I've seen many exhibitions on the Holocaust, but this was an unusual perspective that has implications for our current political life. What caught my attention were a number of quotes from Mein Kampf.
The exhibition led off with this quote from Hitler on the role of propaganda.
" After my joining the German Workers' Party I immediately took over the management of the propaganda. I considered this section by far the most important."
He then went on to give some guidelines for effective propaganda: "All effective propaganda must limit itself only to a very few points and use them like slogans". Ah, the origin of the sound bite!
My curiosity was piqued. Certainly politicians today make use of these very same principles. As I explored further I stumbled across theses additional quotes from Mein Kampf:
"The function of propaganda is not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for."
"Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth and then set it before masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly."
"As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in our own right has been laid. The masses are then in no position to distinguish where others injustice ends and our own begins."
"It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success."
"The masses are slow moving, and they always require a certain time before they are ready even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses finally remember them."
"When there is a change, it must not alter the content of what the propaganda is driving at, but in the end must always say the same thing. For instance, a slogan must be presented from different angles, but the end of all remarks must always and immutably be the slogan itself. Only in this way can the propaganda have a unified and complete effect."
Now I am fighting the urge to veer into political commentary, but I am certain we can all identify these practices in our political discourse today. Here's a hint -think about how widely the phrase "job killing" is employed as a descriptor.
The Nazis made active use of propaganda and carefully evaluated their audience. Regional Nazi leaders evaluated peoples' response to "the Jewish Question" and calibrated their propaganda accordingly. Many were willing to overlook the anti-Jewish rhetoric. Just as today we often talk about not being one issue voters, many Germans voted on economic issues and accepted racism as part of the bargain.
An organizational chart of the Joseph Goebbel's Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda had divisions for film, music, theater, fine arts, literature, broadcasting and both German and Foreign Press. The free press had been destroyed and all means of communication fell under the sphere of propaganda.
The party also targeted youth and educators as both targets and disseminators of propaganda. They first began with a purge of Jews and those who were politically undesirable. The teachers who remained became active promoters of Hitler's beliefs with 97% belonging to the National Socialists Teachers League. The Hitler youth was essentially a training ground of both future soldiers and citizens willing to support the Third Reich. It grew astronomically. In 1933 there were 50,000 members of the Hitler Youth. Three years later they numbered 5.4 million.
The Nazis also recognized the power of radio and subsidized production of the "People's Receiver" . In 1938 there were 9 million radios serving 50% of German households. Three years later there were 15 million.
So we see a very effective propaganda program, but how did they make the leap to mass murder? For that we must turn to Goebbels who advises us that, "The cleverest trick used in propaganda was to accuse your enemies of doing themselves what you are doing."
What were the Nazis doing? Starting a war with the objective of world domination and ultimately planning to enslave populations such as the Poles who they deemed lesser beings than Aryans. That translated neatly into their strategy of blaming the Jews for starting the war, seeking world domination and the enslavement of the non-Jewish population. They didn't ask Germans to commit murders, only to not interfere, fostering an environment of indifference.
After the war the Allies employed a strategy of de-Nazification. Material containing Nazi propaganda was destroyed. The publishing of Mein Kampf was banned. Street signs and emblems glorifying the Nazis were eliminated. But one thought nagged at me. What about those 5.4 million Hitler Youth raised to glorify and believe in the Nazi party? How did they square those beliefs with the reality of what occurred?
The show is up through February 2, 2014 if you are in Chicago.