Joseph Goebbels was born into a strict Catholic, working-class family from Rheydt in the Rhineland on 29 October 1897. He was educated at a Roman Catholic school and went on to study history and literature at the University of Heidelberg under Professor Friedrich Gundolf, a Jewish literary historian renowned as a Goethe scholar. Goebbels had been rejected for military service during World War I because of a crippled foot - the result of contracting polio as a child. He joined the NSDAP (Die Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) in 1922.


At first Goebbels's hyperactive imagination found an outlet in poetry, drama and a bohemian life-style, but apart from his expressionist novel, Michael: ein Deutsches Schicksal in Tagebuchblattern (1926), nothing came of these first literary efforts. It was in the Nazi Party that Goebbels's sharp, clear-sighted intelligence, his oratorical gifts and flair for theatrical effects, his uninhibited opportunism and ideological radicalism blossomed in the service of an insatiable will-to-power.

Goebbels founded and edited the Nationalsozialistischen Briefe (NS Letters) and other publications of the Strasser brothers, sharing their proletarian anti-capitalist outlook and call for a radical reevaluation of all values. His National Bolshevik tendencies found expression in his evaluation of Soviet Russia (which he regarded as both nationalist and socialist) as 'Germany's natural ally against the devilish temptations and corruption of the West'.

It was at this time that Goebbels, who had co-authored the draft programme submitted by the Nazi Left at the Hanover Conference of 1926, called for the expulsion of 'petty-bourgeois Adolf Hitler from the National Socialist Party'. Goebbels's shrewd political instinct and his opportunism were demonstrated by his switch to Hitler's side in 1926, which was rewarded by his appointment in November of the same year as Nazi district leader for Berlin- Brandenburg. By 1927 he had already become the most feared demagogue of the capital city, fully exploiting his deep and powerful voice, rhetorical fervour and unscrupulous appeal to primitive instincts. Goebbels knew how to mobilize the fears of the unemployed masses as the Great Depression hit Germany, playing on the national psyche with 'ice-cold calculation'.


Hitler was deeply impressed by Goebbels's success in turning the small Berlin section of the Party into a powerful organization in North Germany and in 1929 appointed him Reich Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP. Goebbels found his mission in selling Hitler to the German public, in projecting himself as his most faithful shield-bearer and orchestrating a pseudo-religious cult of the Fuhrer as the saviour of Germany.

He played a crucial role in bringing Hitler to the centre of the political stage in the election campaigns of 1932. He was rewarded on 13 March 1933 with the position of Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which gave him total control of the communications media - i.e. radio, press, publishing, cinema and the other arts.

For five years Goebbels chafed at the leash as the Nazi regime sought to consolidate itself and win international recognition. His opportunity came with the Crystal Night pogrom of 9-10 November 1938, which he orchestrated after kindling the flame with a rabble-rousing speech to Party leaders assembled in the Munich Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) for the annual celebration of the Beer- Hall putsch. Later, Goebbels was one of the chief secret abettors of the 'Final Solution', personally supervising the deportation of Jews from Berlin in 1942.


During World War II relations between Hitler and Goebbels became more intimate, especially as the war situation deteriorated and the Minister of Propaganda encouraged the German people to ever greater efforts. In a famous speech on 18 February 1943 in the Berlin Sportpalast, Goebbels created an atmosphere of wild emotion, winning the agreement of his listeners to mobilization for total war. As the war neared its end, Goebbels, the supreme opportunist, emerged as the Fuhrer's most loyal follower, spending his last days together with his family, in the Fuhrerbunker under the Chancellery. Convinced that the Nazis had finally burnt all their bridges and increasingly fascinated by the prospect of a final apocalypse, Goebbels's last words on dismissing his associates were: 'When we depart, let the earth tremble!'

He had his six children poisoned with a lethal injection by an SS doctor and then himself and his wife Magda shot by an SS orderly on 1 May 1945. He declared not long before his death: 'We shall go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time, or as the greatest criminals.'

Joseph Goebbels with wife Magda and three out of six kids
  Scene with Magda Goebbels - "Downfall" movie (Der Untergang)

Daily Mail two days after Goebbels' suicide
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Some of the Goebbels' principles of propaganda:

"Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority."

"Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false."

"Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans. "

"Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred. "

"Black rather than white propaganda may be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects. "

"To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium. "

"Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level"


Quotes "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." and "The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed." are widely and incorrectly attributed to Goebbels. It is probable that these are the paraphrases of the Goebbels' text "Churchill's Lie Factory" where he said: "The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous." - Jospeh Goebbels, "Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik," 12. january 1941, Die Zeit ohne Beispiel

2005 © Aleksandar Maća¹ev