Dr Paul Josef Goebbels (1897—1945), also known as the Poison Dwarf (Hall, 2011), is generally held responsible for the favourable image of the Nazi National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) regime in Germany. As an acknowledged leader in German communications, Goebbels’ roles as founding editor and central politician in the Nazi Party trail his legacy as a pioneer of war-time media and intellect of his time (James, 2007: 230).
Goebbels was born in Rheydt, Germany, on the 29th of October, 1897 into a Catholic middle-class family (Simkin, 2000). At age seven he suffered from a permanent impediment with his right foot, assumed to be a result of club foot or polio (Irving, 1996: 19). This disorder would follow Goebbels throughout his life earning him titles such as the “limping Nazi” and the “poison dwarf” (Fest, 1970: 89). The feeling of physical inferiority combined with the rejection from the German army in World War I turned Goebbels into a sour and malevolent man (Trueman, 2000a). In spite of the comments from classmates, and later fellow Nazis, Goebbels developed a quick tongue and excelled in his studies, attending several universities before accomplishing a doctorate in philosophy from Heidelberg University in 1921 (Irving, 1996: 23). When aspiring for several years to become a published author, and then eventually completing a semi-autobiographical novel, Michael (1926), about a patriotic soldier (Fest, 1970: 88), Goebbels worked on and off in the entertainment industry shadows as a journalist (Trueman, 2000a). Even though he was frequently turned down by Jewish publishers and editors, Goebbels could never have been called a true journalist.
Academic, Fredrick Knight states in his work that a journalist provides an “ample page full of the romance of real like, equally with the facts of real life” (Knight, 1998: 2). Goebbels’ knowledge and love of German culture was clouded by his evident loathing of Jews, and did not present an equal-sided piece of journalism. Clearly Goebbels was not a true advocate for the prevailing qualities of the Fourth Estate. However, Goebbels’ ambitions prevailed and lead him into a fatal involvement with German politics and the public sphere of Germany (Thacker, 2009: 1).
At the age of 27, Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1924, and was promoted to business manager of the Ruhr district by 1925 (Holocaust Research, 2007). Amongst the many of his acquaintances was the political activist and leading Nazi party member of the period, George Strasser. As stated by Ian Kershaw, Strasser was believed to be Goebbels’ most influential figure as his confidant during the debut of his career in journalism the following year (1999: 270).
Founding newspapers such as Der Nationalsozialistischen Briefe (The National Socialists’ Letters), and editing weekly periodicals such as the Völkische Freiheit (National Freedom) in 1925 lead to a wide recognition (Holocaust Research, 2007). Goebbels started mastering his techniques of communications on the German population. What once were topics of civil discussion became shadows of condescension and defining characteristics for Goebbels publishing’s throughout the changing public sphere of Germany. The lack of modern convergence of technologies seen in the 21st century did not stop Goebbels from sharing his proletarian and anti-capitalist outlook in the early 1900s. The National Freedom protested highly of the Protestant Christians and denounced Judaism, a defining feature and connotation within all his works (Bronder, 1975: 200). It developed and spread through roots of “German-religious worldview communities” in a controlling and repetitive wave, catching Adolf Hitler’s attention and leaving no breath for a democratic voice or second thought (Bronder, 1975: 220). It was at this point of time Goebbels earned his nickname the “Poison Dwarf” for his sharp tongue and cunning propaganda in the Nazi Party (Trueman, 2000a).
By 1927, Goebbels dismissed the calling of a journalist as a “watch-dog of truths” as his new-found relationship with Hitler grew (Sternberg, 2012). When discussing his most known newspaper, Der Angriff! (The Attack!), Goebbels noted, “it intentionally assumed what it wanted to persuade its readers of, and then drew its conclusions relentlessly” (Goebbels, 1924-1945: 200). The Attack! was first published on the 4th of July, appearing as a once a week release as Goebbels built his Nazi reputation before becoming a daily newspaper in 1930 (Bytwerk, 1998).
When Hitler successfully rose to power in 1933, Goebbels was announced the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. All of Goebbels’ publishing’s content aimed propaganda against the ever-existent enemies of the state, non-Germans and Jews, continuing its connotations, if not more so, of anti-Semitism (Bronder, 1975: 228). Instead of avouching a “day by day, and week by week experience of the whole world’s doings for the amusement and the guidance of each individual” (Knight, 1998: 2), The Attack! was for one individual as a nation:
I [Hitler] believe that when a propaganda ministry is created, all matters affecting propaganda, news, and culture within [Germany] and within the occupied areas must be sub-ordinated to it (Doob, 1950: 424).
Alan McKee notes the concerns for media in general gradually becoming “spectacular” and “fragmented” due to the many forms available (2005: 4). For Goebbels, his mediums of mass communication were spectacular in their many forms as journals, forums, and common entertainment shorts on projectors. Clive James writes that Goebbels had favoured the idea of politics as a “spectacular drama”, as seen through playwrights in his university days (2007: 280). However, despite the convergence of industries the public culture was not fragmented. Goebbels worked on his campaigns for Hitler and the Nazi Party throughout his career in order to keep the one message contained in Germany. He captured the series of interrelated trends from the developing globalisation in the early 1900s, such as the new technological advances and methods of telecommunications (Flew, 2007: 67). Goebbels drew from the world’s public sphere all he needed to confine the people of Germany, thereby protecting the Nazi Party views from opposition. Goebbels shunned true globalisation by calling the Nazi regime a global understanding. In this ill-representation of a Fourth Estate, Goebbels had achieved censorship on a national scale as Minister and was then second in rank only to Hitler, all achievable through the combined government and army funds readily available.
Consequently, intelligence resources became just as available, however questionable their retainment may have been. Information was gathered from spies, monitored telephone conversations as well as paid informers, by intruding private letters and correspondence, and from few statements in the mass media that were not completely controlled by the Ministry (Doob, 1950). By doing so, Goebbels’ propaganda evoked the interest of an audience and was in turn released back to the Germans, converged as an attention-getting communications medium (Macasev, 2005).
Randall Bytwerk comments that propaganda was to be integrated into the culture of a people, not restricted to particular media or situations (2004: 43). Other technologies of the time, such as radio and newsreels were further examples of how democracy and the true voices of Germans were stripped from them. Hitler would justify this claim in his personal diaries, Mein Kampf – “the masses are in no position to distinguish where foreign injustice ends and our own begins” (1925: 107). Radio and press were at Goebbels’ disposal from 1933 throughout World War II (Shirer, 1960: 189), and he depended upon the German officials he appointed, not a freely governed body of journalists, as well as face-to-face contacts with individual German civilians or soldiers (Doob, 1950). However, after losing the airborne battles over London, no campaign could prevent the end.
Hitler was murdered by Red Army soldiers from Russia on the 30th of April, 1945, making Goebbels Chancellor of Germany for a day (Trueman, 2000b). From his emergence as a dynamic addition to the Nazi Party in 1924, Goebbels succeeded in blurring the boundaries of media systems into one conglomeration of constant propaganda (Doob, 1950). Goebbels had thrived in the regulatory power media and communications gave him over the public sphere. At the beginning of the end, Goebbels himself still marvelled at his total control over Germany’s public sphere, and how he re-shaped the Fourth Estate:
“Did you notice? They reacted to the smallest nuance and applauded at just the right moments. It was the politically best-trained audience you can find in Germany” (Goebbels, 1943).