The top echelons of the National Socialist party were by no means bereft of literary talent. Adolf Hitler, after all, wrote two books, and Alfred Rosenberg was an indefatigable pamphleteer and the author of an anti-Semitic and anti-Christian treatise called The Myth of The Twentieth Century that was tedious but widely read. While imprisoned in Spandau after the war, Albert Speer kept a diary and later wrote an account of the inner workings of the Third Reich as he had seen them, and after the verdicts were announced at Nuremberg Joachim von Ribbentrop was heard to lament that now he wouldn’t be able to finish his “beautiful memoirs.” But far and away the most productive of Nazi writers was Joseph Goebbels, who even as an adolescent was experimenting with poetry, plays, and auto-biographical novels, who started writing for newspapers as early as 1922, a habit that persisted, and who in 1924 began the diary that he continued faithfully until his death.
Written in the first years by hand, three or four times a week, in excerpts that rarely exceeded a page and a half, after 1941 this was dictated daily, a chore that generally took an hour’s time and sometimes yielded twenty-five or thirty pages of type-script. As a whole, the enterprise represents a major investment of time and care. Even allowing for a degree of narcissism in the first volumes and a certain amount of self-delusion throughout, most often in its accounts of Goebbels’s relations with Hitler, it is clearly the most important document left by the Nazi movement, the richest source of information about the party’s internal feuds and debates and crises, as well as, of course, about its author’s life, character, and ideas.
For a long time the diary was available to historians only in very restricted form. In 1934 Goebbels himself published an edited version of the excerpts for the years 1932 and 1933 under the title Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei,1 but during the takeover of Berlin in 1945 most of the rest of the diary fell into Soviet hands, where it was inaccessible to scholarship for over a quarter of a century. Some parts of the diary for the war years reached the United States and formed the basis of Louis Lochner’s edition of the Tagebucher for 1942–1943, published three years after the war.2 Other accidental discoveries resulted in editions of the diaries for 1925 and 1926 and for 1945,3 but taken altogether these publications amounted to a relatively small portion of the complete work. In 1969, however, the government of the GDR, for reasons that are not quite clear, received from the Soviet Union films of a large part of the still missing diaries, and in 1972 it became amenable to the idea of having these published in the West. Commercial publication proving inexpedient, the West German Federal Archives and the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich undertook this task, and since 1987, when the work of transcription and verification was completed, the Institute has published in four stout volumes the parts of the handwritten diaries that have been recovered, and the typescript parts, now in process of publication, will comprise six or more additional ones. The editors have designated the contents of these as “fragments,” but they calculate that they include at least two thirds, and probably three quarters, of the whole of Goebbels’s handwritten diary, and rather more than that of the typescript volumes.4
This tremendous achievement is significantly altering the historical picture of the diary’s author. Early writing about Goebbels was based on very modest documentation, a circumstance that lent itself to an unfortunate reductionism in characterization. Thus we had portraits of Goebbels as the Loki in Hitler’s Wagnerian ensemble or the Machiavellian par excellence or the pure technician of propaganda with no ideas of his own, while analyses of his politics and thought were scarce. It is only during these last few years that more thorough and diversified studies have become possible. Good examples are the books of Ralf Georg Reuth and Ulrich Höver—the first a self-styled chronicle of Goebbels’s life, which is particularly enlightening on his youth and political development, and the second a study of the genesis and consistency of his political ideas—while Russel Lemmons’s book on Der Angriff demonstrates how the political history of the period can be illuminated by combining the study of Goebbels’s diaries with that of his newspaper writing.
Joseph Goebbels was born in 1897 in Rheydt, an industrial town between Dusseldorf and Cologne. His father, an ardent Catholic, was a clerk in a local factory who was advanced to bookkeeper and, during the Great War, to plant manager. He had great expectations for his sons. Joseph, who was the youngest, had the misfortune shortly after the turn of the century of contracting osteomyelitis and, although the family exhausted the resources of local medicine, he was left with a lame right leg that developed into a club foot. This threw a shadow over his life and was the main source of his later misanthropy, but he compensated for his inability to take part in athletic activities or to serve in the army by omnivorous reading, which led his father to encourage him to go to the university and to persist, despite considerable financial difficulty, until he had received his doctoral degree.
This happened in November 1921, not the most propitious time for someone with nothing to commend him to an employer but a dissertation on a long-forgotten nineteenth-century dramatist of the Romantic school. Germany was still traumatized by the defeat of 1918; the newly established Republic was suffering from a dearth of republicans; and the German mark, which had been valued at 4.2 to the dollar in July 1914, was now 190 to the dollar and was plummeting downward with accelerating speed. In the introduction to his dissertation, Goebbels had written of the emptiness of his time and of the simultaneous “fervor and yearning for something nobler and finer than that for which we now live and strive.” Where, he asked, was there “a powerful genius that can lead the way over new billows from the chaos of the times to a new era?”
In a constant state of depression and penury, he held long discussions with his sweetheart, Else Janke, about the preconditions of the “new age,” and in 1923 bundled all of his ideas together in a novel called Michael Voormann: A Man’s Fate in Pages From a Diary. Strongly influenced by literary expressionism, this work, in Höver’s words, expressed
all of the longing of the generation that came home from the war…for absolute values, for timeless humanity and a new meaning to life, all of their turning away from the “bourgeois” and toward the proletariat, their rejection of rationality and objectivity, their penchant for the “daemonic,” for ectasy and delirium, for despair and vitalism, for surrender to feeling and readiness for action.
The work was marked by a repudiation of the kind of party politics characteristic of the Weimar Republic, and an insistence that Europe would “be reconstructed by peoples who will…overcome the mass madness and find their way back to the principle of personality.”5 There was also a first intimation of what became Goebbels’s strongest passion, hatred of the Jews.
Reuth tells us that there was no family reason for this: Goebbels’s father and mother were rather proud of their Jewish friends, who were wealthier and better established than they were. Goebbels himself had hoped to do his doctoral work under the eminent literary critic Friedrich Gundolf, and was disappointed when he could not. His change of attitude seems to have been prompted by his having found a job with the Cologne branch of the Dresdener bank, in January 1923, at the same time that the French invaded the Ruhr, in order to force the payment of reparations, and caused a decided worsening of the inflation. Goebbels somehow concluded that the heartbreaking scenes that he witnessed during his working day and others that he read about in the newspapers were the fault of the Jews. The fact that he himself failed to secure employment with the Jewish publishers Mosse and Ullstein was undoubtedly also a factor. In any case, by 1924, he was as much an anti-Semite as Adolf Hitler, although it is worth noting that, in contrast to Hitler’s emphasis on race, Goebbels hated the Jews because he identified them with capitalism and materialism, which he saw as diseases destroying his country.
Goebbels’s entrance into politics was not long delayed. He had been stirred by Adolf Hitler’s failed putsch in Munich in November 1923 and his subsequent trial and imprisonment in Landsberg. He began to contribute articles to a populist sheet called the Völkische Zeitung, which was read by Hitler’s followers, and in 1924 a friend took him to a great gathering of völkisch and Nazi leaders in Weimar, where he met Erich von Ludendorff and Julius Streicher, the editor of the anti-Semitic paper Der Stürmer, and Gregor Strasser, the leader of the North German Nazis. He was much impressed. He had a feeling, he wrote in his diary, of belonging to “an elite of the honest and true…It is so heart-warming and provides a great sense of security and satisfaction. A sort of grand-scale brotherhood. In the spirit of the Volk…Front-line soldiers. Under the sign of the swastika.” This was the beginning of Goebbels’s political career. He founded a branch of the National Socialist Freedom Movement and in its meetings discovered that he was a gifted speaker. He became editor of the Völkische Zeitung, most of the contents of which he was writing by this time, and on November 8, 1924, devoted a whole issue to Adolf Hitler, whom he hailed as “our helmsman in need, our apostle of truth, our leader to freedom, our fanatic of love, our voice in battle.”
We have no record of Goebbels’s first meeting with Hitler, which probably took place in July 1925, but his reaction after the next two, on November 6 in Braunschweig and again at a Nazi rally in Plauen two weeks later, confirmed all his early predispositions. “This man has everything it takes to be a king,” he wrote. “The born tribune of the people…The coming dictator.” And again, “How I love him!” And to Hitler himself two weeks after Plauen, “Until then you were my Führer. There you became my friend. A friend and master with whom I feel bonded to the very end in a shared idea.”
In all of the contorted feuding and backbiting that went on between the various Nazi and völkisch groups in the years that followed, which Reuth describes in some detail, this remained Goebbels’s position, and, whenever major differences occurred in policy discussions with Hitler, he deferred to “the chief,” as he called him, even if this meant violating pledges to others, like his early associates Gregor and Otto Strasser. For this he was accused at the time, and later in the historical literature, of lack of principle, treachery, and a willingness to sacrifice the basic populism of the völkisch movement to the whims of the dictator. Reuth himself comes very close to adopting this position. It is true that it would never have occurred to Goebbels to resign from the movement because Hitler wouldn’t accept his ideas, as Otto Strasser did, after a discussion of future economic policy, when Hitler said to him, “Do you think I’d be so crazy as to destroy German heavy industry?…They are an elite; they have a right to lead.”6
Goebbels was sometimes appalled by Hitler’s conservative social ideas and the stubbornness with which he clung to the line that political change must take place legally. After Hitler’s speech at the Bamberg party meeting in February 1926, he wrote, “What Hitler was this? A reactionary?”; but he knew that the movement had no chance of success without Hitler and that in time of crisis it was necessary to bend to his will. Höver is persuasive when he argues that such capitulations did not weaken his own private convictions or prevent him from continuing to follow his more radical line, while hoping that in time Hitler would be won over to it. The SA leader Walter Stennes once called Goebbels “the Stalin of the movement, who watches over the purity of the idea,” and after the Second World War Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, one of his cabinet colleagues after 1933, wrote, “Goebbels represented from the beginning the radical wing of the movement. He regretted that National Socialism did not come to power by force.”
Goebbels was already a person of some consequence when he met Hitler. During the election campaign of 1924 his articles had aroused wide attention, and he was gaining a reputation as a popular orator before working class audiences. There is no doubt, Reuth writes, that Hitler “quickly realized that the little man with the limp was…the ideological brains of the Strasser wing and a brilliant propagandist,” and that he was completely loyal. He flattered him, therefore, and marked him out for future preferment, and when the time came to appoint a new Gauleiter in Berlin at the end of 1926 he chose the young Rhinelander.
The problem in the national capital was that the Nazi movement, with only five hundred local members, was completely ineffective in working class politics, which was increasingly dominated by a militant Communist Party, and additionally handicapped by feuding between the party leaders and the local Storm Troops (SA). Goebbels proved to have just the mixture of imagination and ruthlessness to master this situation. At the risk of buying trouble in Munich, the party’s national headquarters, he appeased the SA by yielding to its demand for a voice in determining policy and its preference for taking over the city by violence in the streets. Provocative marches in working-class districts and pitched battles with the Communists were common during Goebbels’s tenure. So was naked anti-Semitism, as in the abusive and libelous campaign against the deputy police commissioner in Berlin, Bernhard Weiss, whom Goebbels nicknamed “Isidor.” In 1931, he also organized a two-hour pogrom on the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s most fashionable avenue.
To support these policies, which in themselves attracted hundreds of new members, Goebbels founded a new newspaper which was called Der Angriff (“The Attack”). He did so out of necessity when the party’s militancy led the police in May 1927 to declare it illegal and to forbid all of its parades, meetings, and other public activities. The party reacted by going underground, some groups disguising themselves as bowling clubs, choral societies, and even Bible study circles; but the movement was severely crippled and its propaganda work and recruiting activities ground to a halt. Goebbels’s plan for a newspaper offered an escape from this situation as well as a structure for keeping the party intact.
Der Angriff was originally an eight-page weekly with a circulation that never exceeded 50,000 until after the Nazi breakthrough in the elections of September 1930. Under Goebbels’s close personal supervision in its early years, it was designed as a Kampfblatt, a highly polemical sheet that concentrated its attacks upon the Communists, the Jews, and the republican “system,” which it described as inert, corrupt, and indifferent to the needs of the working masses. In contrast, it offered the vision of a purified, vigorous, national State under effective leadership. As Russel Lemmons writes in his thoughtful and highly informative book on the paper,
Der Angriff tried to nazify people’s views not only on traditionally political matters—foreign policy, economics and domestic issues—but also within areas not traditionally thought of as being in the realm of politics: the role of women and the raising of children, books, music, and even sports. The Nazi world view had positions on all of these matters…In short, Der Angriff was an attempt by the NSDAP to lay the foundation of a future totalitarian society; one in which the Fuhrer and his minions would have the last say on all matters, public and private, and no one would have the information necessary to oppose them.
Unabashed indoctrination was a constant feature of the paper. Goebbels repeatedly used its pages for long articles on the basic tenets of National Socialism, expatiating on the party’s views on nationalism, which he contrasted with “bourgeois patriotism” and defined as dedication to the Volk, and anti-Semitism, which he declared must be an article of faith for all party members, for the Jews must be cast out of Germany in order to eliminate class hatred, which they encouraged by their alien presence. Nor did they deserve any pity, since their crimes made them less than human and hence not subject to Christian charity.
Goebbels also wrote incessantly in Der Angriff and his diary and his speeches about socialism as an essential part of the Nazi ideology, although here his ideas, however strongly felt, were less clearly articulated. To him socialism was an attitude, not a doctrine or a system. Like the Nazi orator whom Peter Drucker once heard telling a rural audience, “we don’t want higher bread prices! we don’t want lower bread prices! we want National Socialist bread prices!”, Goebbels wanted everything and everybody to be brought into one gear and that gear to be populist and revolutionary. This is what he meant by socialism, and it was largely defined by his hatred of the bourgeoisie in both its grand and petty forms. For the transformation of society one could not, he constantly preached, rely upon the bankers and industrialists or upon the braggarts and Hurrapatrioten of the lower middle class, because they were essentially timid and self-centered. The spirit that would create a true Volksgemeinschaft, Goebbels insisted, was to be found in the working men and women of the country. “I believe,” Goebbels wrote in 1926, “in the spirit of sacrifice, the berserker steadfastness of freedom that slumbers in the proletariat and will one day awaken.” To galvanize that revolutionary force behind the National Socialist movement Goebbels regarded as his special duty, both during the Kampfzeit and in the years 1942 to 1945, when he was vainly calling for measures of total war.
Goebbels accompanied his doctrinal sermons with incessant adulation of Hitler. Indeed, this was the most important factor in the creation of the Hitler myth, the invention of the public figure of the Führer as distinct from Hitler the private person, and in making it a force for consensus and national unity, first in the Nazi movement and later in the Third Reich.7 Der Angriff was a major instrument in this campaign, enhancing the Führer’s image by drawings and photographs, essays by writers like Houston Stewart Chamberlain which exalted him as the solution of all of Germany’s problems, and dramatic coverage of the elections of 1930 and the presidential elections of 1932. In the latter, in which Hitler ran against the popular incumbent Field Marshal von Hindenburg, Goebbels coordinated Der Angriff’s coverage with that of other Nazi papers all over the country, and followed a strategy of avoiding direct criticism of Hindenburg while attacking his supporters and giving the impression that they were largely composed of profiteers, Jews, and Social Democrats. In contrast, Hitler, the first German politician to campaign by airplane, was portrayed as the hero bringing truth and salvation from the skies to the common people. Der Angriff thus anticipated Leni Riefenstahl’s opening sequence in The Triumph of the Will, her film of the 1934 party conference, in which, to the swelling music of the overture to Die Meistersinger, Hitler’s plane is seen descending through the clouds above the spires of Nuremburg.
Because of his success in building up party strength in Berlin, Hitler had in April 1930 made Goebbels his propaganda chief for the whole country. This brought the Berlin Gauleiter into the highest rank of the party. It did not, however, relieve his fear that conservative forces in Hitler’s Munich entourage, and party Bonzen anxious to attain office after the long years of struggle—people like Alfred Rosenberg, Hermann Goering, and Gregor Strasser—might succeed in their efforts to persuade Hitler to ingratiate himself with the middle-class parties of the right. (In November 1932 Gregor Strasser actually tried to carry the party into the government of General von Schleicher.) This prospect worried other party members as well, and in April 1931 Goebbels’s former ally, the Berlin SA leader Walter Stennes, attempted a putsch against the political leadership of the party, charging that it had “tainted the ‘revolutionary élan of the SA’ with bourgeois-liberalistic tendencies and ‘severed the vital nerve of a movement that could have been expected to eliminate the social misery of the German people.”‘
In overcoming this crisis, Goebbels as usual stood on Hitler’s side, but he shared Stennes’s fears, which were, indeed, increased when Hitler, in January 1932, addressed the Industry Club of Düsseldorf in a patent attempt to assure big business that a triumphant NSDAP would not hurt their economic interests. To offset the alarm this caused in the party’s left wing, Goebbels increased his efforts to carry National Socialist influence into the factories and trade unions and, by a masterpiece of sustained argument, persuaded an originally reluctant Hitler to run against Hindenburg in the presidential elections of April 1932. This gave him, as we have seen, the chance to make a all-out attack upon the bourgeois parties for their neglect of working-class interests.
After the fall of the Bruening government, it was the hope of both Chancellor Papen and his successor Schleicher that they would be able to win the support of at least part of the Nazi movement. Goebbels became increasingly nervous and wrote in his diary in June 1932, “[We must] sneak away from the compromising company of these bourgeois adolescents. Otherwise we are lost.” His way of doing so was to belabor the Papen and Schleicher governments with all the resources of his propaganda machine and then, in November, in a move calculated to shock middle-class opinion all over the country, to join with the Communists in a violent transit strike in Berlin.
Reuth, who shows that Hitler supported Goebbels’s initiative, is not sure that it was an effective idea, pointing to the subsequent party losses in the November elections. Höver believes that these were offset in the long run by a more positive attitude toward the NSDAP on the part of the working class. It is possible, however, that the most important result of the Nazi-Communist collaboration in Berlin was that it helped to make Hitler chancellor of the Reich at the end of January 1933, for it so alarmed the nationalist right, the bankers, and the army, that they conceived the misbegotten plan to tame Hitler by bringing him to power.
Reuth, who has an understandably low opinion of Goebbels’s character—at one point he says that “he was prepared to commit any wrong,…his fanatical will was based on boundless misanthropy, cynicism, and hatred”—rather grudgingly admits that the propaganda chief’s role in the rise of the party to power was crucial. He writes that
Goebbels’s propaganda…had lent dynamism to this rather placid South German movement. [It] gave breadth to the movement by bridging seemingly unbridgeable differences, by holding together elements that did not belong together. When Goebbels…continued to spout his hate-filled propaganda against the bourgeoisie and the “reactionaries,”…he bound the proletarian-socialist part of the party’s base to himself and ultimately to the “reactionary” Hitler, to whom he had committed himself unconditionally. His actions, which corresponded to his inner conflict, his psychic deformation, deserved credit for keeping the party together when the Bamberg conference, the Stennes putsch, or the Strasser crises might easily have split it in two.
If Goebbels had had his way, the Nazi era would have begun with a violent campaign to exterminate the Communists in revenge for the death of SA Sturmführer Matkowski in a streetfight in Berlin on January 30, 1933, and perhaps, in addition, with the onset of his long-desired elimination of the Jews from the national capital. But Hitler gave him no encouragement, and he had to postpone these gratifications. Still, he had lots to do, for in March 1933 Hindenburg swore him in as Reich minister for popular enlightenment and propaganda, a position that gave him, among other things, responsibility for press, radio, film, and theater. He immediately inaugurated a process of cultural Gleichschaltung, the purpose of which was revealed in a speech to the managers and directors of the nation’s radio stations, in which he shouted, “We make no bones about it: the radio belongs to us, to no one else! And we will place the radio at the service of our idea, and no other idea shall be expressed through it!” For owners of the new cheap radio sets that came to be known as “Goebbels blasters” this meant a steady diet of propaganda that must have made them regret Goebbels’s purge of what he called the “literary types, liberalists, technocrats, money grubbers, and freeloaders” who had once ruled the air waves.
The similar efforts of his Reich Chamber of Culture to correct the sins of the theater and of German art also had depressing effects. In the theater, the masterpieces of the Weimar period were replaced by plays glorifying the movement, comedies of village life, and the more politically innocuous dramas of Goethe and Schiller, until Goebbels himself was forced to admit that “to have only classics on the one hand and harmless trivialities on the other is not good enough for our time.”8 For the sheer awfulness of Nazi painting and sculpture, Goebbels must also bear considerable responsibility. He not only stoutly supported Hitler’s private determination to rid Germany of “degenerate art” and Jewish artists, but contributed to the banality of what was left after this Boeotian proscription. In 1936 Goebbels decided to ban art criticism, on the grounds that it undertook to judge art, which he said was a perversion of the concept of criticism that dated from the time when the Jews dominated the artistic scene. Criticism, he wrote, would be replaced by art reporting which “should not be concerned with values, but should confine itself to description [which] should give the public the right to make up its own mind.”9 This gave license to even the most botched efforts, while at the same time reducing criticism to the identification of approved themes.
In producing films, Goebbels’s achievement was more considerable. He created a film office in July 1933, which was later transformed into a branch of the Chamber of Culture, and had a film section also in the Propaganda Ministry. The nationalization of four major film companies placed the greater part of the market in his hands and enabled him to control the kind of films that reached it. The restraint with which he used this power, however, tells us something about his skill as a propagandist. Goebbels realized that to most people films were a form of escapism, and he acknowledged that this could be useful to the regime. He therefore permitted the film companies to continue to do what they had always done. Between 1933 and 1945 only ninety-six of the 1,097 features made in Germany were initiated by Goebbels’s ministry, and he saw to it that they were of such high quality that they could not be shrugged aside as mere propaganda.10
Goebbels was a formidable womanizer, and the film world opened a wide range of possibilities for indulging in this proclivity. At an early stage he became interested in Leni Riefenstahl—the thought of the potential results of a coupling of these two gigantic egos boggles the imagination—but he queered the pitch by giving her, as Christmas presents, a copy of Mein Kampf bound in red leather and a bronze medallion with his own head in relief, which she found tacky.11 Reuth, who is more interested in this aspect of his subject’s life than Höver, provides a detailed account of the minister’s torrid and highly public affair with the actress Lida Baarova, which became so embarrassing for Goebbels’s wife, Magda Quandt, that she went to Hitler in October 1938 and asked him to intervene. The Führer, who had a deep affection for Magda and her children, interrupted his preoccupation with Czechoslovakia to tell Goebbels that “he wanted to see the marriage preserved ‘for political reasons”‘ and ordered him to break off the affair. Rather sulkily Goebbels complied, which led to a precipitous decline in Baarova’s film career.
A good deal of Goebbels’s energies during the Third Reich were spent on trying to undermine the position of rivals who, he was convinced, were poaching on his preserves. In reality, it was Hitler who was the author of his irritation on this score, for the Führer maintained his own authority by dividing that of his ministers and pitting one against the other. Thus, although Hitler had in 1932 promised to give Goebbels control over popular education, he recanted and gave the Gauleiter of Hanover, Bernhard Rust, responsibility in this field. Similarly, Goebbels’s authority over the press had to be shared with Otto Dietrich, whom Hitler had charged with the ideological oversight and direction of editors, and who had immediate access to the Führer, and with Max Amann, president of the Reich Press Chamber and director of the party publishing house. Even in the field of propaganda, Goebbels was mortified to have to yield control over foreign propaganda to the foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who henceforth stood high on the long list of people he detested.
Goebbels, in fact, never had great influence over the formulation and execution of German policy, and his frequently repeated advice that the time had come for a full-scale campaign against the Jews received no attention until 1938 and then was put off again until 1941. He always had reservations about some of Hitler’s policies and strong opposition to others, the cosseting of German industry, for example, and the general direction of German foreign policy after 1938. He always seems to have feared war, and Ernst von Weizsäcker, the state secretary in the foreign ministry, has written that in September 1938, at the height of the Sudeten crisis, Goebbels told Hitler at a meeting in the Reich Chancellery that the German public was opposed to forcing the issue to the point of hostilities. Yet whenever Hitler had made a decision, the master propagandist used all of his arts not only to sell it to the public but to prove that it was the only possible policy in the circumstances obtaining.
After the war came, and particularly after things began to go badly in 1942, Goebbels was quick to adjust his propaganda to the circumstances. He realized that to play down the Western Allies’ victories in North Africa would serve no useful purpose, whereas admitting their gravity might be used to arouse the Germans to greater defiance. He was the first “spin doctor,” transforming the shattering defeat at Stalingrad into a portent of future victory. Yet he always felt that that would be possible only if the war were conducted differently. It was after Stalingrad that he came to the conclusion that the war in the east must be “waged not only militarily but politically” and that the eastern peoples, whom Hitler continued to describe as “barbarian hordes” should be encouraged to liberate themselves from Soviet control. At the same time, he began agitating for measures of “total war,” in which all of Germany’s human and material resources would be mobilized for an effort conducted with the zeal and willingness to sacrifice that had existed during the earliest years of the Nazi movement.
Hitler vetoed the first of these ideas, while authorizing Goebbels to draft a plan for “total war,” which he did—specifying heavy sacrifices on the part of the richest ten thousand, the elimination of many exemptions from military service, and the raising of half a million men for frontline duty. But Hitler placed responsibility for implementing the plan not in Goebbels’s hands but in those of a committee composed of Heinrich Lammers, secretary of the Reich chancellery, Martin Bormann, and General Keitel. This was a bitter blow to Goebbels, the more so because he realized that no progress would be made under this leadership. It was not until after the attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944 that Goebbels was finally made Reich Plenipotentiary for the Total War Effort, and by then it was too late to retrieve the situation. The Red Army was already approaching Berlin, and Hitler’s death and those of Goebbels and his family in the bunker were only months away.
Goebbels, it might be argued, was the only true National Socialist in the upper ranks of the party, the true believer in the ideas which had brought him to the party in the first place and for which he had fought as Gauleiter in Berlin. In his interesting study of Goebbels’s political ideas. Ulrich Höver points to his affinity with Bolshevism and adds:
What Goebbels fanaticized, and what he fanaticized others with, was not “mobilization” or “propaganda” as an end in itself, but, as in the case of communism, the belief, which was allied with a hatred of the status quo, that he was fighting for a “political religion,” for a “liberation” from “the bonds of capitalism,” for the creation of a “new world” and a “new human being”….He belonged to those revolutionary socialists of the twentieth century who were less interested in the nationalization of banks and factories than in “the socialization of human beings.”
He was also, of course, a monster, who at the end regretted that the party had not committed greater crimes than it had, that Hitler, for example, had not purged his army as thoroughly as Stalin had done, instead of siding with the generals and killing off the leadership of the SA in 1934. He wrote in 1944:
Only in the Jewish question did we pursue such a radical policy. It was correct, and today we are its beneficiaries. The Jews cannot do us any more harm. Even so, before we tackled the Jewish question, people said over and over again that the question could not be solved. One sees that it is possible, if one only has the will. But a bourgeois would naturally not be able to understand that.
March 24, 1994
The English version was My Part in Germany’s Fight (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1935). ↩
The Goebbels Diaries, 1942–1943, edited by Louis P. Lochner (Doubleday, 1948). ↩
Das Tagebuch von Joseph Goebbels, 1925–1926, edited by Helmut Heiber (Stuttgart: DVA, 1960); Tagebucher 1945: Die letzten Aufzeichnungen, with an introduction by Rolf Hochhuth (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1977.) The first of these was published in English by Weidenfeld in 1962 with a foreword by Alan Bullock, and an edition of the second, edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper, by Putnam in 1978. ↩
See Elke Frohlich’s introduction to Die Tagebucher von Joseph Goebbels: Sämtliche Fragmente, edited by Elke Frohlich for the Institut der Zeitgeschichte, Munich, in collaboration with the Bundesarchiv, Part I, Volume I (K. G. Saur, 1987). ↩
I am indebted to Alan E. Steinweis of the University of Nebraska for calling my attention to this passage. Alan E. Steinweis, “Hitler and Historical Greatness,” conference paper from the American Historical Association, meeting in San Francisco, January 6–9, 1994. ↩
Helmut Heiber, Adolf Hitler (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1960), p. 68. ↩
See Ian Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich (Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 1. ↩
Helmut Heiber, Josef Goebbels (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1962), p. 190. ↩
Peter Adam, Art in the Third Reich (Abrams, 1992), p. 69. See also in general Alan E. Steinweis, Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theatre and Visual Arts (University of North Carolina Press, 1993). ↩
The classic book on Nazi movies is Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (Princeton University Press, 1947). See also Leif Furhammer and Folke Isaksson, Politics and Film (New York: Praeger, 1971). ↩
Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir (St. Martin’s, 1993), p. 132. ↩