Joseph Goebbels: An Examination of Hitler’s Chief Strategist
Editors Note: I want to be very clear from the onset. This article in no way, shape or form is intending to offer any sympathies or justification for the horrific and evil acts the Nazis perpetrated. At CWC and especially myself, I deplore racism and discrimination of all forms. In addition, this site was created to help end all kinds of racism through out the world. This article is simply exploring how an infamous and evil man came to be. If any part of this article offends anyone, I offer my apologies as it is not intended too. The purpose of this article is to make sure we never let such evil rise again. My condolences to the millions of Jewish people through out the world who had descendants in the Nazi concentration camps and for the millions upon millions of people who were murdered at the hands of these evil and horrific people. I would encourage those who visit our site to consider making a donation to the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum and to take time time to visit the many memorials in several U.S. cities, to honor the 6 million Jews who were killed and ponder how such evil could have occurred.
By Jack Kelly
When examining European history, it is almost an impossible task to view this history without looking at Nazi Germany. Many historians and academics have given an array of opinions and viewpoints on how and why the Nazi’s came to power. It is easy to simply view the Nazi’s as evil, almost devil like creatures who once walked the Earth and ruled with such a ruthless force that history has made it easy for the world, Justifiably so, to despise the Nazi’s. But there is something even more fascinating to examine and try, at the very least, to understand. I find the most compelling aspects of the Nazi’s brutal rule, is not simply the viciousness of the regime or there role of government, but the men who not only worked in the Nazi party and government, but more specifically, the men who helped shape and cultivate this message.
One aspect of the Nazi’s that is sometimes a shock to modern, everyday people, is the fact that the Nazi’s were elected into power; The Reichstag, which at the time was Germany’s elected parliament. It is easy to look at information such as this and cast just as wide a net on the German people. Essentially, stating that the German people themselves are just as much to blame as the Nazi’s. I have found this statement to have some fact attributed to it, but it is far more complicated and would require a thorough analysis in it’s own right to come up with a conclusive opinion.
Instead, I will focus my research and attention to one of the Nazi’s party strategists, Joseph Goebbels. I found Joseph Goebbels to be a complicated, misguided, and at times, a brilliant man. In some ways, I found him to be no different than some of the political strategist of today. People such as Karl Rove, for example, use many of the same tactics Goebbels’ implemented to cultivate the Nazi message. Although, brilliant politically and certainly useful to Adolf Hitler, Goebbels seemed to struggle his whole life with many insecurities that he had as a boy.
Many interesting elements of his youth, yet not surprising, seem to “drive” Goebbels during his reign as the chief Minister of Nazi propaganda. He was disliked or at least not fully trusted by other high level Nazis, which oddly, he seemed not to care. Also, it is clearly obvious that Goebbels had a high sense of “patriotism” and was a perfect personality fit for the Fascist movement that was spreading through Europe at the time the Nazis were coming to power. His admiration of veterans developed during the First World War and consequently, helped fuel his nationalistic and glorious view of war. This fact is useful and imperative during the early days of “selling” the Nazi agenda to the German people. Moreover, his days in college helped me understand how someone such as Goebbels could convince or alter the opinions of millions of Germans into believing that the Nazi way was not only the best for Germany, but almost a spiritual cause for it’s people.
By the end of this piece, my hope is to give you a clear, open-minded opinion of one history’s most infamous men. Not an opinion that is simple or broad but an opinion that can separate the man from the evils of the Nazi regime and how we may learn to avoid people like him in the future. I would like to show how a seemingly normal boy could grow up and help shape one of the most infamous and brutal governments in history.
Paul Joseph Goebbels was born on October 29th, 1897, in Rheydt., an industrial town in Rhineland with a population of about 30,000. The most important aspect about his early years is the extreme isolation that is attached to Goebbels. One of the more fascinating things about him is that he is a complete loner, despised by kids his own age and adults as well. It is also worth noting that Goebbels seemed to relish this aspect. One could almost conclude that this isolation and antagonism from his peers and adults alike helped shape him during his years as propaganda minister for the Nazis. This assumption, although plausibly valid, cannot explain to the finite detail why he became the infamous Joseph Goebbels. In addition, Goebbels was not only mocked as a child, other Nazis also mocked him as well. Goebbels apathy towards others existed within him for his entire life. For example, Gregory Strasser, who for many years was second to Hitler, went so far as to say that Goebbels had Jewish blood in his veins.
So it is difficult to simply assume that Goebbels became whom he was because of being “picked on” or bullied. At the age of seven, he had perhaps one of the more profound things that could ever happen to a young boy, or girl for that matter. He fell sick with osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone marrow) that forced surgery on his left thigh. As a result, his left leg grew shorter than his right one and caused a noticeable limp for the rest of his life. It is easy for me to imagine how his physical appearance helped shape a negative opinion of him. For Instance, even in today’s society, a public figure such as Goebbels would be increasingly mocked for his appearance, not only by political enemies, but also by friendly associates.
One of the major personality traits that Goebbels seems to posses as Nazi Propaganda Minister can be intractably linked with his physical injury or deformity. The basic fact that this injury happened so early in life seems to create, internally and externally, a drive to prove not only others of his capabilities but also towards himself. His mother had this to say about young Joseph Goebbels, “Since he was physically inferior he had to prove to others, as well as to himself, that he was more intelligent: he jumped at the chance to make sport of them, to criticize them, to scorn them” It is clear early, even in his mothers eyes, who he adored, that Goebbels was constantly at war with himself and others. In one sense, he is perfect for the political world of character assignations and messaging. But one of the negative aspects of having a withdrawn and self -doubting personality is at times; you will doubt your own words and actions. Thus making you vulnerable, of verbally attacking a country, a political opponent or simply a neighborhood thug.
We see the negative aspects of this personality when Geobbles is writing in his diaries reacting to a negative speech given by U.S. President Roosevelt. On March 17th, 1941, Goebbels writes “yesterday: Roosevelt has made a blustering, shameless speech attacking us. A lackey of the Jews! I have him attacked unmercifully by the press and radio””. We see from this rant in his personal diaries that Goebbels is personally offended by the speech, a clear link to his childhood insecurities in regards to others. So the motivation that his injury gave him as a young boy to prove others he was more intelligent than them, thus driving him to great success in propaganda politics for the Nazis, is also the same weakness which will help him make foolish, self loathing decisions based on his own inner insecurities.
His reaction to Roosevelt’s negative speech of Germany clearly amplifies that for all his assets to Hitler, this is an area where reluctance to seek advice, may have hurt Germany. After Goebbels writes in his diaries, he then has certain journalists, who are tied to the American press, arrested as spies, further fueling Roosevelt’s angst towards Germany, which I would argue, was strategically foolish. Although the U.S. eventually entered the War because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Goebbels should have, even if for posterity reasons, made positive overtures towards the U.S.
Even though Goebbels believed in the value of the spiritual aspect of Nazism as a propaganda weapon or tool, he harbored no beliefs of his own. As we have seen in other areas of his early life, Goebbels was cynical of all things. This was especially true in his non-belief of a higher order or a god. His mother had always secretly hoped that his study in school, brought on by the assistance of a scholarship from a catholic priest would help, but it did not. Goebbels would at times replace god or a higher order with German nationalism. In fact, the only thing outside of his mother, which seemed to spark a positive response from Goebbels, was the interest of Germany.
Goebbels undying “belief” in the state of Germany, made his propaganda rhetoric to ordinary German people, very authentic. When I am able to understand his passion for Germany, almost his god, it is then easier for me to conceive in his and other Nazis absolute belief in the German state as something special and divine and therefore the only people who are truly righteous. When you consider all of this material blending in, with the nationalistic fervor spreading through Europe, it becomes very clear how ordinary Germans believed in the Nazis. Goebbels mother once stated, “ I always hoped he would believe in my catholic God; but he simply believed in Germany”.
When Goebbels first attended University, World War 1 broke out. At this point in the war, the German front had succeeded in many victories. During this time, it is safe to say that the Joseph Goebbels of infamy is born. “Patriotism” became common throughout Germany, but it was explicitly apparent in the town of Rheydt, where Goebbels attended school. When young men, even of today are swept away in a massive movement of war, it is easy to become patriotic. But for someone like Goebbels, who at the very least was looking for camaraderie or fellowship, the war had an immense effect on him. His teachers celebrated patriotism and spoke of war heroes with language that commanded the ultimate respect and loyalty of all Germans. With all of the early detachment that Goebbels had always displayed, the War provided an opportunity to finally show himself and everyone else, that he was apart of and worthy of the ultimate praise.
Unfortunately for Goebbels, and maybe the rest of the world as well, especially the Jewish people, this is also the same time that Goebbels receives an almost vindication of his worthlessness and a stark reminder of his physical limitations. When war broke out, most of his classmates immediately go to the military recruitment center to try and enlist. Goebbles is immediately turned away based upon his physical conditions. He hurried home and isolated in his room. This particular coping mechanism is something Goebbbles will continue to engage in his whole life. Something interesting to consider about this whole sequence of events is that Goebbles had to have known he would be turned down for enlistment.
He seems to be an almost “glutton for punishment”, who thrives off the negative energy of others that he perceives to be directed at him. It almost gives the impression that Goebbels is seeking out condemnation in order to prove something he already believes about himself. Again, this trait is effective but also negative. Its effeteness and his ability to politically spin can be seen later on, when at the University, he blames the injury on a “casualty of the War”. This is the point in Goebbels life that we are starting to see his natural political skills being used. He is starting to use a negative aspect of his life and turn it into a political positive by invoking two aspects. First, his insecurities can be momentarily cast aside in the eyes of a, presumably, fellow German. Second, he is engaging in the nationalistic spirit of Germany and comfortably using this language and planting the seed in others, that Germans that fought in the War are to be glorified.
We can almost start to see that Goebbels is using his political skill as an affront to his actual feelings about himself. Goebbels seems to use this new found political skill as a sort of self-esteem lifting exercise. Similar to when he was a child and he would try and “out-wit” other kids with his intelligence. This is why he might have been leaning towards a political career. If Goebbels knew his superior intellect over others, especially being able to manipulate current or historical events was a legitimate talent that would bring him prestige, its possible he would be drawn to it. Moreover, when you combine his love for Germany and his ability to speak in such glowing terms about the country and its self-importance, the Nazi party and specifically Hitler, were a perfect fit for him.
In Hitler, Goebbels sees a type of god and seemingly transitions from the belief in Germany as his savior, to quote his mother from earlier and attaché this emotional void to Hitler. He seems to go from believing, first in the state, Germany and now the state, is only possible in Hitler. Again, we are reminded of his personal weakness from childhood, his feeling of not belonging and upon meeting Hitler, he has found what he has always been looking for. On October 14th, 1925 he writes in his diary “ I just finished reading Hitler’s book. Am most enthusiastic. Who is this man? Half a plebian, half God? Christ or John?’.
This is powerful insight into Goebbels affections with Hitler and how he has been completely drawn into the ideology of one of the most deranged leaders of all time. As we have already noticed, Goebbels, already had the nationalistic seed planted in him during his early years in school and Hitler, who was essentially preaching the same ideology, only more defined and precise, offered him the salvation that was missing in his life. In Hitler, Joseph Goebbels could finally have faith and believe in a cause or something greater than himself. This would be a logical conclusion to how Goebbels must have felt, because unlike other top level Nazis who tried to escape Germany, he killed himself with the Furor.
It is widely assumed by some that Joseph Goebbels had always detested the Jews and that his nationalistic angst and editorial writings had been positioned either, indirectly or directly, at the Jews as being the main source of problems for Germany. One of the more interesting facts I was able to find out about Goebbels is that his early writings and some of his more personal beliefs were more antagonistic towards the more affluent and not specific against the Jews. Moreover, some of his early teachers who he developed admiration for were actually Jewish In light of this information it is very difficult to say with any degree of certainty, if he actually had a true hatred for the Jews. It is clear; he detested his early poverty and would later have his biographer write a fictional account of his ancestry.
One almost has to wonder if his hatred for the Jews was something that simply evolved from his love of Hitler and in turn, as he had previously did with his leg injury fabrication story, “spun” it into propaganda because of his ultimate belief in Hitler. Given some of the facts that I have been able to observe, it is certainly plausible that his hatred for the Jews was essentially a learned behavior or emotion. Although, I could find nothing conclusive that would convince anyone, including myself that Goebbels was not anti-Semitic, as we are led to believe, on January 26th, 1939 he does write something very intriguing in his diary. He states “Dead Tired, but work without ceasing. The elimination of Jewish influence in the Reich Chamber of Culture continues. But now considerable financial difficulties are apparent. There are times we must stop and think if the Jew cannot be apart of Germany. The Fuhrer could never agree, but he must know about our financial problems. I cannot find suitable replacements for such things as finance”.
This avenue is imperative to be explored because it helps shape the personality of this man and how talented but yet vulnerable he appears to be. Almost every aspect of his life is rooted in self-doubt and a particular emotional void that is not filled by anyone women, including his wives, or other associates. The only human beings to ever have such effect on Goebbels are his mother, Hitler and Richard Flisges. Flisges was an old veteran of the first War. He had a profound affect on Goebbels, but not as powerful as Hitler. Flisges actually had Goebbels studying Karl Marx and had written several early writings in populist policies and ideas. This knowledge can at least can add substance to the argument, that for all his talent, Goebbels at times could almost mimic the actions of an impressionable teenager, who could easily be swayed, if the person trying to sway him filled his emotional void. If that can at least be a cause for debate then it is certainly plausible that he might have not really hated the Jews.
Goebbels constant quest for approval did not stop once he had power. As Hitler and the Nazis attained ultimate authority over Germany and Goebbels became the Minister of Propaganda, he would wield his influence all over Germany. It is well known that Goebbels controlled the papers of Germany and used radio and print as his ultimate tool in delivering propaganda about the war and also to spread the filth about the Jews. But the personal relationships he had with these individuals who actually worked in areas of film that give me another fascinating glimpse into the Ministers inner personal turmoil. Even in power, Goebbels still had many characteristics of doubt that had always shaped his life. For example, during the Nazi occupation of Germany, there were certain popular actors and actresses’ who were either married to Jews or dating them. Surprisingly, Goebbels in his role as minister would grant many of them leniency, except one.
A popular actor by the name of Joachim Gottschalk, had been married to a Jewish girl. He was an idol to millions of German girls, and this particular fact infuriated Goebbels. He told Gottschalk that he would send his wife and child to Poland if he did not divorce her. He refused and they eventually committed suicide together, ala Romeo and Juliet. This is another example of a man who is not simply acting based on hatred for a particular group, but almost a unified hatred and distrust of everyone. During his reign as minister, he was able to be flexible with certain actors who were not a threat to his internal hatred towards himself. As soon as it became clear to him that Gottschalk had the affection of millions of German women, he essentially pulled the “Jew” card from his pocket and eliminated this threat.
In conclusion, I would like to be clear that I am not trying to invoke a sense of sympathy for a man who participated in one of the most murderous and deranged governmental acts in history. I am simply trying to separate the man, Joseph Goebbels, from the pure evils of the Nazi regime and try and convey a realistic look at this person’s life. As I researched the Minister, I found many interesting aspects of his life that before writing this column I had assumed, rather correctly, that a sense of nationalism “drove” people such as Goebbels into the Nazi party and this nationalism, was consistent throughout Europe, also combined with inflation, helped create the perfect storm against the Jews in Germany. But after reading and writing about Goebbels I might have to alter my opinion.
Men such as Goebbels exist in all parts of our society. This is a man that never dealt with the psychological issues that troubled him as a youth and his personal sense of inferiority was an indirect result of his ultimate collaboration in murder with Hitler. Ultimately, we must study and learn from people such as Goebbels and the environments in which they exist, and do everything in our power as citizens and leaders to make sure something like the Nazi regime in Germany could never exist again. In the Beginning of this article I had mentioned Karl Rove, to try and make a comparison to Goebbels. It is interesting to remember that propaganda, with 9/11 and nationalism as its catalyst played a major role in convincing the American people that the war for Iraq was a good thing for America. I hope that by continuing to research and dissect the men of history behind the propaganda, such as Goebbels, we may be able to stop such atrocious acts in the future.
Otherwise, we will continually let history repeat like a 12-hour clock with catastrophic consequences!
Sources and recommended books to read below:
Irving, John Cawdell. Mastermind of the Third Reich. London: Focal Point, 1997
Reuth, Ralf George. Goebbels: The Life of Joseph Goebbels, the Mephistophelean Genius of Nazi Propaganda. London: Constable and Robinson, 1995
Riess, Curt. Joseph Goebbels Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, INC., 1948
Taylor Fred. ,The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41 Great Britain: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1982
Joseph Goebbels.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 14 Apr. 2009
 Karl Rove- who was former U.S President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, as well as an advisor for the National Republican Party
 Curt Riess, Joseph Goebbels ( Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, INC., 1948) pg.1-2
 ibid pg.23
 Fred Taylor, The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41 (Great Britain: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1982) pg. 269
 Ries, Goebbels pg. 46
 ibid pg. 38
 ibid pg.31
 Ries, Goebbels, pg. 49
 ibid pg. 61
 Ries, Goebbels, pg. 194
 Ralf Georg Reuth, The Life of Joseph Goebbels, the Mephistophelean Genius of Nazi Propaganda (London: Constable and Robinson, 1995) pg. 131
“Joseph Goebbels.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 14 Apr. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/236986/Joseph-Goebbels>.
 Taylor, Diaries pg.7
 Riess, Goebbels pg 24
 ibid pg. 286