Translated by Alan Bance, Jeremy Noakes, and Lesley Sharpe. Random House. 992 pages. Hardcover $40.00.
A stunning, encyclopedic study of Hitler’s propaganda minister
Joseph Goebbels’ life was certainly history-making, but it’s a piece of history noted for its grotesque notions of nationalism, democracy, and leadership. For many years the Nazi regime’s Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels refined the art of mass psychological manipulation, over and over again rallying a despondent and pride-hungry people into becoming more and more the fervent worshippers of a mad genius and a mad vision of national and racial destiny.
Peter Longerich, who first published this book in Germany in 2010, conceives of three major phases in his subject’s life.
First, he portrays an insecure fellow whose compensatory delusions predict greatness of some sort. This young man needed large doses of positive feedback, beginning with mother love which eventually developed into an addiction to Führer love. His doctorate in German letters did not open doors for his aspirations as a literary and cultural shaper. Once Goebbels turned his attention to political action, he made the right moves to advance quickly through party ranks.
The second phase concerns his activities as pre-war propaganda minister, hammering an imaginary political and cultural consensus into place through skillful manipulation of news and entertainment media and through staged demonstrations. He was adept at building Hitler’s image as a demi-god (demagogue?) and in building a strong personal relationship with his mentor and hero.
Finally, he beat the drums for war, wartime sacrifices, and the ever-out-of-reach peace that would arrive with the continental dominance of a never-realized superstate.
For all this, Longerich insists that Goebbels was not a true insider but was often surprised by actions set in motion by Hitler during meetings to which Goebbels was not invited.
Of particular interest is Goebbels’ role in developing the political uses of anti-Semitism. Even as any remaining Jewish civil rights were demolished, even as mass executions began, even as Jews were fleeing or being relocated out of headquarters Berlin, Goebbels found ways of making the Jews responsible for all of Germany’s problems. It’s hard to say what he truly believed about Jews, so overwhelming was his commitment to using anti-Semitism as a political instrument.
Longerich’s primary source is his subject’s diaries. Indeed, they are important historical documents that give unparalleled coverage of hundreds of events. They also provide unintentional clues to Goebbels’ anxieties and nonstop posturing. Longerich points out instance after instance in which narcissistic Goebbels interprets an event’s outcome to his advantage. In the author’s capable hands, we discover how the diaries reveal just what Goebbels would not want them to reveal. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Goebbels: A Biography | Washington Independent Review of Books