Joseph Goebbels was born in Rheydt, Germany
in 1897, and raised Catholic. His right leg was deformed, the reason being alternately given as a clubbed foot or osteomyelitis. In any case, he had to wear a special shoe and leg brace, and walked with a limp for his whole life. Because of this limp he was unable to participate in World War I, which rankled. Despite this, in later years he would occasionally state that he was a veteran and his deformity a war wound.
He was acknowledged as being an intelligent and astute student, gaining a PhD in literature in 1921. He worked as a journalist after graduation. He later wrote several literary works, a novel, two plays and a great deal of poetry. His book wasn't published until 1929. His plays were never staged. In 1931 he married his first and only wife (though he had many affairs), Magda Quandt. Together they had six children.
Goebbels' personal ideology centred on anti-intellectualism, ironic coming from a University man. As well he believed strongly in the "scientific" anti-Semitism put forward by contemporaries. He resided, from his early days on the political scene, at the far right of the political spectrum. He admired the violent nationalism prevalent at the time, and idolized Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley, the man who had assassinated the first republican Bavarian prime minister.
The Nazi Party
Goebbels, unlike many to later find themselves in the upper echelons of the Nazi
command structure, did not participate in Adolf Hitler's
Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. He did not even become a member of the Nazi party until late 1924, when Hitler was in jail and the party officially leaderless. Those who stepped into the vacuum of power focused heavily on the socialist aspects of National Socialism, and Goebbels followed in their footsteps, expounding his socialist views in the National-sozialitsche Briefe
, the party newspaper of which he was editor in 1925. When Hitler was released from his imprisonment in 1926, he rebuked the socialist wing of the party and reaffirmed his stance that the Jews were the true and only enemy of Germany. This rebuke devastated Goebbels, who felt Hitler had removed the central tenant of his ideology. However, Hitler thought Goebbels had great potential, and offered to remove the blight of his "mistake" if Goebbels agreed to accept Hitler's leadership fully and completely. Goebbels agreed, surrendering completely and sincerely and pledging his complete unswerving loyalty to the party, which he would maintain for the rest of his life.
Hitler then made Goebbels into a district leader in Berlin
. While there, Goebbels discovered his talent for creating propaganda. He created several propaganda pamphlets, as well as becoming editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff.
Through his ties with the Strumabteilung (SA) he tormented various liberal leaders and Jewish members of the Berlin community, attempting to exploit any violence for his own satisfaction or for the purposes of propaganda. He was also an excellent orator, coolly calm and humorous to Hitler's more passionate invective. He was elected to the Reichstag in 1928. At this same time he was acknoledged as one of the major leaders of the Nazi party. In 1930 he was given control over the Volkischer Beobachte
as well as other Nazi newspapers. Between 1930 and 1933 he was instrumental to organizing various campaigns for the Nazi party in general as well as for Hitler in particular.
Though not formally given a position in the government immediately following Hitler's election in 1933, Goebbels behaved as though he had, using the radio to broadcast one of the torchlit parades dedicated to Hitler's election. By March he had been awarded the position of Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. He hoped to centralize the press, radio and arts under himself. In May he organized and supervised the burning of over 20,000 books deemed to be in opposition to Nazi values. He established governing bodies for the press, radio, film, art and other movements, placing Nazi party members at the head of each body and ordering that the various fields be purged of Jews, communists and liberals. Once the system of self-censorship was in place, Goebbels focused his attention mainly on the news media- newspapers and the radio.
Goebbels managed to keep some form of German high culture alive despite the feelings of a majority of the party, however he had to follow the will of Hitler, who was firmly opposed to any modernist forms of art or expression. As such, traditionalist forms of art reigned supreme in Germany. He is well known to have abused his position as Minister, frequently using it to attempt to entice young women into his bed.
His anti-Semitic rhetoric increased in intensity and ferocity as the removal of the Nazi’s political enemies made his talents as propagandist almost redundant. He was noted, as a supporter of “scientific” anti-Semitism, to be critcal of the more simplistic anti-Semitism of some other party members. He was the major force behind the persecution of the Jews of Berlin; as he was the de facto leader of that city, he was able to force many Jewish people out of their businesses as well as banning them from public facilities and transportation. In 1938, Goebbels used an assassination by a Jewish youth to incite the riots that became known as Kristallnacht, the first organized, violent pogrom against the Jewish people of Germany. By 1942 he petitioned Hitler for the immediate deportation of Berlin’s Jewish population. He was aware of the general idea of the treatment of the Jews and of the Final Solution, but probably had relatively little knowledge of the details of the Holocaust. Nonetheless he supported it unquestioningly.
Goebbels grew quite rich, earning a salary of 300,000 Reichsmarks by 1938. His family was a favourite of Hitler, who often invited them to stay in his home in the mountains. Regardless of any minor issues that Goebbels experienced in the middle years of the Nazi party, he remained one of the closest to Hitler, frequently listening to (and agreeing with) the sermons that Hitler would go on in the course of a day. Goebbels was a trusted advisor, but not as involved in military matters as were other prominent members. Before the war he was strongly in favour of pursuing Lebensraum- the reclamation of historical German land and the repopulation of these lands with ethnic Germans. During and after the Sudetenland crisis in 1938 he tried to use propaganda to incite hat against first the Czechoslovakians then the Poles in the hopes of swaying the German people in favour of war.
By 1940 he had almost become the face of the Nazi party, replacing the vacuum left by Hitler retreating from the public eye to focus on the war. At the same time, he stepped into the role of domestic policy maker, becoming involved in raising morale through wages and housing. This put him in opposition with Hermann Goring, the head of economics in the Reich, and he forged an alliance with Heinrich Himmler to counter Goring. However, he soon found himself siding with Goring in favour of defeating Martin Bormann, who was attempting to use the defeat at Stalingrad to gain more power. The administrative chaos brought about by all these bids for power and failures led to stagnation in the government and the war effort. An attempt to thrust Germany into total war with him as a leader failed.
Goebbels was one of the last members of the inner party to remain totally loyal to Hitler, along with Bormann. He remained with Hitler in the Fuhrerbunker, along with his wife and all 6 children, the youngest of whom was four. They were present in the bunker when Hitler committed suicide on April 30th, 1945 as the Soviet army approached the capital. On the evening of May 1st, 1945, he had his children injected with morphine. When they were unconscious, crushed ampules of potassium cyanide were placed in their mouths, killing them. Exactly how he and his wife committed suicide is unclear, and is alternately given as he shot himself while she took poison, both took poison and then were shot by an officer, or he shot her and them himself. In any case, their bodies were then partially burned in a shell crater, though still recognizable