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Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community - Journal Review

Here's another ancient unpublished article.

There are probably hundreds of books and journals on Nazi propaganda, but at least one that is brief and worth mentioning is the one by David Welch, "Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community", published in the Journal of Contemporary History, 2004. The purpose of this paper is to study how did the Nazi attempted to influence public opinion by means of propaganda, to analyse the key themes of propaganda and to observe whether or not there is a gap between the image of society in Nazi propaganda and social reality. All this were done by analysing the responses from two major sections of the community – the industrial workers and German youth.
One of the key themes of Nazi propaganda was to influence the public opinion through propaganda. According to David Welch, he wrote that the concept of national or people’s community (Volksgemeinschaft) was a key element in the ‘revolutionary’ aim of the Nazi regime and illustrates the remarkably ambitious nature of its propaganda.
Propaganda, according to the Nazi is about confirming public opinion rather than converting them. In order for propaganda to be effective, it must preach to those who are already converted, to some extent. This has proved to be very instrumental in mobilising support to the Nazi regime. To ensure that the Nazi’s propaganda aim is successful, Goebbels constantly gauges the public mood. The SD or the Nazi Secret Police played an instrumental role in providing a detailed report about the mood of the people. Besides the SD, the Gestapo, the Party, local government authorities and the judiciary were all engaged in assessing public opinion and their morale.
As soon as the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda was established, Goebbels immediately outlined its task to win the hearts and minds of the Germans. There are four key themes associated with the Nazi propaganda. First, is the appeal to national unity based upon the Volksgemeinschaft or people’s community. Secondly, the need for racial purity; third, increasing hatred towards the Jews and the Bolsheviks and lastly, to propagate the idea of Fuhrerprinzip or charismatic leadership.
The concept of Volksgemeinschaft is basically to put the community before individual. This was done through slogans like, “One People! One Reich! One Fuhrer!” It became a vehicle for younger generation which had grown frustrated with the establishment that had failed to solve Germany’s national problems. To ensure that the Nazi’s racial propaganda would be well accepted by the masses, they created a notion saying that the Germans belong to a ‘pure’ race. This sense of belonging can be traced back to the ‘Spirit of August 1914’, when the German Kaiser Wilhelm said, “I recognise no parties, but only Germans”. This was also used by the Nazi in unifying the people.
The Machtergreifung represents the start of a revolution in accordance with the Nazi ideology. According to Welch; there are three essential elements of the Nazi revolution. Firstly is the utilisation of the legal authority of the state and its machinery – the civil service, police and the armed forces. Second element is the widespread terror and intimidation that allowed Nazi to seize property at will and Propaganda is the third element. Propaganda was instrumental in cementing the ‘national community’ together. The mass media would be used to spread government activities and provide total support for the Nazi state.
In order to sell the concept of Volksgemeinschaft, The Nazis used abstract emotions like pride and patriotism. Many slogans, like ‘Work Ennobles’ were created and an idealised image of the worker was invoked in attempt to raise his status. In the numerous publicity films and posters, Adolf Hitler was portrayed as the ‘first worker of the nation’. Public holidays were introduced to appease the industrial workers.  Although the Nazi propaganda was seen to be successful in providing total support for the regime, the late Tim Mason thinks otherwise. He argued that the German working class were largely opposed to the Nazi regime and its ideology.
The Nazi propaganda had a dual role to play. They persuade the population by saying that a short term sacrifice is needed for future prosperity. Two new organizations were introduced; they were ‘Beauty of Labour’ and ‘Strength through joy’. Both were an attempt to improve the status and working conditions as a substitute for wage increases and their demand for consumable goods. Another important campaign by the Nazi in allowing the workers to participate in wide range of sporting events and luxury pursuits was the ‘Save five Marks a week and get your own cars’ (Volkswagen). Workers responded excitedly and paid millions of marks but received no cars.
Overall, to the question of whether there is a gap between the image of society in Nazi propaganda and social reality; there was indeed a gap between social reality and social myth in the Third Reich era. It was suggested that the propaganda of the ‘national community’ failed to break down objective class and social division. To conclude, Welch argues that the concept of Volksgemeinschaft represents a utopian vision and a ‘belonging’ to the German community.

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