"...a rare and chilling glimpse into a brilliant but toxic mind."-- The New York Times
His name is synonymous with political propaganda. His legacy is one of maniacal cruelty and unwavering devotion to the Nazi cause. He has been called "the genius of spin" and "Reich Liar-General."
American Experience presents The Man Behind Hitler, a portrait of Joseph Goebbels, delivered in words taken directly from the diaries he kept from 1924, when he joined the Nazi party, until his suicide in 1945, read by actor Kenneth Branagh. Featuring never-before-seen footage, this 90-minute documentary from filmmakers Lutz Hachmeister and Michael Kloft offers an insider's view of the rise of the Nazi party.
Goebbels was an unlikely candidate to become the second most powerful person in Nazi Germany. Born in 1897 into a strict Roman Catholic family, he was diminutive in stature and plagued by a deformed foot -- a result of polio that would later preclude him from military service. A reclusive, bitter youth, Goebbels retreated into literature and writing. He joined the Nazi party in 1924. It was as a member of the party that his writing and later speaking skills were recognized and flourished. Goebbels became a self-assured orator and Adolf Hitler's right-hand man.
Drawing on Goebbels' early journal entries, Branagh relates Goebbels' initial attraction to the Nazi party and his adoration of Hitler: "I bow to his superiority. I admire his political genius."
Appointed minister of propaganda in 1929, Goebbels was responsible for all of Germany's media. No film was produced, no newspaper printed, no radio show broadcast without his stamp of approval. He staged massive parades and rallies to support the Nazi cause. He was a chief orchestrator of many infamous Third Reich initiatives -- Kristallnacht, the violent destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses throughout Germany; the burning of books in Berlin; and the "Final Solution," the plan to deport Jews from Germany and declare them "exterminable."
Devotion to his job and his Führer was absolute. "You can't help liking him as a person," he said of Hitler. "He has a stupendous mind. The born motivator! With him we can conquer the world." He viewed the Nazi party as the sole hope for Germany, and was convinced that his work and his words were key to Nazi success.
Even when the tide of the war turned against Germany, Goebbels held tightly to his beliefs, insisting to the end that Hitler and the Nazi party would succeed. Just one day after his beloved Führer committed suicide, the reality of defeat set in. To keep their six children from falling into enemy hands, his wife, Magda, poisoned them in their sleep. The next morning, Magda and Joseph took their own lives.
"By exploring the inner workings of the Nazi party's chief spokesman," says American Experience executive producer Mark Samels, "this film chillingly conveys the power of evil."