Nazi propaganda continues in face of desperate reality

German troops in Breslau in February 1945

German troops in Breslau in February 1945

Breslau, the beleaguered German city in the east, now declared by Hitler to be Festung Breslau, Fortress Breslau, was completely surrounded by Soviet troops, some only two miles from the city centre. Nazi propaganda would make much of a Hitler Youth Battle Group counter-attack carried out the city’s southern park, in which 120 boys beat back the Red Army and supposedly left 170 Soviet soldiers dead.

The most severe penalties were being imposed on any comments that might be interpreted as defeatism or subversion, so there was no mercy for any act of desertion:

These death sentences should serve as a warning to every soldier and at the same time give decent soldiers — and the entire fortress as well — the satisfaction that cowardly traitors face a merciless, shameful end. The summary execution of cowards and shirkers not only eradicates them, it also brings down shame upon their families by wiping out their honour and condemns them to poverty, depriving them of all benefits.

The soldiers were were being encouraged to fight a bloody final battle:

Every house of Fortress Breslau, which has been entrusted to us by the Fuhrer, will cost the enemy rivers of blood. Always remember how the Bolshevik foe has raped our wives, murdered our children and brothers or led them into forced labour.

Simultaneously with these threats there was an appeal to hope. Without any news from the outside world the Nazi propaganda officers were spreading rumours of the mass use of unspecified “new weapons” and of a strong new offensive coming from the west which would soon liberate the city.

These themes were being generated by the Propaganda Ministry. In a radio address this day Josef Goebbels, Propaganda Minister, would also talk of the new, unspecified, ‘V’ weapons that would save Germany and the new offensives which would liberate the east. The language was becoming ever more apocalyptic, to the point where it didn’t really make sense:

Just as our forefathers did so often in our history, so we too will smash the Mongol storm against the heartland. Like them, we will defend ourselves with fanatical fury and dogged hatred, so that one day the legend — that after days of fierce fighting the dead continued to fight on in the heavens in the ominous darkness of night — can be recounted about us too.

And even if in the end we have to cling to our soil, even if we have to sacrifice our last remaining possessions, even if no end to the suffering and terror can be predicted, we will not give up the lawful right of our nation to life, freedom and a future. We prefer to die rather than surrender!

How many continued to believe in these increasingly fanciful Nazi myths is impossible to estimate. Certainly there were some fanatics whose faith in the Nazis was so strong that they believed the Fuhrer would save them right up until the end. Some in Breslau believed that their ‘sacrifice’ was needed to ‘save’ Germany.

For Priest Paul Piker it was just the same old lies that they had heard ever since Stalingrad. On the night of the 20th Breslau received yet another air raid, heavier than usual.

This air raid has left people utterly depressed. Everyone awaits the nights to come with a great deal of concern — the air raids are bound to get heavier. Everyone asks why, what for?

Ja, the war which we waged has become madness, absurd. We cannot change its outcome.

Criminally caused by our regime, it is the worst crime not only against our people, but the entire world. Every day the senseless continuation of this war devours countless human lives, destroys our cities and villages, makes an entire nation homeless and poor.

How terribly has God’s judgment been unleashed against our nation, whose leadership has committed outrages against everything which God stands for these past dozen years.

These accounts appear in Richard Hargreaves: HITLER’S FINAL FORTRESS – BRESLAU 1945.

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