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Joseph Goebbles biography
Master propagandist of the Nazi regime and dictator of its cultural life for twelve years,
Joseph Goebbels was born into a strict Catholic, working-class family from Rheydt, in
the Rhineland, on 29 October 1897. He was educated at a Roman Catholic school and went on
to study history and literature at the University of Heidelberg under Professor
Friedrich Gundolf, a Jewish literary historian renowned as a Goethe scholar and a
close disciple of the poet Stefan George.
Goebbels had been rejected for military service during World War I because of a
crippled foot - the result of contracting polio as a child - and a sense of physical
inadequacy tormented him for the rest of his life, reinforced by resentment of the
reactions aroused by his diminutive frame, black hair and intellectual background.
Bitterly conscious of his deformity and fearful of being regarded as a 'bourgeois
intellectual', Goebbels overcompensated for his lack of the physical virtues of the
strong, healthy, blond, Nordic type by his ideological rectitude and radicalism once he
joined the NSDAP in 1922.
The hostility to the intellect of the 'little doctor', his contempt for the human race
in general and the Jews in particular, and his complete cynicism were an expression of
his own intellectual self-hatred and inferiority complexes, his overwhelming need to
destroy everything sacred and ignite the same feelings of rage, despair and hatred in
At first Goebbels's hyperactive imagination found an outlet in poetry, drama and a
bohemian life-style, but apart from his expressionist novel, Michael: ein Deutsches
Schicksal in Tagebuchblattern (1926), nothing came of these first literary efforts.
It was in the Nazi Party that Goebbels's sharp, clear-sighted intelligence, his
oratorical gifts and flair for theatrical effects, his uninhibited opportunism and
ideological radicalism blossomed in the service of an insatiable will-to-power.
In 1925 he was made business manager of the NSDAP in the Ruhr district and at the end
of the year was already the principal collaborator of Gregor Strasser, leader of
the social-revolutionary North German wing of the Party. Goebbels founded and edited
the Nationalsozialistischen Briefe (NS Letters) and other publications of the Strasser
brothers, sharing their proletarian anti-capitalist outlook and call for a radical revaluation of all values.
His National Bolshevik tendencies found expression in his evaluation of Soviet Russia
(which he regarded as both nationalist and socialist) as 'Germany's natural ally against
the devilish temptations and corruption of the West'.
It was at this time that Goebbels, who had co-authored the draft programme submitted by
the Nazi Left at the Hanover Conference of 1926, called for the expulsion of
'petty-bourgeois Adolf Hitler from the National Socialist Party'.
Goebbels's shrewd political instinct and his opportunism were demonstrated by his
switch to Hitler's side in 1926, which was rewarded by his appointment in November of
the same year as Nazi district leader for Berlin- Brandenburg.
Placed at the head of a
small, conflict-ridden organization, Goebbels rapidly succeeded in taking control and
undermining the supremacy of the Strasser brothers in northern Germany and their
monopoly of the Party press, founding in 1927 and editing his own weekly newspaper,
Der Angriff (The Attack). He designed posters, published his own propaganda, staged
impressive parades, organized his bodyguards to participate in street battles, beer-hall
brawls and shooting affrays as a means to further his political agitation.
By 1927 the 'Marat of Red Berlin, a nightmare and goblin of history' had already become
the most feared demagogue of the capital city, exploiting to the full his deep, powerful
voice, rhetorical fervour and unscrupulous appeal to primitive instincts. A tireless,
tenacious agitator with the gift of paralysing opponents by a guileful combination of
venom, slander and insinuation, Goebbels knew how to mobilize the fears of the unemployed
masses as the Great Depression hit Germany, playing on the national psyche with
With the skill of a master propagandist he transformed the Berlin student and pimp,
Horst Wessel, into a Nazi martyr, and provided the slogans, the myths and images,
the telling aphorisms which rapidly spread the message of National Socialism.
Hitler was deeply impressed by Goebbels's success in turning the small Berlin section
of the Party into a powerful organization in North Germany and in 1929 appointed him
Reich Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP. Looking back many years later (24 June 1942),
Hitler observed: 'Dr Goebbels was gifted with the two things without which the situation
in Berlin could not have been mastered: verbal facility and intellect.. . . For Dr
Goebbels, who had not found much in the way of a political organization when he started,
had won Berlin in the truest sense of the word.'
Hitler had indeed cause to be grateful to his Propaganda Leader, who was the true creator
and organizer of the Fuhrer myth, of the image of the Messiah-redeemer, feeding the
theatrical element in the Nazi leader while at the same time inducing the self-
surrender of the German masses through skilful stage management and manipulation.
A cynic, devoid of genuine inner convictions, Goebbels found his mission in selling Hitler to the German public, in projecting himself as his most faithful shield-bearer
and orchestrating a pseudo-religious cult of the Fuhrer as the saviour of Germany from
Jews, profiteers and Marxists.
As a Reichstag deputy from 1928, he no less cynically gave open voice to his contempt
for the Republic, declaring: 'We are entering the Reichstag, in order that we may arm
ourselves with the weapons o
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