The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism, 1933-1945

The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism, 1933-1945

The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism, 1933-1945

The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism, 1933-1945


The Nazis saw film as a major vehicle for both indoctrination and escapist pacification of the "masses"; in fact, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels tried to create a German counter-Hollywood. This highly acclaimed study, by one of Germany's leading commentators and authors on cultural policy, analyses the pictorial and spoken language of the various film genres in the Third Reich, including news reels, documentaries, feature and "cultural" films. It shows how a powerful and sinister propaganda machine emerged which, by deploying a wide range of psychological techniques, exerted a strong fascination on the masses. These methods were so successful that they continue to serve as models for totalitarian regimes to this day.


In comparison with the other arts, film has a particularly forceful and lasting psychological and propagandistic impact because of its effect not on the intellect, but principally on the emotions and the visual sense. [Film] does not aim to influence the views of an elite coterie of art experts. Rather, it seeks to seize the attention of the broad masses. As a result, film can exercise an influence on society that is more enduring than that achieved by church or school or, for that matter, literature, the press or radio. Hence, for reasons that lie outside the realm of art, it would be negligent and reckless (and not in the interest of the arts themselves) for a responsible government to relinquish its leadership role in this important area.

Fritz Hippler

Film was doubtless the most influential among the mass media in the Third Reich. It was also the means of artistic communication that Hitler used to greatest effect in bringing his political ideas to a mass audience. Compared to the emotional persuasiveness of moving pictures, radio and the press were less successful in conveying and spreading the message of the new ideology. Within the context of Goebbels's propaganda strategy, however, they were indispensable factors in any concerted and universal campaign of indoctrination, particularly in light of the fact that film lacked the up-to-dateness of radio and the daily newspaper.

Before Hitler came to power, during the so-called time of struggle (Kampfzeit), and before the Nazis had subordinated the medium of film to their own purposes, they made clever use of radio to deliver the messages of Dr. Goebbels, the ranting reporter, and Hitler, the neurotic rhetorician. What distinguished their delivery from the generally tedious speeches of democratic politicians was their forcefulness, vision, and mesmerizing emotionalism. The responsiveness to their demagogic language among broad segments of the population was an indication of the degree of social alienation prevailing at the time. Against the backdrop of the growing social problems and identity crises plaguing the Weimar republic, the aggressiveness of the Nazis was a totally new phenomenon. It was a sign of a strong hand at the helm, of an alternative to the uncontrolled proliferation of political parties, and of a renewed awareness of German power.

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