The German politician Joseph Paul Goebbels (1897-1945) directed the extensive system of propaganda in Nazi Germany.
Joseph Goebbels was born on Oct. 29, 1897, in the Rhenish textile city of Rheydt, the son of a pious Catholic bookkeeper of modest means. With the support of stipends granted by Catholic organizations, the young Goebbels attended the university and earned a doctorate in literature in 1922.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts as writer, journalist, and speaker, Goebbels joined the National Socialist organization in northern Germany under Gregor Strasser in 1924 and edited various publications of this group from 1924 to 1926. In the late summer of 1925 Goebbels first met Hitler, was immediately enamored with the Führer, and broke with Strasser in November 1926 to go to Berlin as Gauleiter (district leader) upon Hitler's request. Here he founded and edited the party weekly, Der Angriff (The Attack). He took over the propaganda machine of the party in 1928 and became minister of popular enlightenment and propaganda with Hitler's rise to power in 1933.
From this position Goebbels built a machinery of thought control, which not only served as an effective support for the Nazi regime and later the war effort, but also actively limited and shaped all forms of artistic and intellectual expression to conform to the ideals of National Socialism and, most particularly, racist anti-Semitism. This involved the control of the press through censorship and removal of Jewish and non-Nazi editors and the establishment of government-sponsored radio stations, newspapers, and magazines. Jewish artists, musicians, writers, and even natural scientists—many of Germany's ablest men and women—were removed and often sent to concentration camps. Works by Jewish composers and writers were burned and outlawed. "Decadent" modern art was replaced by a Nazi standard of pseudoromantic, sentimental art. Education on all levels was similarly controlled.
Mass rallies, ever-present loudspeaker systems, and the mass production and distribution of "people's radios" ensured wide dissemination of Hitler's demagogic appeals to the nation. Goebbels, who had an unusually appealing speaking voice, increasingly became the Führer's channel of communication with the population. Most notorious was Goebbels's speech in August 1944 in the Sports Palace of Berlin, in which he fanatically called for total war.
His fanaticism lasted to the end. In 1945 Goebbels called for the destruction of the German people since they had not been able to win victory. He stayed with Hitler even after Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler had sought contacts with the Allies. Goebbels killed himself and his entire family in Berlin on May 1, 1945, only hours after Hitler's suicide.
Further Reading on Joseph Paul Goebbels
Both sets of Goebbels's diaries are available in English: Louis P. Lochner, ed. and trans., The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-43 (1948), and Helmut Heiber, ed., The Early Goebbels Diaries, 1925-26, translated by Oliver Watson (1962). Of Goebbels's books, only his early diary-memoir My Part in Germany's Fight (trans. 1940) is readily available in English. The most extensive biography of Goebbels in English, Ernest K. Bramstedt, Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda, 1925-1945 (1965), is also a brilliant study of the totalitarian propaganda machine. A shorter, more biographical study by journalist-historians Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, Dr. Goebbels: His Life and Death (1960), is perhaps more accessible and exciting for the general reader. The older biographies—Rudolf Semmler, Goebbels: The Man next to Hitler (1947); Curt Riess, Joseph Goebbels (1948); and Erich Ebermayer and Hans-Otto Meissner, Evil Genius: The Story of Joseph Goebbels (trans. 1953)—are less scholarly but still useful and interesting.
Additional Biography Sources
Goebbels, Joseph, The Goebbels diaries, 1939-1941, London: H. Hamilton, 1982.
Goebbels, Joseph, My part in Germany's fight, New York: H. Fertig, 1979.
Heiber, Helmut, Goebbels, New York: Da Capo Press, 1983, 1972.
Semmler, Rudolf, Goebbels, the man next to Hitler, New York: AMS Press, 1981.