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Jason Taylor
Professor Weinhouse
English 260
September 3rd, 2014
Propaganda and the Puppet Master
The final stanza from Friedrich Schillers poem, The Diver:
The breakers they hear and the breakers return, / proclaimed by a thundering
sound; / they bend oer the gulf with glances that yearn / and the waters are
pouring in fast around; / though upwards and downwards they rush and they rave,
/ the youth is brought back by no kindly wave. (157-162)
Viewing a tragedy such as the Holocaust with a lens of any other shade besides
remorseful compassion is nearly impossible. Even harder is trying to imagine a group of
victims other than the souls whose lives were ruined and then cut down during their prime
because they were deemed unworthy by their own government. Its easy to view these events
from the comfortable distance of our own time period and point blame at the German
military under the command of Adolph Hitler; those men and women who carried out his
orders with unwavering loyalty. This essay is designed to take a step back to the beginning:
before the Final Solution was put in place and millions of innocent people were slaughtered,
before Kristallnacht, when Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked and the
Synagogues burned to the ground simply because their owners and clergy did not fit into the
Aryan mold. Back to a time when Hitler had only just begun his ascent to his inevitable
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status of Fhrer and was busy filling the fragile minds of Germanys people with strong
political speeches and rallies and even stronger anti-Semitic images.
The easily collected amounts of power coupled with furiously strong propaganda was the
winning combination that fueled Hitlers rise to the top and forced the German people, not
only to become servants to the Nazi Party, to embrace it despite their own initial moral
objections. The growth of the Nazi Party will be examined using images culled from the
Hitlers propaganda techniques as well as certain character actions from a surface-level
analysis of Ursula Hegis fictional novel Children and Fire in an effort to understand how
one could become a monster under the right circumstances.
In order to understand how a large group of people can be manipulated by another, one
must understand the device which is used to effectively influence and control public opinion:
propaganda. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word as ideas or statements that
are often false or exaggerated and that spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a
government, etc. (Propaganda). Adolph Hitler was, without question, a very enthusiastic
and engaging politician. He often played to these strengths in order to take advantage of a
group of people who were still licking their literal and not-so-literal wounds from their recent
defeat in World War I. These people were willing to pour their hearts and minds into a new
leader who appeared eager in giving Germany back to the German people. Its not hard to
understand why his ideas were so well-received during the early years of his rise to power.
The propaganda that Hitler used was very effective, albeit awful, in manipulating the
minds of Germans. One of the first key events, which pit the people of Germany against each
other, was the Nuremburg Laws. These laws were directly targeted at Jews, not as a religious
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group, but as a race of people. The defining characteristic of a Jew, to the Nazi Party, was
whether someone had three or four Jewish grandparents (The Nuremburg Race Laws). The
Nuremburg laws featured a strong framework that attacked Jews and prevented them from
progression in Germany. For example, Jews were not allowed to practice law, medicine, or
worship in public. Jews were not allowed to marry someone of Aryan descent. Jewish
businesses were boycotted and eventually bought and re-sold to Aryan Germans. These laws
are viewed as a crucial point for Hitlers domination in Germany.
In order to coerce the German people to abide by these new laws, Hitler used an array of
visual media, not only to promote himself as the Fhrer, but to make the people believe that
Jews were a disease that were debilitating Germany and hindering its progress as a country.
It wasnt long before Germanys people were swayed, by their own desperation, to embrace
the Nazi Party and embody the idea that Jewish people were an inferior race.
A different form of propaganda that Hitler used effectively was the incorporation of the
Hitler Youth. He wanted to create a future for the Nazi Party, so, he began when they were
young and malleable. The mandatory involvement for all Aryan children beginning at ten-
years-old was another crucial gear in the proverbial machine which protected Hitlers vision
of Germanys future by ensuring that the Nazi party would always have plenty of mindless
and obedient soldiers at its disposal.
Ursula Hegis novel Children and Fire is a shining example of the power that Hitlers
propaganda had on the children of Germany. In the novel, one of the main characters, Thekla
Jansen is torn between her distaste for Hitlers methods and her adoration for the classroom
full of students that she teaches. On one hand, she doesnt want to go along with the Nazi
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Partys political agenda and she harbors no ill will toward Jews; however, on the other hand,
she sees that the children in her classroom feel more included when they are able to partake
in the events of the Hitler Youth with their peers.
In the novel, one of Theklas students: a young boy named Bruno, is upset because his
parents are openly opposed to Hitler and the Nazi Party and have disallowed Bruno to wear
the uniform of the Hitler Youth. Thekla can see that this exclusion from his peer group is
damaging so when Bruno reveals that [he] cant live without the Fhrer (Hegi 157) its
Thekla who finally caves in and agrees to talk to Brunos parents about re-instating his
involvement in the Hitler Youth. This decision is the tipping point which leads to Brunos
suicide and Theklas resolve to turn her back on the Nazi Party. Its a good example of the
powerful nature of Hitlers propaganda. The Hitler Youth was so important to Bruno that he
felt as though he could not continue his life without being allowed to serve his Fhrer. Its
tragic, but it makes the reader reflect on the incredible power of persuasion and how easily
controlled peoples minds can become when they are eager and weak.
If the influence of anti-Semitism hadnt driven itself so deeply into the fibers of
Germanys people, perhaps the events that shaped the Holocaust would have been different.
The events that followed as Hitler rose to the highest power are horrible; however, what we
should take away from them is a learning experience and the lesson to never let it happen
again. Hitlers propaganda was very effective in controlling the impressionable minds found
in Hegis novel as well as the real-life events that occurred during Germany throughout the
1930s. Its clear to see that sometimes all a master puppeteer needs is a country full with
puppets that are desperate for someone to pick them up and pull the strings.
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Works Cited
Schiller, Friedrich. "The Diver." The Diver. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2014.
"Propaganda." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2014.
"The Nuremberg Race Laws." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States
Holocaust Memorial Council, n.d. Web. 09 Sept. 2014.
Hegi, Ursula. Children and Fire: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2011. 157. Print.