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KdF event at Strandbad Wannsee

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Belonging and Exclusion: Reshaping Society under Nazi Rule

Nazi Propaganda and National Unity

The Nazi regime tried to transform German society to fit Nazi ideas of race and national unity. Authorities used propaganda to define who could belong to Nazi visions for Germany—and who was excluded. Propaganda targeting so-called “Aryan” Germans tried to make membership in the Nazis’ “New Germany” seem appealing. It also created the false impression that all Germans were united in support of Nazi goals.

Nazi Propaganda and National Unity

The concept of propaganda dates back to ancient times, but advances in technology during World War I transformed governments' ability to use propaganda on a mass scale.1 From its beginnings in the 1920s, the Nazi Party relied heavily on propaganda to generate support. By the early 1930s, Nazi propaganda appeared in films, photographs, posters, public events, and advertisements for products. Nazi propagandists used different kinds of messages for different purposes. Some Nazi propaganda attacked Jewish people and other groups targeted by the regime as racial or political “outsiders.”2 Other propaganda spread Nazi theories about race, biology, and eugenics.3

This collection focuses on the seemingly positive propaganda created by the Nazi regime and its supporters. These messages were designed to spread the false idea that Germans were all united behind the Nazi regime. Carefully produced films, posters, and other media aimed to convince so-called “Aryan” Germans that they should want to be a part of the Nazis’ exclusive "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft").4 Nazi propagandists tailored these messages to different segments of the "Aryan" population, but their campaigns were not always well-received among the German public. Many Germans reacted to the regime's propaganda with skepticism, disinterest, and hostility. 

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Nazi propaganda designed for "Aryan" Germans often supported Nazi attempts to reorganize German society according to concepts of race. Propaganda films like “What You Inherit” tried to promote feelings of racial supremacy in its viewers. Viewers were encouraged to “make sure the bloodstream is passed on pure and unmixed.” Nazi obsessions with race and ancestry greatly expanded the German market for research into people’s family backgrounds. Publications like “But Who Are You” helped Germans do research to prove that they had “Aryan” ancestry with no family history of so-called “hereditary illnesses.” 

Nazi visions for a united German “national community” were not limited to theories about race and inherited traits. Members of Nazi Germany’s “national community” did not only have to prove that they were “Aryans” with no “hereditary illnesses” in order to belong. They were also required to show their political reliability. Nazi authorities did not demand that all Germans become full Nazi Party members, but German citizens were expected to support Nazi goals. Footage from a home movie of Nazi memorials in Munich shows how German citizens were expected to make public displays of loyalty to the Nazi regime.

Nazi propaganda often used images of enthusiastic crowds to create the false impression that all of Germany was politically united behind Nazi goals. A German newsreel clip after the defeat of France in 1940 shows how such propaganda also promoted a cult of personality around Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. A film of Hitler postcards and a film of a woman and child show how some Germans encountered such Nazi propaganda campaigns.

The Nazi regime tried to encourage a sense of national unity by producing propaganda that urged “Aryan” Germans to overlook their differences. The well known Nazi film Triumph of the Will tried creating a shared sense of German identity among people from different regions within the German Reich. Nazi propaganda campaigns also tried to reduce class tensions among “Aryan” Germans by promoting affordable consumer goods like the “Strength through Joy” car.5 Seemingly positive Nazi propaganda highlighted the supposed material benefits and privileges of belonging in order to make membership in the “national community” seem appealing. 

Nazi propaganda often focused on the idea that every individual member of the “national community” should feel closely connected to the other members. Propaganda films like “Radio in War” tried to spread the idea that all of the members of the “national community” belonged to one gigantic extended family. “Aryan” Germans were encouraged to spend their free time together in structured recreational activities. Nazi youth organizations used group sports and athletic activities to strengthen bonds among young people. A Hitler Youth training film, a photograph of a “Strength through Joy” event, and the propaganda film "Healthy Woman - Healthy Nation" illustrate how exercise became an important element of these campaigns. A report on a camaraderie house for female students shows how young “Aryans” were encouraged to live together to build connections with their so-called “ethnic comrades.”

Nazi propaganda emphasized that membership in the “national community” came with both benefits and responsibilities. Members were expected to conform to Nazi social standards and contribute to the national economy. According to Nazi theorists, individuals had specific duties to their “ethnic comrades” and to the Nazi state. A propaganda film on community welfare shows how happy-looking cartoons and charity drives were used to spread these ideas about national unity and responsibility. A 1942 propaganda poster outlines how Nazi authorities expected Germans to support the economy during World War II. Each member of the “national community” was made responsible for helping Germany achieve victory in the war.

Nazi propaganda campaigns often explained who belonged to the Nazis’ “New Germany” by showing who the regime and its supporters did not include as part of their “national community.” For example, Nazi supporters who participated in the wave of book burning ceremonies in May 1933 were making public displays of their own loyalty to the regime by throwing books into the fire. At the same time, they were also publicly identifying those authors they considered racial, political, or social outsiders.6

Nazi propaganda about community and national unity was designed to make “Aryan” Germans want to be members of the Nazis’ newly reshaped “national community.” Seemingly positive images encouraged “Aryan” Germans to overlook their differences and form close connections with their “ethnic comrades.” Films, posters, and public events all outlined the material benefits and privileges of belonging to the Nazi regime’s “national community.” The sources in this collection show how Nazi propaganda helped define who could belong to Nazi visions for German society—and who could not.

Propaganda is biased information designed to shape public opinions and behaviors. It can be spread by governments, political parties, or organizations. Propaganda usually promotes a particular idea, cause, movement, candidate, or nation. Advances in media and communications technology, particularly in film and radio, made it possible to disseminate propaganda with unprecedented reach and speed beginning in the 1920s. It was used by many countries during the 1930s and 1940s. To learn more, see the related Experiencing History collection, Propaganda and the American Public.

For examples of negative Nazi propaganda targeting specific groups as outsiders, see the related Experiencing History items, Page from the Antisemitic Children's Book The Poisonous Mushroom, Propaganda Poster: "Jews Are Lice: They Cause Typhus", Film of "Degenerate Art" Exhibition, and Leaflet Advertising Nazi Magazine Neues Volk.

Eugenics—also known as "racial hygiene"—refers to the idea that people's characters and behaviors were controlled by inherited traits and that society could be improved through selective breeding. Nazi eugenics propaganda helped spread ideas about who should be considered "racially valuable" to Nazi society—and who was to be excluded. To learn more, consult the Experiencing History collection, Targets of Eugenics.

To learn more about the meanings of belonging and membership in the Nazis' "national community," see Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003); and Thomas Kühne, Belonging and Genocide: Hitler's Community, 1918–1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

"Strength through Joy" was a Nazi labor program that filled workers’ evenings and weekends with classes, concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, and sporting events. To learn more, see Shelley Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). For an example of a "Strength through Joy" event, see the related Experiencing History item, Photograph of "Strength through Joy" Event at Strandbad Wannsee.


Nazi activists seized and destroyed books written by Jewish authors. They also confiscated and burned books on political and social topics they were opposed to—such as Communism and same-sex romantic and sexual relationships. To learn more about Nazi efforts to destroy books about topics Nazi ideology opposed, see Leonidas E. Hill, "The Nazi Attack on 'Un-German' Literature, 1933-1945," in The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation, edited by Jonathan Rose (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001): 9–46. For primary sources related to Nazi attitudes toward same-sex romantic and sexual relationships, see the Experiencing History collection, Sexuality, Gender, and Nazi Persecution.

All 20 Items in the Nazi Propaganda and National Unity Collection

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