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Nürnberg Rallies: The Stage for Hitler’s Propaganda

Nürnberg, Germany

Hitler chose Nürnberg as the staging ground for his pronouncements and huge rallies. A master of mass-media propaganda, Hitler used films, newspapers, and the radio to whip up public support. Today his huge Congress Hall stands unfinished.

Complete Video Script

For the Nazis, the city that most embodied their sense of national unity was Nürnberg. Nürnberg, so steeped in German history, was nicknamed the "most German of German cities." That's one reason it was a favorite of Hitler's to showcase his nationalistic pomp and pageantry…to inspire all of Germany to get on board.

There were three German Reichs, or empires. The first was medieval — it was called the "Holy Roman Empire." In fact, the emperor's castle still towers above Nürnberg. The Second Reich was 19th century — the creation of the modern German state by Prussia under the leadership of Bismarck. And it was here, in Nürnberg, that Hitler declared the Third Reich — a powerful German empire to last a thousand years.

When Hitler took power, he made Nürnberg's Zeppelin Field the site of his enormous Nazi Party rallies. Today, the stark remains of this massive gathering place are thought-provoking.

German tour guide Thomas Schmechtig is joining me for some insight.

For several years, increasingly elaborate celebrations of Nazi culture, ideology, and power took place right here.

Fascist dictators understood the propaganda power of big rallies, where they can manufacture the adoration of their people, bask in it, and then broadcast it to the rest of the population — as Hitler said, turning the "little man" into part of a "great dragon."

Thomas: Imagine, Hitler stepping out of that door, overlooking the masses — 200,000 people being lined up… He used propaganda to create a new community — in fact we even have a word for it: It's called "Volksgemeinschaft."

Inspirational images from Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda movie Triumph of the Will were filmed at the 1934 Nürnberg rallies, and then shown in theaters and schoolroom throughout the country. The goal? To bring a visual celebration of the power of the Nazi state to all 70 million Germans.

Nürnberg shows the enormous power of fascism's secret weapon-: propaganda.

Andreas: The media in Nazi Germany were controlled by the government — by the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment in Berlin, headed by Joseph Goebbels. So, everything that was distributed to the people through the media was controlled from Berlin.

Goebbels used every means available to him. Along with the new and powerful media of movies he used traditional formats, such as newspapers, posters, and even postcards. And perhaps the most far-reaching was the new medium of radio.

Holger: Hitler was one of the earlier politicians to really make use of mass media that was just coming on, which was the radio. So, every German had in their household a "Volksempfanger"– the "people's radio" — so his speeches would get into every German's living room, basically.

Andreas: Within something like six years, the number of radios in Germany went from four million to seventeen million, so they could really reach almost every household. And people listened to the radio differently than they do today. If there was an important radio report, it wouldn't just be two people doing housework, or one person doing housework next to it, you would have the entire family there — [and] maybe the neighbors, if they couldn't afford a radio. So those were special events that appealed to the family community, that would appeal to the neighbors, so you would reach a lot of people through only one medium.

Looming over a now peaceful lake in Nürnberg is another remnant of the dictator's megalomania: his huge, yet unfinished, Nazi Congress Hall. Hitler, who believed he would create a new civilization based upon fascist values, modeled this building after the ancient Roman Colosseum…but [it's] even more colossal.

Thomas: Imagine — 50,000 leading Nazis in here. One third higher, covered by a roof; a window inside the ceiling; sunshine would have fallen down to the podium. Once a year, one speech, of Adolf Hitler.