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Decision-Making in Times of Injustice Lesson 11

Decision-Making in Times of Injustice Lesson 11

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In this lesson, students will analyze several examples of Nazi propaganda in order to identify the messages that permeated German society, and to consider the impact these messages might have had on the actions and attitudes of German children, women, and men.
In this lesson, students will analyze several examples of Nazi propaganda in order to identify the messages that permeated German society, and to consider the impact these messages might have had on the actions and attitudes of German children, women, and men.

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Published by: Facing History and Ourselves on Mar 26, 2009
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Lesson 11
Lesson 11
teach this material?
In this lesson, students will analyze several examples of Nazi propaganda in order to iden-tify the messages that permeated German society, and to consider the impact these mes-sages might have had on the actions and attitudes of German children, women, and men.The activity in this lesson is also intended to help students learn how to analyze propa-ganda through identifying the messenger, the message, and the audience of particularimages. As students practice interpreting images, they develop a useful skill not only forunderstanding history, but also for understanding the images that surround them today.Helping students recognize the power of propaganda and giving them the tools to decodeimages are important steps in developing a fundamental skill for today’s citizens: medialiteracy.
The purpose of this lesson is to help students:
Reflect on these
guiding questions
What is propaganda? How did the Nazis use propaganda? What messages were they trying to send? How do you think Nazi propaganda impacted the attitudes and actions of  Germans in the 1930s? What are examples of propaganda in society today? How do you think this propa-  ganda impacts the attitudes and actions of people today? 
Practice these
interdisciplinary skills
Analyzing images Analyzing language 
Deepen understanding of these
key terms
PropagandConformity Media Message, messenger, audience 
(See the main glossary in the unit’s “Introduction” for definitions of these key terms.)
is this lesson about?
Propaganda is defined as ideas that are spread (through various media) for the purpose of influencing opinion. This term is often used to refer to material that is used for or against
To deepen your understanding of the ideas in this lesson, read Chapter Five in
FacingHistory and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior.
a specific political agenda. Hitler and the Nazis were known for their ability to createextensive and varied forms of propaganda, with words and images carefully chosen anddeliberately used to give life to old antisemitic prejudices, elicit opportunistic tendencies,quench dissent, and turn neighbor against neighbor. In
Mein Kampf  
, Hitler wrote,“[F]rom the child’s primer down to the last newspaper, every theater and every moviehouse, every advertising pillar and every billboard must be pressed into the service sub- jected of this one great mission. . . .”
By establishing the Ministry of PublicEnlightenment and Propaganda as one of his first acts as chancellor, Hitler demonstratedhis belief that controlling information was as important as controlling the military andthe economy. He appointed Josef Goebbels to direct this department. Goebbels’s strategy as Propaganda Minister was guided by the maxim, “If you tell a lie big enough and keeprepeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
He penetrated virtually every sec-tor of German society, from film, radio, posters, and rallies to school textbooks with Nazipropaganda about the dominance of the Aryan people and the threat posed by the Jews.Hitler is known for saying, “What good fortune for governments that people do notthink,”
and his policies were based on the premise that most individuals are conformists who do not think for themselves. Hitler and Nazi officials believed it was possible tomanipulate public opinion by using propaganda techniques including euphemisms,name-calling, fear, and “bandwagon” (you are either for us or against us). For example,the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda changed the words used in thearmy, replacing the word “work” with “service to Führer and folk” and “worker” with“soldier of labor.” Writer Max von der Grün recalls the impact these euphemisms had onhim during his service in the German army:
It is easy to understand that if, for whatever reasons, these words are hammered into aperson’s brain every day, they soon become a part of his language, and he does notnecessarily stop and think about where they come from and why they were coined inthe first place.
The scenario described by Max von der Grün exemplifies how the Nazis’ effective use of propaganda shut down Germans’ capacity for thoughtful deliberation about the informa-tion around them. Demonstrating his commitment to shutting down critical thinking inGermany, Hitler instructed Nazi Party officials to hold rallies in the evening, warning,“Never try to convert a crowd to your point of view in the morning sun. Instead the dimlights are useful—especially the evening when people are tired, their powers of resistanceare low, and their complete ‘emotional capitulation’ is easy to achieve.”
Horst Kruegeradmitted that many residents of his town of Eichkamp were skeptical of Hitler when hefirst came to power. But he remembers how even those who were not able to attend ral-lies in the big cities were eventually caught up in the spirit they evoked, explaining, “thecitizens of Eichkamp were eager to give themselves over to intoxication and rapture. They  were weaponless.”
The Nazis’ distribution of antisemitic films, newspaper cartoons, andeven children’s books roused centuries-old prejudices against Jews and presented new ideas about the racial impurity of Jews. Therefore, when the Nazis began implementingpolicies against Jews, from the Nuremberg laws which stripped them of citizenship rightsto isolating Jews into ghettos, many in the German public were already predisposedagainst this group of people and thus unlikely to stand up for the rights of their formerneighbors.
Lesson 11
Many have remarked on the effectiveness of Hitler’s use of information to manipulatepublic opinion. After his visit to Munich during the 1936 Olympic Games, David LloydGeorge, former Prime Minister of Britain, wrote:
 Whatever one may think of his methods—and they are certainly not those of a parlia-mentary country—there can be no doubt that he has achieved a marvelous transfor-mation in the spirit of the people, in their attitude towards each other, and in theirsocial and economic outlook . . . not a word of criticism or disapproval have I heardof Hitler.
Scholars, such as professor of philosophy George Sabine, describe Hitler as a leader who“manipulates the people as an artist molds clay.”
Ultimately, the effectiveness of Nazipropaganda reveals as much about the content and strategies involved in producing thisinformation as it does about the audience that received it. When exploring this history  with students it is important to look at propaganda not only through the lens of its cre-ators (the messengers), but also through the lens of its audience. Hitler and other Nazileaders could advance their racist agenda because most members of the German publicbelieved the lies they spread about Jews. From studying Nazi Germany we learn how individuals, especially young people, are vulnerable to believing myths and lies when they are not encouraged to critically analyze the world around them and make informed judg-ments based on evidence. According to the Center for Media Literacy, “Media Literacy is the ability to access, ana-lyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.”
The Nazi education system dis-couraged media literacy. Students were not taught how to develop their own ideas aboutthe images and messages that permeated life during the Third Reich because the successof Hitler’s dictatorship depended on the youth believing the lies disseminated by the NaziParty. And, for the most part, the Nazis succeeded in these efforts. Testimonies of German youth reveal that they mostly accepted what they heard and saw as the truth, without evaluating the accuracy of the statements or the harm these messages inflicted onvulnerable groups, especially Jews.The success of Nazi propaganda in influencing the minds and hearts of many Germans,especially German youth, demonstrates the dangers that can befall a society whose citi-zens are not able to make informed judgments about the media around them. By helpingstudents develop the habit of asking questions such as, “What is the intended purpose of the text? What message is being expressed? How do I know if this information is true?”and the ability to answer these questions, we nurture their growth as responsible citizens who are less likely to be manipulated by malicious propaganda. It is also critical for stu-dents to learn to evaluate the ethical dimensions of propaganda. Studying Nazi propa-ganda reveals that the effective use of information to persuade the public is not the sameas the responsible dissemination of ideas. Many forms of media (i.e., advertising, politicalcampaign speeches, public service announcements) are produced with the purpose of per-suading public opinion, and might be classified as propaganda. Yet, should all propa-ganda—all information that uses emotion or misleading claims to persuade an audi-ence—be considered unethical, even propaganda aimed at causes we support? Whatcriteria should we use to evaluate the ethical use of information? In the twenty-first cen-tury, when most of us have increasing access to a wide range of information, it is espe-cially important for students to be equipped with the ability not only to comprehendideas, but to evaluate this information from a moral and intellectual perspective.
Lesson 11

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