Nazi use of Propaganda in Mass Media

Our Secret by Susan Griffin presents different ideas as she explores the nature of violence during the Nazi rule. She relates the story of a woman, Laura and her accounts along with her train of thought on what might have happened at the time. A pertinent question from the stories she presents is whether the Nazi used propaganda in newspapers, radio, and film? How did the Nazi government carry out such massive acts of cruelty under the public eye without protests from citizens? Is it possible that the Nazi covered up the cruelty of their actions by ensuring that the media depicted a specific image of the nation and its dealings? There is a possibility that the violence of the Nazi government towards the Jews may have been misconstrued by spreading propaganda in media channels so as to continue the injustice without interference from the world.

The first example of propaganda is seen when Laura talks about a film that was made in 1945 and released in Germany. Terezin concentration camp was the center of the film and it showed the wonderful lives the Jews lived. Children rode the train and were warmly received as they alighted, others swam in a pool racing each other to see who’d win and men and women drank coffee at a café. Yet, history tells us a different story about Jewish concentration camps during that time. The camps led to the death of thousands of Jews due to the cruel conditions they lived in. Laura shares her first encounter with the camp as her father drove around the edge of a village in Germany. There were no survivors there and all she saw were bones, hair, great piles of shoes and she smelt a terrible odor. She only learned years later about the camp and what happened there. Inmates from the Dora concentration camp, for example, were killed using machine guns without any intervention. They were shot as they stood at the entrance of a former mining shaft which was turned into a secret missiles factory. The few Jews who survived the ordeals from such camps share horrifying stories that don’t quite align with the film The Fuhrer Presents the Jews with a City[1]. Perhaps the Nazis used propaganda to assure world organizations such as International Red Cross and other government representatives that everything was proper under their rule. Paul Moore explains how the public was reassured that the concentration camps were not an extreme measure through newspaper headlines that also spread fear[2]. The public was programmed to see the need for the camps and this would help the Nazi government get away with such acts of massive deaths.

In 1936, part of the Gestapo is rounded up to deal with homosexuality and abortion. Himmler gives a public speech stating that the homosexuals will be drowned in bogs and that it was simply a way of exterminating their unnatural existence, not punishing them. Laura then shares a story she almost witnessed in Maine. A young man was attacked by other boys one evening and they kicked him to the ground before throwing him over a bridge and into the stream. He could not swim and so he drowned. The next day his photo was printed in the newspaper and the story said he had gone to live with his lover in New England but that love had failed and he died as he tried to piece his life together. The newspaper painted a picture that completely differed from the actual events where homosexuals were even rounded up by the government and imprisoned in special barracks. The Nazi shared a story of peace and restoration of natural order. Hans Speier explains that the Nazi used political propaganda to coerce people[3]. Its power was not in executing the physical violence themselves but in the people who started killing and stopped talking. Perhaps then it was the Nazi propaganda spread through the media that killed the young boy in Maine through the citizens. The propaganda was most effective when citizens believed in mass media presentations and acted on what they thought was right. The government would then have its work cut out without resorting to violence by officers. Such incidences as the drowning of the boy in Maine would then be viewed as natural occurrences and the government would continuously reinforce this through the media.

After the order about the unnatural ways of homosexuality, Laura explains how the 1950’s were filled with conformity. She mentions how her grandfather would watch the television each day as witnesses were interrogated about their loyalty to the flag[4]. Concurrently, there were strict definitions about who a woman or a man was running for the audience. This education was spread even in school settings where she explains she learned about sewing and cooking and other societal mechanisms that defined being a woman. The system was so inbuilt that Susan was disappointed in the news that her sister was a homosexual. She had a strange need to conform to society as she already felt that she was different because her parents were divorced. The citizens at that time seem to have had a certain need to belong to a defined type of society. A section of the Gestapo was rounding up homosexuals such as Heinz who was a university student yet the public remained complacent adhering to the rules set by the government. Citizens might have become so unattached to each other that such occurrences were acceptable. Or maybe everyday mass media was used to instill the notion that homosexuality was unnatural and should be exterminated. The citizens who were loyal to their country and flag were then expected to conform to the changes as they were meant to make the country better. Or perhaps conformity was the only means of survival and the story only proves the power the Nazi government had in using mass media to spread propaganda.

David Welch explains further how the Nazi revolution was achieved over time[5]. Essentially, it comprised of three elements: utilization of the state’s legal authority to legitimize control, widespread use of terror and coercion and Nazi propaganda in mass media. Nazism was built on the themes of national unity, racial purity, hatred of enemies and charismatic leadership. These themes were built over a century and coupled with Nazi propaganda German people were inevitably mobilized for war. Children were also included in the mobilization through early education practices. Heinrich was a perfect example as from the early age of ten he was told his childhood was over and he started his first diary. He was required to write his diary in a certain manner and his father even wrote his first entry for him as a demonstration. His thoughts were streamlined even in the books he read and he was led to despise Jews even in cases where there was no evidence of their wrongdoing. Conversely, despite these practices, no resentment or anger was expressed in his journal. The education practices despite being humiliating and painful were meant to benefit children. Parents all over Germany such as Gebhard who was a headmaster believed that these practices were made as an effort to save their child’s soul. The child eventually adopts the image in the journal as their own and believes in it. Yet, seeing as it is impossible to lock something in the heart, the child would be in a sense elevated by that impossibility. Dr. Schreber, the doctor who suggested that, had a son with disabling schizophrenia and another who committed suicide and still his mechanism was introduced in school systems. The possibility of Nazis using propaganda to assure parents that the method was effective and that their children were in safe hands is not so farfetched. The public had to be comforted by the system somehow for them to allow its existence and what better way would the Nazi government use to reach the vast majority than mass media.




Griffin, Susan. “Our Secret.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (2015): 310-359.

Moore, Paul. “‘And What Concentration Camps Those Were!’: Foreign Concentration Camps in Nazi Propaganda, 1933-9.” Journal of Contemporary History 45, no. 3 (2010): 649-74.

Speier, Hans. “Nazi Propaganda And Its Decline.” Social Research 10, no. 3 (1943): 358-77.

Welch, David. “Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community.” Journal of Contemporary History 39, no. 2 (2004): 213-38.




[1] Susan Griffin, “Our Secret,” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (2015): 311

[2] Paul Moore, “‘And What Concentration Camps Those Were!’: Foreign Concentration Camps in Nazi Propaganda, 1933-9,” Journal of Contemporary History 45, no. 3 (2010): 650.

[3] Hans Speier, “Nazi Propaganda And Its Decline,” Social Research 10, no. 3 (1943): 359

[4] Susan Griffin, “Our Secret,” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers (2015): 317

[5] David Welch, “Nazi Propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community,” Journal of Contemporary History 39, no. 2 (2004): 219

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