Goebbels, Joseph

(1897-1945)
   Reich minister for propaganda and popular enlightenment. As the first propaganda minister in a German government, Goebbels had pervasive influence on all areas of artistic activity within his portfolio; theater was no exception. Goebbels was like most Nazi officials in his attachment to and fascination with the celebrity of famous and attractive theater personalities; however, he differed from most others among the Nazi elite by virtue of his earned doctorate (from Heidelberg in 1921), his polished skill at inventing and employing political jargon, his expertise in manipulating public opinion, and his boundless energy. He created the "ProMi," as the Propaganda Ministry came to be called, as a tool to exploit the possibilities of entertainment to champion Nazi political endeavors. Goebbels made little distinction between politics and art, frequently noting that both he and Adolf Hitler were "artistic individuals" and as such had dedicated themselves to a "rebirth" of German theater. Goebbels had begun to write party position papers on the theater in 1926, when Hitler appointed him the Nazi party's propaganda director for Berlin. One such paper declared that German theater and drama in the future should be "heroic," "steely romantic," "factual without sentimentality," and "national with great pathos." Upon Hitler's appointment to lead the government in 1933, Goebbels drafted Reich Cultural Chamber legislation, which Hitler's cabinet subsequently passed into law as the Reichskulturkammergesetz (Reich Cultural Chamber Act).
   In May 1933 Goebbels gathered around him more than 300 theater directors and managers to inform them, in phrases similar to those above, that theater was henceforth to function as a tool for furthering the state's goals, with full subvention by the state. Goebbels proceeded to rule theater and other art forms by decree. For example, in May 1936 he forbade "night criticism," banning critics from writing their reviews overnight if the review was to appear in the next morning's papers. In November of that year, Goebbels banished theater criticism altogether, replacing it with "cultural reporting" and "cultural consideration." In 1937 Goebbels began to bestow cash prizes and medals in compensation for the Swedish Royal Academy's refusal to award any German national a Nobel Prize; Carl von Ossietzky had been awarded a Nobel, but Nazi authorities refused to release him from the concentration camp where he was being held to accept the award. Actors were frequent recipients of ProMi cash emoluments, in addition to the honorific "state actor" or "state actress" (Staatsschaus-pieler/iri), and Goebbels usually appointed actors to manage major theaters. He became increasingly concerned after 1937 about the reputation of the Nazi regime abroad and sent several troupes abroad on public relations tours.
   As the war progressed after 1939, Goebbels increasingly used the damage or destruction of theater buildings during Allied air raids as pretexts to motivate additional sacrifices among the public for the sake of the regime. He insisted that performances in Berlin continue, even if raids interrupted them on an almost nightly basis. "Is it not interesting," he once rhetorically asked, that the English have destroyed dozens of German theaters, while England itself does not have even a single serious theater? And the Americans are not even worth mentioning. They lay waste to Europe's cities and cultural landmarks, since there is nothing to compare them with in Chicago or San Francisco. (Goebbels, "Unsterbliche deutsche Kultur Der steile Aufstieg [Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP, 1944], 340)
   By 1944, however, Goebbels recognized that theater performance could no longer continue in Germany, Austria, or their occupied territories. In August of that year, he decreed the closure of all facilities for the duration of the war.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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