German Propaganda: Its Influence on Europe During World War II

and its Significance in Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

In Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne depicts with surprising normality a life she shared with seven other Jews that was limited to a couple of rooms in a hidden Annex that by no standards today would be considered normal. Secluded from the hostile conditions that faced Jews in Amsterdam at the time, but ever weary of being discovered, Anne describes how they adjusted their lives to the space between the Annex walls. For the Franks and the van Daans (and later Mr. Dussel) surviving became a daily routine, and Anne records how the highlight of the day was at one-o-clock, when, "Clustered around the radio, they all listen raptly to the BBC" (123). The radio became their only constant source of communication with the outside world, and was such an important part of their life that Anne wrote, "Mealtime depends on news broadcasts" (70). Along with the hope that the radio provided, it served as a window to the persecution of Jews all over Europe. Moreover, the German broadcasts took advantage of the radio as a means to communicate their anti-Semitic messages to the rest of Europe. Having researched how the Nazis manipulated not only the radio broadcasts, but all forms of media, it is clear how essential the communication of Nazi ideals was in establishing and maintaining control of European throughout the war. Even more intriguing, however, are the ways in which the people of the occupied countries responded to the Nazi domination of the media. One response was to create subtle, new methods for communicating that undermined this domination. In sharp contrast, however, was the response of countering Nazi control and its influence by establishing more self-imposed restrictions. Thus, in light of the extensive grip with which the Nazis controlled the means of communication, the Jews in the diary were forced to develop subversive means of communicating, as well as their own restrictions on communication.

The extent at which the Nazi propaganda was able to influence Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s was, in fact, so complete, that it was arguably the most viable account of complete control over communication in history. Likewise, it has been said that "Nazi propaganda . . . was no substitute for violence, but part of it" (Propaganda 1196). Thus, it is impossible, as well as illogical, to examine the destructive acts of violence committed by the Nazis without examining Nazi propaganda. After coming into power in 1933, "the Nazis used their influence to control the radio, press, theater, cinema, and the arts" (Propaganda 1196). Essential to the development of propaganda techniques was Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. According to author Jay Baird, in The Mythical World of Nazi War Propaganda, 1939-1945, it was Goebbels who linked propaganda to the Nazi calendar, such as November 30 (the Nazi assumption of power), and excited the public imagination (16). He also credits Goebbels with the ingenious innovation of "black" or "gray" propaganda, or propaganda that was distinguished from official government media (25). Baird refers to one such technique called "whisper" or person-to-person propaganda in which channels were used that concealed governmental origin of the information (25). In fact, Baird writes that, "At the onset of the war, he [Goebbels] rushed through an order that made listening to foreign radio broadcasts a crime punishable by a prison sentence or death" (38). In utilizing every conceivable source media, and eliminating those that they did not control, the Nazis were able to bombard the public with pro-Nazi propaganda. Hitler himself explained the essence of this propaganda in Mein Kampf saying, "… all propaganda has to limit itself to a very few points and repeat them like slogans until even the last man is able to understand what you want him to understand" (cited in Propaganda 1196). By repeating simple messages over various media, the propaganda was drilled into the German conscious. Playing on the emotions of the people, the propaganda began by using anti-Semitic messages to manipulate the people’s fears of economic loss by blaming Jews. Once the Nazi regime came to power, the propaganda was used to maintain Nazi control of public opinion. The focus for the propaganda shifted in 1938, however, and was made clear in Hitler’s private address in Munich before four hundred of the Reich’s leading journalists when he said, "It was necessary gradually to prepare the German people psychologically and to make clear to them that there are some things which only force, not peaceful means, must decide" (cited in Baird 23). Thus, by repeatedly sending their simple messages through various forms of media, the Nazis were able to control the messages received by the German people, and thus manipulate their opinions to support the violence that would ensue.

Despite having every major form of communication controlled, the people under Nazi influence established new methods of communication. The most notable was inspired by a BBC campaign called "V for Victory" which was aimed at improving the morale of the people in the occupied countries (British 301). The idea is credited to Victor de Laveleye, a Belgian refugee who broadcasted from London to his countrymen asking them to chalk the letter "V" in public places (V 657). In July of 1941, the idea was extended to the rest of Europe as the BBC’s Colonel Britton, broadcasting in seven languages, told listeners to tap out the V-sign in Morse Code (V 657). The sequence of dot-dot-dot-dash was then reportedly reproduced "with car horns and train whistles, on doors and so on" (V 657). Likewise, Britton suggested using the waving hand sign with the first two fingers making a "V", and turned the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into the aural symbol for German resistance (V 657). Thus, despite having all the conventional outlets for communication controlled by the Nazis, people from all over the occupied countries established new, subversive forms of expression to communicate their hope.

Although, by going into hiding, the Franks and the van Daans were resisting Nazi control as much as any of the Jews in the occupied countries, their initial response to the Nazi control over communication was not of subversion, but of more control. The lives of the Jews that lived in the Annex were governed by how much noise they could make, when they could use the restroom, and when they could listen to the radio, to name only a few. They even had a Prospectus and Guide to the Secret Annex, which elaborately spelled out what was and was not allowed. Possibly the most alarming restriction that Anne mentions, however, is that there was, "No listening to forbidden broadcasts, with certain exceptions, i.e., German stations may only be tuned in to listen to classical music" (69). While the other rules had some apparent advantages given the situation they lived in, the restriction regarding the use of the radio seemed to be (at least on the surface) less of a necessity, and more of a means of establishing control. Thus, by placing restrictions on the German radio stations the Jews were censoring the messages that were being communicated within the Annex, and instilling the same techniques to manipulate opinions as the hated Nazis. In addition, Anne goes on to articulate that, "It is absolutely forbidden to listen to German news bulletins (regardless of where they are transmitted from) and pass them on to others" (Frank 69). This last part is interesting because it proves that the intent of this rule is not simply to discriminate against the German broadcasts, but to stop the communication of their ideas entirely. In the same way that the Goebbels ran through a restriction forbidding everyone from listening to foreign broadcasts that might undermine the Nazi propaganda and manipulation of information, the people in the Annex attempted to curb the influence of German propaganda that would undermine, among other things, their hope for survival. Due to the way that the war propaganda was used to continue to convince the people in the occupied countries that Germany was still winning, even as the war’s end approached, listening to German news bulletins would not only have been disheartening for the Franks and the van Daans; it would have destroyed the hope they so desperately depended on. Thus, it is apparent that, while oppressed by a Nazi regime that controlled the means of communication, the Jews in the annex imposed their own controls on communication in order to survive.

Even within the Annex where communication has been necessarily sacrificed, Anne finds her own means of expression in her diary, Kitty. Anne describes in her diary how she is unable to communicate on even the most basic emotional level with anyone in the Annex, not even her own parents. She write, "He [Father] doesn’t understand that I sometimes need to vent my feelings for Mother…. and yet Mother, with all her shortcomings, is tougher for me to deal with" (62). Anne goes on to explain her reasoning for confiding in her diary as she writes, "That’s why I always wind up coming back to my diary I start there and end there because Kitty’s always patient" (63). What truly separates Anne from other teenage girls her age, however, is the fact that she has no true friends. In fact, Anne spells out the whole purpose of her diary as a replacement for the real friendship that she desires at the beginning of her diary when she writes, "… I want the diary to be my friend, and I’m going to call this friend Kitty" (7). Yet as she grows up, Anne realizes that what she desires is not a girlfriend, but to be able to express her other side, the "good Anne." She writes that on the surface, "The happy go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she doesn’t give a darn" (331). When she attempts to reveal this other Anne, however, she is only disappointed, and writes that, "…it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke" (331). The only time that the "good Anne" appears, then, is when Anne is by herself, and consoling her diary. Thus, by confiding in Kitty, Anne is able to express her "good" self and utilize her own means of communication beyond limits that the other members in the Annex present.

Therefore, whether it is from the emotions of a teenage girl, or the hope of a people throughout Europe, it is clear that in a situation in which all established modes of communication are inaccessible, human expression will find new methods of communication. Nevertheless, this tendency is marked by times in which the regulation over communications necessitates a response that imposes more regulation, as in the regulation of German propaganda within the Annex. In all the ways that Anne’s diary was an act of self-expression, however, for what it is worth, we must be recognized that Anne significantly restricted her diary to reflect her optimism for the situation in which she lived, and the outcome of the war. Thus, in all fairness, it must be assumed that to some degree, such circumstances of control always result in a combination of subversion and more control.



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Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Trans. Susan Massotty. Ed. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler. New York: Bantam, 1991.

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Sorlin, Pierre. "The Struggle for the Control of French Minds, 1940-1944." Film and Radio Propaganda in World War II. Ed. K.R.M. Short. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1983. 245-70.

"V for Victory." The Simon and Schuster Encyclopedia of World War II. 1978.