Goebbels, Joseph


Goebbels, Joseph
(1897–1945)
   Goebbels came from a poor but pious working-class Catholic family. He was educated in Catholic schools and subsequently went on to attain a doctorate in history and literature at the University of Heidelberg. Born with a club foot, he was rejected for military service during World War I. His angry persona, which may be attributed to his birth defect, did not prevent him from joining the Nazi Party in 1924. Goebbels compensated for his un-Aryan-like physical appearance with his ideological zeal and fanatical anti-Semitism.
   In 1926, Goebbels was appointed Gauleiter (party district leader) of Berlin and subsequently he was elected to the Reichstag in 1928. Among the inner coterie of Adolf Hitler’s advisers, Goebbels was considered radical with regard to the future of the Jews in Germany. As editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff, he called for a pogrom against the Jews. Written in 1932, his articles on the Jewish question would foreshadow his later role as the instigator of Kristallnacht. In a diary entry dated 17 October 1939, Goebbels wrote “This Jewry must be annihilated.” Prior to his diary entry, Goebbels had ordered the production of a documentary that would reflect the reasons for Germany’s anti-Jewish policies. Directed by Fritz Hippler, The Eternal Jew (1940) depicted Jews and Jewish ritual practices in the worst possible light. The film equated Jews with rats and distorted Jewish ritual practices, such as the slaughtering of animals for the purpose of fulfilling the laws of Kashruth (kosher). Goebbels’ motivation was to convince German opinion that Jewish ritual slaughtering practices were cruel to animals.
   With Adolf Hitler’s accession to power, Goebbels became head of the party’s propaganda network, which involved responsibility for all aspects of the media and the release of public information. In this role, he helped to create the myth of an infallible Hitler whose charge was to save Germany from the Jews and their sympathizers. Toward filling this objective, Goebbels organized the public burning of books on 10 May 1923, whereby the works of Jewish authors, Marxists, and other enemies of the state were set afire in huge bonfires throughout Germany.
   The list of anti-Jewish confrontations organized by Goebbels includes the 1 April 1933 boycott of Jewish stores in Germany, the Kristallnacht pogrom of 9–10 November 1938, and curtailing the movement and activities of Jews in areas under his jurisdiction. Following the Nazi occupation of Poland in September 1939, Goebbels organized the first deportations from Berlin in keeping with objective to make the city Judenrein (cleansed of Jews). It was also Goebbels who urged that Jews wear the yellow Star of David badges for purposes of easily identifying them.
   Along with Heinrich Himmler and other Nazi radicals on the Jewish question, Goebbels strongly urged that there be no retreat from the Final Solution. He called for a total war of extermination against the Jews but avoided propaganda material that disclosed the methods by which this would be accomplished. In implementing the policy of annihilating the Jews of Europe, the Nazis realized that they had passed the point of no return, and it was Goebbels who counseled Hitler that every effort be made to finish the task.
   With the Soviet army approaching Berlin in 1945 and his realization that the war would shortly be over, Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. In death he was joined by Eva Braun, his mistress, who had married him hours before his death, and the entire Goebbels family, which included his wife and six children. Goebbels committed suicide on 1 May 1945, but not before he had become Hitler’s most trusted follower. In fact, in his last days, Hitler, alienated from Goering, appointed Goebbels as his successor, but sensing the end and the humiliation that would attend Germany’s surrender, he instead chose to take his life.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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