Adolf Hitler is one of the most notorious individuals in human history. The dictator was the most influential person of the 20th century and inevitably changed the world. He was a highly multi-faceted leader with specific points of view, ideologies, and attitudes. As a person, he was neither very communicative nor charismatic. However, Hitler had a meaningful talent: he was an inherited manipulator and orator whose speeches appealed to Germans, united them, and convinced them of his ideologies. He could influence millions of people and make them follow his orders. The dictator used a highly powerful tool to make people obey him: propaganda. It is fair to claim that he was the best propagandist in history and managed to shift people’s perception of the world drastically. He started promoting his ideas in varied ways, which led to deplorable consequences. Hitler was a talented orator and manipulator who spread propaganda through art, education, churches, and his speeches; his ideology was highly influential due to the Germans’ economic and mental instability after World War I.
The Definition of the Term Propaganda
Although the term “propaganda” itself may have been invented in the 17th century, such a form of communication was used even in ancient times. Millenniums ago, when people started forming tribes to survive, a leader always tried to influence others by imposing his ideas. Some of the decorations from ancient times may be interpreted as a manifestation of propaganda, such as religious beliefs and biases. However, these people are not the most remarkable examples of propaganda; the person who did his best in it was a notorious German politician and dictator, Adolf Hitler.
The propaganda is targeted at a mass audience and evokes interest, emotions, and concern. It is a complicated and multi-faceted technique that has to be considered in a context connected with psychology, sociology, and the background of its origin (Aslan, Mert, 2017). The feelings triggered by the propaganda will vary according to what events are currently happening in the society that is exposed to it. It aims to persuade people to draw conclusions that are beneficial to a government, and it sometimes makes people doubt the way they see and perceive reality. One of the most vulnerable groups of people who may easily be exposed to manipulation is one that lacks any culture. The Leninist propaganda on Russian people and the Maoist on Chinese are good examples (Aslan, Mert, 2017). Thus, propaganda is a complicated and varied phenomenon that has to be considered in the context.
Vulnerable Groups to Propaganda
Furthermore, a person will be vulnerable to manipulations when they are influenced by authority. Stanley Milgram conducted remarkable but ethically controversial studies in 1963 that concentrated on the factors that make a person obey and fulfill orders given by the authority (Stangor, 2022). The psychologist’s main interest was why German soldiers managed to execute over 6 million Jews during World War II, being influenced by Nazis. He aimed to understand what factors affected people’s behavior and whether everyone is capable of committing the same crimes.
One of his most famous experiments is called the Milgram shock study. There were participants; teachers, who were the authority figures; and learners, in other words, actors, who were exposed to the electric shock for every wrong answer (Stangor, 2022). Participants were freed from responsibility for the consequences of the experiment and were told by the authority to shock learners, and the voltage was higher every time. The experiment results were bewildering: 65% of participants obeyed to reach the highest level of shock even when learners acted like they were barely alive or dead (Stangor, 2022). Every participant reached a 300 volts level which is already dangerous for human health. Thus, the experiment proves that by being influenced by authority and freed from any responsibility for one’s actions, any person can commit cruel things, which can lead to deplorable consequences.
The next factor that makes people more sensitive to propaganda is the lack of stability, material or psychological. When people experience a crisis, they need something or someone to lean on and give them hope. That is how the human psyche works during tough times: it can survive only if it has hope that the situation will become better. Such feelings can be conceived in a person’s head by being influenced or absorbed by some ideology. In times of crisis after World War I, such a psychological trick was implemented on Germans. The war was a defining event of the 20th century that influenced every country and the world. “After World War I, Germans could hardly recognize their country” (Blakemore, 2019, para 1). About 3 million people were killed, the country was forced to become a republic, and the population was highly humiliated by its nation’s loss. Moreover, Germans were accused of beginning World War I and appending European peace. The country had to pay demanded financial compensation equivalent to $269 billion today.
The Influence of World War I
Some historians claim that if there had been no World War I, Hitler would not have been possible, and World War II would not have happened. Especially the last several years of it shaped the dictator’s personality and made him develop his ideologies. His character was influenced, and due to the war, he gained significant military knowledge, which helped him run the country later. During that time, he considered many ideas and conceived some of the concepts; moreover, his patriotism and profound connection with Germany were established at that time. Every decision made by Hitler from 1939 to 1945 was influenced by his experience during volunteering and working as a message runner (Simms, 2014). Thus, the First World War significantly contributed to the second one and possibly could be why it happened.
Under such tremendous pressure, Germans felt lost and experienced an economic crisis and mental instability. At that time, Hitler announced himself: he gave people hope and faith in the future. This key factor influenced the perception of the Nazis’ ideology and made people believe and follow them. Such circumstances were a perfect foundation for creating a nation vulnerable to manipulations that will undoubtedly follow its leader’s orders and ideologies.
The Reason for Biases Against Jewish People
Before exploring Hitler’s ways of influencing people’s minds, it would be rational to figure out why one of the main aims of propaganda was hate against Jewish people. Hitler did not invent prejudiced attitudes against Jews; these people had been discriminated against since the Middle Ages, in general, for religious reasons (Frank, 2018). For centuries they were not allowed to perform practices people from other nations did and were restricted from occupying a certain number of professions. In the nineteenth century, the theory about religion was replaced with the idea that race influences a person, their intellectual abilities, and their worth as a human being (Frank, 2018). People became divided due to their bloodline and inventing stereotypes. Even Jewish people who were Christians were still discriminated against because of their nationality. Thus, Adolf Hitler did not invent the idea of hating these people; the dictator himself was influenced by stereotyping and just adopted this theory in his propaganda.
What Shaped Hitler’s Personality and How He Started
Moreover, it is fundamental to explore some of the reasons for Adolf Hitler’s behavior and motives and understand what shaped his personality. It is useful to discover relationships with his parents in this case because many mental disorders may occur in a person due to a poor or chaotic connection with a mother or father. Firstly, Hitler claimed that he always disliked and was scared of his father, who died when the boy was 14 years old. Such types of relationships, lack of trust, and fear of the close person could influence the dictator’s personality. Although he never liked his father, his death could affect Hitler too and was traumatic for him. He was always devoted to his mother and had an extremely close relationship with her. However, she died in 1907, and this incident inevitably changed the young Hitler. He lost the only close person in his life and was distraught and emotionally depleted for years (Husain and Scott, 2019). Thus, these events could change the dictator’s points of view and affect the way he thought and acted.
As a resident of Germany, Hitler was a highly patriotic man. During World War I, he volunteered and worked as a message runner throughout the war (Husain and Scott, 2019). He tried to do his best to help the country and people and participated in some of the main battles. In 1917 he was temporarily blind due to the gas attack and was admitted to a hospital. During the treatment, he received news about Germany’s loss in the war. In 1919 he joined the German Labor Party and got the number 555, but later, he was given the number 7 (Takala and Tommi 2016). It is sometimes said that Hitler did not find politics, but they found him. Initially, he did not want to be a leader or to be in charge of any process: he aimed to be a propagandist and a demagogue (Takala and Tommi 2016). The idea of being responsible for organizing anything did not attract Hitler. In 1920 he encouraged people to join the Party and tried to promote and impose their ideas.
In 1923 another meaningful event happened to Hitler: he was arrested. He made the courtroom the stage for promoting his propaganda and training orator skills. The propagandist was sentenced to 5 years in prison but served only 13 months (Takala and Tommi 2016). There he was all the time alone, studying a lot and writing the first part of the book Mein Kampf. After releasing from prison, the German Labor Party was banned; however, this did not stop him and even motivated Hitler more. After the Nazi party’s re-establishment, he made a speech that expressed the importance of German’s unification and cohesion.
The leader cult and blind obedience became the core of the movement, and Hitler started taking advantage of his orator’s talent. In 1927 he returned to the stage and conducted his 2-hour speech (Takala and Tommi 2016). It was highly emotional, and the dictator demanded his leadership without any doubts or arguments. He was the core of the movement, and his orator abilities were its foundation. Before expressing his ideas in front of a big audience, he was a very reserved and introverted person. It seems that stage opened his personality up and made him flourish, develop his talents and use them as a successful tool. He was inherently a good manipulator absorbed by his ideology, which the residents saw as a man of virtue. He truly loved his country and had a desire for Germany to be a winner. However, a disaster may happen when blind patriotism occurs in an unhealthy psyche.
Hitler began to give multiple speeches and attract people’s attention. In 1933 he established a Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda ruled by Joseph Goebbels (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2021). Initially, it did not reach much success: the applauses that Hitler gained were, generally, fake, but they evoked in the dictator and his supporters the feeling of rapture. Hitler’s takeover of Germany did not happen drastically: there was no exact date when this happened, and it is impossible to track what moment became the breakpoint. He started his career gradually, slowly, but confidently integrating his ideas into people’s minds. He aimed to evoke trust in people and show his reliability and comprehension of their problems. This is crucial for a leader: the crowd must be confident in him and his actions. In the same year, the cult of Hitler began to grow. All other parties were banned, and the dictator became the center of German’s attention and their national symbol. After several years of running the country, his policies have changed: he stopped caring about the party, state, or consequences of his decisions; his only interest was his ideology.
Hitler was changing not only the way people think and perceive reality but also the German system and all the entities. He was oppressing almost every structure and group of people who did not support his regime. However, he tended to spare the judges who opposed Nazi ideologies. His attitude towards them was ambiguous: he hated judges due to his unpleasant personal experience, and meanwhile, he realized that Germany needed an independent and self-sufficient structure like that (Graver, 2018). Some of the judges were as biased against Jews as Nazis were, and some of them treated these people as regular ones. Thus, Germany needed at least one independent structure that balanced the country’s system, and the dictator realized that.
Hitler’s Personality and Talents
Adolf Hitler as a person was not very communicative and charismatic; he did not have any unique traits to excite the masses. “He had few genuine friends, an overinflated view of his own intellect, and no inborn connections to propel him to the top” (Pappas, 2022, para 2). Moreover, he did not have any unique ideas that would change the world drastically; all his expressions were quite banal and ordinary. Firstly, the dictator was not confident in his ability to express himself in front of a considerable public. However, during the start of his career, he explored this talent in himself and started using it as a weapon.
Hitler had four traits of transformational leadership: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual motivation, and individual consideration. Every group of people tends to see their leader as an idealized character. Although Adolf Hitler was not a very charismatic person with inherited unique abilities, he was able to translate his ideology properly in a way that appealed to Germans and connected them. Due to the idealized influence, he was perceived by the residents as a God who would save them from this cruel world and give them a happy life (Bailey, 2020). His speeches were emotional and relevant, engaging listeners and making people reflect on them. Moreover, a great leader has to inspire his followers to achieve a desirable result. By focusing on the future, promising significant changes, and making Germans anticipate the goal more, he encouraged them and evoked positive emotions (Bailey, 2020). Thus, the dictator was a master of manipulations, and he knew precisely what leverages to use.
Intellectual motivation is one of the most important factors that influence people’s desire to achieve a goal. As was mentioned, Germany was depleted after World War I. Hitler, in his speeches, expressed his dissatisfaction with everyone who blamed their country for starting the war and made them pay reparations which would lead to exaggerating Germany’s crisis. Furthermore, to make manipulations and influence more effective, the leader has to feel his followers profoundly and emphasize their current needs. It seemed to Germans like Hitler considered every individual’s emotions and desires. He showed extreme empathy for residents and talked only about their relevant needs that were not met. Such an approach evoked trust in his people and connection; Germans felt profoundly understood and heard.
Means of Translating Propaganda
Hitler’s Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda aimed to translate propaganda by means of art, books, radio, theater, print, educational material, speeches, movies, music, and many others. German culture was soaked with propaganda, and the nation’s culture was built on it at that time. The propaganda showed tolerance for violence toward Jews and encouraged discrimination against them. Propaganda also focused on exaggerating the biased attitude of other countries toward Germany. Nazis were imposing on the residents that they were world-widely humiliated and hated. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, propaganda was stressed to civilians, soldiers, police officers, and civil servants.
Movies played a crucial role in promoting violence and prejudice toward Jews. Nazis presented them as “”subhuman” creatures infiltrating Aryan society” (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2021, para 5). For instance, the movie The Eternal Jew (1940), directed by Fritz Hippler, portrayed these people as dirty parasites who were only interested in sex and money (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2021). German newspapers at that time used animation and caricatures to mock Jewish people and promoted an arrogant attitude toward them. In 1939 after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis started the propaganda that Jews were not only “subhuman” but also that they were extremely dangerous to Germans (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2021). They encouraged the residents to protect themselves against this nation.
Movies were part of the art that received the most support and acceptance from Hitler and the Nazis. They were not only used to accelerate bias toward other populations and countries to begin the war but also were used to influence Germans during it. Even several months before the end of the war, they encouraged people to believe that Germany would win. Even though there were hundreds of movies translated constantly, the government was complaining and expressing outrage that it was not enough. Theaters, where movies were translated, were a way of distracting people so they did not notice that Germany was exposed to bombing.
The main genres of translated movies were operettas and drama; however, they changed in the last years of the war. Nazis started broadcasting more entertaining movies to cheer people because the government realized the possibility of Germany losing. It was Hitler’s cruel tactic: the country became more destroyed, millions of people died, and he distracted people using movies and art. Although the cinematograph focused on recreation and distraction in the last years of the war, translating and promoting Hitler’s ideology did not stop: it was translated until 1945 (Kurten, 2020). The movies combined conflicting propaganda and entertainment aimed to satisfy people with different tastes and target as large an audience as possible: to do so was a highly complicated task for directors. In the last years of the war, a famous director Kolberg started preparing the German people for the possibility of losing (Kurten, 2020). He translated the concept of people’s supremacy over the other nations and meanwhile suggested a chance of loss. The director imposed the idea of fighting to the death for Germans, defending themselves, and never giving up. It was a melodramatically grounded movie about the expectation of death.
Moreover, Hitler and the Third Reich used posters as a weapon and a way to influence people. This type of promoting their ideologies was ubiquitous: people saw propaganda posters everywhere they went. Even before 1933, the Nazis applied the most effective and influential Socialist and Communist strategies and were properly elaborated (Fürstenau, 2020). The posters and placards were made by different Nazi supporters. The impact of such art was so severe that some were even banned from working for years to protect Germans from repeating the history after World War II. One of the aims of such propaganda was to show that the nation was supreme, modern, and different from others. This factor played a crucial role because Nazi supporters were evoking narcissistic feelings in Germans, the feeling of supremacy and meaningfulness, which shaped their perception of reality and personalities and led to deplorable consequences.
The National Socialists used many manipulations to seduce Germans, draw their attention and make them believe in ideologies. They used pictorial language, beautiful pictures, and strong slogans. “One people, one Reich, one leader!” was one of the main credos pictured everywhere on many posters with Adolf Hitler (Fürstenau, 2020). However, he was rarely pictured in posts alone; he was accompanied by children or young people. This was done to target young people and encourage them to accept Nazi ideologies and follow their orders. Hitler wanted boys to join the Hitler Youth (HJ) and girls to join the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel, BDM) (Fürstenau, 2020). Although the consequences of propaganda were deplorable, many posters were harmless and encouraged people to create and develop. That is why they were so essential and managed to affect young people’s minds.
The promotion of Nazi ideologies became ubiquitous, and almost every structure supported Hitler’s regime. By 1933 all the civilian organizations, such as sports clubs, volunteering and educational organizations, were managed by the Nazis (Nicolaides, 2018). The church was the last entity that joined them and did not want to support their politics (Nicolaides, 2018). Hitler needed such a powerful organization to cooperate with him because millions of people visited churches regularly, and it was a fundamental tool to influence people. Christian Church did not resist joining the Nazis and was the initiator of classifying people by their race, supported bias against Jews, and promoted the slogan “Die Juden sind unser Unglück” (The Jews Are Our Misfortune) (Nicolaides, 2018). The Protestant Church rejected all of Hitler and his Party’s demands to join them and even expressed empathy for Jewish victims of Nazism. Finally, Protestants were still claiming themselves as believers but meanwhile had to endure and support Hitler’s regime to continue their existence in Germany at that time.
Characteristics of the Propaganda
Hitler’s propaganda was not only promoting the ideology and making the masses follow him; it was more like an art, juxtaposing components and factors that perfectly influenced Germans and made the propaganda a phenomenon. The dictator stated that propaganda should be translated, and this is a powerful and fundamental tool in running the country. “The Nazis were really saying that their truth lay deeper than their lies and that their lies were merely a permissible methodology since the end always justified the means” (O’Shaughnessy, 2017, para 7). Thus, the phenomenon of Hitler’s propaganda is vague and still is not thoroughly investigated and understood.
The aim of propaganda was not to deceive Germans or make them brainwashed; it was to release the oppressed desires and feelings deep down in all of them. Such a statement has sense because residents felt bursts of emotions after World War I due to the world’s humiliation of Germans. A theory that Hitler and Nazis did not impose anything on these people and just helped residents be themselves and stop oppressing darkness may be intimidating but rational. Hitler intended to create an army of undefeatable and unstoppable people with a solid mutual aim that would motivate them to move toward the goal.
One of the most meaningful characteristics of propaganda was its repetitiveness. History shows that repeating one concept many times over a long time will strengthen its impact on the human psyche. Nazis never stopped translating the same ideas over again and persuading their people of the ideology for years. They may have slightly shaped the concepts but have always stuck to the same idea. Repetition facilitates such cognitive processes as recognition, understanding, remembering, and conviction: that is why such an approach was applied, and the outcome was effective for Hitler (O’Shaughnessy, 2017). In addition, psychology says that the best way to learn, understand, and remember any information properly is to repeat it as many times as possible. Due to the constant repetitiveness, the imposed beliefs not only became blindly followed but also were part of the German’s subconscious mind and changed the way they perceived reality.
The other characteristic of Nazi propaganda was that it made Germans feel and not think. It aimed to evoke emotions and become something spiritual that does not have to be rational or thought over. This is the reason why the promoted ideas were ordinary and easy to understand: the government did not want people to think. The human psyche always strives to simplify life and be in the most convenient conditions. It aims to exist in the environment it is used to and does not want to leave its comfort zone or deal with ambivalent situations. That is why all the stereotypes still exist: it is easier to consider every person of color as a bad one or every woman as inferior rather than understand that the world and people are more complicated and ambiguous. Hitler understood this feature of human brains and adjusted his approach to it. Thus, simplified and primitive propaganda that did not require much mental effort was a perfect choice to influence millions of people.
What may be impressive is that in Nazi Germany, not every person was a fanatic of Hitler’s ideology. There were believers, semi-believers, and doubters; a person could be in all of the mentioned categories during a lifetime. During World War II and until the end of it, there were still Germans who blindly followed Hitler and his ideas even after he committed suicide. The consequences of propaganda are severe, and a person affected by it can still be influenced for years and not be able to see reality objectively.
In conclusion, Hitler was the most influential and famous person of the 20th century, drastically and inevitably changing human history. He was a talented orator, manipulator, and propagandist who knew all the leverages of influencing people. The tool he used to impose his ideas on messes was propaganda. He and his supporters translated the ideology through movies, posters, books, speeches, newspapers, education, churches, and other facilities. He started gradually spreading his ideas, and in several years, the propaganda became ubiquitous. Besides his talent, he had a perfect foundation to promote his ideas: Germans were extremely vulnerable after World War I. Under circumstances of crisis and instability, a population needs a leader who will give them hope and a profound understanding. This factor also played a key role in the effectiveness of Hitler and Nazi propaganda.
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