This is being posted on the 70th anniversary of the Death of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. I’m not going to dissect Goebbels and his life. This is a review of Dr. Goebbels, His Life & Death by Heinrich
The authors size up Goebbels, the subject, in two opening paragraphs:
“Our broadcasts in English are, after all, very effective. However, an aggressive, superior, and insulting tone gets us nowhere. I have often said so to our various departments . You can only get anywhere with the English by talking to them in a friendly and modest way . The English speaker, Lord Haw-Haw, is especially good at biting criticism, but in my mind the time for spicy debate is past… during the third year of a war one must wage it quite differently from the first year… today they want nothing but facts. The more cleverly, therefore, the facts are put together, and the more psychologically and sensitively they are brought before the listening public, the stronger is the effect.”
Dr Joseph Goebbels
“The‘little doctor’ was probably the most intelligent, from a purely brain point of view, of all the Nazi leaders. He never speechified; he always saw and stuck to the point; he was an able debater, and, in private conversation astonishingly fair-minded and reasonable.”
Sir Neville Henderson British Ambassador to Germany, 1937– 1939
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 2-11). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Fraenkel and Manvell produced at the same time two other books, covering the lives of Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering. All three killed themselves rather than face the retribution of outraged civilization. I will post the other two reviews on the appropriate anniversaries.
The authors have given these biographical treatments a depth of research perhaps unique among their peers. Earlier the dust of continental Europe’s most disastrous war had not settled, and critical resources were unavailable. The Soviets overran the headquarters of the Nazi bureaucracy and retained a grip on captured documents for years. Came much later, and death had overtaken key witnesses to the events and the people.
Fraenkel was, himself, a surviver of the Nazi uprising and contributed a wealth of personal contact as well as first-hand knowledge:
Long before we planned to write this book together Heinrich Fraenkel had already collected sufficient facts, stories and unpublished testimonies to make him realise that Goebbels’ life and character would repay much more detailed investigation. He himself escaped from Germany just in time to avoid being arrested on the night of the Reichstag fire, and he subsequently took part in the foundation of the Free German movement in Britain. He also assisted at the independent legal investigations into the causes of the fire which were conducted in Britain by Sir Stafford Cripps and other world-famous lawyers, and he has written a number of books and pamphlets on Germany under the Nazis.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 98-103). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Subsequently Frankel attended the war crimes trials at Nuremberg and interviewed surviving participants in the Nazi government, including German Vice Chancellor (under Hitler) Franz von Papen, early Nazi Parter leader Otto Strasser, head of Goebbels’ radio propaganda ministry Hans Fritzsche, Reich Commissioner for the German Film Industry Max Winckler, President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics under Hitler Hjalmar Schacht, Reich Minister for Economic Affairs Walther Funk and Karl Kaufmann, the Nazi Gauleiter in Hamburg—head of the Nazi Party and government of Hamburg from 1933 until 1945. Fraenkel was also professionally associated with the German film industry, which came under Goebbels’ mechanizations for propaganda purposes.
There’s no way to cover this work about Goebbels without delving into the man. Following the course of his life through Manvell and Fraenkel it’s hard to miss the impression of Goebbels as a self-made intellectual who early in his life learned to manipulate those around him in order to pull himself up from his humble beginnings. Polio partially crippled him, and he even worked this affliction, using his limp to advantage when suitable. His family was of modest means, and his prospects for higher education were dicey. Self-reliance coupled with chicanery got him through:
In spite of his poverty, Goebbels managed in 1917 to enrol for a single term at Bonn University, the first of several universities that he was to attend before he gained his Doctor of Philosophy degree at Heidelberg in 1921 at the age of twenty-four. After his initial term at Bonn, his further education became dependent on receiving a university scholarship from the important Catholic charitable institution, the Albertus Magnus Society. It is in connection with this institution that one of the earliest and most interesting of the Goebbels legends is associated.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 258-261). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
In all between 1917 and 1920 the Albertus Magnus Society lent Goebbels a total of just 964 marks. Had they known the difficulty they were eventually to experience in getting the repayments out of him, they would undoubtedly never have lent him a single mark. They had in the end to resort to legal pressure and they did not achieve a final settlement of the debt until 1930, when Goebbels was already a member of the Reichstag and a notorious anti-Catholic.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 305-308). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
The young Goebbels, like his fellows, eagerly volunteered when Germany entered what was to become World War One, his polio affliction sidelined him and allowed him to pursue his education. His youthful experiences can be seen in parallel to those of his future idol, Adolf Hitler. His lofty aspirations gave him an inflated self worth, and the blunting of his early ambitions shaped his character for later life:
Goebbels, therefore, in company with his friend passed through a phase of nihilism which left a destructive adolescent element in his nature which he never outgrew. In later life he would frequently act with the petulant cruelty of a very young man determined to avenge himself on a society that seemed to him insufficiently perfect for his taste. He thought of himself as a mature revolutionary. Only too often he seems to be avenging the humiliations of the early days when his numerous articles for the Berliner Tageblatt were being rejected by its Jewish editor, Theodor Wolff, and Richard Flisges was pressing him to read the works of the Jewish writers, Marx and Rathenau.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 492-497). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Of the Nazi leadership, few besides Hitler expressed a more fiery hatred for Jews. An excerpt from a cabinet meeting on 12 November 1938 confirms Goebbels as a principal exponent for persecution of Jews:
Goebbels: … Furthermore, I consider it necessary to eliminate Jews completely from appearing in public, particularly whenever such appearance might have a provocative effect . Do you realise that even today it is quite possible for a Jew to share a compartment in a sleeper with a German? I think the Reich Minister for Transport should issue an edict whereby there would have to be special compartments for Jews, stipulating further that when that particular compartment happens to be filled up, no Jew would be entitled to claim any other seat; that Jews must not under any circumstances mix with the Germans in the train, in fact they should not have the right to be seated at all unless every German in the train has seating accommodation; and rather than have a Jew sitting in one compartment filled or half-filled by Germans, I would have him stand outside in the corridor.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 2820-2826). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Even Heinrich Himmler, the person entrusted with the extermination of European Jewry, ultimately flinched at the task of mass murder. Reading of Goebbels’ life one gets the impression he would have taken on the task with gusto.
In the harsh times that followed Germany’s defeat in 1918, Goebbels formed his political mindset and found himself attracted to the early Nazi Party:
Among the odd jobs Goebbels was always ready to do there occurred one at this time that brought him directly into politics. He became secretary at one hundred marks a month to Franz von Wiegershaus, Reichstag Deputy of the Völkische Freiheitspartei, one of several small right-wing groups that shared substantially similar nationalistic views to those being so loudly advocated by the Nazis in Munich. Wiegershaus lived in Elberfeld and edited there the paper belonging to his minority, the Völkische Freiheit (People’s Freedom). Goebbels’ duties included helping to edit this journal, and soon he found that he was also expected to speak at public meetings. It was at these local meetings of the Freiheitspartei that he came into close contact with members of the Nazi movement , to which he seemed at first to have been strongly opposed. Towards the end of the year, however, he approached Karl Kaufmann, who was at that time Gauleiter of the Nazi Party for the Rhine-Ruhr District, and offered him his services. Kaufmann discussed the matter with Gregor Strasser, who was the leading figure in the movement in the north of Germany and who was considering at the turn of the year producing a small weekly journal to be what the Strassers rather bombastically called the Party’s geistiges Führungsorgan (organ of spiritual leadership). Gregor was to be the publisher and Otto the editor, and they needed an editorial assistant. Hearing of Goebbels through Kaufmann, they wondered if he might be suitable for the position at a salary of two hundred marks a month, double what he was getting from Wiegershaus.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 810-822). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Ultimately Goebbels was to find the Strasser brothers too socialistic for his political taste, but his involvement with the Party eventually brought him into contact with and under the spell of Adolph Hitler. He eventually abandoned the Strassers and gave his allegiance, even his abject worship, to Hitler. This was likely a fortunate move for Goebbels, for within a few years the Strasser wing of the Party split from the main body. Otto Strasser fled Germany and survived. Gregor was expelled from the Party and eventually murdered in the purge Hitler instigated on 30 June 1934.
With the expulsion of the Strassers, Hitler gave Goebbels authority over Berlin as Party Gauleiter for Berlin, a position he held for the remainder of his life. In Berlin, Goebbels saw that propaganda, at the first level getting out the Party’s message and making it attractive, and at the second level managing the proper mixture of truth and deceit that constantly outflanked the political opposition, was forcefully and skillfully invoked. More than any other person Goebbels wielded the political manipulations that put Hitler and the Nazis into power. More than any other he took the decisive action that tightened Hitler’s grip on power, once in office, and crushed all political and social opposition.
Even so, Goebbels’ burning ambition for power in the Party was never to be fully realized until the day of his own death. One root to his frustration was Hitler’s own need to keep his subordinates in check by playing them against each other. Hitler may have realized that Goebbels was the one person with the drive and the ability to wrest control of the Party from him. Another stumbling block was one of Goebbels’ own personal failings.
A least likely lady’s man in the Nazi hierarchy would seem to have been Joseph Goebbels. Small of stature, a partial cripple, he was yet a skilled and successful sexual predator. With his rise from poverty into the upper levels of power came a need for him to stoke his ego through conquest. At this he was a master. If there really was “what women want,” Goebbels knew what it was. Women he wooed and conquered were seldom regretful. He realized and practiced diligently the necessity of giving the woman of the moment the full attention she desired.
In 1931 he married a divorced woman, Magda Quandt, of considerable wealth. Hitler was best man at the wedding. So it came to pass that years later, when Goebbels fell madly in love with Czech actress Lida Baarova, he lost considerable favor with the Fuhrer. When Magda grew intolerant of her husbands infidelity she began to make plans to divorce him. Hitler became alarmed at this and forcibly broke up the relationship, exiling Lida to Italy and blunting Goebbels’ political ambitions for the remainder of his life. Tireless a sexual partner as he was a political manipulator, Goebbels fathered six children with Magda.
History acknowledges Joseph Goebbels as a leader in the mastery of political propaganda. During the early days in Berlin, when Party funds were scarce, he made the best use of minimal materials and human resources. The Party message hit the streets in a stream of pamphlets, posters and newsletters. The following is from Google Images and represents the anti-Jewish message prevalent in Goebbels’ propaganda prior to 1933. After Hitler’s rise to power there was little need to demonize Jews so crudely. They were already being stripped of their citizenship, their property and their lives.
Goebbels was not the only master of cartoon pricking. The following is from Cartoons of World War II by Tony Husband. Here cartoonist David Low depicts Goebbels, in vain, attempting to restructure Hitler’s image.
Goebbels properly realized Hitler’s folly in starting the war and further in expanding it. Although Goebbels was, during the last years of their lives, Hitler’s closest confident among the Nazi leadership, he felt that Hitler was poorly advised by others who exerted unwarranted influence. Goebbels embraced National Socialism with religious fervor. As Germany’s fortunes crumbled he saw its looming defeat not as a matter of bad actions coming home to roost. Instead he saw the world powers allied against Germany as criminals looking to take the spoils so rightly belonging to the Reich.
It all ended in Berlin. As armies of retribution squeezed the Third Reich into a pocket centered on the Reichstag, Goebbels, Magda, and their six children moved into the underground bunker with Hitler. In the final days all others abandoned the Fuhrer and sought escape. Hitler and his new bride, the former Eva Braun, killed themselves on 30 April 1945. On the following day Joseph and Magda poisoned their six children and then themselves. Joseph shot his wife in the head after she had taken her poison, and then he took his own poison, shooting himself before the poison took effect.
Magda’s son by her first marriage, Harald Quandt served in the Luftwaffe and was captured in Italy. He finished out the war in a POW camp in England and eventually was killed in an airplane crash in 1967.
The Fraenkel and Manvell book is not a strict chronology. The story cannot be told as such, and the authors follow multiple sub plots that overlap in time. For the reader not already familiar with the chronology this can be confusing. For example, I note the following:
When the raids came, Goebbels behaved with exemplary courage. On the night of 21st November, when the first raid on Berlin took place, Goebbels was speaking in a suburb when the bombers arrived. In the height of the raid he and Semmler drove back to Berlin’s Air-Raid Centre in the Wilhelmplatz. There Goebbels stood chainsmoking, watching the reports come in until “he nearly loses control of himself” at the magnitude of the damage.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 4337-4340). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
The Brits first bombed Berlin in September 1940, so this was not actually the first raid on Berlin. But the casual reader will be left dangling as to which year. More instances abound.
My copy is a Kindle edition. The original was a print edition. That’s all they had in 1960. Appearances are that many Kindle editions are generated by taking printed pages and scanning them using OCR (optical character recognition) technology to convert the scanned images to text. When not done carefully this can produce character substitutions and other missteps. Here is an example:
There is some evidence that Goebbels would have preferred a ministry with greater executive power, and later he was continually to show his ambition to control the internal affairs of Germany. He remained Gauleiter for Berlin for the rest of his life, and this office, especially during the war, enabled him to control the civil population in certain respects. But Hitler recognised that Goebbels could serve him best in the field where his real genius lay, and the new ministry was created especially for him. He was given the Leopoldpalast on the Wilhelmplatz, opposite the Chancellery, in which to set up his Government department. It was here that he built up the network of controls that made him master of every medium of expression Germany pissessed.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Location 2202 – 2207). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Something is obviously wrong in the last line: “It was here that he built up the network of controls that made him master of every medium of expression Germany pissessed.”
That aside, I prefer electronic versions of book for a number of reasons. They are considerably more compact than paper copies. A 32 G card is the size of a postage stamp and can hold a library. When I am reviewing, the ability to search for text, coupled with copy and paste, eliminates mountains of tedium. Kindle also provides the ability to bookmark places in the volume, a feature that allowed me to mark and later return to the text I just displayed. Further, electronic books are cheaper, and they are delivered in seconds. I have used this capability before when, in the middle of drafting a post for this blog, I needed a reference. I had it on my computer within minutes and finished my draft before dinner. Despite its detractors, modern technology daily makes our lives brighter. Would that Joseph Goebbels had this technology at his disposal. We will never know.