Background: Hans Fritzsche, the author of this essay, was a leading Nazi radio broadcaster. Here he praises Goebbels and outlines the nature of the newly-founded Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda. He makes the interesting argument that Goebbels is promoting a higher form of artistic freedom in attempting to guide art from his position as propaganda minister.
The picture of Goebbels is taken from the book. The picture of the Propaganda Ministry comes from a 1937 postcard.
The source: Hans Fritzsche, “Dr. Goebbels und sein Ministerium,” in Hans Heinz Mantau-Sadlia, Deutsche Führer Deutsches Schicksal. Das Buch der Künder und Führer des dritten Reiches (Munich: Verlag Max Steinebach, 1934), pp. 330-342.
Dr. Goebbels and his Ministry
by Hans Fritzsche
It takes only five minutes to walk from Postdamer Straße 109 in Berlin to the Wilhelmplatz. Five minutes from the more than modest first business office of the newly-named National Socialist Gauleiter of Berlin, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, to the Leopold Palace, the current headquarters of the Reich Ministry for Publc Enlightenment and Propaganda.
It took Dr. Joseph Goebbels six and one half years to cover the distance. It led him through the middle of the Red hell of Berlin.
Dr. Goebbels came to Berlin in 1926 on Adolf Hitler’s orders to reorganize the Berlin party, which was at the edge of collapse. He came alone. He came as a fighter who had proved himself against the French, separatists and Communists in three years in the Rhine and Ruhr areas. He came without support; he had to build his own support.
The Red flag flew over Berlin, and it seemed absurd to believe that the Red domination of the city could even be threatened.
A few years later the Red lords of Berlin had to build their courage against Adolf Hitler’s ambassador, who had come alone, with the slogan “Berlin remains Red!” It was too late by then, for the Gauleiter of the National Socialist German Workers Party, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, had already conquered Red Berlin.
The NSDAP won twelve seats in the Reichstag in the May, 1928 election. Dr. Goebbels was one of the twelve. Adolf Hitler named him the National Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP. Two and a half years later, on 14 September 1930, the National Socialists came to the Reichstag with 107 men. And on 30 January 1933, after the unique evening mass meeting of hundreds of thousands, Dr. Goebbels could with pleasure tell the newly-named Reich Chancellor that the Berlin movement had organized the event.
When Reich President von Hindenburg appointed the National Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, this man who already had behind him the battles in the Rhineland and Berlin as well as enormous accomplishments in the party leadership, was the youngest minister: only 36!
It is but five minutes from the dark and smoky business office of 1926, which had the mocking name opium den, to the Leopold Palace. The road took Dr. Joseph Goebbels through a sea of poison and hate and lies. Each old follower of Adolf Hitler, each old National Socialist, had to withstand battles that no young party member will have to endure, no matter how long he lives. But no one had to face as much hate as Dr. Goebbels.
It was almost open season on Dr. Goebbels during the six-and-a-half year battle for Berlin. At first he was called the “Chief Crook of Berlin” by the Communists a title he accepted without embarrassment and made a title of honor. Soon the middle class newspapers and speakers declared open season on him too. He is a man of sharp phrases and pitiless language. The danger he represented had long been recognized. The entire artillery of the political battle, for which any means is justified, was turned on him.
It also seemed easy to fight a man who was under the constant fire of the state prosecutors of the day. There seemed no risk in dumping piles of filth on the editor of a newspaper that held the record for the number of times it was banned. No German newspaper was in fact banned as often as Berlin’s Der Angriff.
The results of the unprecedentedly bitter battle the organs of the Weimar state and the parties were different than they had expected: He hardened his weapons in the fire of this battle, and the masses his enemies attempted to mobilize against him instead joined him. It is not surprising that those who feared the oncoming National Socialism attacked with poison and gall. It is surprising that this man, mocked, ridiculed, and insulted as no one else, did not fall into deep despair and spiritual misery after those years of struggle.
What most surprised his opponents is his disarming honesty. One accused him with contempt of being a propagandist, of being dishonest. The charge was loaded with the contempt and accusations of dishonesty that had been earned by years of bad propaganda.
What did Dr. Goebbels do?
He said: “Propaganda? Certainly! Good propaganda for a good cause!” We make propaganda not in the pay of men in the background, but rather we make propaganda for our own honest convictions. We advertise for our own ideal, and therefore we fight using all good means to make good propaganda to win the soul of our people.”
Eugen Hadamovsky, the Reichssendeleiter of German radio, put it this way: “Under the brilliant leadership of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the master of political propaganda, the neglected weapon of German politics became a creative art.”
The feared sharpness of Dr. Goebbels’s language was a result of his honesty. At a time when the word “lie,“Or even the direct term “liar” were thought unrefined and unusable in the columns of the German press, although they carried lies in their columns, Dr. Goebbels did not hesitate to call one who lied a liar. When it is necessary to call things by their proper name, when it is necessary to expose persons, then things are called by their name and people are presented in such a way that even a dog will no longer take a bone from them. The journalist and speaker Dr. Goebbels did not change his impolite methods, even when he faced a certain ban or a certain legal process.
His honesty and determined stubbornness use a language and manner of expression that display crystal clear clarity and irresistible logic. His clarity of thought won him the respect of international journalists in Geneva in 1933, certainly the toughest, most hard-boiled audience. It is impressive that, after Minister Dr. Goebbels’s speech in Geneva, the correspondent of the Paris Journal wrote: “Dr. Goebbels combines German mysticism with Latin logic.”
In everything there is a good portion of humor. Dr. Goebbels drew from humor the sharpness of irony, once the scourge of Red Berlin. And satire, too, came from humor, which drove many an opponent to lose his head.
A flood of clever ideas came from his humor. Remember, for example, Dr. Goebbels’ humorous success with Brüning! Dr. Goebbels had challenged the then Reich Chancellor over and over again to a debate.
Brüning preferred to speak in carefully prepared meetings. Dr. Goebbels had a recording of the Brüning’s radio speech in Königsberg, and took it to the Berlin Sport Palace to debate an opponent who was unwilling to appear in any other way.
Those are the weapons that served the faithful National Socialism of Dr. Joseph Goebbels in the battle for Berlin and the battle for Germany. Armed with these weapons, he succeeded everywhere he attacked. If one asked a journalist, regardless of the camp in which he stood, who was the best German journalist, one would get the answer, however reluctant: Dr. Goebbels. In an era when hundreds of German newspapers had given upon the familiar old institution of the lead article, since its old platitudes no longer found readers, Dr. Goebbels wrote his lead articles and they were read. He wrote in a language that captivated the reader, who otherwise looked only for sensation. If one asked for the name of a great speaker in the Reichstag, honest people answered that no one since Friedrich Naumann so held the attention of the Reichstag as Dr. Joseph Goebbels.
That is what is unique about him: Dr. Goebbels says what he has to say in the way that it must be said to those to whom he is speaking. Hundreds, even thousands of politicians travel about giving the only speech than can give, using the only language that they know how to use regardless of whether they stand in the Reichstag or before a mass meeting or in a political salon. Dr. Goebbels speaks every language. He is at home in the north of Berlin as he is in the west of Berlin. He can be understood by the average man and the educated. He speaks to the people in mass meetings, to the representatives in the Reichstag. Once, long before the beginning of the church’s renewal at the time when the ecclesia militans was just beginning to awake, I heard him speak to a small circle of Catholic and Protestant clergy who were concerned with the political persecution they were encountering in ministering to S.A. and Stahlhelm units. Dr. Goebbels, the “noisy agitator,” spoke to these clergy of both confessions with a quietness and depth that gave these pastors new strength to endure all the consequences of holding services for the Brown Shirts and Stahlhelm men. They were again determined to stand in the pulpit and speak openly to the needs of the day.
This man, uniquely successful as the propaganda chief of Hitler’s party, is now the propaganda minister of Reich Chancellor Hitler.
The official building he took over, the old Leopold Palace, had long been the seat of the Press Office of the Reich government. It was dark and musty. Dark carpets and curtains carried the dust of years. Only the Garden Room was cheerful and bright. But for years the representatives of the German press had heard there only the peculiar wishes of changing Reich governments; it was not a place with pleasant memories.
After Dr. Goebbels had been in office for a few days, the dusty old hangings had been removed from the majority of the rooms, and simple, but friendly furniture filled bright rooms. When Dr. Goebbels spoke for the first time to representatives of the German press in the Garden Room of the Leopold Palace, no one failed to see that the evil spirit of a press hostile to the people had been forever driven out.
“There are two ways to make a revolution,” the newly-named Reich Minister said. “One can fire at the opponent with machine guns until he recognizes the superiority of those who have the machine guns. That is the simplest way. One can also transform a nation through a revolution of the spirit, not destroying the opponent, but winning him over. We National Socialists have gone the second way, and will continue on it. Our first task in this ministry will be to win the whole people for the new state. We want to replace liberal thinking with a sense of community that includes the whole people.”
Most memorable, however, was a style of speaking never before been heard in this room: “Our revolution will never stop.”
Thus Dr. Goebbels began his task of being the constant intermediary between the National Socialist Reich government that sprang from the people, and the people. At every moment and in each individual measure, the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda should maintain the living relationship between government and people. “We have not become a minister to be above the people, but rather we are now more than ever the servant of the people.”
The Propaganda Ministry is not bureaucratic administrative apparatus, but rather an spiritual center of power that stays in constant touch with the whole people on political, spiritual, cultural, and economic matters. It is the mouth and ear of the Reich government.
Dr. Goebbels laid his hand on all the powers that once made common front against him and against the idea of Adolf Hitler that he represented. On radio, the press, literature, theater, film. On the whole enormous apparatus of propaganda that once in the Reich capital used the whole of its enormous power to make the unknown but dangerous Dr. Goebbels from the Rhineland into a dreamer and crackpot, the subject of public scorn. The same enormous apparatus that some others, using enormous millions had attempted to influence without having any real success; for decades only one had dominated it, the Jewish intellect.
This multifaceted apparatus of modern propaganda, which Dr. Goebbels had faced without the weapon of money, only with the strength of the idea even though the struggle seemed foolish, fell into the hands of the people that Dr. Goebbels, as a colleague of the Führer, had mobilized against this citadel of Jewish power.
Now he can begin the reconstruction of German spiritual life after the foreign elements have been eliminated.
Even during the very first beginnings of the work on building the ministry, the new Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda could give the first evidence of what it was capable of: The organization of the first Day of National Labor, 1 May 1933. Although its success was surpassed by 1 May 1934, Dr. Goebbels showed then for the first time that once the path was made clear for National Socialism, not hundreds of thousands, but rather millions could gather at a single place when it called.
Relatively little had to be changed in 1934 on the Day of Labor after the example of 1 May 1933. Organizationally, it had been done right the first time. The tradition had been created, and after a year one could assume that the content German national holiday needed only to be deepened. The waves of the first May mass meeting rolled over the many unions and parties. 1 May awoke old May customs in all the German Gaue had gave renewed life to the almost decayed German cultural treasure. Department II, Propaganda (under Ministerialrat Haegert) in the Propaganda Ministry has the task of carrying out such mass meetings. One might call this department the general staff of practical propaganda. But that is only part of the broad domain of Department II. To name only a few areas, it includes positive propaganda for the worldview, the structure of governmental life, youth and sports questions, economic advertising of every form, agricultural advertising, propaganda in the area of transportation and education in matters of public health.
Department III, Radio (Ministerialrat Dreßler-Andreß) unites the whole of the German radio system.
The radio, once a collection of private broadcasters in which the influence of the Reich, the states, political parties and private concerns battled, was united, cleansed and clearly organized. The radio was not only placed under National Socialist control, but also reconstructed on National Socialist lines.
The new people’s radio has proven that it is able literally to draw a whole nation to the receiver for some “big events.” Occurrences such as the state visit of the Führer and Reich Chancellor to Hamburg on 17 August 1934 have shown that the new German radio can make such events festivals for the whole nation. The radio allowed a whole nation to participate in the ceremony of the German Reichstag for the deceased Reich President, and the world followed as the General Field Marshal found his final resting place on the field of his greatest victory.
A year after Dr. Goebbels had taken the German radio in his hand, it was possible at noon on the first day of spring that not even three people could be seen at a major point in Berlin, the Potsdamer Platz, because the Führer was opening the second great battle for work in Bavaria. He was speaking to a few thousand, but he spoke over the radio to millions and millions. The new radio system, even at a time when the economic crisis had not been completely overcome, was able to win millions of new listeners and produce millions of new receivers, above all the Volksempfänger [an inexpensive radio receiver].
Without exaggerating, one can say that there is no country in the world where the radio is anywhere near as intensive an intermediary between the government and the people as in Germany.
A true labor of Sisyphus was necessary in the area of the press. From the chaos of 3500 German newspapers, of which only 120 were National Socialist in 1932, a responsible German press had to be created.
Department IV, the Press (Ministerialrat Dr. Jahnke) is the tool of the Propaganda Ministry in this area. It is simultaneously the Press Office of the Reich government. Its head is the Assistant Press Chief of the Reich government, State Secretary Walter Funk of the Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda.
The destructive effects of the past liberal era had especially serious effects on the German newspaper system. Anyone, even foreigners and those foreign to the German spirit, could with no regard for the people or the state write whatever he wanted about any political question, even if that which he wrote offered foreign opponents all possible support and aid.
Bans could not help deal with the general decay of the German newspaper system. They are only a temporary means to deal with the worst manifestations. Dr. Goebbels therefore created the new Editor’s Law, which laid the foundation for a complete transformation of the German newspaper system in the moral, political, and economic areas. The law gave the German editor major rights, but also major duties.The German editor is now the representative of the whole people, and must as such give account for all his actions and inactions. For the first time in the world, this law makes the interests of the people and the state the supreme law for the whole press.
Some foreign newspapers thought this was the end of press freedom. Within a year, even those abroad realized that true freedom stabilizes a decent and nationally-conscious journalist class.
Department IV, which supports the press, holds a daily press conference. It provides constant information for the never-ending work of domestic and foreign newspapers, news agencies and correspondents.
It also incorporates the Drahloser Dienst, the news agency of the German radio that provides all Reich stations with news and broadcasts as well in four languages over shortwave.
Since the most modern ministry works with the most modern methods, the Drahtlosen Dienst has an excellent teletype system that transmits its news to all German stations in a form ready for broadcast.
Department V (Ministerialrat Dr. Seeger) is responsible for all matters regarding the film system, the film industry and film technology.
Department VI (Ministerialrat Laubinger) handles the broad areas of theater, music, and the arts.
Department VII (Ministerialrat Demann) is responsible finally for defense.
That is the staff that the Reich Minister for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda called to work closely with the National Socialist Party leadership. From here come the new slogans for the people, who are to be formed into a new unity and set to the work of reconstruction.
It is surprising how rapidly Dr. Goebbels became a cultural organizer after the years of struggle. He succeeded in bringing order to the most difficult of all areas of public life, culture, in the form of the Reich Chamber of Culture.
The Reich Chamber of Culture includes the Reich Chamber of Film, the Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts, the Reich Chamber of Theater, the Reich Chamber of Radio, the Reich Chamber of the Press, the Reich Chamber of Music, and the Reich Chamber of Literature.
In these chambers, all those German creators of culture are united in a rational manner and without unnecessary compulsion in the place where they can most effectively work for cultural reconstruction.
Speaking to the presidents of the specialized chambers of the Reich Chamber of Culture, Dr. Goebbels explained: “If professional thinking is really the great sociological idea of the Twentieth Century, then Germany is breaking new ground.” Dr. Goebbels discussed the foundation of the National Socialist state: Art is free, and one may never attempt to replace a lack of intuition with organization. He warned against bureaucratizing the Chamber of Culture. He explained its duties in this way: “It is a fundamental mistake to think that the task of the Reich Chamber of Culture is to produce art. It cannot, it will not, and it may not. Its task is to bring culture-creating people together, to organize them, to remove the restrictions and contradictions that surface and to assist in administering existing art, the art being produced today, and the art that will be produced in the future for the benefit of the German people.”
Dr. Goebbels, who came to know writers, journalists, theater agents, film managers, politicians and so on during the years of struggle, is at home in these areas. To film producers who complained about a lack of material, he replied: “There is no shortage of material, but rather the courage to use it is lacking.” To the press he said: “The more unified the national ability of a people to concentrate is, the more effective national discipline will be.” Speaking of the tasks of German theater: “We do not want the pendulum of the times to stop at the door of the theater, but rather that it strike deep into every artist’s soul, and the artist does not merely see the new era as an unpleasant but unavoidable necessity, but rather that he understands the time and sees in it a powerful national drama of historic-artistic scale, an event that will give impulse, material and drive to German artists for three or four generations.”
Or as he said to booksellers: “As long as the book remains the privilege of a small, elite class and does not find reception by the people, one will not be able to speak of real benefits to the nation through the book.”
It is obvious that the creative artist Joseph Goebbels is a bitter enemy of any form of Kitsch. Where inappropriate means are used, and where ability is not able to achieve the greatness and dignity of the task, he intervenes. Dr. Goebbels, the first to expose the presumed objectivity of creative activity, but rather openly affirms the goal of constantly serving the whole of the people, is the declared and sworn enemy of incompetence. He does not want to place the intellectual creations of the nation under censorship from above. The artist, the writer, each creative artist is free. He wants to bind them from below; after years of unrestrained influence streaming in from foreign directions, he wants art to again be rooted in the soil of the homeland, in the soil of the people. This binding is no chain, but rather liberation and fruitfulness.
For each German, ethnicity must be the decisive reality. From this ground and no other, creative artistic and cultural forces must rise. The deeper art’s roots are in the soil of the nation, the greater will be its international significance.
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