Communication and Entertainment: the Importance of Radio in

The Diary of Anne Frank

 

"...broadcasting may be the most important means of influencing the masses."

Joseph Goebbels

"...the radio, with its wondrous voice, helps us not to lose heart and to keep telling ourselves, ‘Cheer up, keep your spirits high, things are bound to get better!’"

Anne Frank

 

Before the advent of the television and internet, radio was the main form of communication. It provided entertainment, news, moral support and information for millions of people during the early years of this century. Accessibility and widespread use made the radio a vital part of World War Two; both the Allied and the Axis powers used broadcasting to manipulate listeners across Europe. As shown in The Diary of Anne Frank, the radio played an important role in the lives of average citizens, and especially in those in resistance against the Nazis. Programs from America and England served as fairly reliable sources of information about the war as well as providing much-needed entertainment. Simply by listening to these programs, Jews and Christians alike defied the Nazis and their propaganda intellectually. Going into hiding was a way of physically resisting Nazi control. For those hiding in the Secret Annex, however, the foreign radio broadcasts were very important to daily life and provided an influential way of resisting Nazi intellectual control.

In 1933, the German Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, authorized the production of a new radio, subsidized by the new government, that would be cheap and affordable for all Germans. The end result was the Volksempford VE 301; costing just 76 marks, this "people’s radio" was embraced by the Nazi Party as an effective way of distributing the ideas of National Socialism to the world. A year after its introduction, German daily radio listeners had risen by 1 million people. In addition, the number of radio broadcasts, both national and international, grew exponentially in the following years. In 1933, just before the introduction of the Volksempford, German daily radio broadcasts to foreign countries totaled just 2 hours a week. In 1939, just six years later, the total had risen to 58 hours. At the height of the Nazi’s power, in 1943, 53 different languages were represented in the broadcasts.

Because total control was exercised over the only direct means of obtaining information, it was easy for Goebbels to make "the German people think and aspire alike" (Reimann 134). The radio programs consisted mainly of speeches of important party members: Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Goebbels, General Hermann Goering, and Vice Chancellor Rudolf Hess among others contributed regularly. The initial purpose of the broadcasts was to improve the morale of the German people and to unify the population securely behind Hitler. Once the war began, however, the radio was also used to sway the opinions of neutral countries in favor of Germany, illustrate their military might which would make is much easier to conquer countries, and decrease the morale of those in resistance. Throughout the 1930’s, the ideas of National Socialism were spread throughout Europe over the airways. With Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933, The Nazi party assumed direct and complete power over the newspaper, film, theater, and most importantly, the radio. In addition, it was necessary to purchase a 2 Mark license to own a radio. This made it easy for the Germans to know who owned radios and facilitated the confiscation of the Jew’s, and followed later by the Gentile’s radios. This is yet another example of the overwhelming control which the Nazis exercised over communication.

Joseph Goebbels was the mastermind behind the entire Nazi propaganda campaign. It was his influence over Adolf Hitler that launched the ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda as well as the Chamber of Culture, which together "exercised control over virtually every form of expression--radio, theater, cinema, the fine arts, the press, churches and schools" (Brinks 18). Goebbels was a master of propaganda, and at his best when the Germans started to lose. He gave regular speeches over the radio in order to boost the morale of the German people and to reduce that of the people in resistance. His tactics included citing historical parallels for the German military events which were transpiring, making up infallible "laws of history" in which defeats were followed by overwhelming victories, and even referring to secret miracle weapons which would turn the tide in favor of Germany (Reimann 256). While many people recognized these as lies, (Anne remarks on the "German propaganda machine which is cranking out lies twenty-four hours a day" (Frank 236)), for those easily swayed, these half-truths and deceptions were very convincing. Goebbels realized that propaganda is successful when it caters to what people want to hear and therefore they are ready and willing to accept anything. So adept was Goebbels at manipulating the truth, that his power in the Nazi Party was second only to Hitler, and upon the Chancellor’s suicide in 1944, Goebbels was named his successor. He fulfilled this post for only a few hours, however; killing his children and then committing suicide with his wife a few hours after Hitler, his final act of devotion to the ideas of National Socialism for which he had fought so long.

The Allied propaganda campaigns were spearheaded by the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation (the VOA and the BBC respectively), and their purposes were much the same as the Nazi’s. While more focus, at least on the part of the BBC, was given to maintaining the morale of those in occupied countries, the Allies still used the radio as a means of spreading their own culture and views, just as the National Socialist Party did.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, the mission of the VOA was to "spread American values" (par. 2). The Voice of America was started in 1942 and by the time the war ended it was broadcasting 3,200 programs in 40 languages every week. Its programs included news reports, stories, discussions on American political and social events and editorials setting forth U.S. government policy.

In controlling who owned radios and what they listened to, the Nazis attempted to control the masses intellectually, just as the concentration camps controlled them physically. Not only in the "Secret Annex," but all across Europe, however, the radio provided many people’s only link to the "outside world," and attempts to control it were met with extreme resistance. The radio was so important that Nazi regulations regarding its use were broken routinely. All foreign and treasonable programs were banned, yet people listened to them. When people were required to turn in their radios, they looked for older, broken radios to hand in instead, or simply disobeyed Nazi orders in the face of extraordinarily severe punishments including deportation. Not turning in a radio on the required day would be enough to bring the secret police to your door.

The radio often served at a form of moral support for all those living under Nazi control, and not just the Jews. As Anne describes, "All over the country people are trying to get hold of an old radio that they can hand over instead of their ‘morale booster.’ It’s true: as the reports from outside grow worse and worse, the radio, with its wondrous voice, helps us not to lose heart and to keep telling ourselves, ‘Cheer up, keep your spirits high, things are bound to get better!’" (Frank 107). For those in the Annex, the radio was not just a source of information and news, but also the only form of widespread entertainment save books. Today, people have many options, newspapers, magazines, the internet, television, CD players, DVD and VCR and many more. During World War Two, the radio served the purposes of all of these.

While most people realized that much of news from both sides was propaganda, they had no choice but to listen; there was no other means of getting information, and it helped many people in underground maintain the spirits they needed to survive;

Jan: I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on in Russia. The

British and the Russians are probably exaggerating for propaganda

purposes, just like the Germans.

Annex: Absolutely not. The BBC has always told the truth. And even

if the news is slightly exaggerated, the facts are bad enough as they are.

(Frank 181).

The people in the Annex do not necessarily wish to be told the brutal truth. As this quote shows, they would prefer to have a more upbeat and optimistic view of the war. There was nothing they can do to influence the outcome and so a little propaganda was often welcome. Despite this recognized use of direct manipulation, many people depended on the radio. For those hiding in the Annex, like millions more across Europe, the radio held an enormous amount of sway over their daily lives. The emotions of those in the Annex were largely controlled by the radio broadcasts. Anne describes a typical moment around the radio: "It all looks so intimate, cozy and peaceful, and for once it really is. Yet I wait the end of the speech with dread. They’re impatient, straining at the leash to start another argument!" (Frank 237). Passages such as this clearly show the principles which Goebbels believed the radio possessed, the ability unify and control the masses.

For people across Europe during WWII, the radio was many things; it could be a source of news, entertainment, comfort and relief from their daily troubles. The Diary of Anne Frank contains many references to the importance of the broadcasts in the day to day lives of those in hiding. Listening to the radio could also serve as a small protest against the horrendous injustices and atrocities being committed daily. Not every Christian family or business had an Annex which they could hide Jews in, but they all owned radios and many of them listened to the foreign broadcasts as one small way of resistance. It was something that everyone could do, and did do, despite the consequences. This private resistance provided strength to millions of people during one of the most desperate times in history.

 

Works Cited

Brinks, Jan Herman. "The Dutch, the Germans, and the Jews." History Today 49 (1999): 17-23.

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.

Joesten, Joachim. Rats in the Larder: The Story of Nazi Influence in Denmark. New York: Putnam, 1939.

Kris, Ernst and Hans Speier. German Radio Propaganda. London: Oxford UP, 1944.

Laurie, Clayton D. The Propaganda Warriors. Lawrence, Kansas: UP of Kansas, 1996.

Reimann, Viktor. The Man Who Created Hitler, Joseph Goebbels. London: William Kimber, 1977.

"Voice of America." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 1999. 27 February 2000 <http://www.eb.com:180/bol/topic?eu=77640&sctn=1&pm=1>.