Academic journal article The Historian

Nazi Propagandist Joseph Goebbels Looks at the Spanish Civil War

Academic journal article The Historian

Nazi Propagandist Joseph Goebbels Looks at the Spanish Civil War

Article excerpt

The Spanish civil war (1936-1939) has long been considered a stepping stone to World War II.(1) As Spanish Nationalists tested both fascist ideology and new military equipment and techniques, they were greatly aided militarily and through propaganda efforts by German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler, who in turn had a vested interest in furthering the fascist cause and used the conflict for his own purposes. Hitler realized that his intervention would affect German relations with the other great powers, Italy, France, Britain, and the USSR, and the Spanish crisis indeed helped shift the balance of power toward Germany. The conflict began in July 1936, when Spanish General Francisco Franco joined a military uprising against Spain's recently elected leftist Popular Front. Franco quickly became leader of the insurgents, whose coalition of right-wing factions became known as the Nationalists.

As the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister from 1933 to 1945, reveal, Goebbels was deeply preoccupied almost to the point of obsession with the Spanish civil war. Because the bulk of these diaries were captured in manuscript form by the Soviets after World War II, they were not available to scholars for a number of years. After 1970, the Soviets slowly released microfilms of the documents, but Goebbels's crabbed writing style further delayed publication. While the diaries for 1924-25 and 1939-41 have been available in English translation for decades, the diaries for the period under study, 1936 to 1939, only became generally available in 1987, well after most histories of the Spanish civil war were written. Although Goebbels consciously wrote for posterity and sometimes attempted to enhance his reputation through revisions, he is generally regarded as having been truthful in factual details. As complete and annotated editions of the diaries are published, they will continue to be an important source for scholars of this period.(2)

Goebbels makes clear that Spain occupied Hitler's thoughts, as well as his own, more than has hitherto been realized. From the outbreak of the war until its end in March 1939, Goebbels commented frequently on Spain, often quoting Hitler's views. In particular, between 17 July and the end of 1936, the diaries contain more than 70 entries on Spanish events.

In return for his assistance to Franco, Hitler gained raw materials as he rearmed in preparation for possible war, and Spain became a training ground for Nazi army, navy, and air forces. The war in Spain also deflected attention from Hitler's actions in such weaker countries as Austria and Czechoslovakia as world attention focused on the Spanish conflict, in which French leftists, Soviets, Italians, and Germans all fought on Spanish soil. Finally, it provided a propaganda forum from which Hitler and Goebbels attacked the worldwide threat they perceived in communism.(3)

Following World War I, Spain experienced a time of great social and radical changes in government, including the 1920s dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera and the fall of Alfonso XIII in 1931. The Popular Front, which was victorious in the February 1936 national elections, was a loose electoral alliance comprising republicans, Socialists, and Communists. Anarcho-syndicalists, who actually favored rule through labor unions rather than parliament, also voted for the Popular Front as an alternative to the conservatives. The Popular Front had been established in 1935 with support from the Comintern (the Third Communist International), an organization founded in Moscow in 1919 to increase communist influence worldwide. While Franco received immediate military aid from Germany and Italy, the Popular Front Loyalists, so called because they were loyal to the Republican constitution of 1931, obtained supplies unofficially from the French leftists and from Moscow.

Since 1933, Goebbels had been propagandizing the National Socialist idea abroad, and Hitler's mission as the "savior" of European civilization from the threat of Bolshevism, in countries like France, England, and Spain. …

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