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The effects of film on WWII propaganda
Without the advent of the medium of film to wage a war of propaganda
both the Axis and the Allies of World War II would have found it difficult to
gather as much support for their causes as they did. Guns, tanks, and bombs
were the principal weapons of World War II, but there were other, more
subtle, forms of warfare as well. Words, posters, and films waged a constant
battle for the hearts and minds of the masses of the world just as surely as
military weapons engaged the enemy. Persuading the public became a
wartime industry, almost as important as the manufacturing of bullets and
planes. Both sides launched an aggressive propaganda campaign to galvanize
public support, and some of these nations foremost intellectuals, artists, and
filmmakers became warriors on that front.

Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human
action by the manipulation of representations. These representations may
take the spoken, written, pictorial, or musical form. Since the cinema uses all
four of these types of representations, a filmmaker would seem to wield a lot
of power as a propagandist. If he so chooses to use his power to its fullest
potential. The essential distinction lies in the intentions of the propagandist to
persuade an audience to adopt the attitude or action he or she espouses. This
is ever so prevalent as Hitler gained support from his nation to exterminate
the Jewish people from Germany and Europe alike. He adopted such support
by using his Nazi propaganda films as a weapon of mass distraction and
manipulation of the people of Germany. If he had not idealized the German
soldier as a hero, and bestowed nationalism in his people, and blamed the
economic problems of German on the Jewish race then he never would have
been able to accomplish what he had in such a short amount of time. The
most famous Nazi propaganda film is Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew).

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Der Ewige Jude was engineered by Hitlers Minister of Propaganda.
It was created to legitimize the exclusion, and the ultimately the destruction,
of an entire people. It depicts the Jews of Poland as corrupt, filthy, lazy,
ugly, and perverse: they are an alien people which have taken over the world
through their control of banking and commerce, yet which still live like
animals. The narrator tries to depict the Jews behavior as rat like, while
showing footage of rats squirming from sewers and leaping at the camera.
Using the montage editing technique so as the juxtaposition of the shots
would imply to the viewer to connect the rats with the Jewish people. A very
simple and effective technique that is still used today. The films most
shocking scene is the slaughter of a cow, shown in bloody detail, by a
grinning Rabbi- and it is followed by, of all things, three innocent
(presumably German) lambs nuzzling each other. Which is yet another
example of the editing techniques that Pudoukin discussed.

Hitler also provides the emotional climax of the film, with footage of
his speech to the Reichstag from 1939. When preceded by sixty minutes
describing the Jewish problem, and followed by thunderous applause, Hitlers
prophetic warning takes on even greater significance: If the international
finance-Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the
nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the victory of
Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!(Adolph
Hitler). The importance of this groundbreaking propaganda is often
underestimated. Someone might characterize the film as a X-ray of the
decision making process that led to the Holocaust. It can also be argued that
the film is seen as the official promulgation of Hitlers decision, and that it –
together with the feature film Jud Sub- deliberately was used to prepare both
perpetrators and bystanders for the extermination of the Jews.

The producer Joseph Goebbels knew all to well how to create a film
that would not only grasp the publics attention but also a film that would
transform them into a flock of sheep, upon which he could lead them into
what ever belief he wanted. The masses of German people would stand
behind Hitler no matter what happened. Why wouldnt they? German
propaganda films depicted Adolph Hitler as a kind, family man. Everyone
has seen the pictures of Hitler walking around with little Aryan children.
Across the lawn of a house, or through a field, while the German shepherd
walks around and protects the child. Such a very noble and chivalric
ideology. When actually the fact was he was starving, slaughtering, and with
out mercy murdering 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. None of
the films that the Ministry of Propaganda ever made depicted any of that.
Why? If they had, no one would have joined a cause for something like that,
and they knew that if they were to commence with the plains of the Genocide
they would have to have the people and its army behind them 100%.
Through their propaganda they did, and what a achievement just that is. To
change the beliefs of a nation.

Prior to all of this Hitler had to start the movement towards this
propaganda war waged on the silver screen. In 1934, 413 English per 1000
went to the movies each week, 343 per 1000 Americans, and 160 per 1000
French. In Germany, only 86 of 1000 went to the movies, a far cry from the
turn out that the English and Americans had. Now leaving out the fact that at
this time the German nation was in a intense depression far worse then that
which was felt in the United States, and without a doubt most of its cinemas
were most likely out of business due in large part to this. The German people
didnt have the money to waste on going to the movies. He had either fix the
economic problems or make the cinema come to the people.
Leaving aside the cultural and historic differences between Germany
and these other nations, it is clear that increasing German film attendance is
among the most important tasks of German film policy, and that doing so
would increase the effectiveness of film in propaganda and popular
enlightenment. Hitler recognized films effectiveness early. Not only does it
influence popular opinion but films relative great costs pay off: film stock,
equipment, studios, the large technical and artistic staffs, ect., all cost a lot of
money, but the result, the finished film, may bring in tens of thousands whose
admission fees not only cover the costs, but result in a good profit. Hitlers
answer to the lack of attendance was to establish the extremely powerful
Ministry of Propaganda, and to nationalize the film making process.
In this propaganda war Germany and its allies seemed to initially have
a distinct advantage. Because their governments controlled all media, they
could largely seal off their peoples from Western propaganda. And only
show its people what they wanted them to see. Germanys people could see
nor hear no evil. At the same time, the highly centralized government could
plan elaborate propaganda campaigns and mobilize resources to carry out
their plans. My making the renting fees low on some of their extra projectors
it gave incentive for the come business man to have his own showings
because he could make a little profit by doing so. This was a definite win win
situation for Hitler. They could also count on aid from Nazi parties and
sympathizers in other countries. Democratic states, on the other hand, could
neither prevent their peoples from being exposed to Nazi propaganda nor
mobilize all their resources to counter it.
Before each new aggressive move by Germany, as for example, against
Czechoslovakia in 1938, the German press, radio and newsreels publicized
alleged evidence of persecution of German minorities in the victim country.
Incidents were manufactured and exploited to justify German intervention.

The German war machine was depicted as invincible. The technique proved
effective in dividing populations, weakening the power of the victim to resist,
and causing its allies to hesitate. Plus bring back films from the fronts lines of
various German victories help win more and more support back home, along
with helping to recruit young men who too wanted to be like the heroes
portrayed by these films.
By 1941 Nazi propaganda films were being shown in evening shows
45,000 times every month in areas that are without movie theaters. Nine to
ten million citizens see both the latest films and the German Weekly
Newsreel. More than 30 million soldiers received relaxation and
entertainment from films shown by the party. In addition the 80,000 to
100,000 veterans of the war that return back to the Reich monthly are shown
films in their camps. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 of 1940 33.7 million adults
and 6 million youths were reached by party film shows. The proceeding
numbers and facts prove that the task was being met, even when one
considers that it was not being carried out by a fully-staffed and experienced
team. Ruffly 50% of the Ministrys people joined the army when the war
broke out. Yet they were still able to wield this propaganda and use it to
reach out to far more people then they other wise would have been able to.

The French and British also attempted to fight back and gain support
for their causes through propaganda. In 1944 the British Ministrys Film
Division asked Alfred Hitchcock to make two French language adventure
movies designed as war propaganda films. They were to be produced to raise
the spirits of people in Occupied France and gain support for the French
resistance there. So in the winter of 1944 Aventure malgache(which
translate as Madagascan Adventure) and Bon Voyage were made over a
four week period in Occupied France. Having already edited a pair of English
war documentaries (that were directed by others) in 1941, Hitchcock
considered such work to be his patriotic duty, and he immediately accepted
the offer.

The plan called for Hitchcock to direct refugee French actors in two
half-hour French language mini-movies designed to be shown in secret
locations in Nazi-held France. Hitchcock wanted to keep the films simple as
possible, achieving a dark, black-and-white film noir look which he felt the
people of Occupied France could relate to. Walking in the dark shadows,
telling secrets in dark corners, a very effective way to associate the film to its
viewers. Hitchcock chose to highlight in the story irony, surprises, moral
ambiguity, and the uncertainties of life.
The joint venture of the British and the French Nationalist to try to
promote these two films fell short by the simple fact that the German
Occupied France was isolated by the Germans. Reaching out to the masses
of the population of France was all but impossible with the Germans
controlling the theaters and projectors. Conducting secret screenings of only
a select few people really didnt have the same christening effect as would
showing the films to thousands. Gathering support in a occupied country was
a lost cause when the people are being fed German propaganda every day and
seeing the appearance of their unsurpassable strength would be hard to over
come, especially after falling victim to it. Besides the fact that the films never
reached the masses they were intended for, Hitchcocks inability to resist his
temptations to focus on ironies and ambiguities was for the majority the down
fall of the two films.
Propaganda, especially in a highly political wartime context, strives to
glorify one system or ideology and assault the opposing views. In other
words, propaganda needs to be clear, direct, and orthodox, with every
perception razor sharp and every moral issue purely black and white. No
ambiguity or alternative thinking is allowable. It has often been asserted by
critics that propaganda films make bad entertainment: Hitchcock
demonstrated that good entertainment can make equally bad propaganda.
The films are relatively unknown until their re-release approximately 50 years
The United States also produced on a large scale propaganda films and
newsreels. Every week a person could go to the movie theater and before the
movie started expect to see a newsreel about the war , or war effort that was
being fought on our own shores. Even our F.D.R. was known to be filmed in
giving a speech to the American people. Reaching out to the people of the
United States to pull together as one and stand up to the forces of the day that
threatened their freedom was a big undertaking indeed.
Allied propaganda efforts were aimed at separating the peoples of the
Axis nations from their governments, which were solely to blame for the war.
The United states attempted by sustained campaigns to win to their side the
great masses of uncommitted people and thereby achieve their goal. But
through the use of film they were able to gain support just like the Germans
had with their own propaganda. And just like the Germans we too had
special organizations in charge of doing just that for the people of our
During the war the offices in charge of propaganda was the Office of
War Information (OWI) in charge of disseminating information at home and
abroad, and the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), charged with conducting
psychological warfare against the enemy. Working together they both proved
very effective in gaining support at home and abroad. One thing that was
different how ever was the fact that once the first concentration camps were
liberated, and even before this, we didnt have to distort the truth about what
was going on. What was happening was plain as day, German aggression
was in plain view and so was the atrocities they were committing . The only
thing we had to do was show the people exactly what was going on, and let
them see and decide for themselves. And in doing this the great many people
of this nation pulled together and with out a doubt changed the tides of the

If one compares the directness and intensity of the effect that the
various means of propaganda have on the great masses, film is without
question the most powerful. The written and spoken word depend entirely on
the content or on the emotional appeal of the speaker, but film uses pictures,
pictures that for eighty years have been accompanied by sound. We know
that the impact of a message is greater if it is less abstract, more visual. That
makes it clear why film, with its series of continually moving images, must
have a particular persuasive force. Film is a very effective tool in waging a
war. With out it, it would be hard to get the people to stand behind you and
support your cause. Without the people it is hard to win a war. Thus I feel
that with out films contribution to the propaganda effort the WWII would
have been very, very different.

Der exige Jude: Quellenkritische Analyse eines antisemititschen
Propagandaf ilms, Institute Fur Wissenschaftlichen Film, Gottingen,
Ellul, Jacques, Propaganda: The Formation of Mens Attitudes. New York:
Alfred A. Knoph, 1965.

Hippler, Fritz, Der Film als Waffe, Unser Wille und Weg, 7(1937),

Propaganda, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000.


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