Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels was born into a strict Catholic, working-class family from Rheydt, in the Rhineland, on October 29, 1897. He was educated at a Roman Catholic school and went on to study history and literature at the University of Heidelberg under Professor Friedrich Gundolf, a Jewish literary historian renowned as a Goethe scholar and a close disciple of the poet Stefan George.
During World War I, Goebbels was rejected from military service on account of a crippled foot he received from polio as a child. This, and his small stature, made him feel inadequate and inferior. He remedied this with his extreme radicalism after joining the Nazi Party in 1922. This is what made him a fantastic propagandist: his extreme inferiority complex and hatred and cynicism of the world. He projected his emotions passionately and impressed his own rage on the people he rallied.
For a short time he could contain his anger through poetry, theater, and arts. He wrote a novel, Michael: ein Deutsches Schicksal in Tagebuchblattern, and learned tricks of the performing arts. However, only entry into the Nazi Party would satiate his hunger to vent upon the world. In 1925, he was made business manager of the Party in the Ruhr district where he fell in with Gregor Strasser, the head of the social-revolutionary North German wing. It was here that he began publishing the Nationalsozialistischen Briefe (NS Letters) for Strasser. In these letters he praised the Soviet Union as a nationalist/socialist ally and called for a reevaluation of all values. The Briefe was inclined toward proletariat and anti-capitalist views.
Goebbels actually called for Adolph Hitler to be expelled from Nazi Party, but his opportunist istincts arose and he switched his views when he saw Hitler's power increasing. As the Third Reich formed, he was rewarded for his shrewd senses by an appointment to Nazi district leader for Berlin-Brandenburg.
Placed at the head of a small, conflict-ridden organization, Goebbels rapidly succeeded in taking control and undermining the supremacy Strasser in northern Germany and his monopoly of the Party press, founding in 1927 his own weekly newspaper, Der Angriff (The Attack). He designed posters, published his own propaganda, staged impressive parades, organized his bodyguards to participate in street battles, beer-hall brawls and shooting affrays as a means to further his political agitation.
Goebbels was now exhibiting the cold calculation and precision rhetoric in playing on the emotions of the masses. The highlight of his manipulative skills came when he made a martyr out of Horst Wessel. While delivering the student/pimp/Storm Trooper's eulogy, Goebbels turned the unsavory character into a patriot, a "comrade of his comrades."
Hitler was impressed. He commissioned Joseph Goebbels to Reich Propaganda Leader from 1929 until 1932, when he was promoted to Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Each time Hitler personally appointed him to the position. Reflecting on his actions, Hitler said of Goebbels,"Dr. Goebbels was gifted with the two things without which the situation in Berlin could not have been mastered: verbal facility and intellect.. . . For Dr. Goebbels, who had not found much in the way of a political organization when he started, had won Berlin in the truest sense of the word." - Adolf Hitler (June 24, 1942).
This quote from Goebbels displays his hatred of the Republic,"We are entering the Reichstag, in order that we may arm ourselves with the weapons of democracy from its arsenal. We shall become Reichstag deputies in order that the Weimar ideology should itself help us to destroy it."
His skills as a public speaker came to full vent with the election of 1932 where he played a crucial role bringing Hitler into the light of center-stage. He was rewarded on March 13, 1933 with the position of Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which gave him total control of the communications media - i.e. radio, press, publishing, cinema and the other arts.
From his new position Goebbels began to influence the people of Germany with his magnificent propaganda campaign. He eliminated Jews and enemies from positions of influence, "cleansed" the arts, and subjected journalism and arts to State control. On May 10, 1933 he staged the great ritual "burning of the books" in Berlin, where the works of Jewish, Marxist and other "subversive" authors were publicly burned in huge bonfires.
Goebbels's hatred of the Jews stemmed from a deep-rooted sense of inferiority; at the same time it was also tactical, based on the need to create a common enemy and to feed popular resentment and to mobilize the masses. For five years Goebbels chafed at the leash as the Nazi regime sought consolidate itself and win international recognition. His opportunity came with the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) pogrom of November 9, 1938, which he orchestrated after kindling the flame with a rousing speech to Party leaders assembled in the Munich Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) for the annual celebration of the Beer-Hall Putsch.
Later, Goebbels was one of the chief secret supporters of the "Final Solution," personally supervising the deportation of Jews from Berlin in 1942 and proposing that Jews along with gypsies should be regarded as "unconditionally exterminable."
Goebbels's anti-Semitism was one factor which brought him closer to Hitler, who respected his political judgement as well as his administrative and propagandist skills. His wife Magda and their six children often sojourned as guests to the Fuhrer's Alpine retreat of Berchtesgaden. In 1938 when Magda tried to divorce him because of his love affairs with beautiful actresses, it was Hitler who intervened to straighten out the situation.
Hitler and Goebbels grew friendlier as the war effort deteriorated. Goebbels never lost his fighting spirit, though. After the Allies insisted on unconditional surrender, Goebbels turned this to advantage, convincing his audience that there was no choice except victory or destruction. In a famous speech on February 18, 1943 in the Berlin Sportpalast, Goebbels created an atmosphere of wild emotion, winning the agreement of his listeners to mobilization for total war. He played well on the German fear of "Asiatic hordes."
It was his quick thinking and decisive action on the afternoon of July 20, 1944, when he isolated the conspirators in the War Ministry with the help of detachments of loyal troops, which saved the Nazi regime. Shortly afterwards he achieved his ambition to be warlord on the domestic front, following his appointment in July 1944 as General Plenipotentiary for Total War.
Goebbels now had the incredible power to maneuver military units. He began campaign strategies and pushed for even more civilian sacrifice. But Germany was already on the verge of collapse and his greatest efforts were in vain. On dismissing his colleagues when he sensed the end was near, he said,"When we depart, let the earth tremble!"
He spent his last days with his family in the Fuhrerbunker under the
Chancellery. Following Hitler's execution, he disregarded Hitler's direct
orders that he succeed as Chancellor.
Instead, on May 1, 1945, he had an
doctor execute his six children by lethal injection and had an SS
orderly shoot him and his wife. With the egocentricism and pathos that
constantly surrounded him he said shortly before his death,"We shall go
down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time, or as the greatest
More on Joseph Goebbels and the Holocaust
|Subscribe to the About.com Holocaust Newsletter electronically here|
Email your input or questions to Tom Saffell at email@example.com
If some reason I fail to respond, feel free to mail the above to alternate email
Georgetown Preparatory School
10900 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
You are visitor number 172297.
Due credit is given to the owners of all multimedia on this page on the Holocaust Links and Resources Page, under the Resources section. This notice serves to recognize the rights of the owners of the material obtained from those sites. Click on any images to be taken to their source.