Hitler’s propaganda machine, under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels, relentlessly bombarded the German people with negative messages — in feature films, faked newsreels, phony documentaries, fabricated news stories, radio plays, even in children’s books — demonizing, dehumanizing and scapegoating Jews for just about every problem of German society. Public demonstrations were regularly choreographed and mass rallies staged to vilify them. All news, moreover, was carefully controlled, censored and always upbeat. Newspapers, radio and newsreels spewed forth a steady stream of orchestrated information emphasizing the regime’s positive achievements, particularly its successes in foreign affairs. The official view of Nazi society was one of happy farmers, workers and middle-class Germans working together in a classless society, a Volksgeminschaft, or “people’s community.” Hitler was glorified by many Germans with semi-religious fervor; revered as savior of the Aryan nation. Clearly, however, Hitler feared the power of the Church and from the beginning of the Third Reich worked to neutralize it, first in Germany and then in Occupied Europe.
The unending propaganda barrage was accompanied by state-imposed terror designed to cower opponents and quash dissent. The notorious Gestapo (Secret Police) intentionally made arrests at night using brutally repressive tactics to instill fear and docility, a policy known as “Fog and Night.” Although, obviously, there were Germans who disapproved of Nazi excesses, few were willing to speak out, especially when it became clear that not only they, but their entire families would be severely punished, even killed. Regularly and routinely, opponents of the regime disappeared without a trace and were never heard from again. Neighbor spied and informed on neighbor. Children, indoctrinated from early age by ideologues of the Nazi Youth Movement, informed on their parents. Opposition to the regime in short order became sporadic and isolated. Catholic clergy, members of religious orders and the laity, even Jewish converts to Catholicism, despite guarantees to the contrary in the Reich Concordat, were persecuted, as were their Protestant counterparts. Many non-Jews were also deported to concentration and killing camps.
Cloaking himself and his regime with religiosity, Hitler’s insidiously effective propaganda machine was able to tap effortlessly into the poisonous groundwater of anti-Judaism, based on religion, and easily blend into Nazi anti-Semitism, based on race. When Nazi racist ideology defined the Jew as a demonic “other,” it was building on an aspect of the European psyche firmly in place for close to two millennia. In short, Nazi anti-Semitism had two parents — neo-pagan anti-Semitism and Christian anti-Judaism. The Vatican acknowledged the first parent, but not the second.
In pursuit of a racially pure society, the Nazis abandoned the fundamental commandment of traditional morality, “Thou shall not kill.” Hitler stressed this point when he proclaimed: “The Ten Commandments have lost their validity…Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity. I am freeing man from the restraint of any intelligence that has taken charge; from the dirty and degrading self-mortification of a chimera called conscience and morality, and from the demands of a freedom and personal independence which only a few can bear…”