Military Wiki
Joseph Goebbels
Reich propaganda minister Goebbels
Chancellor of Germany

In office
30 April 1945 – 1 May 1945
President Karl Dönitz
Preceded by Adolf Hitler
Succeeded by Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk
Minister of
Public Enlightenment and Propaganda

In office
13 March 1933 – 30 April 1945
Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Werner Naumann
Gauleiter of Berlin

In office
9 November 1926 – 1 May 1945
Appointed by Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Ernst Schlange
Succeeded by None

In office
Appointed by Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by None
Personal details
Born Paul Joseph Goebbels
(1897-10-29)29 October 1897
Rheydt, Prussia, Germany
Died 1 May 1945(1945-05-01) (aged 47)
Berlin, Germany
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Spouse(s) Magda Ritschel
Children 6
Alma mater University of Bonn
University of Würzburg
University of Freiburg
University of Heidelberg
Occupation Bus driver
Cabinet Hitler Cabinet

Paul Joseph Goebbels (German: [ˈɡœbəls];[1] 29 October 1897 – 1 May 1945) was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous orations and deep and virulent antisemitism, which led him to support the extermination of the Jews and to be one of the mentors of the Final Solution.

Goebbels earned a PhD from Heidelberg University in 1921, writing his doctoral thesis on 19th century literature of the romantic school; he then went on to work as a journalist and later a bank clerk and caller on the stock exchange. He also wrote novels and plays, which were rejected by publishers. Goebbels came into contact with the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP) or Nazi Party in 1923 during the French occupation of the Ruhr and became a member in 1924. He was appointed Gauleiter (regional party leader) of Berlin. In this position, he put his propaganda skills to full use, combating the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Communist Party of Germany and seeking to gain their working class supporters. Goebbels despised capitalism, viewing it as having Jews at its core, and he stressed the need for the Nazis to emphasise both a proletarian and national character.[2] By 1928, he had risen in the party ranks to become one of its most prominent members.

Goebbels rose to power in 1933 along with Hitler and the Nazi Party and he was appointed Propaganda Minister. One of his first acts was the burning of books. Goebbels exerted totalitarian control over the media, arts and information in Germany. He used modern propaganda techniques to prepare the German people ideologically for aggressive warfare.

From the beginning of his tenure, Goebbels organised attacks on German Jews, commencing with the one-day boycott of Jewish businessmen, doctors, and lawyers[3] on 1 April 1933.[4] His attacks on the Jewish population culminated in the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) assault of 1938, an open and unrestrained pogrom unleashed by the Nazis across Germany, in which scores of synagogues were burned and hundreds of Jews were assaulted and murdered.[5] Further, he produced a series of antisemitic films (most notably Jud Süß).

During World War II, Goebbels increased his power and influence through shifting alliances with other Nazi leaders. By late 1943, the tide of the war was turning against the Axis powers, but this only spurred Goebbels to intensify the propaganda by urging the Germans to accept the idea of total war and mobilisation. Goebbels remained with Hitler in Berlin to the end. Before committing suicide, Hitler named Goebbels his successor as Chancellor in his will. Goebbels along with his wife Magda killed their six young children, and then committed suicide. The couple's bodies were burned in a shell crater, but owing to the lack of petrol, the burning was only partly effective.

Early life

Goebbels was born in Rheydt, an industrial town south of Mönchengladbach on the edge of the Ruhr district.[6] His family were Catholics: his father Fritz was a factory clerk; his mother Maria Catharina, née Odenhausen and ethnically Dutch,[7] had earlier been a farm servant. Goebbels had four siblings: Hans (1893–1947), Konrad (1895–1949), Elisabeth (1901–1915), and Maria (1910–1949); the last married the German filmmaker Max W. Kimmich in 1938.[citation needed]

Goebbels had a deformed right leg, the result either of club foot or osteomyelitis.[8] William L. Shirer, who worked in Berlin as a journalist in the 1930s and was acquainted with Goebbels, wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) that the deformity was from a childhood attack of osteomyelitis and a failed operation to correct it. Goebbels wore a metal brace and special shoe because of his shortened leg, but nevertheless walked with a limp. He was rejected for military service in World War I, which he bitterly resented. He later sometimes misrepresented himself as a war veteran and his disability as a war wound.[9] He acted as an "office soldier" from June to October 1917 in Rheydt's "Patriotic Help Unit".[10]

He was educated at a Christian Gymnasium, where he completed his Abitur (university entrance examination) in 1916, and in 1917 he attended a course at the German Franciscan brothers' boarding school in Bleijerheide, Kerkrade, in the Netherlands. Gradually losing his Catholic faith,[11] he went on to study literature and philosophy at the universities of Bonn, Würzburg, Freiburg and Heidelberg, where he wrote his doctoral thesis on a minor 19th century romantic dramatist, Wilhelm von Schütz. His two most influential teachers, Friedrich Gundolf and his doctoral supervisor at Heidelberg, Max Freiherr von Waldberg, were Jews. His intelligence and political astuteness were generally acknowledged even by his enemies.[12]

After completing his doctorate in 1921, Goebbels worked as a journalist and tried for several years to become a published author. He wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, Michael, two verse plays, and quantities of romantic poetry. In these works, he revealed the psychological damage his physical limitations (having a clubbed foot, and, in a lesser sense being so far from the Aryan ideal, having brown eyes and dark brown hair and standing at only 5'5) had caused. "The very name of the hero, Michael, to whom he gave many autobiographical features, suggests the way his self-identification was pointing: a figure of light, radiant, tall, unconquerable," and above all "'To be a soldier! To stand sentinel! One ought always to be a soldier,' wrote Michael-Goebbels."[9] Goebbels found another form of compensation in the pursuit of women, a lifelong compulsion he indulged "with extraordinary vigor and a surprising degree of success."[13] His diaries reveal a long succession of affairs, before and after his marriage before a Protestant pastor in 1931 to Magda Quandt, with whom he had six children.[14]

In Freiburg whilst he studied law he met his first love, a student Anka Stahlherm, who was from a wealthy family. This was a passionate, but always of serious crises shattered love affair. Her parents refused the penniless Goebbels. In 1920, the connection broke up what Goebbels filled with thoughts of death. Shortly after his promotion Else Janke, a teacher and the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Christian father, became his new girlfriend. She supported him emotionally and materially and could not be swayed by the many quarrels. In 1922, Janke revealed to Goebbels that she was half-Jewish. "She told me her roots. Since then her charms have been destroyed for me," Goebbels wrote in his diaries.[15] Goebbels would have married her if she had not been according to his own words a "half-breed". In 1926 he ended the relationship, when he became Gauleiter of Berlin.[16] In 2012, recently discovered love letters from Goebbels went up for auction.[17]

Goebbels was embittered by the frustration of his literary career; his novel did not find a publisher until 1929 and his plays were never staged. He found an outlet for his desire to write in his diaries, which he began in 1923 and continued for the rest of his life.[18] He later worked as a bank clerk and a caller on the stock exchange.[19] During this period, he read avidly and formed his political views. Major influences were Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler and, most importantly, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the British-born German writer who was one of the founders of "scientific" antisemitism, and whose book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899) was one of the standard works of the extreme right in Germany. Goebbels spent the winter of 1919–20 in Munich, where he witnessed and admired the violent nationalist reaction against the attempted communist revolution in Bavaria. His first political hero was Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley, the man who assassinated the Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner.[13] Hitler was in Munich at the same time and entered politics as a result of similar experiences.[citation needed]

The culture of the German extreme right was violent and anti-intellectual, which posed a challenge to the physically frail university graduate. Joachim Fest writes:

This was the source of his hatred of the intellect, which was a form of self-hatred, his longing to degrade himself, to submerge himself in the ranks of the masses, which ran curiously parallel with his ambition and his tormenting need to distinguish himself. He was incessantly tortured by the fear of being regarded as a 'bourgeois intellectual' ... It always seemed as if he were offering blind devotion (to Nazism) to make up for his lack of all those characteristics of the racial elite which nature had denied him.[20]

Nazi activist

Like others who were later prominent in the Third Reich, Goebbels came into contact with the Nazi Party in 1923, during the campaign of resistance to the French occupation of the Ruhr. Hitler's imprisonment following the failed November 1923 "Beer Hall Putsch" left the party temporarily leaderless, and when the 27-year-old Goebbels joined the party in late 1924 the most important influence on his political development was Gregor Strasser, who became Nazi organizer in northern Germany in March 1924. Strasser ("the most able of the leading Nazis" of this period)[21] took the "socialist" component of National Socialism far more seriously than did Hitler and other members of the Bavarian leadership of the party.[citation needed]

Goebbels, German Federal Archive photo

"National and socialist! What goes first, and what comes afterwards?" Goebbels asked rhetorically in a debate with Theodor Vahlen, Gauleiter (regional party head) of Pomerania, in the Rhineland party newspaper National-sozialistische Briefe (National-Socialist Letters), of which he was editor, in mid-1925. "With us in the west, there can be no doubt. First socialist redemption, then comes national liberation like a whirlwind ... Hitler stands between both opinions, but he is on his way to coming over to us completely."[22] Goebbels, with his journalistic skills, thus soon became a key ally of Strasser in his struggle with the Bavarians over the party program. The conflict was not, so they thought, with Hitler, but with his lieutenants, Rudolf Hess, Julius Streicher and Hermann Esser, who, they said, were mismanaging the party in Hitler's absence. In 1925, Goebbels published an open letter to "my friends of the left," urging unity between socialists and Nazis against the capitalists. "You and I," he wrote, "we are fighting one another although we are not really enemies."[23]

In February 1926, Hitler, having finished working on Mein Kampf, made a sudden return to party affairs and soon disabused the northerners of any illusions about where he stood. He summoned 60 gauleiters and party leaders, including Goebbels, to a meeting at Bamberg, in Streicher's Gau of Franconia, where he gave a two-hour speech repudiating the political programme of the northern wing of the Party which saw themselves as having more in common with the Communists than the "bourgeoisie".[24] For Hitler, his position was opposed to the direction of the "socialist" wing, stating it would mean "political bolshevization of Germany". The future would be secured by acquiring land. Further, there would be "no princes, only Germans" and a legal system with no "... Jewish system of exploitation ... for plundering of our people". Goebbels was bitterly disillusioned. "I feel devastated," he wrote. "What sort of Hitler? A reactionary?" He was horrified by Hitler's characterisation of socialism as "a Jewish creation", and his assertion that private property would not be expropriated by a Nazi government. "I no longer fully believe in Hitler. That's the terrible thing: my inner support has been taken away."[25]

Hitler, however, recognised Goebbels' talents. In April, he brought Goebbels to Munich, sending his own car to meet him at the railway station, and gave him a long private audience. Hitler berated Goebbels over his support for the "socialist" line, but offered to "wipe the slate clean" if Goebbels would now accept his leadership. Goebbels capitulated completely, offering Hitler his total loyalty – a pledge that was clearly sincere, and that he adhered to until the end of his life. "I love him ... He has thought through everything," Goebbels wrote. "Such a sparkling mind can be my leader. I bow to the greater one, the political genius". Later he wrote: "Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple at the same time. What one calls a genius."[26] Fest writes:

From this point on he submitted himself, his whole existence, to his attachment to the person of the Führer, consciously eliminating all inhibitions springing from intellect, free will and self-respect. Since this submission was an act less of faith than of insight, it stood firm through all vicissitudes to the end. 'He who forsakes the Führer withers away,' he would later write.

Propagandist in Berlin

In October 1926, Hitler rewarded Goebbels for his new loyalty by making him the party "Gauleiter" for the Berlin section. Goebbels was then able to use the new position to indulge his literary aspirations in the German capital, which he perceived to be a stronghold of the socialists and communists. Here, Goebbels discovered his talent as a propagandist, writing such tracts as 1926's The Second Revolution and Lenin or Hitler.[27]

Here, he was also able to indulge his heretofore latent taste for violence, if only vicariously through the actions of the street fighters under his command. History, he said, "is made in the street," and he was determined to challenge the dominant parties of the left – the Social Democrats and  – in the streets of Berlin.[28] Working with the local SA (stormtrooper) leaders, he deliberately provoked beer-hall battles and street brawls, frequently involving firearms. "Beware, you dogs," he wrote to his former "friends of the left": "When the Devil is loose in me you will not curb him again." When the inevitable deaths occurred, he exploited them for the maximum effect, turning the street fighter Horst Wessel, who was killed at his home by enemy political activists, into a martyr and hero.[29]

In Berlin, Goebbels was able to give full expression to his genius for propaganda, as editor of the Berlin Nazi newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack) and as the author of a steady stream of Nazi posters and handbills. "He rose within a few months to be the city's most feared agitator."[29] His propaganda techniques were totally cynical: "That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result," he wrote. "It is not propaganda's task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success."[29]

Among his favourite targets were socialist leaders such as Hermann Müller and Carl Severing, and the Jewish Berlin Police President, Bernhard Weiß (1880–1951), whom he subjected to a relentless campaign of Jew-baiting in the hope of provoking a crackdown he could then exploit. The Social Democrat city government obliged in 1927 with an eight-month ban on the party, which Goebbels exploited to the limit. When a friend criticised him for denigrating Weiss, a man with an exemplary military record, "he explained cynically that he wasn't in the least interested in Weiss, only in the propaganda effect."[29]

Goebbels also discovered a talent for oratory, and was soon second in the Nazi movement only to Hitler as a public speaker. Where Hitler's style was hoarse and passionate, Goebbels' was cool, sarcastic and often humorous: he was a master of biting invective and insinuation, although he could whip himself into a rhetorical frenzy if the occasion demanded. Unlike Hitler, however, he retained a cynical detachment from his own rhetoric. He openly acknowledged that he was exploiting the lowest instincts of the German people – racism, xenophobia, class envy and insecurity. He could, he said, play the popular will like a piano, leading the masses wherever he wanted them to go. "He drove his listeners into ecstasy, making them stand up, sing songs, raise their arms, repeat oaths – and he did it, not through the passionate inspiration of the moment, but as the result of sober psychological calculation."[30]

Goebbels speaking at a political rally against the Lausanne Conference (1932)

Goebbels' words and actions made little impact on the political loyalties of Berlin.[31] At the 1928 Reichstag elections, the Nazis polled less than 2% of the vote in Berlin compared with 33% for the Social Democrats and 25% for the Communists. At this election Goebbels was one of the 10 Nazis elected to the Reichstag, which brought him a salary of 750 Reichsmarks a month and immunity from prosecution.[32] Even when the impact of the Great Depression led to an enormous surge in support for the Nazis across Germany, Berlin resisted the party's appeal more than any other part of Germany: at its peak in 1932, the Nazi Party polled 28% in Berlin to the combined left's 55%.[33] But his outstanding talents, and the obvious fact that he stood high in Hitler's regard, earned Goebbels the grudging respect of the anti-intellectual brawlers of the Nazi movement, who called him "our little doctor" with a mixture of affection and amusement. By 1928, still aged only 31, he was acknowledged to be one of the inner circle of Nazi leaders. "The S.A. would have let itself be hacked to bits for him," wrote Horst Wessel in 1929.[34]

The Great Depression led to a new resurgence of "left" sentiment in some sections of the Nazi Party, led by Gregor Strasser's brother Otto, who argued that the party ought to be competing with the Communists for the loyalties of the unemployed and the industrial workers by promising to expropriate the capitalists. Hitler, whose dislike of working class militancy reflected his social origins in the small-town lower middle class, was thoroughly opposed to this line. He recognised that the growth in Nazi support at the 1930 elections had mainly come from the middle class and from farmers, and he was now busy building bridges to the upper middle classes and to German business. In April 1930, he fired Strasser as head of the Nazi Party national propaganda apparatus and appointed Goebbels to replace him, giving him control of the party's national newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter (People's Observer), as well as other Nazi papers across the country. Goebbels, although he continued to show "leftish" tendencies in some of his actions (such as co-operating with the Communists in supporting the Berlin transport workers' strike in November 1932),[35] was totally loyal to Hitler in his struggle with the Strassers, which culminated in Otto's expulsion from the party in July 1930.[36]

Despite his revolutionary rhetoric, Goebbels' most important contribution to the Nazi cause between 1930 and 1933 was as the organiser of successive election campaigns: The Reichstag elections of September 1930, July and November 1932 and March 1933, and Hitler's presidential campaign of March–April 1932. He proved to be an organiser of genius, choreographing Hitler's dramatic airplane tours of Germany and pioneering the use of radio and cinema for electoral campaigning. The Nazi Party's use of torchlight parades, brass bands, massed choirs, and similar techniques caught the imagination of many voters, particularly young people. "His propaganda headquarters in Munich sent out a constant stream of directives to local and regional party sections, often providing fresh slogans and fresh material for the campaign."[37] Although the spectacular rise in the Nazi vote in 1930 and July 1932 was caused mainly by the effects of the Depression, Goebbels as party campaign manager was naturally given much of the credit.[citation needed]

Propaganda Minister

Personally he likes nobody, is liked by nobody, and runs the most efficient Nazi department.

Life, 28 March 1938[38]

When Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933, Goebbels was initially given no office: the coalition cabinet Hitler headed contained only a minority of Nazis as part of the deal he had negotiated with president Paul von Hindenburg and the conservative parties. As Goebbels was propaganda chief of the ruling party, he commandeered the state radio to produce a live broadcast of the torchlight parade that celebrated Hitler's assumption of office. On 13 March, Goebbels had his reward for his part in bringing the Nazis to power by being appointed Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Volksaufklärung und Propaganda), with a seat in the Cabinet.[citation needed]

The role of the new ministry, which took over palatial accommodation in the 18th-century Leopold Palace on Wilhelmstrasse, just across from Hitler's offices in the Reich Chancellery, was to centralise Nazi control of all aspects of German cultural and intellectual life, particularly the press, radio and the visual and performing arts.[39] On 1 May, Goebbels organised demonstrations and parades to mark the "Day of National Labour," which preceded the Nazi takeover and destruction of the German trade union movement. By 3 May, he was able to boast in his diary: "We are the masters of Germany."[40] On 10 May, he supervised an even more symbolic event in the establishment of Nazi cultural power: the burning of up to 20,000 books by Jewish or anti-Nazi authors in the Opernplatz next to the university.[41]

With Leni Riefenstahl in 1937

The hegemonic ambitions of the Propaganda Ministry were shown by the divisions Goebbels soon established: Press, radio, film, theatre, music, literature, and publishing. In each of these, a Reichskammer (Reich Chamber) was established, co-opting leading figures from the field (usually not known Nazis) to head each Chamber, and requiring them to supervise the purge of Jews, socialists and liberals, as well as practitioners of "degenerate" art forms such as abstract art and atonal music.[42] The respected composer Richard Strauss, for example, became head of the Reich Music Chamber. Goebbels' orders were backed by the threat of force. The many prominent Jews in the arts and the mass media emigrated in large numbers rather than risk the fists of the SA and the gates of the concentration camp, as did many socialists and liberals. Some non-Jewish anti-Nazis with good connections or international reputations survived until the mid-1930s, but most were forced out sooner or later.[citation needed]

Control of the arts and media was not just a matter of personnel. Soon the content of every newspaper, book, novel, play, film, broadcast and concert, from the level of nationally-known publishers and orchestras to local newspapers and village choirs, was subject to supervision by the Propaganda Ministry, although a process of self-censorship was soon effectively operating in all these fields, leaving the Ministry in Berlin free to concentrate on the most politically sensitive areas such as insuring that both major newspapers, and the new far-reaching, instantaneous state radio presented the unified Nazi worldview. In his 1933 speech, "Radio as the Eighth Great Power" Goebbels said:

We .. intend a principled transformation in the worldview of our entire society, a revolution of the greatest possible extent that will leave nothing out, changing the life of our nation in every regard ...

It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio and the airplane. It is no exaggeration to say that the German revolution, at least in the form it took, would have been impossible without the airplane and the radio. ...[Events of great] social-political significance...reached the entire nation regardless of class, standing, or religion...was primarily the result of the tight centralization, the...up-to-date nature of the German radio. ...But everything should have a relationship to our day. Everything should include the theme of our great reconstructive work... Above all it is necessary to clearly centralize all radio activities, to provide a clear worldview [43]

Indeed, even special affordable radios, the "Volksempfänger" had been invented and distributed to the German public in order to help meet these "necessary" ends. In order to maintain that monopoly worldview, listening to foreign stations became a criminal offence in Nazi Germany when the war began, while in some occupied territories, such as Poland, all radio listening by non-German citizens was outlawed (later in the war this prohibition was extended to other occupied countries coupled with mass seizures of radio sets[44]). Penalties ranged from confiscation of radios and imprisonment to, particularly later in the war, the death penalty. Hitler's architect and Minister for Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer, said in his final speech at the Nuremberg trials:

Hitler's dictatorship...made the complete use of all technical means for domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought.[45]

Adolf Hitler with one of Goebbels' daughters, 1933

No author could publish, no painter could exhibit, no singer could broadcast, no critic could criticise, unless they were a member of the appropriate Reich Chamber, and membership was conditional on good behaviour. Goebbels could bribe as well as threaten: he secured a large budget for his Ministry, with which he was able to offer generous salaries and subsidies to those in the arts who co-operated with him. Most artists, theatres, and orchestras—after struggling to survive the Depression—found these inducements hard to refuse.[46]

As one of the most highly educated members of the Nazi leadership, and the one with the most authentic pretensions to high culture, Goebbels was sensitive to charges that he was dragging German culture down to the level of mere propaganda. He responded by saying that the purpose of both art and propaganda was to bring about a spiritual mobilisation of the German people.

Goebbels insisted that German high culture must be allowed to carry on, both for reasons of international prestige and to win the loyalty of the upper middle classes, who valued art forms such as opera and the symphony. He thus became to some extent the protector of the arts as well as their regulator. In this, he had the support of Hitler, a passionate devotee of Wagner's operas and a fan of German classical art. But Goebbels always had to bow to Hitler's views. Hitler loathed modernism of all kinds, and Goebbels (whose own tastes were sympathetic to modernism) was forced to acquiesce in imposing very traditionalist forms on the artistic and musical worlds. The music of Paul Hindemith, for example, was banned simply because Hitler did not like it.[citation needed]

Goebbels also resisted the complete Nazification of the arts because he knew that the masses must be allowed some respite from slogans and propaganda. He ensured that film studios such as UFA at Babelsberg near Berlin continued to produce a stream of comedies and light romances, which drew mass audiences to the cinema where they would also watch propaganda newsreels and Nazi epics. His abuse of his position as Propaganda Minister and the reputation that built up around his use of the casting couch was well known. Many actresses wrote later of how Goebbels had tried to lure them to his home. He acquired the nickname "Bock von Babelsberg" lit: "Babelsberg Stud". He resisted considerable pressure to ban all foreign films – helped by the fact that Hitler sometimes watched foreign films. For the same reason, Goebbels worked to bring culture to the masses – promoting the sale of cheap radios, organising free concerts in factories, staging art exhibitions in small towns and establishing mobile cinemas to bring the movies to every village. All of this served short-term propaganda ends, but also served to reconcile the German people, particularly the working class, to the regime.[47]

In October 1941 Goebbels organised the "Weimarer Dichtertreffen" (Weimar Convention of Poets) inviting collaborating writers from all of Europe. Under Goebbels auspices the participating members (e.g. Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Robert Brasillach) founded the "Europäische Schriftstellervereinigung" (European Writers' League), officially in March 1942. Hans Carossa was president, Giovanni Papini vice president.[48]


Despite the enormous power of the Propaganda Ministry over German cultural life, Goebbels' status began to decline once the Nazi regime was firmly established in power.[49] By the mid-1930s, Hitler's most powerful subordinates were Hermann Göring, as head of the Four Year Plan for crash rearmament, and Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and police apparatus.[citation needed]

As a man of education and culture, Goebbels had once mocked the "primitive" antisemitism of Nazis such as Julius Streicher. But as Joachim Fest observes: "Goebbels [found] in the increasingly unrestrained practice of antisemitism by the state new possibilities into which he threw himself with all the zeal of an ambitious man worried by a constant diminution of his power." Fest also suggests a psychological motive: "A man who conformed so little to the National Socialist image of the elite ... may have had his reason, in the struggles for power at Hitler's court, for offering keen antisemitism as a counterweight to his failure to conform to a type."[50] Whatever his motives, Goebbels took every opportunity to attack the Jews. From 1933 onwards, he was bracketed with Streicher among the regime's most virulent antisemites.[51] "Some people think," he told a Berlin rally in June 1935, "that we haven't noticed how the Jews are trying once again to spread themselves over all our streets. The Jews ought to please observe the laws of hospitality and not behave as if they were the same as us."

A ruined synagogue in Munich after Kristallnacht

The sarcastic humour of Goebbels' speeches did not conceal the reality of his threat to the Jews. In his capacity as Gauleiter of Berlin, and thus as de facto ruler of the capital (although there was still officially an Oberbürgermeister and city council), Goebbels maintained constant pressure on the city's large Jewish community, forcing them out of business and professional life and placing obstacles in the way of their being able to live normal lives, such as banning them from public transport and city facilities. There was some respite during 1936, while Berlin hosted the Olympic Games,[52] but from 1937 the intensity of his antisemitic words and actions began to increase again. "The Jews must get out of Germany, indeed out of Europe altogether," he wrote in his diary in November 1937. "That will take some time, but it must and will happen."[53] By mid-1938 Goebbels was investigating the possibility of requiring all Jews to wear an identifying mark and of confining them to a ghetto, but these were ideas whose time had not yet come. "Aim – drive the Jews out of Berlin," he wrote in his diary in June 1938, "and without any sentimentality."[54]

In November 1938, Goebbels got the chance to take decisive action against the Jews for which he had been waiting when a Jewish youth, Herschel Grynszpan, shot a German diplomat in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, in revenge for the deportation of his family to Poland and the persecution of German Jews generally.[55] On 9 November, the evening vom Rath died of his wounds, Goebbels was at the Bürgerbräu Keller in Munich with Hitler, celebrating the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch with a large crowd of veteran Nazis. Goebbels told Hitler that "spontaneous" anti-Jewish violence had already broken out in German cities. When Hitler said he approved of what was happening, Goebbels took this as authorisation to organise a nationwide pogrom against the Jews. He wrote in his diary:

[Hitler] decides: demonstrations should be allowed to continue. The police should be withdrawn. For once the Jews should get the feel of popular anger ... I immediately gave the necessary instructions to the police and the Party. Then I briefly spoke in that vein to the Party leadership. Stormy applause. All are instantly at the phones. Now people will act.[56]

The result of Goebbels' incitement was Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," during which the S.A. and Nazi Party went on a rampage of anti-Jewish violence and destruction, killing at least 90 and maybe as many as 200 people, destroying over a thousand synagogues and hundreds of Jewish businesses and homes, and dragging some 30,000 Jews off to concentration camps, where at least another thousand died before the remainder were released after several months of brutal treatment. The longer-term effect was to drive 80,000 Jews to emigrate, most leaving behind all their property in their desperation to escape. Foreign opinion reacted with horror, bringing to a sudden end the climate of appeasement of Nazi Germany in the western democracies. Goebbels' pogrom thus moved Germany significantly closer to war, at a time when rearmament was still far from complete. Göring and some other Nazi leaders were furious at Goebbels' actions, about which they had not been consulted.[57] Goebbels, however, was delighted. "As was to be expected, the entire nation is in uproar," he wrote. "This is one dead man who is costing the Jews dear. Our darling Jews will think twice in future before gunning down German diplomats."[58]

Man of power

These events were well-timed from the point of view of Goebbels' relations with Hitler. In 1937, he had begun an intense affair with the Czech actress Lída Baarová, causing the break-up of her marriage. When Magda Goebbels learned of this in October 1938, she complained to Hitler, a prude in sexual matters, who was fond of Magda and the Goebbels' young children. He ordered Goebbels to break off his affair, whereupon Goebbels offered his resignation, which Hitler refused. On 15 October, Goebbels attempted suicide. A furious Hitler then ordered Himmler to remove Baarová from Germany, and she was deported to Czechoslovakia, from where she later left for Italy. These events damaged Goebbels' standing with Hitler, and his zeal in furthering Hitler's antisemitic agenda was in part an effort to restore his reputation.[59] The Baarová affair did nothing to dampen Goebbels' enthusiasm for womanising. As late as 1943, the Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann was ingratiating himself with Goebbels by procuring young women for him.[60]

Goebbels' villa on Bogensee,
2008 condition

Goebbels, like all the Nazi leaders, could not afford to defy Hitler's will in matters of this kind. By 1938, they had all become wealthy men, but their wealth was dependent on Hitler's continuing goodwill and willingness to turn a blind eye to their corruption. Until the Nazis came to power, Goebbels had been a relatively poor man, and his main income was the salary of 750 Reichsmarks a month he had gained by election to the Reichstag in 1928. By 1936, although he was not nearly as corrupt as some other senior Nazis, such as Göring and Robert Ley, Goebbels was earning 300,000 Reichsmarks a year in "fees" for writing in his own newspaper, Der Angriff (The Attack), as well as his ministerial salary and many other sources of income. These payments were in effect bribes from the papers' publisher Max Amann. He owned a villa on Schwanenwerder island and another at Bogensee near Wandlitz in Brandenburg, which he spent 2.3 million Reichsmarks refurbishing. The tax office, as it did for all the Nazi leaders, gave him generous exemptions.[61]

Whatever the loss of real power suffered by Goebbels during the middle years of the Nazi regime, he remained one of Hitler's intimates. Since his offices were close to the Chancellery, he was a frequent guest for lunch, during which he became adept at listening to Hitler's monologues and agreeing with his opinions. In the months leading up to the war, his influence began to increase again. He ranked along with Joachim von Ribbentrop, Göring, Himmler, and Martin Bormann as the senior Nazi with the most access to Hitler, which in an autocratic regime meant access to power. The fact that Hitler was fond of Magda Goebbels and the children also gave Goebbels entrée to Hitler's inner circle. The Goebbels family regularly visited Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat, the Berghof. But he was not kept directly informed of military and diplomatic developments, relying on second-hand accounts to hear what Hitler was doing.[62]

Goebbels at war

From 1936 to 1939, Hitler, while professing his desire for peace, led Germany firmly and deliberately towards a confrontation.[63] Goebbels was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of aggressively pursuing Germany's territorial claims sooner rather than later, along with Himmler and Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop.[64] He saw it as his job to make the German people accept this and if possible welcome it. At the time of the Sudetenland crisis in 1938, Goebbels was well aware that the great majority of Germans did not want a war, and used every propaganda resource at his disposal to overcome what he called this "war psychosis," by whipping up sympathy for the Sudeten Germans and hatred of the Czechs.[65] After the western powers acceded to Hitler's demands concerning Czechoslovakia in 1938, Goebbels soon redirected his propaganda machine against Poland. From May onwards, he orchestrated a "hate campaign" against Poland, fabricating stories about atrocities against ethnic Germans in Danzig and other cities. Even so, he was unable to persuade the majority of Germans to welcome the prospect of war.[66]

Once war began in September 1939, Goebbels began a steady process of extending his influence over domestic policy. After 1940, Hitler made few public appearances, and even his broadcasts became less frequent, so Goebbels increasingly became the face and the voice of the Nazi regime for the German people.[67] One American journalist wrote in 1941 that Goebbels and Himmler were "rivals in unpopularity", and that Goebbels "would be lucky to remain alive twenty-four hours after Hitler's protective hand was removed".[68] With Hitler preoccupied with the war, however, Himmler focusing on the "final solution to the Jewish question" in eastern Europe, and with Göring's position declining with the failure of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), Goebbels sensed a power vacuum in domestic policy and moved to fill it. Since civilian morale was his responsibility, he increasingly concerned himself with matters such as wages, rationing and housing, which affected morale and therefore productivity. He came to see the lethargic and demoralised Göring, still Germany's economic supremo as head of the Four Year Plan Ministry, as his main enemy. To undermine Göring, he forged an alliance with Himmler, although the SS chief remained wary of him. A more useful ally was Albert Speer, a Hitler favourite who was appointed Armaments Minister in February 1942. Goebbels and Speer worked through 1942 to persuade Hitler to dismiss Göring as economic head and allow the domestic economy to be run by a revived Cabinet headed by themselves.[citation needed]

In February 1943, the crushing German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad produced a crisis in the regime. Goebbels was forced to ally himself with Göring to thwart a bid for power by Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellery and Secretary to the Führer. Bormann exploited the disaster at Stalingrad, and his daily access to Hitler, to persuade him to create a three-man junta representing the State, the Army, and the Party, represented respectively by Hans Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of the OKW (armed forces high command), and Bormann, who controlled the Party and access to the Führer. This Committee of Three would exercise dictatorial powers over the home front. Goebbels, Speer, Göring and Himmler all saw this proposal as a power grab by Bormann and a threat to their power, and combined to block it.

The alliance was shaky at best, mainly because during this period Himmler was still cooperating with Bormann to gain more power at the expense of Göring and most of the traditional Reich administration; Göring's loss of power had resulted in an overindulgence in the trappings of power and his strained relations with Goebbels made it difficult for a unified coalition to be formed, despite the attempts of Speer and Göring's Luftwaffe deputy Field Marshal Erhard Milch, to reconcile the two Party comrades.[citation needed]

Goebbels instead tried to persuade Hitler to appoint Göring as head of the government. His proposal had a certain logic, as Göring – despite the failures of the Luftwaffe and his own corruption – was still very popular among the German people, whose morale was waning since Hitler barely appeared in public since the defeat at Stalingrad. This proposal was increasingly unworkable given Göring's increasing incapacity and, more importantly, Hitler's increasing contempt for him due to his blaming of Göring for Germany's defeats. This was a measure by Hitler designed to deflect criticism from himself.[citation needed]

The result was that nothing was done – the Committee of Three declined into irrelevance due to the loss of power by Keitel and Lammers and the ascension of Bormann and the situation continued to drift, with administrative chaos increasingly undermining the war effort. The ultimate responsibility for this lay with Hitler, as Goebbels well knew, referring in his diary to a "crisis of leadership," but Goebbels was too much under Hitler's spell ever to challenge his power.[69]

Sports Palace speech

Goebbels launched a new offensive to place himself at the centre of policy-making. On 18 February, he delivered a passionate "Total War Speech" at the Sports Palace in Berlin. Goebbels demanded from his audience a commitment to "total war," the complete mobilisation of the German economy and German society for the war effort. To motivate the German people to continue the struggle, he cited three theses as the basis of this argument:

  1. If the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) were not in a position to break the danger from the Eastern front, then Nazi Germany would fall to Bolshevism, and all of Europe would fall shortly afterward;
  2. The German Armed Forces, the German people, and the Axis Powers alone had the strength to save Europe from this threat;
  3. Danger was a motivating force. Germany had to act quickly and decisively, or it would be too late.

Goebbels concluded that "Two thousand years of Western history are in danger," and he blamed Germany's failures on the Jews.

Goebbels hoped in this way to persuade Hitler to give him and his ally Speer control of domestic policy for a program of total commitment to arms production and full labour conscription, including women. But Hitler, supported by Göring, resisted these demands, which he feared would weaken civilian morale and lead to a repetition of the debacle of 1918, when the German army had been undermined (in Hitler's view) by a collapse of the home front. Nor was Hitler willing to allow Goebbels or anyone else to usurp his own power as the ultimate source of all decisions. Goebbels privately lamented "a complete lack of direction in German domestic policy," but of course he could not directly criticise Hitler or go against his wishes.[70]

Goebbels and the Holocaust

Heinrich Himmler, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, preferred that the matter not be discussed in public. Despite this, in an editorial in his newspaper Das Reich in November 1941 Goebbels quoted Hitler's 1939 "prophecy" that the Jews would be the loser in the coming world war.[71] Now, he said, Hitler's prophecy was coming true: "Jewry," he said, "is now suffering the gradual process of annihilation which it intended for us ... It now perishes according to its own precept of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'!"[72]

In 1939, in a speech to the Reichstag, Hitler had said:

If international finance Jewry in and outside Europe should succeed in thrusting the nations once again into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth and with it the victory of Jewry, but the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe.[73]

The view of most historians is that the decision to proceed with the extermination of the Jews was taken at some point in late 1941.[74]

The decision in principle to deport the German and Austrian Jews to unspecified destinations "in the east" was made in September. Goebbels immediately pressed for the Berlin Jews to be deported first. He travelled to Hitler's headquarters on the eastern front, meeting both Hitler and Reinhard Heydrich to lobby for his demands. He got the assurances he wanted: "The Führer is of the opinion," he wrote, "that the Jews eventually have to be removed from the whole of Germany. The first cities to be made Jew-free are Berlin, Vienna, and Prague. Berlin is first in the queue, and I have the hope that we'll succeed in the course of this year."[75]

Deportations of Berlin Jews to the Łódź ghetto began in October, but transport and other difficulties made the process much slower than Goebbels desired. His November article in Das Reich was part of his campaign to have the pace of deportation accelerated.

In December, he was present when Hitler addressed a meeting of Gauleiters and other senior Nazis, discussing among other things the "Jewish question." He wrote in his diary afterward:

With regard to the Jewish Question, the Führer is determined to make a clean sweep of it. He prophesied that, if they brought about another world war, they would experience their annihilation. That was no empty talk. The world war is here [this was the week Germany declared war on the United States]. The annihilation of Jewry must be the necessary consequence. The question is to be viewed without any sentimentality. We're not there to have sympathy with the Jews, but only sympathy with our own German people. If the German people has again now sacrificed around 160,000 dead in the eastern campaign, the originators of this bloody conflict will have to pay for it with their lives.[76]

During 1942,[77] Goebbels continued to press for the "final solution to the Jewish question" to be carried forward as quickly as possible now that Germany had occupied a huge swathe of Soviet territory into which all the Jews of German-controlled Europe could be deported. There they could be worked into extinction in accordance with the plan agreed on at the Wannsee Conference convened by Heydrich in January. It was a constant annoyance to Goebbels that, at a time when Germany was fighting for its life on the eastern front, there were still 40,000 Jews in Berlin.[78] They should be "carted off to Russia," he wrote in his diary. "It would be best to kill them altogether."[79] Although the Propaganda Ministry was not invited to the Wannsee Conference, Goebbels knew by March what had been decided there.[80] He wrote:

The Jews are now being deported to the east. A fairly barbaric procedure, not to be described in any greater detail, is being used here, and not much more remains of the Jews themselves. In general, it can probably be established that 60 percent of them must be liquidated, while only 40 percent can be put to work ... A judgment is being carried out on the Jews which is barbaric, but fully deserved.[81]

Plenipotentiary for total war

9 March 1945: Goebbels awards a 16-year old Hitler Youth, Willi Hübner, the Iron Cross for the defence of Lauban[82]

Goebbels struggled in 1943 and 1944 to rally the German people behind a regime that faced increasingly obvious military defeat. The German people's faith in Hitler was shaken by the disaster at Stalingrad, and never fully recovered.[83] During 1943, as the Soviet armies advanced towards the borders of the Reich, the western Allies developed the ability to launch devastating air raids on most German cities, including Berlin. At the same time, there were increasingly critical shortages of food, raw materials, fuel and housing. Goebbels and Speer were among the few Nazi leaders who were under no illusions about Germany's dire situation. Their solution was to seize control of the home front from the indecisive Hitler and the incompetent Göring. This was the agenda of Goebbels's "total war" speech of February 1943. But they were thwarted by their inability to challenge Hitler, who could neither make decisions himself nor trust anyone else to do so.

After Stalingrad, Hitler increasingly withdrew from public view, almost never appearing in public and rarely even broadcasting. By July, Goebbels was lamenting that Hitler had cut himself off from the people – it was noted, for example, that he never visited the bomb-ravaged cities of the Ruhr. "One can't neglect the people too long," he wrote. "They are the heart of our war effort."[84] Goebbels became the public voice of the Nazi regime, both in his regular broadcasts and his weekly editorials in Das Reich. As Joachim Fest notes, Goebbels seemed to take a grim pleasure in the destruction of Germany's cities by the Allied bombing offensive: "It was, as one of his colleagues confirmed, almost a happy day for him when famous buildings were destroyed, because at such time he put into his speeches that ecstatic hatred which aroused the fanaticism of the tiring workers and spurred them to fresh efforts."[85]

In public, Goebbels remained confident of German victory: "We live at the most critical period in the history of the Occident," he wrote in Das Reich in February 1943. "Any weakening of the spiritual and military defensive strength of our continent in its struggle with eastern Bolshevism brings with it the danger of a rapidly nearing decline in its will to resist ... Our soldiers in the East will do their part. They will stop the storm from the steppes, and ultimately break it. They fight under unimaginable conditions. But they are fighting a good fight. They are fighting not only for our own security, but also for Europe's future."[86]

In private, he was discouraged by the failure of his and Speer's campaign to gain control of the home front. In 1944 he made a now infamous list with "irreplaceable artists" called the Gottbegnadeten list with people such as Arno Breker, Richard Strauss and Johannes Heesters.

Goebbels remained preoccupied with the annihilation of the Jews, which was now reaching its climax in the extermination camps of eastern Poland. As in 1942, he was more outspoken about what was happening than Himmler would have liked: "Our state's security requires that we take whatever measures seem necessary to protect the German community from [the Jewish] threat," he wrote in May. "That leads to some difficult decisions, but they are unavoidable if we are to deal with the threat ... None of the Führer's prophetic words has come so inevitably true as his prediction that if Jewry succeeded in provoking a second world war, the result would be not the destruction of the Aryan race, but rather the wiping out of the Jewish race. This process is of vast importance."[87]

Following the Allied invasion of Italy and the fall of Benito Mussolini in September, he and Joachim von Ribbentrop raised with Hitler the possibility of secretly approaching Joseph Stalin and negotiating a separate peace behind the backs of the western Allies. Hitler, surprisingly, did not reject the idea of a separate peace with either side, but he told Goebbels that he should not negotiate from a position of weakness. A great German victory must occur before any negotiations should be undertaken, he reasoned.[88] The German defeat at Kursk in July had ended any possibility of this.

As Germany's military and economic situation grew steadily worse during 1944, Goebbels renewed his push, in alliance with Speer, to wrest control of the home front away from Göring. In July, following the Allied landings in France and the huge Soviet advances in Belarus, Hitler finally agreed to grant both of them increased powers. Speer took control of all economic and production matters away from Göring, and Goebbels took the title Reich Plenipotentiary for "Total War" (Reichsbevollmächtigter für den totalen Kriegseinsatz an der Heimatfront). At the same time, Himmler took over the Interior Ministry.

This trio – Goebbels, Himmler and Speer – became the real centre of German government in the last year of the war, although Bormann used his privileged access to Hitler to thwart them when he could. In this Bormann was very successful, as the party gauleiters gained more and more powers, becoming Reich Defense Commissars (Reichsverteidigungskommissare) in their respective districts and overseeing all civilian administration. The fact that Himmler was Interior Minister only increased the power of Bormann, as the Gauleiters feared that Himmler, who was General Plenipotentiary for the Administration of the Reich, would curb their power and set up his higher SS and police leaders as their replacement.

Goebbels saw Himmler as a potential ally against Bormann and in 1944 is supposed to have voiced the opinion that if the Reichsführer-SS was granted control over the Wehrmacht and he, Goebbels, granted control over the domestic politics, the war would soon be ended in a victorious manner. However, the inability of Himmler to persuade Hitler to cease his support of Bormann, the defection of SS generals such as Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and his powerful subordinate Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, head of the Gestapo, to Bormann, soon persuaded Goebbels to align himself with the Secretary to the Führer at the end of 1944, thus accepting his subordinate position.

When elements of the army leadership tried to assassinate Hitler in the July 20 plot shortly thereafter, it was this trio that rallied the resistance to the plotters. It was Goebbels, besieged in his Berlin flat with Speer and secretary Wilfred von Oven beside him but with his phone lines intact, who brought Otto Ernst Remer, the wavering commander of the Berlin garrison, to the phone to speak to Hitler in East Prussia, thus demonstrating that the Führer was alive and that the garrison should oppose the attempted coup.[89]

Goebbels promised Hitler that he could raise a million new soldiers by means of a reorganisation of the Army, transferring personnel from the Navy and Luftwaffe, and purging the bloated Reich Ministries, which satraps like Göring had hitherto protected. As it turned out, the inertia of the state bureaucracy was too great even for the energetic Goebbels to overcome. Bormann and his puppet Lammers, keen to retain their control over the Party and State administrations respectively, placed endless obstacles in Goebbels's way.[90] Another problem was that although Speer and Goebbels were allies, their agendas conflicted: Speer wanted absolute priority in the allocation of labour to be given to arms production, while Goebbels sought to press every able-bodied male into the army. Speer, allied with Fritz Sauckel, the General Plenipotentiary for the Employment of Labour from 1942, generally won these battles.[91]

By July 1944, it was in any case too late for Goebbels and Speer's internal coup to make any real difference to the outcome of the war. The combined economic and military power of the western Allies and the Soviet Union, now fully mobilised, was too great for Germany to overcome. A crucial economic indicator, the ratio of steel output, was running at 4.5:1 against Germany. The final blow was the loss of the Romanian oil fields as the Soviet Army advanced through the Balkans in September. This, combined with the U.S. air campaign against Germany's synthetic oil production, finally broke the back of the German economy and thus its capacity for further resistance.[92] By this time, the best Goebbels could do to reassure the German people that victory was still possible was to make vague promises that "miracle weapons" such as the Me 262 jet aircraft, the Type XXI U-boat, and the V-2 rocket could somehow retrieve the military situation.

Defeat and death

In the last months of the war, Goebbels' speeches and articles took on an increasingly apocalyptic tone:

"Rarely in history has a brave people struggling for its life faced such terrible tests as the German people have in this war," he wrote towards the end. "The misery that results for us all, the never ending chain of sorrows, fears, and spiritual torture does not need to be described in detail. We are bearing a heavy fate because we are fighting for a good cause, and are called to bravely endure the battle to achieve greatness."[93]

By the beginning of 1945, with the Soviets on the Oder and the Western Allies preparing to cross the Rhine, Goebbels could no longer disguise the fact that defeat was inevitable. He knew what that would mean for himself: "For us," he had written in 1943, "we have burnt our bridges. We cannot go back, but neither do we want to go back. We are forced to extremes and therefore resolved to proceed to extremes."[94] In his diaries, he expressed the belief that German diplomacy should find a way to exploit the emerging tensions between Stalin and the West, but he proclaimed foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, whom Hitler would not abandon, incapable of such a feat.[95]

When other Nazi leaders urged Hitler to leave Berlin and establish a new centre of resistance in the National Redoubt in Bavaria, Goebbels opposed this, arguing for a last stand in the ruins of the Reich capital.

By this time, Goebbels had gained the position he had wanted so long – at the side of Hitler, albeit only because of his subservience to Bormann, who was the Führer's de facto deputy. Göring was utterly discredited, though Hitler refused to dismiss him until 25 April. Himmler, whose appointment as commander of Army Group Vistula had led to disaster on the Oder, was also in disgrace, and Hitler rightly suspected that he was secretly trying to negotiate with the western Allies. Only Goebbels and Bormann remained totally loyal to Hitler.[96] Goebbels knew how to play on Hitler's fantasies, encouraging him to see the hand of providence in the death of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April.[97] On 22 April, largely as a result of Goebbels' influence, Hitler announced that he would not leave Berlin, but would stay and fight, and if necessary die, in defence of the capital.[98]

On 23 April, Goebbels made the following proclamation to the people of Berlin:

I call on you to fight for your city. Fight with everything you have got, for the sake of your wives and your children, your mothers and your parents. Your arms are defending everything we have ever held dear, and all the generations that will come after us. Be proud and courageous! Be inventive and cunning! Your Gauleiter is amongst you. He and his colleagues will remain in your midst. His wife and children are here as well. He, who once captured the city with 200 men, will now use every means to galvanize the defense of the capital. The battle for Berlin must become the signal for the whole nation to rise up in battle ..."[99]

Unlike many other leading Nazis at this juncture, Goebbels proved to have strong convictions, moving himself and his family into the Vorbunker, that was connected to the lower Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery gardens in central Berlin.[100] He told Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss that he would not entertain the idea of either surrender or escape: "I was the Reich Minister of Propaganda and led the fiercest activity against the Soviet Union, for which they would never pardon me," Voss quoted him as saying. "He couldn't escape also because he was Berlin's Defence Commissioner and he considered it would be disgraceful for him to abandon his post," Voss added.[101]

After midnight on 29 April,[102] with the Soviets advancing ever closer to the bunker complex, Hitler dictated his last will and testament. Goebbels was one of four witnesses. In the mid-afternoon of 30 April, Hitler shot himself.[103] Of Hitler's death, Goebbels commented: "The heart of Germany has ceased to beat. The Führer is dead."

In his last will and testament, Hitler named no successor as Führer or leader of the Nazi Party. Instead, Hitler appointed Goebbels Reich Chancellor; Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was at Flensburg near the Danish border, Reich President; and Martin Bormann, Hitler's long-time chief of staff, Party Minister. Goebbels knew that this was an empty title. Even if he was willing and able to escape Berlin and reach the north, it was unlikely that Dönitz, whose only concern was to negotiate a settlement with the western Allies that would save Germany from Soviet occupation, would want such a notorious figure as Goebbels heading his government.

As it was, Goebbels had no intention of trying to escape. Voss later recounted: "When Goebbels learned that Hitler had committed suicide, he was very depressed and said: 'It is a great pity that such a man is not with us any longer. But there is nothing to be done. For us, everything is lost now and the only way left for us is the one which Hitler chose. I shall follow his example'."[104]

On 1 May, Goebbels completed his sole official act as Chancellor. He dictated a letter and ordered German General Hans Krebs, under a white flag, to meet with General Vasily Chuikov and to deliver his letter. Chuikov, as commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, commanded the Soviet forces in central Berlin. Goebbels' letter informed Chuikov of Hitler's death and requested a ceasefire, hinting that the establishment of a National Socialist government hostile to Western plutocracy would be beneficial to the Soviet Union, as the betrayal of Himmler and Göring indicated that otherwise anti-Soviet National Socialist elements might align themselves with the West. When this was rejected, Goebbels decided that further efforts were futile.[105] Shortly afterward he dictated a postscript to Hitler's testament:

The Führer has given orders for me, in case of a breakdown of defense of the Capital of the Reich, to leave Berlin and to participate as a leading member in a government appointed by him. For the first time in my life, I must categorically refuse to obey a command of the Führer. My wife and my children agree with this refusal. In any other case, I would feel myself ... a dishonorable renegade and vile scoundrel for my entire further life, who would lose the esteem of himself along with the esteem of his people, both of which would have to form the requirement for further duty of my person in designing the future of the German Nation and the German Reich.[106]

Later on 1 May, Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss saw Goebbels for the last time: "Before the breakout [from the bunker] began, about ten generals and officers, including myself, went down individually to Goebbels's shelter to say goodbye. While saying goodbye I asked Goebbels to join us. But he replied: 'The captain must not leave his sinking ship. I have thought about it all and decided to stay here. I have nowhere to go because with little children I will not be able to make it'."[104]

The Goebbels family. In this vintage manipulated image, Goebbels' stepson Harald Quandt (who was absent due to military duty) was added to the group portrait.

At 8 pm on the evening of 1 May, Goebbels arranged for an SS dentist, Helmut Kunz, to kill his six children by injecting them with morphine and then, when they were unconscious, crushing an ampoule of cyanide in each of their mouths.[107] According to Kunz's testimony, he gave the children morphine injections but it was Magda Goebbels and Stumpfegger, Hitler's personal doctor, who then administered the cyanide.[108] Shortly afterward, Goebbels and his wife went up to the garden of the Chancellery, where they killed themselves. The details of their suicides are uncertain. After the war, Rear-Admiral Michael Musmanno, a U.S. naval officer and judge, published an account apparently based on eye-witness testimony: "At about 8:15 pm, Goebbels arose from the table, put on his hat, coat and gloves and, taking his wife's arm, went upstairs to the garden." They were followed by Goebbels's adjutant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Günther Schwägermann. "While Schwägermann was preparing the petrol, he heard a shot. Goebbels had shot himself and his wife took poison. Schwägermann ordered one of the soldiers to shoot Goebbels again because he was unable to do it himself."[109] One SS officer stated they each took cyanide and were shot by an SS trooper, on Goebbels' prior orders.[citation needed] According to another account, Goebbels shot his wife and then took his own life by shooting himself. This version is portrayed in the movies The Bunker and Downfall.[citation needed]

The bodies of Goebbels and his wife were then burned in a shell crater, but owing to the lack of petrol the burning was only partly effective, and their bodies were easily identifiable. A few days later, Voss was brought back to the bunker by the Soviets to identify the partly burned bodies of Joseph and Magda Goebbels and the bodies of their children. "Vice-Admiral Voss, being asked how he identified the people as Goebbels, his wife and children, explained that he recognised the burnt body of the man as former Reichsminister Goebbels by the following signs: the shape of the head, the line of the mouth, the metal brace that Goebbels had on his right leg, his gold NSDAP badge and the burnt remains of his party uniform."[110] The remains of the Goebbels family were repeatedly buried and exhumed, along with the remains of Hitler, Eva Braun, General Hans Krebs and Hitler's dogs.[111] The last burial was at the SMERSH facility in Magdeburg on 21 February 1946. In 1970, KGB director Yuri Andropov authorised an operation to destroy the remains.[112] On 4 April 1970, a Soviet KGB team with detailed burial charts secretly exhumed five wooden boxes. The remains from the boxes were thoroughly burned and crushed, after which the ashes were thrown into the Biederitz river, a tributary of the nearby Elbe.[113]

Joachim Fest writes: "What he seemed to fear more than anything else was a death devoid of dramatic effects. To the end he was what he had always been: the propagandist for himself. Whatever he thought or did was always based on this one agonizing wish for self-exaltation, and this same object was served by the murder of his children ... They were the last victims of an egomania extending beyond the grave. However, this deed, too, failed to make him the figure of tragic destiny he had hoped to become; it merely gave his end a touch of repulsive irony."[114]

See also



  1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Goebbels
  2. Michael Mann (2004). Fascists. Cambridge University Press, p. 183.
  3. "Boycott of Jews to Commence on April 1.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 March 1933.,2876503&dq=germany+boycott&hl=en. 
  4. "Boycott of Jews Enforced for One Day". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 April 1933.,3241857&dq=germany+boycott&hl=en. 
  5. "Kristallnacht" refers to the broken glass spread on the streets, as the Nazis smashed the windows of thousands of Jewish businesses. Evans (2006)
  6. Thacker (2009)
  8. Goebbels is commonly said to have had club foot (talipes equinovarus), a congenital condition.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 88
  10. "Axis History link". Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  11. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 2005, p 249, says "Goebbels's religious beliefs retained a residual element of Christianity" as opposed to the paganism of Alfred Rosenberg and Richard Walther Darré.
  12. Michael H. Kater, Hitler Youth, 2004, says that his "intelligent insights into policy matters were second to none in Hitler's entourage." (p 12) Kater credits Goebbels with persuading Hitler in 1930 to take the recruitment of young supporters into the Hitler Youth seriously. (p 11)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p 204
  14. Gerhard Besier, The Holy See and Hitler's Germany, London: Palgrave, 2007, p 130
  15. Tony Paterson (2012-09-25). "Words of warning: Goebbels' love letters reveal tyrant in the making - World History - World". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  16. Von Widmann, Carlos (2001-09-24). "DER SPIEGEL 39/2001 - GEFÄHRTIN DES BÖSEN". DER SPIEGEL. Retrieved 2013-09-15.  (German)
  17. The love letters that have been discovered includes more than 100 letters written between Goebbels and Anka Stalherm, the first great love of his life, and show his desire to control others, he said. Letters from other girlfriends include a pair of sisters he seduced at the same time. Goebbels love letters auction
  18. In 1992, the missing sections of the diaries were found in the Moscow archives by Dr. Elke Fröhlich. A multi-volume edition of the diaries has been published.
  19. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 89
  20. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 87
  21. Kershaw, Hitler, Volume I, W. W. Norton, 1999, p 270
  22. Kershaw, Hitler, I, p 272
  23. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 89. These sentiments were reciprocated by some on the left. Richard F. Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler?, Princeton University Press, 1982, p 570, quotes strikingly antisemitic statements made by some German Communist leaders in their efforts to create a common front between Communist and National Socialist workers.
  24. Kershaw, Hitler I, pp 274, 275
  25. Kershaw, Hitler I, p 275
  26. Kershaw, Hitler, I, p 277
  27. Current Biography 1941, pp 323–26
  28. Anthony Read and David Fisher, Berlin: The Biography of a City, Pimlico, 1994, pp 187–189
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 90
  30. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 92
  31. Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler?, discusses Goebbels' record as an election campaigner. Hamilton notes: "In National Socialist literature, as well as in the writings of the party's opponents, much attention has been given to the masterly demagogic efforts of the Berlin Gauleiter, Joseph Goebbels, showing an extraordinary appreciation of crowd psychology, so it is said, he manipulated audiences with unequalled skill. Goebbels's accomplishment, however, as measured by ... voting results, was at all times inferior to that of his less well known colleagues in Hamburg." (p 109)
  32. Read and Fisher, Berlin, p 189
  33. "Wahlen in der Weimarer Republik website". Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  34. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p 208
  35. Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler, p 389. Hamilton notes that Der Angriff struck a noticeably "anti-bourgeois" tone in the last years of the Weimar Republic (p 416).
  36. Gregor lost all his power but remained nominal head of the party organisation until 1932: he was murdered in 1934 in the Night of the Long Knives. Otto went into exile.
  37. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p 259. Evans notes that many Nazi voters in the party's breakthrough election in 1930 were young or other first-time voters, brought to the polls by the excitement generated by Goebbels' campaign techniques.
  38. "Goebbels' Text: "In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was God"". Life. 28 March 1938. p. 20. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  39. Part of the building had long housed the German government press office, other parts of it were occupied by the Prussian Finance Ministry. Goebbels soon occupied the whole building. The Palace was destroyed by Allied bombs, but some of Goebbels's extensions at the rear of the Palace survived and are still in use, although now obscured from view from Wilhelmstrasse by a postwar building.
  40. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, p 358
  41. Read and Fisher, Berlin, p 205
  42. The chambers were the Reich Chamber of Film, the Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts, the Reich Chamber of Theatre, the Reich Chamber of Radio, the Reich Chamber of the Press, the Reich Chamber of Music, and the Reich Chamber of Literature. They were grouped into the Reich Chamber of Culture. (Hans Fritzsche, Dr. Goebbels and his Ministry, originally published as Dr. Goebbels und sein Ministerium, in Hans Heinz Mantau-Sadlia, Deutsche Führer Deutsches Schicksal (Verlag Max Steinebach, 1934; available online here))
  43. 1933, Radio as the Eighth Great Power speech by Joseph Goebbels (full text; English translation)
  44. "Hand in?". Verzetsmuseum.,may_1943_-_may_1944/hand_in-. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  45. Snell, John L. (1959). The Nazi Revolution: Germany's guilt or Germany's fate?. Boston: Heath. p. 7. 
  46. The process by which Goebbels established control over the German arts and mass media by a combination of co-option, bribery, and coercion is described in detail in Evans, The Third Reich in Power, Chapter 2 "The Mobilization of the Spirit." In The Coming of the Third Reich, pp 399–402, Evans describes how Goebbels used the parlous financial state of the Berlin Philharmonic to break down the resistance of its renowned conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, to the removal of Jewish musicians from the orchestra.
  47. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p 210
  48. "Dichte, Dichter, tage nicht!" – Die Europäische Schriftsteller-Vereinigung in Weimar 1941–1948 by Frank-Rutger Hausmann, 2004, ISBN 3-465-03295-0, p. 210
  49. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 93
  50. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, pp 93–94
  51. Kershaw, Hitler, I, p 560
  52. For Goebbels' role in organizing the Olympics, and for the temporary easing of antisemitic agitation during the Games, see Guy Walters, Berlin Games: How Hitler Stole the Olympic Dream, John Murray, 2006.
  53. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p 575
  54. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p 576
  55. For Grynszpan, his actions and the motives for them, see Gerald Schwab, The Day the Holocaust Began: The Odyssey of Herschel Grynszpan, Praeger, 1990.
  56. Martin Gilbert, Kristallnacht, HarperPress, 2006, p 29.
  57. Adam Tooze, Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Allen Lane, 2006, p 278. Göring estimated that Kristallnacht caused 220 million Reichsmarks of material damage. Himmler, Albert Speer and Rosenberg, for different reasons, were also highly critical of Goebbels (Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 149)
  58. Gilbert, Kristallnacht, p 29
  59. This account is taken from the Wikipedia article on Lída Baarová, which is sourced to her memoirs and other Czech-language sources. The connection between the Baarová affair and Goebbels' role in inciting Kristallnacht is made by Ian Kershaw, Hitler, Volume II, W. W. Norton, 2000, p 145.
  60. Kater, Hitler Youth, p 58
  61. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p 405
  62. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 227
  63. For the most recent demonstration that Hitler fully intended leading Germany into war and that the whole policy of the regime was directed to this end, see Tooze, Wages of Destruction, particularly pp 206–29 and pp 247–60
  64. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 226. At the time of the Reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, Goebbels summed up his general attitude in his diary: "Now is the time for action. Fortune favors the brave! He who dares nothing wins nothing." Kershaw, Hitler, I, p 586
  65. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p 674
  66. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, p 696
  67. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 565
  68. Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions On the Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. p. 15. 
  69. The story of the Committee of Three is given by Kershaw, Hitler, II, pp 569–577.
  70. Kershaw, Hitler, II, pp 561–563
  71. Goebbels founded Das Reich in 1940 as a "quality" newspaper in which he could set out his own views for an elite readership. By 1941, it had over a million readers.
  72. Christopher R. Browing, The Origins of the Final Solution, University of Nebraska Press, 2004, p 391.
  73. quoted in Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution, Pimlico, 2004, p 63
  74. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, p 371, says the decision was made in September. Others have argued for a date as late as mid December. (Christian Gerlach, "The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hitler's Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews," Journal of Modern History, December 1998, pp 759–812).
  75. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 482
  76. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 490
  77. Jewish Virtual Library
  78. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 519
  79. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 473
  80. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, p 415
  81. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 494
  82. "Bitwa o Lubań" - Youtube (proof at 1:07)
  83. Kershaw, Hitler, II, pp 551, 598
  84. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 566
  85. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 95
  86. "The European Crisis", Das Reich, 28 February 1943
  87. The War and the Jews," Das Reich, 9 May 1943
  88. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 601
  89. Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler 1933–1945, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1996, p 271
  90. Kershaw, Hitler, II, p 709. Kershaw comments, "Nothing was ever quite what it seemed in the Third Reich."
  91. Kater, Hitler Youth, p 218, discusses the conflicting demands of production and the army on young Germans.
  92. Tooze, Wages of Destruction, p 639
  93. "Fighters for the Eternal Reich Das Reich, 8 April 1945
  94. Fest, "The Face of the Third Reich, p 96
  95. "Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels" (English transl. by Richard Barry: New York, 1978), pp 312–313
  96. Kershaw, Hitler, II, 787
  97. Kershaw, Hitler, p 791
  98. Kershaw, Hitler, p 810
  99. Dollinger, Hans. The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047, p 231
  100. Mollo, Andrew & Ramsey, Winston, ed. After the Battle, Number 61, Seymour Press Ltd., London, 1988, pp 28, 30
  101. Vinogradov, V. K. Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, Chaucer Press, 2005, p 154. Goebbels had assumed the title Reichs Defence Commissioner for the Greater Berlin Gau in November 1942. He also made himself City President of Berlin in April 1943.
  102. Hitler's last days: "Hitler's will and marriage"[dead link] "In the small hours of 28–29 April ..."
  103. Hitler's last days: "Preparations for death"[dead link] "... 30 April ... During the afternoon Hitler shot himself ..."
  104. 104.0 104.1 Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p 156
  105. Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p 324
  106. Thacker, Toby, Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death (London: Palgrave, 2009), p 301
  107. Transcript of the testimony of SS-Stürmbannführer Helmut Kunz in Soviet captivity, Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p 56
  108. Beevor, Antony (2002). "Chapter 25: Reich Chancellery and Reichstag". Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking-Penguin Books. p. 380. ISBN 0-670-88695-5. "Kunz said that he could not face giving poison to the sleeping children. . . . Together with Stumpfegger, she [Magda Goebbels] opened the mouths of the sleeping children, put an ampule of poison between their teeth and forced their jaws together." 
  109. Michael Musmanno, "Is Hitler Alive?", published in the Swiss newspaper Die Nation, 1948 (presumably in translation from an English original), and reprinted in Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p 314
  110. Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p 34
  111. Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, pp 111, 333
  112. Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, p 333
  113. Vinogradov, Hitler's Death, pp. 335–336
  114. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 97


  • Bramsted, Ernest (1965). Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda, 1925–1945, Michigan State University Press.
  • Browning, Christopher (2004). The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, ISBN 0-434-01227-0
  • Burleigh, Michael (2001). The Third Reich: A New History, excerpt and text search
  • Evans, Richard J. (2006). The Third Reich in Power, excerpt and text search
  • Evans, Richard J. (2010). The Third Reich at War, excerpt and text search
  • Evans, Richard J. (2004). The Coming of the Third Reich, ISBN 0-14-100975-6
  • Fest, Joachim (1970). The Face of the Third Reich, ISBN 0-297-17949-7
  • Fest, Joachim (1996). Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler 1933–1945, ISBN 0-297-81774-4
  • Friedländer, Saul (1997). Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. 1, The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939, New York: HarperCollins.
  • Gilbert, Martin (2006). Kristallnacht: the Prelude to Destruction, ISBN 978-0-06-057083-5
  • Hamilton, Richard F. (1982). Who Voted for Hitler?, ISBN 0-691-09395-4
  • Herf, Jeffrey. "The 'Jewish War': Goebbels and the Antisemitic Campaigns of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry," Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Volume 19, Number 1, Spring 2005, pp. 51–80
  • Irving, David (1999). Goebbels. Mastermind of the Third Reich. Parforce. ISBN 1-872197-13-2. 
  • Kater, Michael H. (2004). Hitler Youth, ISBN 0-674-01496-0
  • Kershaw, Ian (1999). Hitler I, ISBN 0-393-04671-0
  • Kershaw, Ian (2000). Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis, ISBN 978-0-393-32252-1
  • Read, Anthony and Fisher, David (1994). Berlin: The Biography of a City, ISBN 0-09-178021-7
  • Rentschler, Eric (1996). The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and its Afterlife, Cambridge: Harvard UP; focus on role of Goebbels
  • Thacker, Toby (2009). Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death, Palgrave Macmillan; biography based partly on his diary from 1923 to 1945 released in recent years from former Soviet archives.
  • Tooze, Adam (2006). The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, ISBN 0-7139-9566-1
  • Vinogradov, V.K. and others (2005). Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB, ISBN 1-904449-13-1

Further reading

  • Miller, Michael D. and Schulz, Andreas (2012). Gauleiter: The Regional Leaders of the Nazi Party and Their Deputies, 1925–1945 (Herbert Albreacht-H. Wilhelm Huttmann)-Volume 1, R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 978-1-932970-21-0


"Enemy of Women" A 1944 Monogram production, directed by refugee director Alfred Zeisler, is a fictionalized life of Goebbels from the early 20s through 1944 – see imdb link – available on DVD

His famous speech made in Berlin on February 18, 1943 has been set as music in 2013 by the band "Not at Miss". The original video was censored by YouTube™ at the beginning, and later welcomed back. Now this debated and debatable video is available at - Song is available on iTunes Store.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Adolf Hitler
Chancellor of Germany
30 April-1 May 1945
Succeeded by
Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk
Preceded by
United States William Stephens
President of Organizing Committee for Winter Olympic Games
Succeeded by
Switzerland Alfred Schläppi &
Heinrich Schläppi
Preceded by
United States George Bryant
President of Organizing Committee for Summer Olympic Games (with Karl Ritter von Halt)
Succeeded by
United Kingdom Lord Burghley

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