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Joseph Goebbels grew up in Germany's Rhineland. He had loving parents – devout Catholics – the father a stable and devoted factory worker who rose to a modest middle position at his lifetime workplace.
Joseph Goebbels was smaller than were most other boys. He had a weak chin. And he had a "clubfoot" – with one leg three inches shorter than the other, and little Joseph was resentful. He has been described as lurking in the corner at a school dance, having an expression of hate and as being especially cold towards boys who were tall and handsome.
Not able to participate successfully in games, little Joseph pursued his studies harder than did most other kids. He did well in math, physics and in his other subjects, and his father had plans for him, hoping to elevate the family from what had been its humble beginnings.
For Joseph there were some intervening tribulations. Seventeen when World War I began, he was devastated by being denied the glory of going off to do heroic duty for the Fatherland. He is reported to have cried aloud, to have locked himself in his room and refusing to eat.
Goebbels finished secondary schooling, and because of his good grades he was chosen to give the class farewell address. He left school not having been popular with his classmates, with a reputation as someone who worked too hard, who tried too hard to ingratiate himself with his teachers, with arrogance and affections and quick to belittle those he knew.
Goebbels went to the university, worked at tutoring and, active in a Catholic student fraternity, Unitas, he was able to receive an interest-free financial assistance from the Albertus Magnus Society, which aided poor Catholic students - a loan that in the years to come he would try to avoid repaying.
Goebbels received his doctorate degree on April 21, 1922, his doctoral thesis narrowly focused, as most are, and titled "Wilhelm von Schütz as Dramatist: A Contribution to the History of the Drama of the Romantic School." From now on he would proudly display his title, Dr. Goebbels, and for less formal occasion he would allow simply: herr Doctor.
With literature his focus in life, Dr. Goebbels wrote a novel, Michael, described by one biographer, Helmut Heiber, as quasi-autobiographical and an adaptation of the diary he had been keeping since 1920. Heiber described the book as romantic, sentimental, stilted, sententious and banal bombast.
In his mid-twenties Dr. Goebbels aggressively pursued the opposite sex, writing in his diary about women quickening his blood. With his gentlemanly, sentimental but aggressive manner the young Dr. Goebbels had some success with women, and he fell in love – so to speak. His one true love rejected him. He did not stoop to the primitive "if I can't have you nobody will," but the young Dr. Goebbels was not big enough to let her go without doing his best to make her share his misery.
His novel – which he continued to believe in – went unpublished, and he failed to land a job that gave him satisfaction. He worked at a bank, calling out stock prices. But he could take it for no more than six months, and feeling displaced, while still living with his parents, he spoke of killing himself.
Dr. Goebbels was unsure of where he stood philosophically. He clung to his misanthropy. Not unlike St. Augustine's comment about humanity being born between urine and excrement, Goebbels described life as filth and as excrement. The meanness of the world, he said, was disgusting. Man, he said, remains an animal and a "beast of prey."
A friend introduced him to the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Dostoevski, and he was still wrestling with religion. He was picking up on the dissatisfactions felt by many war veterans for the "bourgeois" character of society. This fit with the hero of his novel, Michael, who described the bourgeoisie as cowardly.
Against the bourgeoisie and not inclined toward praise of Marx's working class or internationalism, Dr. Goebbels joined the National Socialist movement still in his twenties, he did fall in with those who were both nationalistic and advocating socialism. Dr. Goebbels joined the National Socialist movement in northern Germany, then under the leadership of Gregor Strasser, a war hero and star in the movement who believed in the socialism in National Socialism. A obviously so-called educated man, he stood out among the National Socialists, and he was adopted by Strasser as one of his major speakers and organizers, giving Goebbels the full-time career that he sought. .
Goebbels practiced his misanthropy on others within the party, denouncing the Munich branch of the party – where Hitler held sway – as a pack of greedy big shots. But he saw that Hitler, with his passion, was able to move people with his speeches more than he. Goebbels knew he could not surpass Hitler and he became one of Hitler's ardent supporters, to the disgust of some of the National Socialists in the north – the eventual losers who believed Hitler was insufficiently socialist.
In 1927, at the age of 30, Goebbels started a National Socialist newspaper, titled Attack, with a slogan: for the oppressed, against the oppressor. Hitler made him his propaganda minister, and, with the arrival of the Great Depression, Goebbels, at the age of thirty-five, rode to power on Hitler's coat tails.
Goebbels did not have the respect for truth that was valued by the better journalists in democratic nations. He had not displayed signs of anti-Semitism before he joined the National Socialists, but in appearance, at least, he fit his beliefs to match the views of Hitler.
In 1935, in an interview with the American writer John Gunther he said: "Christ cannot possibly have been a Jew. I don't have to prove that scientifically. It is a fact."
In one of his later statements he described war as "the most simple affirmation of life." Suppressing war, he said, "would be like trying to suppress the process of nature."
Goebbels described "every living thing" as terrible. Life, said Goebbels, was itself terrible. He viewed himself with more generosity. In Hitler's Germany the old class distinctions were supposed to be out. Under Hitler it was the common soldier who was exalted, not the aristocracy. But, compensating for the damage to his ego in his youth, Goebbels thought of his position in society as a great demonstration of an uncommon worthiness. Referring to a woman who had rejected him years before, he spoke of her as surely regretting her move now that he had attained such a great height.
As an analyst, Goebbels was conceited but brash and sloppy. In analyzing the political scene in the United States, on 25 May 1941 he wrote:
Lindbergh and Wheeler have made strong speeches opposing intervention. At big mass-meetings in New York. Roosevelt will not be able to ignore this... A change of mood is becoming increasingly apparent in the USA. Roosevelt is, to an extent, trapped. He can no longer go his own sweet way, but must take public opinion into account.
Looking forward to Germany crushing the Soviet Union, on 14 June 1941 he wrote:
Tokyo would never become involved with the USA with Russia intact to her rear....I estimate the fighting capacity of the Russians even lower than does the Fuehrer.
In one way he was like the angry adolescents in Colorado who, in April 1999, decided that with guns and bombs they would leave the world with a bang and glory. Goebbels said that if someday the National Socialists were forced to leave the "scene of history," then "we will slam the door so hard that the universe will shake and mankind will stand back in stupefication."
The Man Behind Hitler: The Goebbels Experiment, by Public Broadcasting (PBS) ...
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