Joseph Goebbels 1897-1945
Full name, Paul Joseph Goebbels. German politician, propagandist, diarist, editor, novelist, and playwright.
Nazi propaganda minister between the years 1933 and 1945, Goebbels was the only intellectual, next to Adolf Hitler, among the leaders of the German Third Reich. A failed novelist and playwright, Goebbels founded and edited the political newspaper Der Angriff in the early years of the Nazi regime. As Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, he headed one of the most pervasive and powerful government-controlled propaganda machines in history. With near total authority over all forms of mass media in Nazi Germany, including newspapers, radio, film, theatre, and book publishing, Goebbels manipulated the opinions of millions of Germans. During World War II he was responsible for maintaining public morale through lies and fabrications, delivered almost daily by print and broadcast media. Intensely anti-Semitic and violently opposed to both the bourgeoisie and Catholic Church, Goebbels organized the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 and, overall, endeavored to legitimize the slaughter of more than six million Jews between the years 1938-1945 by disseminating the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority among the German people. A member of the left-wing of the Nazi Party, he sympathized to a degree with the efforts and methods of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, but was nevertheless fanatically loyal to Hitler and played a key role in promulgating the cult of the Führer. His love of Hitler, however, was equally matched by his disdain for most of his fellow Nazi leaders.
Goebbels was born on October 29, 1897, in Rheydt, Germany, into a working-class, Catholic household. A clubfoot prevented him from joining the army during World War I, so Goebbels instead pursued the study of German literature and philology at the University of Bonn, and later at the University of Heidelberg. He received his doctoral degree from the latter in 1921 and, embittered by his failure to find a publisher for his novel Michael, joined the Nazi party. Moving rapidly through the ranks, Goebbels was made gauleiter or "district leader" of Berlin in 1927, and founded the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff ("The Attack") that same year. He continued to edit the periodical, which was designed to stir popular support for the party, and later acted as Adolf Hitler's campaign manager until 1933, when Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and appointed Goebbels as his Minister of Public Enlightenment. The job put Goebbels in control of the mass media, allowing him to launch a sustained campaign of anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-bourgeois propaganda. In November, 1938, he orchestrated the Kristallnacht pogrom, in which German synagogues were burned, Jewish storefronts destroyed, and thousands of Jews arrested. After the outbreak of war in 1939, Goebbels stepped up his propaganda efforts, providing assurances of a quick German victory; later he attempted to allay fears of defeat by alluding to the existence of powerful super weapons and to the strength of the German people as the modern manifestation of the Aryan or "Master" race. In February of 1943, after the German defeat at Stalingrad, Goebbels—a brilliant speaker, though lacking the extraordinary charisma of Hitler—delivered his "Sports Palace Speech" in which he called for "total war." A little over a year later, as the conflict began to steadily turn against Germany, he was appointed General Commissioner for Total War Measures. He remained by Hitler's side in Berlin as the Soviets began their assault on the German capital in 1945. On May 1, 1945, shortly after Hitler had taken his own life, Goebbels ordered his children poisoned and, along with his wife, committed suicide.
The novel Michael, adapted from Goebbels's early diaries and reworked after Hitler's rise to power to emphasize Nazi values, has been universally panned by critics as dull and maudlin. The primary source of interest to scholars of Goebbels's works are the numerous volumes of his diary recovered from the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin after his death. Goebbels had intended to publish his journals after the war, but instead left behind the unrevised and unexpurgated fragments of his daily thought covering much of his adult life. Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei (My Part in Germany's Fight, 1934) details his role in the Nazi ascension to power in Germany, and represents one of the few works Goebbels had the opportunity to edit before publication. Among his diaries now translated into English are entries spanning the war years 1939 to 1945 as well as a collection of fragments from the 1920s, most of which were composed in Goebbels's characteristically over-blown style. While the war entries provide summaries of military and political events, critics note that their scholarly value lies in relation to the mass of misleading information that Goebbels and the Ministry of Propaganda presented to the German public during this period. The diaries also reveal Goebbels's self-delusion, his intense feelings of hatred, contempt, and revenge, as well as a his near-fanatical worship of Adolf Hitler alongside emotionally detached observations of the war and the contemporary social and political situation in Germany. The wartime diaries additionally chronicle Goebbels's shifting state of mind as the fighting turned against the Germans, his contempt for his rivals among the Nazi leadership, particularly for the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering, who he perceived as incompetent, and his deep respect for Stalin's political acumen, if not for his ideological beliefs. Among the most compelling aspects of the diaries, scholars note, are Goebbels's records of his activities as Propaganda Minister—ingenious lies and misrepresentations, subversive attacks against the British, French, Russians, and Americans in print and over the airwaves, hatred campaigns against Jews, and indignant denunciations of those who differed with his opinions. Countless examples of the methods that Goebbels developed to undermine his political and military opponents fill the diaries of a man considered to be among the most gifted and cunning propagandists in history.
Michael (novel) 1929
Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei [My Part in Germany's Fight] (diary) 1934
"Sports Palace Speech" (speech) 1943
Goebbels Tagebücher aus den Jahren 1942-43 [The Goebbels Diaries 1942-43] (diaries) 1948
Das Tagebuch von Joseph Goebbels 1925-26 (diaries) 1960
The Early Goebbels Diaries (diaries) 1962
Tagebücher 1945. Die letzten Aufzeichnungen [Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels] (diaries) 1978
The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41 (diaries) 1982
Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels: Sämtliche Fragmente (diaries) 1987
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SOURCE: Review of The Goebbels Diaries: 1942-1943, in The Commonweal, Vol. XLVIII, No. 11, June 25, 1948, pp. 260-62.
[In the following review, Solzbacher contends that Goebbels's diaries from 1942 and 1943 were designed to further the Nazi cause upon their publication.]
A comparison of this volume with Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei, the diary which Dr. Joseph Goebbels published in 1934, produces two conclusions: (1) It disperses any doubts regarding the authorship of these diaries; (2) it demonstrates the absurdity of the statement on the publisher's blurb. "As he fabricated his network of lies to the German people and to the world by day, he was telling the truth to his diary by night." There is overwhelming internal evidence that Goebbels is the author of these diaries. Every page shows his style, his way of thinking, his shrewd maneuvering, his art in the distortion of facts. There is not the slightest justification for the assumption that one of the greatest liars in the world's history should have become a fanatical truth-seeker in those few minutes every day which he spent on dictating his diary.
The original, several times more voluminous than the more than 500 pages translated by Mr. Lochner, fell into American hands after a junk dealer had carted it away from the courtyard of the Berlin Ministry of Propaganda. The Russians apparently tossed these papers,...
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SOURCE: "Introduction," The Early Goebbels Diaries: The Journal of Joseph Goebbels from 1925-1926, edited by Helmut Heiber, translated by Oliver Watson, Weid enfeld and Nicolson, 1962, pp. 15-26.
[In the following essay, Heiber focuses on Goebbels's diaries for the years 1925 and 1926.]
Throughout his life—it is said, from the time he was twelve—Joseph Goebbels kept a diary. Later, when in power, he probably even kept two diaries—his private notes and also voluminous daily records, dictated to a stenographer and containing descriptions of events and comments; these, for all their candour, were clearly addressed to posterity that would judge his actions. Shortcomings in general and colleagues in particular he criticized acidly; he found little wrong with matters of principle and nothing wrong with Hitler, let alone with himself. These moderate disclosures were intended as raw material for a history of the Third Reich, the writing of which was to give content to Goebbels' years of retirement; when completed the history was to provide financial security for his family.
Probably only very few people, and these are in the East, know what happened to these private and semi-official diaries, for most of what escaped destruction during the fighting in Berlin was presumably captured by the Soviets. Under-Secretary of State Naumann believes that this is certainly true of the microfilms of...
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SOURCE: "Goebbels's Nature," in Commentary, Vol. 34, No. 3, March, 1963, pp. 272-76.
[In the following review of The Early Goebbels Diaries, Dannhauser details Goebbels's shortcomings as a diarist.]
To readers of history, [The Early Goebbels Diaries 1925-1926] will prove disappointing. There is little new historical information to be gained from them, and there are even occasional distortions of the facts we already have. We know, for instance, that during the period spanned by the diary entries—August 24, 1925, to October 30, 1926—the Nazi party was still small and disorganized. But the impression Goebbels gives is the opposite: the entire adult population of Germany seems to be attending the rallies which he describes. Moreover, Goebbels was in no position to impart "inside" information even had he wished to; he was still at this time a long way from becoming "the man next to Hitler." When the book opens, he is a member of the Strasser faction in the Rhineland, "out in the sticks" for the Munich-centered movement; at the time of the final entry fourteen months later, he is about to become Gauleiter of a Berlin which is not the stronghold but the Achilles' heel of the movement. It is only from this position that he will begin his rise to prominence. The diaries do provide new data on the factionalism within the party—between national socialists and...
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SOURCE: "Joseph Goebbels: Man the Beast," in The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership, translated by Michael Bullock, Pantheon Books, 1970, pp. 93-7.
[In the following essay, Fest analyzes Goebbels's effectiveness as a propagandist for the Third Reich.]
Propaganda was the genius of National Socialism. Not only did it owe to propaganda its most important successes; propaganda was also its one and only original contribution to the conditions for its rise and was always more than a mere instrument of power: propaganda was part of its essence. What National Socialism meant is far less easily grasped from the contradictory and nebulous conglomerate of its philosophy than from the nature of its propagandist stage management. Carrying it to an extreme, one might say that National Socialism was propaganda masquerading as ideology, that is to say, a will to power which formed its ideological theorems according to the maximum psychological advantage to be derived at any given moment, and drew its postulates from the moods and impulses of the masses, in the sensing of which it was abnormally gifted. In view of its capacity for mediumistic communication with the 'mind' of the masses, it seemed not to require any real idea, such as had served to gather and hold together every other mass movement in history. Resentments, feelings of protest of the day and the hour, as well as that mechanical...
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SOURCE: "From National Bolshevik to Hilterite" and "From Reich Minister to Reich Chancellor," in Goebbels, translated by Stephen Wendt, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976, pp. 13-66, 210-26.
[In the following excerpt, Remain examines Goebbels's novel Michael and his diaries for the years 1942 and 1943.]
MICHAEL: A GERMAN FATE
Goebbels' literary output from 1921-24 included several plays, most of them unfinished: one about Christ, Judas Iscariot; another, Heinrich Kämpfert; and plays called The Sowing and The Wanderer. The Wanderer was produced on November 6, 1927, by the National Socialist experimental stage company in a matinee performance of a memorial service at the Wallner Theater in Berlin. This play, consisting of a prologue, fourteen scenes, and an epilogue, borrows its form from Dante's Divine Comedy. Just as Virgil leads the Italian poet through Inferno, so the wanderer leads the despairing author "over the heights and through the valleys of German history." A repeat performance given five days later was to be the last.
Early in the twenties Goebbels was obsessed by the idea of his literary vocation. In Michael he described his powerful creative impulse:
July 15: I am lying in bed sleepless, wrestling with the powers that press upon me....
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SOURCE: "The End of the Road," in Commentary, Vol. 66, No. 1, July, 1978, pp. 78-80.
[In the following review, Jacobson considers the historical value of Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels.]
Not even the publishers of Final Entries 1945 claim that the diaries which Joseph Goebbels kept during the last two months of his life, and which have belatedly been made available by the East German government, contain new historical facts of any importance. How could they? By the time these entries begin, the Nazis were in effect defeated; nothing that Adolf Hitler's Minister of Propaganda could say—and little enough that his master could do—would make much difference to what was happening outside the German capital, or even inside it. The Russian and Anglo-American armies would continue to advance; German troops would continue to retreat or to surrender in large numbers; the entire edifice of the Third Reich, and all its systems of command and information, would continue to disinte-grate rapidly. The sole interest of the diaries, therefore, lies precisely in their revelation of what a man like Goebbels tells himself at such a time: when he sees slipping away from him, minute by minute, the power which he and his fellow-gangsters had enjoyed almost unchecked for more than a decade.
That the diaries are unspeakably depressing to read goes without saying. Given the...
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SOURCE: "Propagandist as Propagandee," in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer, 1979, pp. 204-08.
[In the following essay, Haratonik considers the extent to which Goebbels himself believed in the principles and ideas that he fostered as propaganda minister for the Third Reich.]
Diaries are a curious form of literary endeavor. They are simultaneously both a private and public document; private in that the material is quite often initially meant for the use of the author exclusively; public in that, once committed to the page, by that very act, all information is accessible. "Diary"; the very word has always conjured up the image of a small Moroccan leather bound volume, securely sealed with a neat brass hasp, opened with a filagreed key. It seemed the perfect vehicle for Victorian ladies or pubescent girls to document precious moments of social (and sexual) triumph and tragedy. As Oscar Wilde had Gwendolyn tell Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest: "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."
Wilde aside, diaries often hold more significance. They shed light on events which otherwise would not have been documented. Antonio Pigafetta's classic account of Magellan's voice is one historic example. Select diaries such as Pepys' London document an entire epoch. Still others transform the medium...
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SOURCE: "Fascism and Aesthetics: Joseph Goebbel's Novel Michael: A German Fate Through the Pages of a Diary (1929)," in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 41, No. 3, 1986, pp. 213-28.
[In the following essay, Saalmann uses Goebbels's novel Michael to illustrate parallels between fascist social and political principles and theories of aesthetics.]
In a recent publication, Adolf Muschg, the Swiss author, literary critic, and Germanist, defines fascism as "the aesthetic façade of politics." He further elaborates by ascribing to 'aesthetic' fascism the phenomenon of "holistic phantasies foisted upon society." It is this attempt to artistically shape the masses with the intent of creating a new socio-political entity in terms of a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, that we shall concern ourselves with in this essay. It must be emphasized, however, that the question of fascism and aesthetics should not be construed as constituting an exhaustive analysis of the fascist movement. The artistic perspective is only one aspect of the multi-faceted spectrum of this phenomenon, albeit a highly significant one in that it does address itself to the very substance of the fascist mentality.
The aesthetic inclinations of National Socialism have been noted by a number of critics. Aestheticization, as it applies to the ideology espoused by the Third Reich, ought to be viewed as a...
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SOURCE: "The Nazi Wrote a Novel," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 25, 1987, p. 7.
[In the following review of Michael, Clark discusses Goebbels's novel as a reflection of his Nazi principles and attitudes.]
Joseph Goebbels wrote [Michael] in 1923, at age 26, two years after he'd taken his Ph. D in literature. The book was originally—and rather appropriately, as things turned out—called Michael: Pages From a German Destiny, but the subtitle may have caused some queasy moments for the publishers of this first English edition, who have left it off. Variously rejected by German publishers before the author had made a name for himself in politics, it finally came out in Germany in 1929 and by 1945 had gone through 17 printings. Though the author's position as Hitler's propaganda minister certainly didn't hurt his sales figures, he never got around to composing a sequel. That was perhaps his only known act of mercy, considering the literary quality of this early effort—less a novel than a romantic, rhapsodic and rather sophomoric paean to National Socialist revolution.
Goebbels' story seems to be a blend of his own youthful experiences (probably reconstructed from student diaries); those of his close friend Richard Flisges, a veteran of the First World War who'd introduced him to Marx, then died in a mining accident (Goebbels' protagonist...
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SOURCE: "In Love with Hitler," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXV, No. 12, July 21, 1988, pp. 14-16.
[In the following essay, Lukacs analyzes Goebbels's characteristics as a man and writer.]
The diaries of Joseph Goebbels are an extraordinary find, for many reasons, including their size and their history. Goebbels was a truly compulsive writer as well as speaker—an unusual combination. He began to write a regular diary in July 1924 (there are indications of an irregular diary even earlier) at the age of twenty-six. The last entry is probably that of April 9, 1945, three weeks before his suicide along with his wife and children, and the complete collapse of the Third Reich. The total of the retrieved hand- and typewritten material may amount to more than 60, 000 pages. When completed, their publication will comprise ten large volumes, of which the first four have now been published by the Institut fur Zeigeschichte in cooperation with the West German Federal Archives. These four volumes of Goebbel's diaries from July 1924 to July 1941 are a unit by themselves. Goebbels wrote them by hand, often every day, even when he was at his frenzied work as the minister of propaganda and culture in the Third Reich.
He turned to dictating them to a first-rate stenographer in July 1941. A few months earlier he had the written diaries transported to an underground safe and commissioned the...
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SOURCE: "Inside Nazis: The Goebbels Diaries, 1924-1941," in Canadian Journal of History, Vol. XXV, No. 2, August, 1990, pp. 233-43.
[In the following essay, Kater discusses the public and private aspects of Goebbels's life as reflected in his diaries.]
Elke Fröhlich of the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte has done historians of National Socialism and the Third Reich an immense service by transcribing, editing, and publishing all hitherto known fragments of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels's surviving diary, which he kept from October 17, 1923, to the spring of 1945. The five volumes, including a register, are marketed by the K. G. Saur publishing company, with offices in Munich, New York, London, and Paris. In this case, Dr. Fröhlich has been able to publish hand-written diaries dating from July 1924 to July 1941. As Fröhlich explains in her introduction, because of the fullness of the events during the war Goebbels decided to dictate his diary after that date, a process that resulted in type-written text for the balance of the dictatorship. Fröhlich's basis for her edition were twenty-two thick binders, constituting anywhere from two-thirds to three quarters of Goebbels's hand-written notes. The rest so far is missing. Parts of the diary from summer 1941 to spring 1945 may also turn out to be absent, depending on the final availability of either originals or copies, but so far Fröhlich is hopeful...
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SOURCE: Review of Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels: Samtliche Fragmente, Part 1, in The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 63, No. 4, December, 1991, pp. 819-21.
[In the following essay, Smelser examines the scholarly importance of the 1987 German edition of Goebbels's diaries.]
The editor offers us here [in Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels: Sämtliche Fragmente, Part 1] the definitive edition of Goebbels's diaries—exhaustive, authoritative, well-edited, and user friendly. When the project is completed—six additional volumes are scheduled to complete the wartime period—it will replace all the various previously published fragments, including those edited by Lochner (entries from 1942-43), Heiber (1925-26), Hamilton (1939-41), and Trevor-Roper (1945), all of which contained many incomplete or inaccurate entries.
This first stage of the project, comprising four volumes plus a provisional index with 3, 400 names, covers the period from Goebbels's earliest recollections, which he began to put on paper in 1924, to 1941, when, in the midst of the Russian campaign, he went over from handwritten to dictated and transcribed diaries. Although some of the material was lost at the end of the war, these volumes nevertheless represent about two-thirds to three-quarters of the total expanse of the original diaries.
This constitutes an extremely valuable...
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Manvell, Roger and Heinrich Fraenkel. Dr. Goebbels: His Life and Death. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960, 306 p.
Details Goebbels's life before and during the Nazi ascendancy in Germany using data from first-hand accounts, letters, and diaries.
Reuth, Ralf Georg. Goebbels, translated by Krishna Winston. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993, 471 p.
Chronicle of Goebbels's life based upon more recently available primary sources.
Riess, Curt. Joseph Goebbels. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1948, 367 p.
Early biography that recognizes the importance of Goebbels's youth. Riess accepts the thorough evilness of his subject and therefore refuses to make moral considerations on Goebbels's character.
Semmler, Rudolf. Goebbels—The Man Next to Hitler, edited by D. McLachlan and G. S. Wagner. London: Westhouse, 1947, 234 p.
Biography, originally written before the discovery of the Goebbels diaries in the West, based on the journals of Semmler from 31 December 1940 to the end of the Second World War.
Bramsted, E. K. "The Propagandist in Private." Times Literary Supplement, No. 3970 (May 5, 1978): 506.
Review of Goebbels's diaries from the period 28 February to 10...
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