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SHIRER, William L.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

The radio and the motion pictures were also quickly harnessed to serve the propaganda of th Nazi State. Goebbels had always seen in radio (television had not yet come in) the chief instrument of propaganda in modern society and through the Radio Department of his ministry and the Chamber of Radio he gained complete control of broadcasting and shaped it to his own ends. His task was made easier because in Germany, as in the other countries of Europe, broadcasting was a monopoly owned and operated by the State. In 1933 the Nazi government automatically found itself in possession of the Reich Broadcasting Corporation.

The films remained in the hands of private firms but the Propaganda Ministry and the Chamber of Films controlled every aspect of the industry, their task being—in the words of an official commentary—"to lift the film industry out of the sphere of liberal economic thoughts . . . and thus enable it to receive those tasks which it has to fulfill in the National Socialist State."

The result in both cases was to afflict the German people with radio programs and motion pictures as inane and boring as were the contents of their daily newspapers and periodicals. Even a public which usually submitted without protest to being told what was good for it revolted. The customers stayed away in droves from the Nazi films and jammed the houses which showed the few foreign pictures (mostly B-grade Hollywood) which Goebbels permitted to be exhibited on German screens. At one period in the mid-Thirties the hissing of German films became so common that Wilhelm Frick, the Minister of the Interior, issued a stern warning against "treasonable behavior on the part of cinema audiences." Likewise the radio programs were so roundly criticized that the president of the Radio Chamber, one Horst Dressler-Andress, declared that such carping was "an insult to German culture" and would not be tolerated. In those days, in the Thirties, a German listener could still turn his dial to a score of foreign radio stations without, as happened later when the war began, risking having his head chopped off. And perhaps quite a few did, though it was this observer's impression that as the years went by, Dr. Goebbels proved himself right, in that the radio became by far the regime's most effective means of propaganda, doing more than any other single instrument of communication to shape the German people to Hitler's ends.

I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one's inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one's mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime's calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a cafe, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.