The Nazi Propaganda and Racial Policy

From the Lecture series: A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Once Hitler became the president, the Nazis used the Gestapo to establish a system of terror in Germany. They were also following an ideology—the relentless good news to balance the uglier features of the regime. The Third Reich was constantly drumming on good news, and the enthusiasm of the population.

Hitler working with spade.
The Nazis created a populist image of Hitler; he was a man of the people. (Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild/CC-BY SA/3.0/Public domain)

The Great Nazi Celebrations

There was good news all around Germany. It was like a farmer watching corn grow in his field. He doesn’t notice it at all day to day as he is busy doing his own job. But then suddenly the farmer looks around, and the corn is over his head.

The media was dominated by the Nazis, and there were all these Nazi activities: the great national celebration for the Führer’s birthday on April 20; the Beer Hall Putsch was celebrated every year as if it had been a great historic event for the Nazis. The party rally in September, which was like a big convention that went on for a week with great fanfare, was obviously the high point of the Nazi calendar.

The Nazis created a populist image of Hitler: Hitler with a spade out in the opening of the big Autobahn, the big superhighways that were introduced. Hitler was a man of the people.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The New Social Order

Social life was now organized. Boys were introduced into the Hitler Youth, and girls into the Bund Deutscher Madel, the League of German Girls, and women were introduced into the National Socialist Women’s Organization. The National Socialist Student League, the National Socialist Teachers’ League, the National Socialist Attorneys’ Organization, the National Socialist Physicians’ League. All had their own special badges, their own flags and slogans.

Members of the Hitler Youth.
Young boys in Germany were recruited into the Hitler Youth. (Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild/CC-BY-SA/3.0/Public domain)

There was no trouble on the streets anymore, as the Communists were gone. The unemployed would slowly disappear from the streets because they would be drafted into something called the Labor Front, given uniforms and shovels, which they would handle like a weapon in the army.

All of this created an environment in which the National Socialists could introduce other policies which would be much more controversial, and the most obvious one would be the racial policy.

The Racial Policy of the Nazis

It was a racial policy—of all the things the Nazis had talked about before 1933, of all the different aspects of Nazi ideology, Nazi campaign promises, Nazi social promises—anti-Semitism had been one of the various threads in Nazi appeal.

It was, in so many ways, the essence of National Socialism—and yet an aspect of the party’s propaganda that people took less seriously than they did the appeals on the social and economic issues and the anti-system aspect of the party’s propaganda.

It would emerge as the central core of Nazi ideology after 1933. There are several phases of racial policy, especially Jewish policy, that one can identify as a way of organizing one’s thinking about the regime and the evolution of its policy.

Learn more about the German Jewish intellectuals.

The Harassment of the Jews

In the first phase from 1933 down to 1935, there was an attempt to boycott Jewish businesses and elimination of Jews from civil service jobs, the practice of law and medicine, and so on. But after an initial burst of activity, in early ’33, there was nothing really coming from the national regime.

The local Nazi rowdies would harass and humiliate Jews in public, without any sort of authorization from above. This individual action was called Einzelaktionen. In 1935, these individual actions against Jews were largely pushed aside. This period would be dominated by a policy of segregation and emigration.

The Nuremberg Laws

In 1935, the Nazis would introduce a series of laws called the Nuremberg laws, which would, in effect, make Jews non-citizens of Germany. This was the segregation: Jews losing their civil rights and being treated not as citizens, but as subjects of the Third Reich.

In the mid-1930s, the state secret police would emerge, for the first time, as the real leader in Nazi racial policy. The official Nazi policy was to encourage them to leave, albeit leaving virtually all of their property and money, behind. Of course, Jews wishing to leave did not exactly find a hospitable world out there willing to take them in.

Extreme Shift in Racial Policy of the Nazis

A photo of anti-Semitic sign that reads "Jews Forbidden".
The Nazi racial policy was directly focused toward humiliating Jews. (Image: Timothy R. Nichols/Shutterstock)

In 1938, the racial policy would shift again. At the beginning of ’38, the Nazis introduced a series of measures to identify Jewish assets in Germany.  It was clearly the prelude to some sort of seizure of Jewish assets. The regime was trying to get prepared for some sort of wartime economy. 

Then in November of 1938 would come the most pivotal and terrifying moment of the Nazi racial policy before the war. It was the so-called “Night of Broken Glass”, the Reichskristallnacht. It was the first nationally organized act of violence against Jews—a pogrom authorized and conducted by the regime itself.

The final phase of the Nazi policy would be the war itself. The war would bring, first of all, the Nazis into contact with the largest Jewish populations in Europe, in Poland and in the Soviet Union. The victories over Poland and the Soviet Union gave the Nazis an expanding horizon of possibility there, and they began seeking what they called a “final solution to the Jewish question”. That “final solution” would be mass murder. So those are the phases of Nazi racial policy that would be introduced piecemeal.

Learn more about the Holocaust.

Controversies around the Nazi Racial Policy

One of the controversies surrounding the racial policy before the Holocaust is, whether the Nazis were acting according to some sort of game plan. Was there a blueprint for action? Did Hitler enter power already with the idea that he wanted to eliminate the Jews?

It was there in the first written document we have of Hitler’s political life, where he talks about the goal of eliminating the Jews altogether. Was there a straight line from the pages of Mein Kampf to the gas chambers at Auschwitz?

Common Questions about the Nazi Propaganda and Racial Policy

Q: What was Reichskristallnacht?

Reichskristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass was the first nationally organized act of violence against Jews.

Q: What did the Nazis do against Jews between 1933 and 1935?

From 1933 to 1935, the Nazis attempted to boycott Jewish businesses and eliminate Jews from civil service jobs, the practice of law and medicine.

Q: What were the Nuremberg laws?

In 1935, the Nazis introduced the Nuremberg laws which, in effect, made Jews non-citizens of Germany.

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