In my never-ending, perhaps obsessive, quest to understand what was going on in the minds of Hitler and the people in close proximity to him, I tackled this 900+ pages biography of one of Hitler’s most devoted associates, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels lived just at the right time to develop into the man of fearsome influence who he succeeded to become after much loathsome scheming and character destroying of anyone who stood in his way. Goebbels possessed a deeply narcissistic personality and purely by extreme willpower rose from failed writer - someone in despair - to the top nazi propaganda minister and he was about the only high rank nazi who Hitler felt comfortable enough with to join on an occasional holiday outing or go boating in the weekend.

It is clear that biographer Peter Longerich had set himself some strict fundamental principles for his biography of Goebbels. He restricts himself solely to describing Goebbels’ life, his wife Magda and their children, his relationship with Hitler and Hitler’s innermost circle. Thus, you get informed what transpired in extenso with Goebbels and his immediate associaties on almost a daily basis from 1928 through the last days in the bunker in April 1945. And this is exactly what felt unnatural and too restricted to me, as hardly any mention is made what happened outside the intrigues and propaganda activities of himself and his immediate associates. Even earth shattering events like the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia or Poland, as well as the invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands (no mention of the total burning of Rotterdam at all!) and later France are only mentioned in a paragraph or two. There is, for example, no mention throughout the biography of the actual transportation of Jewish people to the concentration camps and what happened there. Goebbels is only preoccupied to install as much anti-semitic hatred as he can. It is clear that he is just worried that his severe anti-semitic speeches are not taken seriously enough. Throughout the biography, I got the impression that Goebbels was even more anti-semitic than Hitler. Moreover, he had strong antibourgeois prejudices and in that way was more radical than Hitler. It was pretty surprising to note that Hitler even stopped him sometimes from pursuing ever more severe measures, not only towards the Jews but to discontented people as well. There is no doubt that he was successful with his ever increasing endeavours to install anti-semitic sentiments within the population. Especially the people of Berlin were initially not interested in the subject, but his propaganda campaigns gradually had the impact he desired.

I thought reading 707 pages of Goebbels’ life story plus 253 pages of Sources and Notes (there are references to note nrs. about every second sentence!) would have added to my knowledge of Hitler and his closest circle. I must say I did acquire some more precise information, but still I never got any wiser as to distinguishing features in the person of Hitler other than the realization that he clearly loved to keep his closest associates in the dark about important things. For example, Goebbels was never advised about imminent invasions or other earth scattering events and was consequently often greatly taken by surprise because he was the propaganda minister and should have been prepared to address the nation. Hitler proved to be greatly disillusional in the end, firmly believing he could still win the war even though the Russians were already at the city limits of Berlin. It was only in the bunker that Joseph Goebbels started to doubt Hitler’s omnipotence. It is certainly a sign of his great devotion to Hitler that he and his wife Magda remained with Hitler until the end.

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Goebbels - Peter Longerich
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