Foreign propaganda and warfare: the “Führer’s Order”

16.09.2014 - Article

The “Führer’s Order” of 8 September 1939 shows how deeply the Foreign Office was implicated in the crimes of the Third Reich.

The “Führer’s Order” of 8 September 1939 is a drastic illustration of the very close links between propaganda and warfare in the Third Reich. The document shows how deeply the Foreign Office was implicated in the crimes of the Third Reich.

Excerpt from the “Führer’s Order of 8 September 1939”
Excerpt from the “Führer’s Order of 8 September 1939”© Politisches Archiv/AA

On 10 September 1939, not even a fortnight after Germany’s invasion of Poland, which unleashed the Second World War, the Head of the Reich Chancellery, Hans Heinrich Lammers, wrote to the State Secretary of the Foreign Office, Ernst Freiherr von Weizsäcker, enclosing a “Führer’s Order”, a document of the utmost importance in the power structures of the Third Reich.

According to this order from Hitler, the war was to be fought not only with military means, but also with propaganda. Nazi war propaganda had three goals: to make sure people in Germany supported the war, to sedate the population of the occupied areas and to persuade neutral states to take Germany’s line.

Responsibility for propaganda

To this end, responsibility for propaganda was split between Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, the “agencies concerned with domestic policy” and the Foreign Office under Joachim von Ribbentrop. The Foreign Office was supposed to draw up the general guidelines for foreign propaganda but make use of the Propaganda Ministry’s apparatus for its dissemination.

The Federal Foreign Office, Wilhelmstraße
The Federal Foreign Office, Wilhelmstraße© Bundesarchiv/wikimedia cc-by-sa

There was a separate “Information Department” for this at the Foreign Office. In 1943 it was merged with the Cultural Affairs Department; however, the tasks remained virtually the same until the end of the war. So the Foreign Office played a major part in covering up, playing down or defending the Nazi policies of warmongering and murder over the years.

Possibility of “personal orders”

The document also highlights one aspect characteristic of the Third Reich in general: although there appeared to be a clear hierarchy, the various agencies were constantly fighting over responsibilities. As a result, it is not entirely clear exactly how responsibility was divided, particularly between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Propaganda.

Often it was a matter of which of the individuals concerned had the highest status within the Nazi hierarchy. Another factor was their closeness to Hitler. To make the situation even more complicated, Hitler himself always reserved the right to issue “personal orders” in specific cases.

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