SHU Core Colloquium Explores the Power of Nazi Propaganda

News Story: November 28, 2009

The enduring power of anti-Semitism – and of general hatred of “the other” – was brought home clearly to the employees of the U.S.Holocaust Memorial in Washington in early May, when an anti-Semite shot and killed one of the workers there. According to Dr. Ann Millin, an outreach educator at the museum, the staff was always conscious of the possibility of violence, but this incident reinforced the value they see in their work of making the world a more tolerant and humane place.

Dr. Ann Millin, an outreach educator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, talked about Nazi propaganda during a recent Core Curriculum seminar.

Dr. Millin presented an address called “States of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda” at a Core Curriculum seminar in the Schine Auditorium on Friday, October 30th. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, the Department of Media Studies and Digital Culture, and the Campus Outreach Lecture Program of the Holocaust Center.

Millin defined propaganda as biased information intentionally spread to shape public opinion and behavior, and she opened with a broad overview that worked to distinguish propaganda from simple public relations or the art of persuasion. In Nazi Germany, the intent was not to enlist supporters in what became the genocidal attack on the Jews, she said; rather, it was to lull the public into indifference and, thus, acquiescence.

Her report included numerous examples in the regime’s campaign against the Jews, many of whose methods modern advertisers use to this day. First drafted in 1920, the program took more than a dozen years to bring to fullness, and it made skilled use of segmented media, and the newest methods of communication. Dr. Millin cited the familiar image of the swastika as one of the three most recognizable “icons” on the planet, along with those of Coca-Cola and Nike. and the cult of the Fuhrer made his face and voice inescapable.

She warned the students that Nazism followed on the heels of a successful democracy with a “beautiful constitution and bill of rights like our own.” Almost overnight, that system was scrapped in favor of what became an absolute dictatorship and the cause of untold millions of deaths.

In the effort to create what it called a “national community,” the Nazi regime played on ancient stereotypes and was relentless in its messaging. Anti-Semitism – what Millin referred to as the “longest hatred” in the world – was encouraged at every level and through every medium imaginable. From infancy through old age, the population was re-educated to understand that the source of all their woes was the Jews, and the source of all their hopes was the triumph of the Aryan race.

Millin singled out Germany and the countries most directly involved in the Holocaust for special praise and said that they have confronted their past with courage and determination. She expressed greater concern for the U.S., where only three states mandate Holocaust education and where new generations may be lulled into indifference or acquiescence once again.