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What Effect Did Nazi Propaganda Have on the German People?

Part IV

Backlash to Repressive Methods

A Gestapo report about Kiel, a port city on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, revealed the aversion of the bourgeoisie to attend rallies or even greeting each other with “Heil Hitler.” Bankier said this response could have been expected from the educated portions of the German population, who were alienated by Hitler’s repressive and “brutal terror” methods.

The first surge of random and brutal attacks against German Jews by the Nazi party and its affiliates began at the beginning of the National Socialist regime, observed German historian Michael Wildt. Men of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the initial paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, kidnapped the theater director in Breslau, the largest German city east of Berlin, and beat him to the point where he had to be hospitalized. A Jewish businessman in Straubing, in Lower Bavaria, was seized, and when found, his body was riddled with bullets. In Wiesbaden, in the western German state of Hesse, windows of Jewish shops were broken, and the owners were beaten. Shots were fired, injuring a number of guests at a small hotel commonly patronized by Jews in Magdeburg, a central German city on the Elbe River.

On March 6 on the Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin, Wildt said disturbances worsened to where the Manchester Guardian reported: “Many Jews were beaten by the brown shirts [SA] until blood ran down their heads and faces. Many fainted and were left to lie in the streets, until they were picked up by friends or passerby and brought to hospitals.”

These vicious attacks represented the end of the government’s observance of legal standards, which had provided a degree of protection during the previous years, Wildt asserted. All basic rights established by the Weimar constitution were abolished on February 28, 1933, when the Presidential Decree for the Protection of the Nation and the State was issued. Jews were disenfranchised and stigmatized and socially isolated from their friends and former associates. They were subjected to relentless threats and “daily antisemitic violence” including being robbed of their assets, deprived of their livelihoods. Synagogues were vandalized, Jewish graveyards were desecrated, and Jews were summoned for forced labor.

Wildt said the Presidential Decree meant “Jews were outlawed, considered free game (vogelfrei), and protected by neither the Code of Civil Law nor criminal law; they were a minority that could be subjected to violence with no threat of punishment to the perpetrators.”

At the end of March 1933, German historian Armin Nolzen said, violence against Jews was started again. Hitler decided to have the Nazi party initiate a nationwide boycott against Jewish businesses, physicians and lawyers, which would began on Saturday morning, April 1, 1933. The goal was to have the U.S. stop its anti-Nazi campaign. German Jews would be held responsible for the alleged Jewish atrocity propaganda by the boycotting of their businesses. Jews were thus being detained as hostages in order to “fight” this “atrocity propaganda.”

At the same time, Nolzen said Hitler decided to suspend the boycott to gauge the response of the foreign press. On Tuesday, April 4, 1933, Hitler finally decided to discontinue the boycott entirely. The Nazi party was primed to resume the violent attacks if the anti-Nazi propaganda restart again. This was not necessary, since the U.S. and other countries immediately stopped the attacks against Germany, which meant the boycott was viewed as a success.

In reality, the boycott against Jewish businesses never ended, Nolzen pointed out. Those active in the NS-Hago (Nationalsozialistischer Kampfbund für den gewerblichen Mittelstand/National Socialist League for the Commercial Middle Class), who were for the most part business owners, trades people or manufacturers, viewed the Jews as their competitors. They attempted to force them out of business by claiming they sold substandard quality merchandise, pressuring suppliers to boycott them, encouraging customers not to buy from them, and accusing Jews of engaging in “unfair business” practices.

Street rallies were organized against Jewish businesses, which were painted with swastikas. Jewish businessmen were mistreated and blackmailed. Sometimes, NS-Hago members or German middle class businessmen paid Nazi thugs to violently assault Jews.

Many Jews sought refuge outside of Germany, and others were interned in prisons and camps. About the middle of March, the intensity of the physical attacks decreased significantly, Bankier said, in response to an appeal by Hitler to his supporters to observe “blind discipline.” The unrest did not stop. Germany wanted actions to be taken against German Jews because the Jews had “allegedly instigated the reports of outrages which had appeared in the foreign press.”

 

Appeal to Peasants

Despite serious efforts made to persuade the peasants to take a supportive role in the regime’s activities by promising them extensive agricultural reforms, particularly in northern and eastern Germany, the rural population displayed minimal interest in harvest celebrations. Until the reforms were instituted, there was no reason, they said, to attend the meetings.

Attempts to convince the industrial labor force yielded minimal interest as well. One report cautioned: “The good participation at parades and rallies [by local workers] cannot serve as a true gauge of the public’s mood and we must not be led astray by what appears on the surface.” This reaction was nothing unusual as the reports from other parts of the country presented a comparable picture, “even in the Nazi organizations themselves.” The Berlin Gestapo plainly stated that participation in May Day celebrations could not be a measure of the public attitudes, after detailing the various methods used to force people to attend rallies.

David Bankier concluded from these reports and accounts from other party campaigns that during one year of Hitler’s rule, there was a similar lack of interest, and that “mass-mobilization campaigns” were “declining, producing a growing gap between the regime and the populace.”


Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and on the advisory board of The National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He lives in Jerusalem.

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