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107 4 The Wehrmacht and the Volksgemeinschaft The Forced War: Sentiments and Propaganda In the 1930s Germany experienced a comprehensive militarization. Idealized as an ethnic community with a shared heritage, this society would have to maintain itself in the coming war according to Hitler’s expectations. It was to become the “homeland front,” which, unlike during the First World War, was supposed to remain stable and productive while under the influence of the party and of modern propaganda. But what was the condition of its fighting spirit? In August and September 1939, in contrast to August 1914, there was no sign of a celebratory mood.The longing for peace was too great in broad areas of the population. The memory of the horrors of the First World War dampened the mood, as did the fearful expectation that the small amount of economic growth of the last years could be lost again. The Reich minister for propaganda and public enlightenment had to respond to this.1 Joseph Goebbels had essentially completed his propaganda machine by the beginning of the war. Necessary adjustments and modifications during the war did not impact the basic subject matter or the organizational structures and technology to be used.The television was a new medium and still in its infancy. Radio broadcasts, film, and the press remained the most important instruments of the regime for purposes of influencing the population by a centrally directed information policy. Culture and the entertainment industry retained their rank and, despite increasing restrictions, were encouraged to a surprising extent. Just as in the hectic phase of the arms buildup, the National Socialists undertook efforts to justify all privations and limitations, to make victims of the war into heroes, and, at the same time, to offer compensation through diversions and entertainment. Goebbels was fully aware that his prospects were limited. For the majority of citizens, the longing for a peaceful daily life and the end of war-related burdens was a determining factor, but this was ultimately dependent on the course of the war, which propaganda could not really influence. It was a “lucky break” for the National Socialists that the Second World War began with a series of victories for the Germans, so that initial concerns subsided. Hitler placed great 108 hitler’s wehrmacht value on making his war appear to be one of self-defense, one that had been forced on Germany. He broadcast his alleged peace proposals many times. Even though propaganda created the impression of a society that was in full and enthusiastic agreement, during the war there was a tendency to live an insulated existence and to be divided in one’s thoughts and appearances.2 A perpetual chasm remained between the broad segments of the population that longed for peace and the militant and heroic strivings of the National Socialist movement. The idealizing of Hitler as infallible and “gifted with clairvoyance”ran into trouble when the war took an unfavorable turn and painful economic restraints had to be put into place. The discrepancy between official announcements and individual experiences grew so great that the Nazi regime’s credibility crumbled. Propaganda could not repair the damage to the Nazis’ credibility. In growing numbers, Germans became fatalistic and accepted that, in the absence of other political alternatives, the fate of the Reich remained bound up with Hitler and his regime. For Goebbels, this must have counted as his greatest victory, but when reports of casualties from the front and increasing impoverishment in German cities made all political slogans invalid, there was nothing he could do to improve the situation.The announcement of “wonder weapons” had only a very small effect. Because Nazi propaganda was tied to Hitler, its influence could not penetrate the thoughts of those who were struggling for survival and hoping for a future after the war. Most of them were afraid of the acts of revenge that threatened from the east. Even people who knew little or nothing about German crimes feared Bolshevism. This fear of revolution and communism was a common feature among the majority of the population in Germany, just as it had been at the end of the First World War, and by 1945 and 1946, it was widespread in Europe as a whole. The “Master Race”and “Slaves”: Social Rank and Racial Hierarchy While anti-Bolshevism was the most popular weapon of Nazi propaganda, the vicious tirade of anti-Semitism constituted a propaganda instrument with particularly brutal consequences. It initially functioned as...


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