|“||The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.||„|
|~ Joseph Goebbels, on using propaganda to manipulate the masses.|
Paul Joseph Goebbels (October 29th, 1897 - May 1st, 1945) was the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 - he was one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, becoming known for his zealous speeches and Anti-Semitism. He was the chief architect of the Kristallnacht pogrom against the German Jews, which is widely considered to be the beginning of the Final Solution, leading towards the tragedy of the Holocaust.
Paul Joseph Goebbels was born on October 29, 1897 in Rheydt, German Empire, to Fritz and Katharina Maria Goebbels. He suffered from osteomyelitis, a condition which affects the bone marrow. As he developed this at the age of seven the disease affected his growth. As an adult he stood at just 5 foot 4 inches (roughly 163cm) and had one leg which was far shorter than the other. He had to wear a leg brace for most of his life, and this caused him to be at the centre of ridicule throughout his schooldays, but whilst attending university in Heidelberg he told fellow students that he had been injured in battle, despite the fact he had been turned down for military service. Or he may have had a club foot instead of osteomyelitis (sources vary). Goebbels married Magda Quandt in 1931 and they had 6 children: Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Holdine, Hedwig and Heidrun, who they killed with cyanide in 1945 before taking their own lives. Magda also had a surviving son from a previous marriage, Harald Quandt, who died in 1967. A photo of the family is in the gallery below.
In the last months of the war, Goebbels’ speeches and articles took on an increasingly apocalyptic tone and by the beginning of 1945, with the Soviets on the Oder and the western Allies crossing the Rhine, Goebbels could no longer disguise the fact that defeat was inevitable.
He knew what that would mean for himself: "For us," he had written in 1943, "we have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes."
In his diaries, he expressed the belief that German diplomacy should find a way to exploit the emerging tensions between Joseph Stalin and the West, but he proclaimed foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, whom Hitler would not abandon, incapable of such a feat. When other Nazi leaders urged Hitler to leave Berlin and establish a new center of resistance in the National Redoubt in Bavaria, Goebbels opposed this, arguing for a last stand in the ruins of the Reich capital.
By this time, Goebbels had gained the position he had wanted so long – at the side of Hitler, albeit only because of his subservience to Martin Bormann, who was the Führer's de facto deputy.
Hermann Göring was utterly discredited, though Hitler refused to dismiss him until April 25th. Heinrich Himmler, whose appointment as commander of Army Group Vistula had led to disaster on the Oder, was also in disgrace, and Hitler rightly suspected that he was secretly trying to negotiate with the western Allies. Only Goebbels and Bormann remained totally loyal to Hitler. Goebbels knew how to play on Hitler's fantasies, encouraging him to see the hand of providence in the death of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12th, 1945.
On April 22nd, largely as a result of Goebbels' influence, Hitler announced that he would not leave Berlin, but would stay and fight, and if necessary die, in defence of the capital.
Unlike many other leading Nazis at this juncture, Goebbels proved to have strong convictions, moving himself and his family into the Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery building in central Berlin. He told Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss that he would not entertain the idea of either surrender or escape: "I was the Reich Minister of Propaganda and led the fiercest activity against the Soviet Union, for which they would never pardon me," Voss quoted him as saying. "He couldn't escape also because he was Berlin's Defence Commissioner and he considered it would be disgraceful for him to abandon his post," Voss added.
In his last will and testament, Hitler named no successor as Führer or leader of the Nazi Party. Instead, Hitler appointed Goebbels Reich Chancellor; Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was at Flensburg near the Danish border, Reich President; and Martin Bormann, Hitler's long-time chief of staff, Party Minister. Goebbels knew that this was an empty title. Even if he was willing and able to escape Berlin and reach the north, it was unlikely that Dönitz, whose only concern was to negotiate a settlement with the western Allies that would save Germany from Soviet occupation, would want such a notorious figure as Goebbels heading his government.
As it was, Goebbels had no intention of trying to escape. Voss later recounted: "When Goebbels learned that Hitler had committed suicide, he was very depressed and said: 'It is a great pity that such a man is not with us any longer. But there is nothing to be done. For us, everything is lost now and the only way left for us is the one which Hitler chose. I shall follow his example'."
On April 30th, with the Soviets advancing to within a few hundred meters of the bunker, Hitler dictated his last will and testament. Goebbels was one of four witnesses. Not long after completing it, Hitler shot himself. Of Hitler's death, Goebbels commented: "The heart of Germany has ceased to beat. The Führer is dead."
On May 1st, within hours of Hitler's suicide on April 30th, Goebbels completed his sole official act as Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). He dictated a letter and ordered German General Hans Krebs, under a white flag, to meet with General Vasily Chuikov and to deliver his letter. Chuikov, as commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, commanded the Soviet forces in central Berlin. Goebbels' letter informed Chuikov of Hitler's death and requested a ceasefire, hinting that the establishment of a National Socialist government hostile to Western plutocracy would be beneficial to the Soviet Union, as the betrayal of Himmler and Göring indicated that otherwise anti-Soviet National Socialist elements might align themselves with the West. When this was rejected, Goebbels decided that further efforts were futile. Shortly afterward he dictated a postscript to Hitler's testament:
"The Führer has given orders for me, in case of a breakdown of defense of the Capital of the Reich, to leave Berlin and to participate as a leading member in a government appointed by him. For the first time in my life, I must categorically refuse to obey a command of the Führer. My wife and my children agree with this refusal. In any other case, I would feel myself ... a dishonorable renegade and vile scoundrel for my entire further life, who would lose the esteem of himself along with the esteem of his people, both of which would have to form the requirement for further duty of my person in designing the future of the German Nation and the German Reich."
Later on May 1st, Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss saw Goebbels for the last time: "Before the breakout from the bunker began, about ten generals and officers, including myself, went down individually to Goebbels's shelter to say goodbye. While saying goodbye I asked Goebbels to join us. But he replied: 'The captain must not leave his sinking ship. I have thought about it all and decided to stay here. I have nowhere to go because with little children I will not be able to make it'."
At 8 pm on the evening of May 1st, Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to kill his six children by injecting them with morphine and then, when they were unconscious, crushing an ampule of cyanide in each of their mouths.
According to Kunz's testimony, he gave the children morphine injections but it was Magda Goebbels and Stumpfegger, Hitler's personal doctor, who then administered the cyanide. Shortly afterward, Goebbels and his wife went up to the garden of the Chancellery, where they killed themselves. The details of their suicides are uncertain.
- In The Book Thief, there is a cat called Little Goebbels, which was named after this man.
- Goebbels was born and raised in a Catholic household by his parents, Friedrich Goebbels and Katharina Odenhausen. Later in life Joseph turned his back on Roman Catholicism and claimed his religion to be Nazism.
- Goebbels was Chancellor of Germany for just one day as he committed suicide on May 1st, 1945; the day after Hitler. He was succeeded by Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk.
- His favorite film was reportedly Gone with the Wind (1939).
- Despite having a Ph.D. in literature and philosophy, Goebbels struggled to get a job. Much of his own writing wasn't accepted by publishers including his autobiographical novel, "Michael". He also failed as a playwright as both his scripts were turned down by producers.
- Goebbels was one of the few certified intellectuals working in the upper echelons of the Nazi Party, which was actually vehemently anti-intellectual. Goebbels wrote his doctoral thesis on 19th century romantic drama. Even his enemies admitted that he was certainly a very intelligent man. The problem of course was that the Nazi Party he was attached was more fond of killing intellectuals than working for them, so he had a constant love-hate relationship with himself (combined with the fact that as a man with a limp, he was not close to the Aryan physical ideal). After completing his doctorate in 1921, Goebbels worked as a journalist.
- Unlike Hitler's propaganda style of impassioned speeches that appeared to bare his soul, Goebbels' style was calculated and biting sarcasm. Also unlike Hitler, on multiple occasions Goebbels admitted that he didn't believe in his own propaganda. Hitler honestly believed that there was a vast global Jewish conspiracy out to destroy Germany. Goebbels knew there wasn't, but nonetheless he'd make vicious propaganda speeches to cynically manipulate the German people into a malleable state of hyper-paranoia, just to achieve his political goals.
- Goebbels and Hermann Göring hated each other.
- Joseph Goebbels once demanded that Adolf Hitler be expelled from the Nazi Party, many years before Hitler's rise to power, when Goebbels was far more concerned with opposing capitalism than people of Jewish descent. Repeatedly urging the socialists and Nazis to unite against the capitalists, he was horrified by Hitler's antagonization of socialism as a "Jewish creation" and his assertion that the Soviet Union should be destroyed. At the time, Hitler was still jailed and had finished work on Mein Kampf. Goebbels demanded that the jailed Hitler "be expelled from the Nazi Party". However, after his release, Hitler granted Goebbels a private audience, offering to overlook Goebbels's previous support for socialism if he would accept Hitler's leadership. From this point on, Goebbels was completely loyal to Hitler.