the national will. Here, a determined-looking Hitler in military dress stands with clenched fist, poised for action above the adoring crowd. This poster, designed for a 1934 public referendum on uniting the posts of German chancellor and president, conveys unanimous popular support for Hitler.
"Behind the enemy powers: The Jew"
Propaganda can serve as a form of political and social warfare to identify and vilify opponents. It can call into question the legitimacy, credibility, accuracy, and even the character of one’s opponents and their ideas.
Nazi propagandists contributed to the implementation of the regime’s policies by publicly identifying groups for exclusion, justifying their outsider status, and inciting hatred or cultivating indifference.
During World War II (1939 –1945), Nazi propaganda often portrayed Jews as engaged in a conspiracy to promote and continue the war against Germany. Here, a stereotyped Jew conspires behind the scenes to control the Allied powers, who are represented by the British, American, and Soviet flags. For Nazi propagandists, German war aims were about defeating the Allied powers as well as the Jewish "threat".
"Students, be the Fuhrer's Propagandists. Colleges and Vocational Schools Pledge Themselves to the German Freedom Movement on March 29th"
Effective propaganda often times conveys messages, themes, and language that appeal directly, and many times exclusively, to specific and distinct segments—and even sub-segments—of the population. Propagandists create messages that appeal directly to the needs, hopes, and fears of the targeted groups.
The Nazi Party promoted itself as an inclusive political movement that represented all non-Jewish Germans, regardless of class, gender, religion, or region.
With militant appeals to nationalism, freedom, and self-sacrifice, the Nazi Party successfully recruited students disenchanted with German democracy and their current student organizations. Knowing that the students were not always eligible to vote, Nazi propagandists called on them to promote the cause and spread the message.