Goebbels was born in the Rhineland and he attended the established Heidelberg University where he was awarded a doctorate of philosophy in 1920. He had not served in the German Army during the First World War as he was disabled by a clubbed foot which hindered his ability to walk. This feeling of physical inferiority (Goebbels was self-conscious about his lack of height as well), his rejection by the German Army and the terms of theTreaty of Versailles lead to Goebbels becoming a very embittered man in the early 1920’s. He joined the Nazi Party towards the end of 1924 though to keep his parents happy, he got a job in a bank to maintain some semblance of being middle class.
Goebbels was given the task of building up Nazi support in Berlin. He did this between 1926 and 1930. In 1928, he was elected to the Reichstag – something that he repeated in 1930. In 1929, he had been given overall charge of the party’s propaganda machine. It was here that Goebbels excelled. In 1933, after Hitler was appointed chancellor, Goebbels was appointed Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda. He held this post until 1945.
His sharp tongue made him enemies within the Nazi Party where some called him the “Poison Dwarf”. However, except for issues involving his marriage, he had Hitler’s support. Goebbels was a notorious womaniser and his wife wanted to divorce him after one liaison too many. Hitler refused to give his permission for a divorce as he had spent much time cultivating the importance of family values to the German public. How could he tolerate a senior figure in the Nazi Party presenting such a poor example? However, it is known that Goebbels was told by Hitler to change his ways.
Goebbels knew the power of controlling what people thought. Those that did not had to face the secret police. Those who were taken in by Goebbels were enthralled by colour film – rarely seen being used by politicians elsewhere as it was considered too unreliable. Films such as “The Eternal Jew” ( a black and white film) hammered home the anti-Semitic message of the party; “Triumph of the Will” portrayed the might of Hitler and Germany. The displays at Nuremburg – done in partnership with Albert Speer – are significant achievements even by today’s standards of size and complexities of organisation.
During the Second World War, it was easy for Goebbels to persuade the public that things were going well when the war was going Germany’s way. However, this became a lot more difficult after the Battle of Stalingrad. This was portrayed on film as a failing of generals on the eastern front not showing enough commitment to the Nazi cause. Goebbels demanded “total war” from the Germans and in 1944, he was appointed Reich Commissioner for Total Mobilisation.
As Berlin was besieged by the Russians in April/May 1945, Goebbels stayed with Hitler in Hitler’s bunker. In his diary, he blamed the defeat of Germany on the German people and not Hitler. On May 1st, he gave poison to his six children and then shot his wife and then himself. He gave orders that his body should be burned. Before, his death, it is said that Hitler gave to Goebbels his own wrist watch as a mark that he had been the only senior Nazi leader to have stayed with Hitler to the end.