The Public Relations of Genocide:
How the Propaganda of Dehumanization Conditioned Germany to the Implementation of Hitler’s Final Solution
Words have consequences. Intended or not, what we say affects how we think. The language used affects how we behave in situations. The Holocaust, which cost the lives of over 6 million Jews and other undesirables, was not instantaneous or spontaneous, it was a process. To get there, a policy of propaganda and the extensive use of public relations were required; the methods however, were pioneered in America, but perfected under Adolf Hitler’s henchman, Joseph Goebbels. The industry of public relations began effectively under Edward Bernays to “discover the emotional or logical basis for attitude and action. ” A nephew of Sigmund Freud’s, Bernays’ methods were first used to determine how companies could further widen their markets, using brilliant psychology on the masses. These same methods would later be mastered under Goebbels to create the conditions for the implementation of the frightening vision of Hitler’s perfect Reich. In Bernays’ belief, people were psychologically malleable, able to be played perfectly if the right notes were hit. To him, “public relations in politics… as in any other professional field, can be used constructively or abused. ” While Bernays managed the American corporations, Goebbels, who disputably had used Bernays’ book, Crystallizing Public Opinion, as the basis for his own propaganda campaigns, managed public relations for the Reich. The book details the use of symbols and imagery in the psyche of people, and how to use that psychology for purposes of propaganda. Where Bernays was morally flexible, Goebbels was steadfastly zealous. Where Bernays was secular in racial beliefs, Goebbels was rabidly anti-Semitic. This process, coursing over years, reveals some answer to just how a people can be so desensitized to the inhumanity befalling their neighbors, relatives, friends, and loved ones.
It is important to credit Bernays first in his contribution to the art of public relations, despite to what ends history has proven it had been used. Constantly in his uncle’s shadow, Edward was given to shameless self-aggrandizing, but he did coin an ominous and important concept, the “engineering of consent” that is, the ability to “understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind…to control and regiment the masses according to our will. ” His was an unusual style for the time, rather than remaining confined to the conventions of reality, Bernays preferred to shape the realities to his client’s conventions. The tactics were psychological in nature and long-term in effect, designed to alter the pre-existing latent irrationalities of the crowd, the masses, to the will of the specialist. By abusing the dormant desires of the individual, he crafted techniques in which to sell products, ideas, and causes. It was as simple as when the Multiple Sclerosis Society hired Bernays, they had difficulty making Americans aware of the illness, and it was Bernays who urged pruning it back to MS… helping transform an obscure ailment into a favorite cause . When truck companies were losing out to railways, Bernays was pivotal in influencing Congress to build highway systems instead of railways, solidifying Mack Trucks as company it is today . To be able to manipulate what the public thought, as Bernays described it “ill-defined, mercurial, and changeable ” was an art form, and what he called “crystallizing public opinion”. Despite the vehement criticism of his practices, even by fellow public relations specialist Ivy Lee, Bernays believed propaganda was an instrument “which [specialists] can fight for productive ends and help bring order out of chaos. ” A stern believer in education, he attacked the teacher class of citizens as suffering from an inferiority complex. Through education, he believed the intelligent people, arguably the people who mattered, could discern for themselves what is being conveyed, and how to react. Unfortunately, Joseph Goebbels, a lame underling in a swirl of far-right controversy, believed much the same; his difference though, was that he would model the education system to National Socialist ideology. His idea of order out of chaos was steeped in Hitler’s terrifying ethos.
Adamant in his belief in Herr Fuehrer, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels believed all facets, all aspects, and all institutions of the Third Reich should be utilized for the advancement of National Socialism. Schools taught of the evil of the world Jewry, of obeying authority, i.e. the new Reich, and glorified the German industrial machine, along with the Reich’s political leaders. Posters would be seen like that of animalist stereotypes of Jews: Snakes, rats, octopi, and all other degrading works were placed in town squares, and indeed on the homes and businesses of Jews. This was the propaganda of dehumanization. The public relations of demarcation and abandonment of what were once neighbors. Conjured and put out by Goebbels’ ministry, it was institutionalized discrimination. Eventually, it would become the norm. The three press firms, having been merged under the Ministry of Propaganda became the German News Service. Goebbels had said of the press it had to “be a piano, so to speak, in the hands of government…uniform in principle” but “polyform in the nuances. ” If every facet of German life is immersed in the racist rhetoric that some people are better quality people, that some are less quality, not even people, but sub-human, it eventually takes effect. Coupled with the quashing of dissent in both universities and the press, there was little to zero criticism of state actions. Those that did dissent, Goebbels had bragged, could only do so because they “aren’t afraid of landing in a concentration camp. ” On the 7 of April, 1933, weeks after coming into office, one of the first racial laws passed, banning Jews from the civil service, something a small portion of Germans liked seeing, much like America’s Affirmative Action being reversed, while others could only watch. Posters calling Jews “work-shy” and “asocial” could be found around this time, among the many other degradations. Founded on the principle of protecting Germany, the laws and what was called Gleichschaltung, or “bringing-together” was the deindividualization of Germany as a whole and the dehumanization of the Jews and other undesirables in particular. Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo called this “spoiled identity ” when certain peoples are publicly discredited, they become no longer fully human. Zimbardo argues that this is when normally morally upright citizens may perform cruel, destructive acts. Now when laws are brought into this already depraved picture, the Nuremberg Laws (1935 on), where Jews could not join the armed forces, marry German blooded people, and indeed became nationals, and were no longer considered or viewed as Germans, then the roots had taken hold in what more or less had been, cement. With being banned from the civil service, there could no longer be any dissent or discussion against further anti-Jewish laws. The euphemistic "Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor" was staggeringly discriminatory, and it made no bones about it. Goebbels detested the Jews, and while he called his policies “peaceful” and only aimed at “equal rights” and “restoration of honor ” he made no bones about what he had planned: “we will free Berlin of Jews. I will not let up. Our path is the right one.” to get an idea of his one-track mind-set. For that to be the attitude of what essentially was the public relations specialist is staggeringly irresponsible, Bernays was not surprised, but however, “shocked. ” On August 14, 1938, a law was passed asking Jews to further visually segregate themselves from the rest of the population. Large Js were put up on the business signs and in their passports, they were told to now adopt the middle names “Sarah” or “Israel” which must show up in all public and governmental signs and documents.
This animalization of citizens, as it was, was all a build up to the Endöslung, Hitler’s Final Solution. Making up less than 1% of the German population, Jews were the perfect scapegoat, a symbol, for the economic hardships, the loss of the Great War and fingered as the biggest threat to German livelihood. The atmosphere was of deep mistrust and prejudice when on Sunday, November 6, 1938, a Jewish teenager living in Paris, whose family was exiled and had naught a penny to their name, opened fire and mortally wounded a Nazi-German diplomat. On November 9, the diplomat died. Goebbels conferred with Hitler privately, and in a fiery speech from a beer hall, told the gathering that the Nazi Party will exhibit no impediment towards the outraged public if the outraged public so desired to express this outrage. They of course did. After the Second World War, documents were found showing that the party had been working agencies in concert down to the last detail for the pogrom of the 9th and 10th, Kristallnacht, Night of the Broken Glass . By the end, nearly one hundred Jews were murdered, and over twenty thousand were arrested and shipped off in cattle trains. It was a brilliant excuse, the heroic citizens stood up to Jewish aggression, the papers read. The public, though many took part, did have a number of those who tried to help their neighbors. The vast majority however, could only look on as stormtroopers and their public compatriots raided and pillaged homes and businesses all the while beating the Jewish owners. The German people, who could only look at pro-National Socialism papers, as all others were banned indefinitely, had been told of the threat Jews presented, that Judea itself declared war on Germany, all the while being blasted with the rhetoric and propaganda of Goebbels, were now exonerated in their prejudices and actions by laws that dehumanized Jews and other nationals. Where Hitler passed laws, Goebbels translated that to the German people. It was the public relations of excusing evil. Perhaps due to the nature of what Endöslung proposed, the finality of its violence, it was apparent more harmless sounding words were needed to convey what at first glance would appear innocuous, but in reality was the Final Solution being implemented. Sonderbehandlung, meaning special treatment, in practice meant extermination. For efficiency it was shortened to SB. Umsiedlung, Evakuierung, Entfernung were all words used to camouflage mass murder. Indeed, it was Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” found to be so endemic in Germany at the time and throughout the war. It was the mediocrity of atrocity.
Cicero, the ancient Roman, had once sighed that laws are silent in times of war, another mind lamented that truth is war’s first casualty. But when the truth has died long before the war and war only galvanized the abidance to the laws put in place, in so many words, this is the condition for genocide. Total war consumes a people totally, and Soviet Jews, who ran the world, and the European Jewry, who were but their tentacles, were swallowed wholly into the fires of a madman’s burning playground. The insanity that ensued still smolders to the present day. There are laws that dictate what can be said, and what can be spread to this day. The most complicating factor on the thought of the Holocaust was in the build up to it. How could a people become so desensitized to the dehumanization of what once were their neighbors? Some answer could be seen in the leaders themselves. So detached from the people below, and so without qualms that the military leaders expected in their Operation Barbarossa alone for there to be between 30-40 million civilian fatalities . This evil of dehumanization is seen naught on the ground level, by those who heard it not on the top level, and who only spoke of it with highly idealized euphemisms found throughout their ideology at every level. Dehumanization was bred, it took years, and it cost precious millions. What Bernays believed could have been avoided by adherence to the rule of law, respect for the educated and dissenting, was eliminated totally in his counterpart, Goebbels. The two are inextricably joined at the hip by their powerful use of symbols and psychology, no matter how much Bernays had downplayed it in his life. Goebbels admired him no doubt, but took what he set down and perverted it, mutilating what Eddie Bernays and Ivy Lee believed a profession of champions, and transformed it into the public relations of genocide.