Film Used For Propaganda Purposes In Nazi Germany History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Good propaganda is able to instill ideas from the originator into their audience while ‘great’ propaganda, as done by Nazi Germany, beside been able to achieve that, is able to cause a desired action from its audience. It is a tool that appeared harmless which has the potential of a massive destruction as we can see from the Holocaust. Film is able to disguise the propaganda purpose in the form of entertainment. As we have observed, this subtle style of film was Joseph Goebbels’ favorite variation. During the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler ‘cleverly’ appointed Goebbels as the head of Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Hitler and Goebbels saw the potential of film for propaganda purpose even though both of them have different preferred style of bringing their propaganda message to the public; Hitler preferred overt propaganda while Goebbels preferred to use entertainment to disguise his propaganda message.
To use film for the propaganda purposes in the Third Reich, Nazi had to seize control of the film industry. Before Nazi came to power, its members had already infiltrate the film industry of Germany. Alfred Hugenberg, who later became the Minister of Economics in Hitler’s new cabinet, “bought the largest and most prestigious German film company, UFA (Universum-Film-Aktiengesellschaft)” (David Welch, 2001) in 1927. Much power was also given to Goebbels as the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. “The rules about preliminary inspections of film-plots became so strict that no film could go into production until its outline had been submitted to Goebbels in standardized form (thirty-four nineteen-syllable lines per page of typescript)”. (Richard Grunberger, 1971). Reichsfilmkammer was also created to bring together the film industry and film-maker under the Nazi’s control. This way, the film industry was centralized and easily control by the Nazi government. The Nazi is able to select or ban film that they deem suitable for the public. The Nazi was also able to instruct the film-maker to make the film for them.
Film had aid Hitler in gaining the support of the public and consolidated his position as the Fuhrer. Using Goebbels’ style of subtle film, Hitler was not shown in the movie but rather using historic figures and creates a parallel between Hitler and them. Examples of such films are Der Grosse Konig (1942) and Die Entlassung (1942). The film showed similarities between Hitler with Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismarck respectively. The similarities could include Hitler’s virtues and circumstances that Hitler was going through. Der Grosse Konig “portrayed Frederick as the courageous military leader who, against the advice of his generals, insists on fighting the Austrians at Leuthen where he wins the battle. Once again, this film emphasizes the radical elements of Nazi ideology in which the consequences of the Führer’s decisions are either victory or ruination.” (David Welch, 2001). By showing the situation that Frederick the Great had met resistance from his generals to carry out his plan, the public can relate that Hitler could be facing the same scenario. Thus to achieve victory, everyone should follow Hitler’s lead with absolute trust in him. It was trying to convince the public that Hitler been a great leader like Frederick the Great and will lead Germany to success. From the film, the moral was the gain victory they have to fully trust their leader. Thus, implying that the citizen to put all their trust in Hitler so that he will be able to lead the country to prosperity.
Besides establishing Hitler’s reputation, film could also be use to target the Third Reich’s enemies like Soviet Union and British. These were done by putting these people in negative light and dehumanize them. Examples of such films are G.P.U. (1942) and Ohm Kruger (1941). Bolsheviks were considered subhuman in Nazi’s ideology thus G.P.U. was filmed to reinforced the negative image of Bolsheviks in the public’s mind. Before G.P.U. was released, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact in 1939. The pact only lasted till 22 June 1941, when German launched an invasion on Soviet Union. “Interviewed by Filmwelt while making the film, Ritter outlined the basic propaganda message that was to be disseminated: ‘That the German Armed Forces had destroyed the terror organization of the G.P.U. which had been established by Jewish-Bolshevik “criminals” intent on planting the vile seeds of Bolshevik revolution throughout the world.” Combined with the already condemnation of the Jews in Germany, Bolshevik was seen as detestable to be collaborating with the Jew. The film also showed scene whereby the “alien beliefs and behaviour of the G.P.U., who are prepared even to murder their own comrades.” (David Welch, 2001). Thus it justified Germany’s invasion of Soviet Union despite the existence of a non-aggression pact as the Bolshevik was dehumanized to the state whereby they even kill their own comrades. Ohm Kruger was mainly used to depict British’s violent colonization and inhumane treatment of the enslaved people. “They feed rotten meat to the Boer women and children in the giant concentration camps they have invented in South Africa, and bayonet the prisoners without regard to age or sex; the viewer is told that 26,000 women and children were murdered. (The unbelievable gall of blaming the invention of concentration camps on the British-whether true or not showed Goebbels at the height of his cynicism.)”(David Stewart Hull, 1969). From this we can see, the film was trying to dehumanize the British and placing them in a very negative image. The burning of farm in the movie could be seen as parallel with the bombing of Germany by British Royal Air Force (RAF). Thus the film ignited the anger in the people were suffering from of the bombing. This will motivate the German to destroy the RAF so to end their suffering. The setting up of concentration camp could also convey the message that it was actually the British who started the concentration camp thus it will not be seen as irrational for the Nazi to set up their concentration camp.
The most devastating effect of the Nazi’s reign will have to be their Final Solution whereby Holocaust was carried out and led to the death of several millions of Jew. It is atrocious how did anyone allowed and got instigated by one man, Hitler to carry out such inhumane act of nearly eliminating a race. The influence of film had produced significant influence on the Germans for such event to happen. Combined with the already negative impression of Jews, for causing the signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, the exploitation of wealth of the public because of greed and considered a subhuman race, films like Jud Suss (1940) and Der ewige Jude (1940) fan the flame of hatred towards the Jews. In the opening of the film Jud Suss, the film was introduced with “the events portrayed in this film are based on historical fact” and even “before the film was released the German public were being informed that the script was the result of ‘an exhaustive study of the Württemberg state archives’. (David Welch, 2001). Ironically, the film had actually intentionally switched the plot around from Feuchtwanger’s 1925 novel, Jud Suss. In the novel, the Jew was oppressed by the German Duke. It was done to create a public animosity towards the Jews. Instead in film, Süss Oppenheimer, a Jew, “abducts the beautiful Dorothea Sturm, daughter of the chief minister Sturm, and brutally rapes her while her fiancé, who is planning a revolt against Süss, is tortured in a cellar.” (David Welch, 2001). This enraged the German, who was watched the film, as an Aryan woman was raped by a despicable Jew who is considered a subhuman in Third Reich. On top of it, he was corrupted and exploited the wealth of the Germans. Thus by showing the disgusting side of a Jew as actually based on ‘historical fact’, it justified the Final Solution. Although some of the German might have felt the Final Solution was too harsh, they still allowed it to happen.
In conclusion, we can see that as film is not always portraying the truth. It could be use to portray distorted fact and be misunderstood by the public for an actual fact. Due to the easily accessibility of film by the public, it was able to achieve its propaganda purpose; The propaganda messages were easily convey to the mass public with many Germans exposing to Nazi’s propaganda ‘willingly’. However, without the public’s desire to watch film, the effect of film’s propaganda purpose would not be as effective as we seen in the Third Reich despite the great film produced by the Nazi. As during war and time of crisis, films were sought after by the public as a form of escapism to allow them to indulge in a fantasy, away from the suffering. Thus the Nazi’s skilfully make use of film to achieve their propaganda purpose.
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