Background: The Reichsring for National Socialist Propaganda and People’s Enlightenment was a branch of the Nazi Party’s Reichspropagandaleitung, or national propaganda office. It had offices at the national, Gau, Kreis, and local group levels. Its purpose was to coordinate the propaganda activities of all organizations, down to and including gardening associations and fire departments. In the fall of 1942, Walter Tießler, its national leader, pressed his subordinates to intensify the Reichsring’s activities. This memo from the Gauringleiter of Mark Brandenburg is one result. It lays out what was supposed to happen (though given the pressures of the war, generally did not).
The terminology can be a tad confusing. The national office was the Reichsring. Each Gau propaganda office (Gaupropagandaleitung) had a Gauring office. Each Kreis, or county, had a Kreisring. Each local group was supposed to have an Ortsring. My article “Grassroots Propaganda in the Third Reich: The Reich Ring for National Socialist Propaganda and Public Enlightenment,” German Studies Review 33 (2010), 93-118, looks at the matter in detail.
The source: R. Seydler, “Arbeitsplan für die Kreisringleiter,” 30 March 1943, Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 18/427.
Job Description for Kreisring Leaders
You are receiving the promised overview of the tasks of the near future, which at the moment cannot be handled at a meeting of Kreisringleiter. These guidelines are only for the personal information of the Kreisringleiter. It is forbidden to print excerpts or read parts of them at a Kreisring meeting. Material from the first section will be printed in abbreviated form in the Gau newsletter for all local groups. The other sections will be discussed over time in the Gauring newsletter.
These directives are to be discussed at the next Kreisring and local ring meetings. For years, Kreis and local rings have existed only on paper. It is important that they really exist, so that they can function strongly and effectively under the biggest challenges that the war may yet bring.
Kreisringleiter must find particularly good local ring leaders who have the strength and energy to guide and direct the work. We must always work to find more people and good propagandists to:
Whenever possible, the propaganda director and party leader should attend Kreis and local ring meetings. At the least, each meeting must consider the latest material, directives, newsletters, and guidelines.
Kreisring meetings must be announced as soon as possible so that a good speaker can be secured despite the current difficulties.
If the guidelines are followed in discussions, many problems and questions will surface that, if the Kreisring functions properly, will lead to a lively exchange of correspondence and ideas.
Obviously, the entire work of the propaganda rings involves a strong defense against espionage. This matter, however, should not be generally discussed, but must be understood. Occasional guidelines will be issued to deal with particular cases.
The Kreisringleiter should distribute the monthly packets of Gauring newsletters. It is important that each member of the Kreis propaganda office receive a copy.
1.) The monthly local group meeting.
The local ring existing in each area, consistent of representatives from offices, affiliates, organizations, clubs, etc., has the following tasks at each meeting:
a) Oral propaganda.
b) General propaganda policies -- monthly calendar.
c) Paper for propaganda material.
d) The Gauring newsletter.
e) Organizational matters.
2. The value of propaganda.
The principles and general lines of propaganda are clear. Just as 5, 10, or 20 years ago, the propagandist fights to win over each individual to the National Socialist idea. Our battle cry is: “Germany awake!” Using every possibility, our whole public life must focus on the war effort and victory. This must be done in popular, scientific, and cultural ways, providing constant new strength. The task of propaganda it to constantly repeat our basic themes and goals with respect to daily issues, responding to always changing events. Despite the constantly changing demands of the moment, despite the many manifestations, methods, and means of propaganda both domestically and internationally, and especially with regards to enemy states, we may never lose sight of our ultimate goal. We must daily focus all our energies, all our heart and mind, in mobilizing and strengthening our defensive strength and war leadership so that we gain victory, which will enable the further building of the Third Reich and ensure a strong, healthy National Socialist people’s community. We may never lose sight of our greatest enemy, the world plague, Jewry and its lackeys. Freemasonry, some other international force, or plutocracy and Bolshevism are always at work, overtly or covertly, consciously or unconsciously. In the final analysis, they all serve the Jews’ plans for world domination. Bolshevism is the most dangerous force. Dr. Goebbels recently wrote: “For Jewry, international plutocracy is only a transitional form to international Bolshevism. The seed from which chaos and anarchy best spring grows on the soil of the capitalist states.”
Many think that it enough to have good organizational skills, some taste, the ability to carry out a meeting, and naturally some rhetorical ability. With that, propaganda takes care of itself. Others believe that propaganda must be “made” on certain occasions, or to meet certain needs. In such cases, one takes the usually unnecessary propaganda apparatus out of mothballs and gets it going full speed, setting it aside afterwards with a notice: “Do not disturb! Save for the next time.” Good God!
Aside from such crazy ideas about propaganda and its amateurishness, its superficiality, or its lack of knowledge of how things really are, people generally think that the propagandist has it easy. That is not true. First, a good propagandist must constantly draw his strength from his heart, be it a major campaign or a minor one. He must have inner drive and a certain easy facility. Second, propaganda is always a means to an end. It should not be obvious, although of course powerful mass meetings or major community events give propaganda, or better said the cause, particular power.
Propaganda should function within the normal events of life, and not draw attention to itself. Instead, it should focus attention on what is essential in the general situation or particular event, on the goal we are striving for, on the necessary application of will and effort. Given the variety of tasks and challenges, being a propagandist is not easy. The propagandist must never do something carelessly, even if he believes that he can because of his experience and abilities. If he does so, things will go wrong, and the effect and value of propaganda is wasted, illusionary, or even negative. A propagandist must always find new methods and new enthusiasm. Particularly during decisive moments and hard times, the so-called braggarts and creatures of habit who want to make a big issue out of every trivial matter, putting themselves in the middle of things, are seen as worthless egotists or big mouths. They fail, just as do boring people without any enthusiasm. The proper propagandist is always at work, for himself and for others. More than others, he must enthusiastically affirm the events of his age. He must follow and think about the news and information about new events, new knowledge, successes, etc., with intense interest and clear judgment. His enthusiasm will give new life and force to everything. This provides new understanding and will both to his heart and the hearts of those around him. The propagandist is thus filled with new and varied plans. This will enable him to be a model to those around him, given them direction, awakening, moving, and mobilizing them.
3) The themes of oral propaganda.
The spoken word is not only the mouthpiece, but also the mirror and expression of a person’s personal force. It shows his nature and reveals his soul. He who knows how to listen and observe will always know this, and will never be deceived by a clever chatterer or a cautious or taciturn person. Whenever someone opens his mouth, the facade vanishes and one recognizes what kind of person he is. Thus, the spoken word has always been the main method of propaganda. Every conversation, every remark, is of great value. In every brief exchange or conversation today, the elemental force of current events somehow intrudes, for no one can escape his times. Since the bitter struggle began in the East, our talk is even more about the war. What a responsibility that places on us! Each individual, however, responds differently to great events as well as to minor things.
People’s temperaments range from the most sensitive to the most phlegmatic. Given the confusion of opinions and thinking, there would be chaos if we did not have major central ideas and standpoints that consciously or unconsciously directed our common efforts toward a goal.
This is where oral propaganda serves to educate and direct. This is where it must play its part. There are countless opportunities, but in the end it is a matter of expressing the central ideas in a life-affirming and positive way. That means to make the central ideas evident, encouraging everything to serve the goal though stating opinions, commenting, explaining. Anyone who wants to can do that! Such oral propaganda can be done not only at political meetings or at other gatherings of party organizations or affiliates, not only at the monthly local ring meeting or while discussing the Gauring newsletter, not only at a club meeting where the chairman discusses the last local ring meeting, or when a propagandist speaks compellingly about current events. Not only at each major community event, but also in discussing newspaper and radio reports, particularly special announcements, when discussing newsreels, pictures in illustrateds or newspapers, indeed, at every opportunity, even in personal affairs, that provide opportunity. Something useful can be said in every situation and in every case!
This is not to say one should talk as much as one can. There is nothing worse than chatter and useless talk. We all know those dreadful types who always want to hear themselves talk, regardless of the those around them or the situation. These chatters and big mouths want to make themselves the center of things, just like all those disciples of conversation, of bluffing, of acrobatic dialectics, of clever speculation, etc., who attack their fellow man with their wall of words and their cleverness, and in fact make them momentarily weak. We want to make people strong! Gossipers are just as bad. They are always curious, waving their arms and speaking loudly, getting on the nerves of those around them, discouraging all productive efforts. No! We want to think and behave naturally, as our healthy sense and the central ideas require. We are realists who discuss military events, for example, within the guidelines given to us, and do not pretend to be experts with detailed knowledge about armaments or strategy, or who have the most remarkable and unusual understanding. We are modest. Our whole thinking and actions are focused on the central idea. Our deepest need is to speak of genuine and good things, giving wherever possible a truly moving affirmation of our firm and fanatic faith in our cause and our rights, of our strength and our victory, which the Führer guarantees us, and which is necessary for us to escape the misery and privations of the war.
4) The local ring as the center of oral propaganda.
Oral propaganda is a general field of action, and really so obvious that everyone should be capable and able who has the necessary attitude and discipline. This includes not only the propagandist who always has fresh ideas or the political leader and activist, but every man and every woman, even a child! Anyone can be won for this purpose, for each German knows enough to understand what is at stake. Anyone who can pull himself together in the face of events has the necessary will. The soldier at the front cannot become lax or speculate about the future! In the same way, everyone in the homeland should look for the positive and the helpful, instead of looking for the neutral, the objective, or even the abstract, or the greatest weakness. He should not look for what is wrong in each case, then combine such things and spread rumors. All rumors are lazy and stupid.
The local ring is the center for all such propaganda measures and plans. It is there that the guidelines and current directives and slogans for oral propaganda are discussed and given out. A lively propaganda central with the proper material must be under the responsible leadership of the local ring leader. It is also encouraged by the example of readiness and initiative of all propagandists and activists, particularly all political leaders. Thus, monthly local ring meetings will discuss current problems, as well as local issues of limited, but propagandistic significance. All matters of propaganda will be discussed, and if the local ring functions properly, it will rarely be necessary to deal with troublemakers. Every party organization, every affiliate, every organization, every club is represented, so that everything that is discussed in the local ring quickly reaches every S.A. meeting, every club or organization meeting. Everyone is a member of some organization or club. The local ring must regularly provide advice on oral propaganda, and the local ring leader is responsible for this.
Major, moving community events are less common during the war. Mass meetings, ceremonies, etc., are limited due to people serving in the military or labor service or because of a shortage of meeting spaces, and war conditions in general. That is why leading and directing oral propaganda is even more important than before. When the Reichspropagandaleitung issues information, themes, or other material for a particular purpose, they must be discussed by local rings throughout the Reich. This regular, current, and important material must be carried to the whole population with the help of the spoken word, becoming part of everyday conversation. Each conversation, of course, maintains its nature, for we do not want to order anyone, much less the entire population. No! We want to develop the local ring so that each individual can be reached by oral propaganda.
Thus, the local ring meeting, as the center for oral propaganda, will welcome everything that increases our strength, and avoid everything that leads to any kind of fragmentation. Personal conflicts, useless discussion, and discussions about religious dogma only lead to dissension and are forbidden. Strong leadership of the local ring meeting is essential, which does not mean that camaraderie and humor should be avoided. The opposite! Inner strength goes with outer conduct. In this way, a lively propaganda center will respond to any problem of public opinion, be it the result of a rumor or some know-it-all or troublemaker. In harmless cases, absolute silence will be the best counter-propaganda. Those who invent and spread rumors, however, must be treated as war saboteurs. For example, if a picture shows the Führer with his generals and Field Marshall Keitel is missing, some idiot may start a rumor about some big shakeup. Such nasty rumors should be reported immediately to the Kreisring and the Gauring.
Each participant in the local ring meeting must be a strong agent of oral propagandists, be it on the job, on a streetcar, in his neighborhood, at meetings, etc. Coming from the local ring meeting, he must be the agent of new strength, so that just about everyone can be reached. Thus, the local ring will provide members with a constant supply of fresh material.
It must be stressed that the work of the local ring should be carried out not only where there is evidence of weakness in attitude, behavior, and conviction. As in anything else, the principle here is that prevention is better than cure.
The local ring should therefore always be ready for positive oral propaganda among the population, such that every conversation leads to mutual strengthening. This is not utopian, but easily done, since everyone has a heart and feelings. We perhaps did not need to do this as much during peace, but we are at war, and we want to remind everyone of that at every opportunity. And it is not hard to be enthusiastic in everyday conversations, no matter where it may be, affirming the healthy, the natural, the necessary, of our great cause. We may not be narrow and short-sighted. Each of us has times of difficulty whether on the job of at home, which makes us nervous. It is good then when a dear friend has an encouraging word, knowingly or unknowingly, that clarifies or distracts, but in a positive direction, not through obnoxious curiosity or burdening us will all sorts of negative speculation, making our situation even worse. If we help each other out, and if here and there someone has the right oral propaganda, the burden on an overloaded person can be someone lessened.
That can happen in a three or five minute conversation, maybe even one that lasts ten minutes. “If only” statements, or discussions of broad matters are not useful in such situations — everything has its time — but rather friendly and sympathetic brief conversations about the most natural things of life, deepening understanding and concluding in a harmonious manner. If there are only ten oral propagandists in an area with 500 souls, or if a small town has about 100 eager activists who work systematically and always talk in a positive way, they will soon find more assistants and win over the entire population.
Using propaganda groups and oral propagandists, the local ring must use reach each man and each woman in an area with the central ideas and goals, persuading them to use their full strength. We do not want anyone to think, as the old proverb has it, that he is of no use. We all want to be Germans with a steel core. And if someone has rusted a bit, we do not bring him to the recycling center or let him go to his fate. We are not made of metal! German blood flows through us! Even a piece of iron can become a strong magnet if it comes in contact with a source of power. We are conscious of being Germans, and this example of a piece of iron is almost insulting, but just as a piece of iron an become a magnet on its own after contact with another magnet, so our strength and reserves can flow to our fellow citizens in the area, thereby winning and mobilizing a new source of strength for the German people.
5. Our conversations, conduct, and psychology.
We are at war, and the laws of war apply everywhere, even in the most personal conversations. Our work, or deeds, our actions are the most important thing. Our words are a constant, but modest, ally. In each German, there is something of the Faustian fighter who seeks new tasks, new knowledge, and who always faces new internal struggles. We Germans also have understanding, which is more or less developed in each person — some are educated, others not — so the boundaries cannot be precisely determined, but only the extremes fall outside the general boundaries. There are people who, despite the lack of degrees and diplomas still have substantial knowledge, and some “smart people” have no common sense. There are even really educated people with both minds and hearts. They enjoy particular respect wherever they live, and have special responsibility in their conversations, in oral propaganda. They will never come across as self-satisfied, for that means stagnation, lack of progress, retreat.
Our goal must always be to reach the feelings and emotions in order to mobilize the will. The understanding is an important ally, since it comes from experience and the passion of its life. He who wants to change nature is abnormal. He will not be taken seriously. Oral propaganda is not “changing things,” talking a lot, spouting phrases, etc. Instead, it is close to life, always finding the core of truth in every situation, finding the central idea, being a wake-up call. We have the duty to spread good news. When bad news comes, we must draw on a stronger central idea, build morale, to openly and naturally support someone who weakens or falters, to encourage him. Healthy optimism is never false. It affirms life. The pessimist is always at a disadvantage, constantly wavering because of his pessimism. In the best case, he is pleasantly surprised by fate, leaving his life to chance or outside forces, unable to take his fate in his own hands. He will eventually be ground down by life. He is a conversational weakling! In oral propaganda, however, each should find and reveal his core, always with the same fundamental them, the National Socialist affirmation of life. This must be done in a practical way — not theoretically or worse, abstractly, but with ever new enthusiasm. In doing this, we must be honest, otherwise we will find no response or lasting impact. A heavy smoker, no matter how pleasant a man or woman he or she may be, cannot confidently speak of the unnaturalness of harmfulness of smoking to others. His persuasion is built on sand! He smokes and says nothing about it, instead speaking of his otherwise good taste. Without honestly, one heart cannot speak to another, but speaking honestly is what we want to do in everyday conversation. Inner dishonesty has no power, even if it is not immediately noticed. The comedian is like a well-dressed city woman with polished nails who wants to talk with an experienced farm wife about agriculture. Cobbler, stay with your trade! The best foundation for oral propaganda is your own decent conduct in every life situation, on the job and during your free time, in public and with your family, as well as in exemplary job performance corresponding to your abilities. This works wonders, subtly, naturally, without boasting and parading. One can admonish without embarrassing! Oral propaganda is not unloading everything one knows with one has opportunity. Avoid all dogmatism, all lecturing. The oral propagandist, of course, is ready to provide advice on daily problems and their causes. The main arena for oral propaganda, however, and the one that until now has been too neglected, requires understanding, sensitivity, and discipline. Education must come from one’s own experience, not from memorized slogans, phases, or some other source. That would be an invisible, yet palpable interference in a personal conversation. One wants to talk with someone else, not toss other people’s words back and forth. That only shows a desire to impress. That is not a Nordic nor a Germanic trait, and is absolutely false in oral propaganda. It would also be useless to toss piles of political phrases into every conversation. The other person will perhaps listen politely, but everything will go in one ear and out the other. He digests it no more than the rooster who crows it. We need only to emphasize the good deed, progress, the goal. Curious people lusting after sensations have confused feelings and thinking and are useless. What good is it, for example, to blow soap bubbles in the pub or somewhere else, and to spread old fables or even old true stories. Rotten wood!
At the local ring meeting, or indirectly through other means, oral propagandists each month receive information on matters that are current and in the foreground. This knowledge and conviction can be spread only if they sink deep into the heart and soul. Reality and genuineness always begin in one’s own family, in one’s own home. It is a great success when a six-year old explains, on his first day of school, that he is missing the traditional bag of candy because “we are at war, and the Führer needs everything for his soldiers.” No one told him to say that, but he may have heard a similar explanation for something else at home. Whether in our actions, in our firm attitude, among our friends and comrades, on the job or at a club meeting, we want to be intentional bearers of positive oral propaganda. Everyone sometimes thinks he is on the right track, but suddenly discovers (or even worse, someone else discovers) that he is on the wrong track, or at a dead end. Only a fool claims it never happens to him! Life-affirming people, no matter how loyal to their cause they may be, make mistakes. To err is human, but one must get out of the dead end as quickly as possible and get one’s footing again! The same is true in conversation! Never seem superior and self-important. One must be able to get a conviction across, to strengthen an idea, to educate one’s conversational partner without him being aware of that at the beginning. It should seem to him his own idea. A normal, friendly conversation is the most effective, even if some fool encourages thunder and lightning. Exposure and mockery injure others without accomplishing anything. Only self-confident fools feel superior, and constantly try to prove it. They have no real life in them, being cold and without fire. Any too strong attempt to convert is of the devil, and results only in opposition. Helpfulness, on the other hand, particularly in time of need, opens hearts. Just as children trust anyone who understands them, so it is with an adult who sees that the other speaks and acts from his feelings. That results in a harmonious conversation, even in political matters. Most of the time, a friendly, bright tone is decisive. If the situation and characteristics of the individual allow, cheerfulness and humor are also appropriate. The tone makes the music! Brief, everyday conversations are surely a source of strength when they are a small oasis of relaxation, of reflection. A blunt chap may benefit from strong word or a passionate statement, and the genuineness of a crude expression may have its effect. But be careful! One must also be careful with overly logical arguments. One hears only half of it! He who gets lost in disputations or critical discussions has lost already. Mudslinging, people think! Everything that is natural works, everything artificial fails in everyday life. He who can tell stories well turns his conversational partners into passive listeners. In oral propaganda, however, even the most eloquent Reichsredner [a member of the elite Nazi speaker corps] is careful not to make a conversation one-sided. The exchange of words leads to understanding, it should give new life, encouraging content, understanding, direction. The simplest form of discussion, not a speech, works when talking on the street, or elsewhere in everyday life. Big talking would be a red flag for any productive person. It leads to no inward response or deeper understanding of the situation. Arguing and squabbling is just as unproductive, since it unsettles rather than improves.
If we all get used to that, we do not need to be great propagandists. We will even be able so show individualists and those focused on themselves the way to the future in our conversations. Each conversation does a small service. It causes real pleasure to be able to help another through conversation, and one’s own enthusiasm and confidence in victory are also nourished. Setting a good example, however, is a requirement for effective oral propaganda. An old bachelor should not advocate the happiness and joy of a large family, since he will be shocked by a mother who has just had her eighth child. He cannot do anything about that, but in such a situation he is not an advocate. At best, he is a bad example, but that is hardly a good recommendation. Just as bad is when one walks into a shop to purchase something, or into a public office, and feels as if he is viewed as a nuisance, and the clerk or bureaucrat is in turn offended by the reaction and complains. The example sets the standard. Work to set a good example in each situation. In doing so, we will influence those around us who otherwise might get lost in the situation. The trouble one takes to say one or two words for our common cause enriches others and makes oneself happier. After each conversation, one has the satisfaction of contributing to building the opinions and will of others. That will also not make one unpopular with those around him. Each must realize that oral propaganda is up to him. We want to have the goal of using each conversation to strength each other. Each decent German should daily encourage a clear outlook and awareness for the common fate of our people, both in himself and in those around him.
6. It depends on us and on our will
Despite all the difficulties of the war, we have far more means and resources at our disposal than we had during the period of struggle. We have power in Germany, but also the important duty as fighters of the movement to be sure that we possess not only power, but also the hearts of hard-working men and women.
We must find reserves of fellow workers, encourage, win, and use new fighters. Each Kreisringleiter must above all find more capable chaps to work in the Kreis, and then more and more in local areas. He must interest political leaders, activists, and propagandists in this work, of its value and practicality. Step by step, if often very slowly, one builds something that is successful, and later will be a magnet for all capable and healthy forces.
Every political leader, down to the smallest block, must be able to act as a propagandist, and be provided with current material for oral propaganda. If an area has a lively center for oral propaganda, the old slogan from the period of struggle will apply: Use each conversation in the service of our great cause!
It is clear that the Ring has two main purposes: 1) to maintain positive morale and opinions, and 2) to assure an organized, structured and clear program of events and meetings that are announced in timely fashion and properly prepared for. This work is important for the war effort, and is a critical element that the local group leader and the Kreisleiter need to lead the people.
The Kreisringleiter have important assistance through the Gauring newsletter. The Gaupropagandaleitung works with the Gauring and also with the Reichsring to improve the work, the foundation of making the system stronger and more influential. The will of each Kreisringleiter must be strong enough to overcome every difficulty and work successfully with the Kreis- and local rings.
I hope that his outline will help you. My broad outline of oral propaganda in the last section should be encouraging. I ask you to discuss this theme in detail at your meetings.
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