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June 15, 2015

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Study: Nazi propaganda still influences those who grew up with it

June 15, 2015
Courtesy of PNAS
and World Science staff

Ger­mans who grew up un­der Na­zi-era an­ti-Semitic prop­a­gan­da ex­press stronger an­ti-Jewish be­liefs, on av­er­age, than Ger­mans born be­fore or af­ter that time, ac­cord­ing to a stu­dy.

The find­ings, based on sur­veys of 5,300 Ger­mans in 1996 and 2006, are pub­lished in this week’s early on­line edi­tion of the re­search jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tio­n­al Aca­de­my of Sci­en­ces.

“Na­zi in­doc­trina­t­ion—with its sin­gu­lar fo­cus on fos­ter­ing ra­cial ha­tred—was highly ef­fec­tive,” wrote the re­search­ers, Nico Voigt­län­der of the Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les and Hans-Joachim Voth of the Cen­tre for Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Re­search in Lon­don.

“These find­ings dem­on­strate the ex­tent to which be­liefs can be mod­i­fied through pol­i­cy in­ter­ven­tion.”

“At­tempts at mod­i­fy­ing pub­lic opin­ions, at­ti­tudes, and be­liefs range from ad­ver­tis­ing and school­ing to ‘brain­wash­ing,’” they al­so wrote, but their ef­fec­tive­ness is con­tro­ver­sial.

“Be­tween 1933 and 1945, young Ger­mans were ex­posed to an­ti-Semitic ide­ol­o­gy in schools, in the (ex­tra­cur­ric­ular) Hit­ler Youth, and through ra­di­o, print, and film. As a re­sult, Ger­mans who grew up un­der the Na­zi re­gime are much more an­ti-Semitic than those born be­fore or af­ter that pe­ri­od: the share of com­mit­ted an­ti-Semites, who an­swer a host of ques­tions about at­ti­tudes to­ward Jews in an ex­treme fash­ion, is 2–3 times high­er than in the popula­t­ion as a whole.”

They added: “Re­sults al­so hold for av­er­age be­liefs, and not just the share of ex­trem­ists; av­er­age views of Jews are much more neg­a­tive among those born in the 1920s and 1930s. Na­zi in­doc­trina­t­ion was most ef­fec­tive where it could tap in­to pre­ex­ist­ing prej­u­dices; those born in dis­tricts that sup­ported an­ti-Semitic par­ties be­fore 1914 show the great­est in­creases in an­ti-Jewish at­ti­tude.”

In Na­zi Ger­ma­ny, “The en­tire cur­ricu­lum––not only bi­ol­o­gy class­es––was used to con­vince the young of the im­por­tance of race and the in­fe­ri­or­ity of Jews, blacks, etc.,” the study not­ed. “In ad­di­tion to com­pul­so­ry school at­tend­ance, young Ger­mans had to join the Hit­ler Youth, where in­doc­trina­t­ion con­tin­ued; the of­fi­cial hand­book for school­ing the Hit­ler Youth de­vot­ed fully 45 out of 105 pages to ra­cial ide­ol­o­gy. Fur­ther, prop­a­gan­da mes­sages em­bed­ded in books and films re­in­forced in­doc­trina­t­ion.”


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Germans who grew up under Nazi-era anti-Semitic propaganda express stronger anti-Jewish beliefs, on average, than Germans born before or after that time, according to a study. The findings, based on surveys of 5,300 Germans in 1996 and 2006, are published in this week’s early online edition of the research journal pnas. “Nazi indoctrination—with its singular focus on fostering racial hatred—was highly effective,” wrote the researchers, Nico Voigtländer of the University of California, Los Angeles and Hans-Joachim Voth of the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London. “These findings demonstrate the extent to which beliefs can be modified through policy intervention.” “Attempts at modifying public opinions, attitudes, and beliefs range from advertising and schooling to ‘brainwashing,’” they also wrote, but their effectiveness is controversial. “Between 1933 and 1945, young Germans were exposed to anti-Semitic ideology in schools, in the (extracurricular) Hitler Youth, and through radio, print, and film. As a result, Germans who grew up under the Nazi regime are much more anti-Semitic than those born before or after that period: the share of committed anti-Semites, who answer a host of questions about attitudes toward Jews in an extreme fashion, is 2–3 times higher than in the population as a whole.” They added: “Results also hold for average beliefs, and not just the share of extremists; average views of Jews are much more negative among those born in the 1920s and 1930s. Nazi indoctrination was most effective where it could tap into preexisting prejudices; those born in districts that supported anti-Semitic parties before 1914 show the greatest increases in anti-Jewish attitude.” In Nazi Germany, “The entire curriculum––not only biology classes––was used to convince the young of the importance of race and the inferiority of Jews, blacks, etc.,” the study noted. “In addition to compulsory school attendance, young Germans had to join the Hitler Youth, where indoctrination continued; the official handbook for schooling the Hitler Youth devoted fully 45 out of 105 pages to racial ideology. Further, propaganda messages embedded in books and films reinforced indoctrination.”