Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Poison Dwarf


Most of the leading cadres of the Third Reich were, on a simple human level, tiresome bores, Martin Bormann being the most boring of all. There are exceptions, most notably Hermann Goring, the regime’s number-one sybarite, a sort of cross between Nero and Falstaff. But the personality who fascinates me most is Josef Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, widely known, even among his own party comrades, as the poison dwarf.

Dwarf he certainly was; of large head, slight frame and low stature, he was born with a club foot. In every way he was the antithesis of the Nazi ideal of the Aryan superman, all so much ideological window-dressing. He was also an intellectual, of a sort, in a movement made up of so many thuggish boneheads. Above all he was a propagandist of outstanding brilliance, one who always knew exactly how to tailor a political message. As a speaker he was, at a visceral level, even better than Hitler, evidenced, above all, in his infamous 1943 Total War oration.

Now he is the subject of a new biography – Joseph Goebbels by Peter Longerich, published recently in Germany, with an English translation planned. It’s based on a detailed study of the Propaganda Minister’s diaries – he was a life long scribbler -, emphasising the personal as much as the political. He is depicted as a depraved sexual obsessive, full of mawkish sentimentality.

His affairs during his period of power were notorious. Control over the German film industry gave him control over the casting couch, earning him another sobriquet – the ram. Looking at him, looking at his obvious lack of physical attraction, he seems to be a classic example of Henry Kissinger’s dictum, that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. But even before he achieved senior office he had a variety of affairs, which suggests a personality with sufficient power to overcome his physical handicaps.

Paradoxically, though he promoted the racial ideals of the regime, even if he did not represent them, the closest he came to downfall was over a passionate romance he had with Lida Baarova, an actress and a Slav. It was only after Magda, Goebbels’ wife, appealed to Hitler, that he was forced to drop her. Thereafter his standing in the inner circle went in to decline, only to be revived during the war, when he became Hitler’s most important lieutenant and the real face of the Third Reich.

I’ve read some of Goebbels’ diaries, fascinating documents, an exploration of his personal politics and his psyche. The most fascinating of all is that for the period of 1925 to 1926, leading up to the point when he was appointed Gauleiter of Berlin. Never intended for publication, they give away far more than the later documents. He writes in a staccato, machine-gun like fashion, brief sentences, often little more than exclamations. This is an obsessively vain individual, preeningly so, almost school girlish in his expressions of sentiment, most dripping of all when it comes to his descriptions of Hitler. There is no better illustration that evil is not always banal. Sometimes it’s histrionic.

20 comments:

  1. Indeed a prince among men ,loyal to the end.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, I suppose they were, orcs one and all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Doesn't Goebbels look like Gollum?

    ReplyDelete
  5. O sad old world/That has such people in it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi, Ana - have been fitfully following your excellent blog for a while now, and am at last spurred to comment by this, just to mention the film called Munchhausen made under Goebbels - a fascinating and gorgeous fantasy made right in the belly of the whale...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Adam, Befehl ist Befehl. We must remove the invaders from Kuwait, or is that South Korea, or is that Poland, or is that Belgium, or is that the Balkans? No, why bother, why listen to the warmongers; let’s keep things cosy and slip into a cocoon of complacency, ignorance and isolation in this, our ‘island’ home. Oh, and if you are going to draw on the remarks of Der Fuhrer it’s only fair to say that the forty-five minute clam was about Cyprus, not Britain. You really should read The Diaries of Adrian Mole. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Adam B, welcome and thanks. Yes, that’s a good movie. Actually obvious propaganda like Der ewige Jude was the exception under the Goebbels’ rule of the German film industry. He was sufficiently skilled to see that a diet of pure propaganda would only alienate people, who first and foremost needed to be entertained, to be manipulated in less obvious ways.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The Dwarf also recognized the value of public gatherings, and initiated the great rallies like Nurenburg. Almost unbelievably huge crowds
    and lavish athletic displays and entertainment to gain the approval and roar of the crowd. The first principles of propoganda were written down, I believe, in the 20's by an American named Bernay. The Dwarf was an ardent student of this work. It is still in print.
    Very interesting post.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Count Sneaky, he did indeed. Overall he was a talented individual, which does not mean to say that I approve of him. Thanks. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Of course not. Nor can we be proud of the Nobel Prize winner, Max Muller, an American, whose genetic ideas inspired Himmler's "Lebensborn" program
    of selection and slaughter. Perhaps nothing else illuminates the darkest corners of our nature as the knowledge of the Nazis and their descent into darkness. Keep up the good posts.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Genetic engineering is just high tech "Lebensborn" ,by any other name. The natural order of things is the strongest survive.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Edward Bernays' book was titled Propaganda, and occupied a central spot on Goebbel's shelf. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who, IMO, was generally right in his choice of cigars, and wrong about all else.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Bob, I know nothing about Freud's cigars, so let me just say that he was wrong about everything!

    Hold tight: I'm about to post my Vietnam blog, using some of the information you supplied as well as some of your pictures. Thanks so much for your help.

    ReplyDelete
  15. The manipulation of bloodlines goes back to time immortal.

    ReplyDelete