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Did Goebbels Win? Nazis Are Gone (Mostly), But Deadly Propaganda Is Thriving

| January 28, 2016

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, holding a reception for repatriated Germans at the Propaganda ministry, date unknown. (New York Public Library Digital Collection)

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, holding a reception for repatriated Germans at the Propaganda ministry, date unknown. (New York Public Library Digital Collection)

By Irina Bokova and Sara Bloomfield

In 1930s Germany, Nazi Party leaders understood the power of mass communication to disseminate hatred and anti-Semitism. “Propaganda,” Hitler wrote, “is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.” In their rise to power, the Nazis deployed sophisticated modern communications technologies, including radio and film, to win the battle of ideas – and thus to shape public opinion and behavior – among a well-educated population in a fledgling democracy.

The Nazis are gone but propaganda lives on, and its potential is deadlier than ever. As we commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, extremist groups around the globe wield new technologies to incite hatred and perpetrate new mass killings and genocides. That’s why UNESCO has decided to base this year’s International Day of Commemoration on the theme From Words to Genocide: Anti-Semitic Propaganda and the Holocaust. On this occasion, UNESCO and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) are joining forces to present at UNESCO headquarters the exhibit State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.

During the early 1930s, a period of severe economic distress, many Germans were willing to overlook the Nazis’ anti-Semitism, because they were attracted to other aspects of the party’s message. The Nazis knew this: In the run-up to the 1932 election, the party relied on the emerging field of public opinion research to probe the needs, hopes, and fears of blue- and white-collar workers, the middle class, women, farmers, and youth. Accordingly, Nazi propagandists toned down anti-Semitic rhetoric and presented the party as the only political force capable of creating jobs and putting food on German tables. Likewise, they won over newly enfranchised women voters by portraying themselves as the defender of traditional German womanhood and the family.

Hitler’s extreme nationalism resonated with many audiences, including young people who wanted to restore Germany’s lost territories and military might. But rabid anti-Semitism remained at the center of the Nazi worldview. As soon as the party came to power, in 1933, it began to implement anti-Jewish policies. The Nazis eliminated alternative sources of information, burning books and arresting journalists as they prepared to advance their goal of establishing a united “Aryan” Europe.

In today’s interconnected world, individuals and non-state groups motivated by extremist ideologies can use the power of new technologies to shape attitudes and beliefs, and incite violence on a global scale. Since 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) has disseminated more than 700 propaganda videos, tailored to various audiences, in all major languages, to maximize the reach and impact of its message.

Extreme nationalists exploit the current refugee crisis, in a context of fear and deadly terrorist attacks, to gain large numbers of supporters.

Nearly 50,000 Twitter accounts are propagating these vehicles of hatred, seeking to exploit ignorance, intolerance, and divisions within societies. Young people are being targeted for recruitment. Within the territories it controls, ISIS persecutes and kills individuals on religious and cultural grounds, with a recent USHMM report concluding that the group has committed acts of genocide against the Yazidi minority population under its control.

Another worrisome trend is the increasingly sophisticated use of hate speech directed against minorities and migrants. Violent, exclusionary, and discriminatory rhetoric has returned to Europe – the land of the Holocaust. Extreme nationalists exploit the current refugee crisis, in a context of fear and deadly terrorist attacks, to gain large numbers of supporters.

State of Deception shows us how propaganda can have deadly consequences. The Holocaust began with words, not mass killings We must remember how the poison of anti-Semitism and racism, projected through mass media, and through entire political, cultural and educational systems, led a continent into mass violence and genocide.

Today, against the new propaganda of hatred, our challenge is to harness the power of new communication technologies to empower pluralism and human dignity for all, to combat all forms of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. This new war for hearts and minds can be won only if we update and upgrade the tools of education, culture, science, and communication. UNESCO was created 70 years ago for this purpose, and it leads a global program for Holocaust education and genocide prevention, working with governments and teachers to instill this history in classrooms.

Bombs and bullets alone cannot defeat political poison. We must also win the battle of ideas. Schools, museums, and the media must foster media literacy to help young people develop critical-thinking skills. Intellectuals, artists, and public figures must highlight the danger of indifference toward groups espousing intolerance and exclusion. And political leaders should encourage social integration and mutual understanding.This is how we can pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust – not only to lament the dead, but also to empower the living.

irina bokova unescosara-bloomfield-holocaustIrina Bokova, left, is Director-General of UNESCO. A leading champion in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, Bokova has spearheaded UNESCO’s activities on Holocaust remembrance and awareness and is the first Director-General of the Organization to appoint a Special Envoy for Holocaust Education. Sara Bloomfield has led the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the past 16 years. She serves on the International Auschwitz Council, the advisory board of the Robert Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at NYU Law School and is a former member of the board of the International Council of Museums/USA. (© Project Syndicate)

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9 Responses for “Did Goebbels Win? Nazis Are Gone (Mostly), But Deadly Propaganda Is Thriving”

  1. Geezer says:

    “The medium is the message”
    –Marshall McLuhan

    Ever since electronic media, radio and TV, (and now the internet) propaganda has had
    a great platform to spread inaccuracies to downright lies.

    Whomever has the most to spend, reaches the most people. Truth or not.
    Ask Ruppert Murdoch.

  2. Gladfly says:

    I’ve never understood what non-Jews have against Jews. Never. I understand the hatred Hitler had for them and the Aryan race crap and the Palestinian/Jewish border dispute but I cannot wrap my mind around the hatred for Jews in general. RIP Holocaust victims. I’m not Jewish,but I have many Jewish friends who would do anything for me and have.

  3. Sgt. Sasmi says:

    Let’s all sing Kum-baya and ” I’d like to teach the World to Sing”. This is EXACTLY why the jews where nearly exterminated ……Peace, Love, and Happyness is NOT going to save your ass from evil. You most stand up and fight it…Call it what it is… Never trust a cult that it main reason for living is to exterminate all who don’t convert to their evil !!!!

  4. Sherry says:

    To those that prefer to fight instead of trust . . . Who are you to judge who should be trusted and who should be fought against? LOVE is much more powerful than fear and hate!!!

    I’ll sing a song of love, joy and peace and always look for the best in all human beings. . . and live a happy life. I will also do my best to have compassion for any of you living with the pain of your twisted souls.

  5. Lin says:

    Not many prefer to fight
    But sometimes we have to fight back
    And sometimes we are forced to live with the pain
    Of their twisted souls

  6. Anonymous says:

    But, you know, now they have another excuse…The Israeli OCCUPATION and GENOCIDE (blahblahblah), which is made possible by the worldwide control of ZIONIST banks and the ZIONIST Media…all of which crap so-called “Progressives” in America and all over the globe are all too eager to embrace. It seems we have not learned from history and, so, are doomed to repeat it.

  7. Just me says:

    Sherry says:

    January 28, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    To those that prefer to fight instead of trust . . . Who are you to judge who should be trusted and who should be fought against? LOVE is much more powerful than fear and hate!!!

    IMO its fairly easy for one to “Judge” who should be fought against. ISIL and other such organization’s weather they be independent of any “official” government/Nation or a doctrine within one should be fought against. The fight need not only or always be in a Military way economic, cover and diplomatic can be used alone or together .

  8. Sherry says:

    Geezer. . . you are so right on about Rupert Murdoch!!! Take a good read:

    We all need to remember at every moment that our mainstream media is driven by personal/political/economic agendas of those who own and control those outlets. Murdoch’s is particularly powerful because he not only owns and control FOX news, but the Wall Street Journal and NY Post . . . and large media outlets in other countries as well. He has admitted to an agenda to shape world events and would love to even control elections. He supported the war in Iraq and has many members of Congress in his pocket!!!!

  9. Knightwatch says:

    We should all by very aware of the impact of political propaganda, whether from ISIS or Fox. The antidotes to propaganda are proven facts and rational thinking by an informed public.

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