Random House, New York, 2015, 992 pages
Book Review published on: March 3, 2017
Joseph Goebbels’s legacy as Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist largely obscures the story of a failed writer with a limp who would rise from obscurity to become Hitler’s minister of propaganda, most loyal lieutenant, and personally anointed successor. Goebbels was the man behind Nazi Germany’s curtain, responsible for creating the powerful aura associated with Hitler and Nazi Germany. He remained fully committed to Nazi ideology and Hitler. So great was Goebbels’s loyalty to Hitler that he followed Hitler’s example by committing suicide in the bunker along with his wife, Magda, only after murdering their children.
Peter Longerich, widely published professor of modern German history at Royal Halloway, University of London, and founder of Royal Holloway’s Holocaust Research Centre, has delivered another outstanding book with Goebbels: A Biography. This book may be the most definitive study of Goebbels to date. Longerich draws on a range of primary source materials—over thirty thousand pages of Goebbels’s diaries, German archives, previous biographies, and newspaper accounts in examining Goebbels not just as Hitler’s propaganda genius but as the evil, sexually obsessed, and insecure individual he really was.
Goebbels genius is reflected in the creation of a powerful Nazi Germany aura. Most notable is Goebbels perfectly choreographed reception for Hitler’s return to Berlin following the defeat of France. International media captured what appeared to be a spontaneous celebration of genuine enthusiasm, as countless thousands lined the streets waving flags while Hitler’s Mercedes made its way on flower-bedecked streets to the Reich Chancellery. Little did they know that Goebbels ordered businesses closed at noon, and that Berliners were compelled to line the streets for hours awaiting Hitler’s motorcade.
Goebbels’s deeply held anti-Semitic beliefs were the driving force to legally compel German Jews to wear Jewish identification badges and the impetus for numerous propaganda campaigns design to dehumanize and disenfranchise them. Goebbels attempted on several occasions, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, to force Jews out of Berlin. Goebbels’s anti-Semitism did not preclude him from romantic encounters with Jewish or others deemed subhuman by Nazi ideology.
Longerich describes a sexually obsessed Goebbels who was incapable of fidelity using his position as Reich minister for public enlightenment and propaganda as a casting couch for numerous affairs. Most notable was Goebbels’s affair with Czech actress Lída Baarová, whom he lavished with gifts and attention. The affair ended when Magda Goebbels complained to Hitler, who ordered Goebbels to end it. Longerich states that the dalliances tapered off with the outbreak of war and the demands of serving at Hitler’s side increased.
Goebbels enjoyed a close, personal relationship with Hitler but remained outside his inner circle of decision makers. Longerich states Goebbels was a narcissist, obsessively addicted to Hitler’s admiration. Hitler skillfully exploited Goebbels’s insecurities, deftly utilizing his talents and rewarding his loyalty, but never fully satisfying Goebbels’s appetite for approval. Goebbels was frequently left out or informed at the last minute of key decisions such as the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the occupation of Sudetenland. Although formally in charge of propaganda, he was never given complete control over all information activities, and he was often frustrated by the Foreign Office’s attempts to influence international opinion and the Wehrmacht propaganda activities in occupied areas.
Longerich describes in great detail Hitler’s relationship with the family, especially with Magda, to whom he developed an exceptionally close friendship with. Hitler was a frequent guest who was very close with all of the Goebbels children. All of the Goebbels children’s names began with “H” in honor of Hitler. Longerich asserts Hitler viewed Magda as the first lady of the Third Reich.
Goebbels is more than the most definitive study of Joseph Goebbels; it is an insider’s view of Nazi Germany from the beginning to end. It is a must addition for any historian or student of propaganda or the war in Europe.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas