German Propaganda Archive Calvin University


Background: The Nazis put enormous effort into public speaking, both before and after they took power. This essay, taken from the party’s monthly for propagandists, explains why the spoken word has more power than the written word. At the end, the author compares Nazi rhetoric to religious rhetoric. Frauenfeld was a Nazi Gauleiter.

The source: A. E. Frauenfeld, “Die Macht der Rede” Unser Wille und Weg, August 1937, pp. 16-21.

The Power of Speech

by A. E. Frauenfeld

When coming generations look back on the period of struggle and development of the National Socialist movement, one of the most interesting and significant conclusions they will draw is that seldom in the history of the German people, indeed that of humanity itself, did the spoken word, that direct personal contact between the leader of a young and rising movement and the whole people, had such importance as in this significant period in the history of the German people.

It is very remarkable that although Adolf Hitler used the most modern achievements of science and technology for his struggle, he always viewed them only as instruments, never making compromises with technology that contradicted his knowledge. He was never tempted to devote himself to them, to become subordinate to them!

We must remind ourselves that the printing press released a flood of printed words, and that the spoken word seemed a relic of the Middle Ages over against the strength and force of technology that brought the printed word to the masses of the people. A dreadful collapse of the rhetorical art followed. National Socialism in no way rejected the possibilities that modern technology provided in the area of printing, but it also recognized the importance of the spoken word as the messenger of a movement that came out of the feelings and experiences of the people. It used the spoken word in a way unparalleled in the past, and that will remain exemplary in the future.

To endure in the age of the printed word, the help of technology was needed. The loudspeaker, the radio, the motor vehicle, and the airplane provided opportunities to reach a broader circle than ever before with the spoken word.

If we ask why Adolf Hitler put such great significance on the spoken word, we must conclude that the written word in no way equals the spoken word in intensity and impact.

But one does not rule out the other. They supplement rather than replace each other. The problem here is the same one that we encounter in the arts. Why do people go to the theater when there are movies, which are cheaper and less complicated, and which use the most modern technical methods? Why do people attend concerts when they could listen to the radio or turn on the record player in their homes, and hear the same thing? Why do people take on the challenges, the costs and the economic burdens of travel, when they can see splendid films with precise details about every part of the world?

All of these instances prove that even the most modern and perfect reproductions of music, words, or pictures can never replace personal experience. The feeling we have when walking through the streets of a foreign city cannot be conveyed by the most perfect picture, the best travel description. A reproduction, however perfect, will never have the same effect as the actual work of art.

Personal experience is always primary, reproduction in whatever form is secondary. It is most effective when presented to a person who has directly experienced what is shown, who is then reminded of what he once experienced. Memory and imagination must be combined with secondary art forms in order to come close to communicating the primary experience of art!

He who hears an opera on the radio, but has never seen it on stage, will get only an imperfect impression, whereas he who has experienced the work will be reminded of the whole magic of the direct experience of the work of art.

He who reads a speech by the Führer but has never heard him speak will have a different and incomplete impression compared to him who has often heard the Führer. While he reads, his own imagination is active and he hears the words that he reads in his mental ear.

We see then that every indirect presentation is somehow incomplete if the memory of previous experience does not help our imaginations to unite our past experiences with the secondary form of reproduction.

The printed word is abstract. It is impersonal. It is not rooted in memory, but slides away. We connect the spoken word with thoughts of the person who spoke it, with his appearance, the sound of his voice, the persuasiveness and passion with which he spoke the words. And then there is the environment. Reading is usually done alone. Speaking is communal; many hundreds or thousands share the enthusiasm. All of this allows the spoken word to pass from the level of simple understanding to the depths of our feelings and drives!

Science records its knowledge in books. Confessions of faith have always favored the spoken over the printed word. National Socialism proves this through the significance that the spoken word had in its struggle. From the beginning, it fought on the spiritual level and it spoke rather than wrote its words because it wanted to reach people’s hearts, because it wanted to win!

We can distinguish five various forms of speaking:

A meeting is a gathering of a number of people who have come together to be instructed by a speaker about a certain topic. It is usually not particularly formal. Meetings generally are held in rooms in restaurants, and drinks are served during the talk. This is the simplest form of bringing one person’s thoughts and opinions to a larger audience.

A mass meeting is a step up from a meeting. It usually includes a larger number of listeners, music, flags, etc., which contribute to the atmosphere. Where possible, one will avoid tables in a mass meeting. Instead, one prefers halls that can be decorated to elevate the mood and, since there are only chairs, it is easier for the audience to concentrate on the speaker.

The highest level is the ceremonial gathering. Here there is an artistically unified program with music, the entrance and exit of flags, and in the center of it all, a speech. The individual parts join to form a whole. This developed from the ceremonies that National Socialism created in its meetings during the struggle for power, and that have now been adopted in mass meetings and ceremonies.

During the years of struggle, there was great joy in battle and an enthusiasm that did not look to the surroundings, but rather from overflowing hearts and sacrificial devotion created a devotion that made each meeting an experience, despite the modest surroundings and primitive conditions. Now that we possess power, we need exterior decorations and finery to bring alive the feelings of those days once more.

The opposite of this form of rhetoric is the talk and the lecture. A mass meeting intends to be an experience, whereas the talk transmits knowledge, directing itself to the mind of the hearer. It wants to teach, to say something new, to educate. Its purposes are in the realm of the understanding.

The meeting is different in every regard. The attendee of a mass meeting would be disappointed by a scientific lecture, no matter how elevated and educational, because he came to the meeting with other expectations. Being taught goes against his wish to be motivated, to be swept along. We see here two kinds of speaking: the talk, which above all aims at the mind, and the meeting speech, which reaches the heart. In the talk what one says is primary, whereas in the speech it is above all a matter of how one says it. The audience of a meeting or mass meeting does not want to be taught (at least not in an obvious way), but rather motivated. Our language proves it. We say that listeners were “captivated” by a speaker, that the speaker “held them in his spell,” that his “gripping” speech had “suggestive” power.

A lecturer presents his hearers with things new to them, or illuminates them from new angles, whereas the speaker has the task of saying that which the audience feels, but is unable itself to say in clear and proper form. The words of a lecturer can be stolen, in a book, for example. A speaker cannot be plagiarized. His greatest triumph is when his thoughts and words are repeated by his hearers who have made his words their own, because they think that they are expressing their own thoughts in using the words of the speaker.

A lecturer stands behind his words, in the shadow of his thoughts, so to speak, but for the speaker the word is the means through which he expresses the power of his personality and gives it force. The speaker becomes for many listeners the incarenation of the idea that he represents. For many hearers, the thought of the idea is bound to the thought of him who presented the idea, who with the force of his personality overcame the internal resistance of his hearers.

All of this makes it clear that the outward aspects of a meeting, its surroundings, the way in which a speech is given, are not minor matters that one can do without, but rather necessary preconditions if a meeting is to fulfill its purposes, if all the effort that went into it is not to be in vain.

Now and again, one still encounters the completely wrong idea that since National Socialism has taken power, meetings and speeches no longer have the same significance as they did when we were fighting for power. He who as a result wants to reduce the number of meetings, or take less care in holding them, thereby proves that he has never understood the nature of the National Socialist movement. Just as a religion or a church can never stop preaching and explaining the faith in a thousand ways from the pulpit, no more can National Socialism surrender the direct and powerful effect of the speech, which ever and again strengthens the faith of the movement and provides new power for the never-ending struggle. Ever so many newspapers, magazines, and books can at most only make this enormously important task easier!

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