Paul Joseph Goebbels was the third of five children born to a Catholic family in Germany, on 29 October 1897. An educated and intelligent man, he swiftly rose through the ranks of the Nazi Party in the 1920s, ultimately becoming the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and one of Hitler’s closest associates. A man of below average height, Goebbels was occasionally referred to as ‘the Poison Dwarf’ and was the force behind the indomitable National Socialist propaganda machine. As the Third Reich crumbled in the final days of World War Two, the Führer named Goebbels as the next Chancellor, a position he held for just one day.
Although of an eligible age to fight, Joseph Goebbels had a club foot that prevented him seeing action during World War One and gave him a permanent limp, facts he resented greatly throughout his life and endeavoured to disguise. He wrote a novel, and studied philosophy and literature and was awarded his doctorate from Heidelberg University in 1921.
Goebbels joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and after ascending to the rank of Gauleiter of Berlin within four years, he was appointed the party’s propaganda minister in 1929. He edited a weekly newspaper called Der Angriff (The Assault) and also drew attention to National Socialist principles through provocative speeches. In 1933, following Hitler’s assumption of power, he became the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
In spite of his own club foot and diminutive stature, Goebbels ardently preached the physical superiority of the Aryan master race. With control over all media channels and cultural output in the Third Reich, Goebbels oversaw the dissemination of Nazi racial ideology to the masses; from celebrations of classical German culture and history, to warnings about the dangers that Jews and other supposedly subversive peoples posed to society.
A fervent anti-Semite, Goebbels’ influence was key in the segregation of Jews from mainstream society, as he purged the German arts, culture and media sectors of all Jewish influence and involvement. In 1935, he publicly claimed that Jews were the destroyers of culture and throughout his tenure as propaganda minister he reiterated their guilt for Germany’s defeat in 1918.
Following the death of a German diplomat at the hands of a young Polish Jew named Herschel Grysnzpan in November 1938, it was Joseph Goebbels who ordered the Kristallnacht pogrom. The widespread violence and destruction of Jewish property provoked extensive criticism both within and outside Germany, yet did not sway Goebbels from his conviction that the Jews were inferior and should be segregated – just days later he requested that they be legally banned from public places.
(Pictured: Joseph Goebbels speaking in 1932).
Goebbels was a committed diarist and often elucidated his desire to rid Germany of its Jewish population. On 27 March 1942, by which time preparations for the ‘Final Solution’ were well underway, he wrote, ‘not much will remain of the Jews’; words which transpired to be tragically prophetic.
The End of Nazi Germany
Tasked with maintaining morale on the home front throughout the Second World War, Goebbels exercised his propaganda skills to uphold the nation’s faith in a German victory, even when the chances of a triumphant outcome began to dwindle. In mid-1944 Hitler made him General Plenipotentiary for the Mobilization of Total War, but by this stage of the conflict there was little hope of turning the tide in Germany’s favour.
Goebbels had a particularly close relationship with Hitler; indeed the whole Goebbels family were regular guests at the Führer’s Berchtesgaden residence throughout the 1930s. Joseph Goebbels remained loyal to his leader to the very end, which came in a bunker beneath Berlin as the Soviet Army advanced. Prior to committing suicide here on 30 April 1945, Hitler decreed that Goebbels would succeed him as Reich Chancellor. A day later, however, realizing that the defeat of Nazi Germany was inevitable, Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda poisoned their six children, and then also killed themselves.