In films of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis marching the streets in military displays, there is a chilling atmosphere of complete conformity and belief in Nazism. The soldiers seem never-ending in number and proudly sing traditional German songs, marching simultaneously as though they were one single entity bent on achieving Hitler’s goals. In the Holocaust, six million Jews were systematically exterminated by the Nazis. Today, the cold and calculating murder of millions of people is unthinkable, but in the minds of Hitler’s Nazis, anti-Semitism was a righteous and moral cause. This complete conviction of the soldiers was essential to Hitler’s plan to eliminate all of the Jews in Europe. So how were so many soldiers converted to Nazism, and induced to murder innocent men, women and children? Hitler entirely convinced his soldiers that his values were right and just through the use of pervasive and persuasive propaganda. Without Hitler’s use of propaganda, the soldiers would not have been assured that it was honourable to kill innocent people and as such the Holocaust would not have happened.
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The propaganda that Hitler used pervaded all aspects of a soldier’s life, including training, home life, and the media. The purpose of overwhelming the soldiers (and ordinary civilians, by extension) with propaganda was to ensure that there was no escape from Nazi morals, and that the soldiers would begin to believe that Jews were inferior and deserved to die. This would make it much easier for the soldiers to kill them, since they did not view the Jews as human. Faced at every turn with anti-Semitic and pro-German propaganda made it difficult, if not impossible, to resist Hitler’s racist teachings: “Many of the Nazi perpetrators were very young men. They had been raised in a world in which Nazi values were the only ‘moral norms’ they knew.” Since these young men had been flooded with a deluge of propaganda since a very young age, they had no other moral standards with which to measure Nazism. In this way, they did not see the killing of Jews as wrong, but instead believed that Jews were the reason for all the troubles in Germany and that it was fair to exterminate them in order to ensure that “a sick Europe would become healthy again…” The propaganda was everywhere, ensuring full exposure to it at all times: “Selected districts are veritably inundated and worked-over with propaganda operations…all of which in terms of sheer activity cannot in the least be matched by any other party.” The Nazi party required this enormous amount of propaganda more so than any other party because their desires were far more extreme. It was more difficult to convince soldiers to murder unarmed men, women and children that it would have been if they were simply shooting other soldiers. It was therefore necessary that the soldiers were ideologically motivated and truly believed that they were in the right by killing Jews. The sheer volume of propaganda, which pervaded into all aspects of a soldier’s life, made it possible for the Nazi party to convince the soldiers to kill Jews without any moral qualms.
However, the propaganda would not have successfully convinced these soldiers if it was not believable. It is not sufficient to simply surround soldiers with an idea; the idea must also be phrased in a manner that seems logical and is persuasive in order to have the soldiers believe it. Thus, it was important that Hitler’s propaganda was very influential. According to one Nazi official, “the annihilation of the Jews is no loss to humanity, but just as useful as capital punishment against other criminals.” The soldiers truly believed the Jews to be a race of criminals, for whom death was the only just punishment, due to Hitler’s entirely credible propaganda. A soldier or police officer’s basic training comprised not only of physical education, but also ideological education. In this way, soldiers could be instructed of various “facts” that the Nazi party believed, such as, “the Jewish people is the people of the Devil. It is a people of criminals and murderers.” This helped the Nazi party to establish their values within their own soldiers and ensure that they had a force that was “not just efficient soldiers and policemen, but ideologically motivated warriors, crusaders against the political and racial enemies of the Third Reich.” The Nazis realized that soldiers were unlikely to kill other human beings who were unarmed unless they had significant motivation to do so. The propaganda that they used ensured that these soldiers would have ideological reasons to kill Jews, and therefore would be willing to do so. The soldiers’ basic training included a unit on ideology: “A five-part study plan of January 1941 included the subsections ‘Understanding of Race as the Basis of our World View’, ‘The Jewish Question in Germany’, and ‘Maintaining the Purity of German Blood’…” The soldiers were in this fashion educated of the supposed evils of the Jewish race. This propaganda was so convincing that the soldiers were unable to resist, or did not see any reason to resist, the Nazi party’s values.
All soldiers who underwent the Nazi’s ostensible education plan of pervasive, persuasive propaganda were wholehearted believers of anti-Semitism and Nazism. They were entirely convinced that killing the Jews was the only way to resolve Germany’s problems. The soldiers no longer had any reservations in regards to killing innocents, and instead went about their task with enthusiasm: “Germans routinely took initiative in killing Jews, both by customarily carrying out their orders with dedication and inventiveness, and, frequently, by taking it upon themselves to kill Jews even when they had no orders to do so, or could have left it to others.” It is evident that soldiers were not forced or coerced to kill Jews – rather, they did so of their own free will, due to Hitler’s propaganda. The soldiers no longer saw any wrong in the murder of Jews, or anyone opposing the murder of the Jews. They even sought out ways in which they could hurt or kill Jews without even being ordered to so do: “Col. Pokrovsky: Am I to understand that if certain commanders burned villages as a punitive measure against the local population, they, the commanders, would be acting on their own initiative? Von Dem Bach-Zelewski: Yes. These steps would be taken by a commander on his own initiative.” The soldiers were followers in every respect of Hitler’s ideals, to the extent that they not only followed orders to murder innocents with zeal and enthusiasm, but also looked for new opportunities to kill people that they were not asked to eliminate. Thus, Hitler’s propaganda was effective in convincing the soldiers to carry out their duties without hesitation due to its omnipresent and believable nature.
Hitler’s soldiers were whole-hearted supporters of anti-Semitism and German superiority. This devout adherence to Hitler’s views was entirely due to the propaganda used by the Nazi party, which was not only extremely convincing but also permeated into all aspects of a soldier’s life. German soldiers were surrounded on all sides by propaganda and anti-Semitism, and it was an important part of the soldier’s training. This propaganda persuaded soldiers using seemingly logical and intellectual explanations of why the Jews were inferior and why it was necessary that they be exterminated. The soldiers were so immersed in anti-Semitism that they frequently exhibited inventiveness and initiative in seeking out ways to kill Jews, even when they did not have orders to do so. Human nature makes it almost impossible to resist a widely-held opinion. It is important to think critically about the information in the media and to form opinions based on information rather than the will of the majority. If the German soldiers had behaved in this fashion rather than following the crowd, it is possible that the Holocaust may have been averted.
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