Propaganda and False Witness

Statues created by Karl Albicker for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games

Statues created by Karl Albicker for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games

War has always been conducted on many different fronts and every country has fought to win the psychological war as much as the war on the battlefield. Mis-information and un-truths have long formed a key part of every nation's weaponry.

What is propaganda?
Propaganda is the distribution of information which tries to influence the opinions or behaviour of a large number of people. Propaganda presents information in order to change the minds of its audience.

There are different types of propaganda. Some works by presenting facts selectively, what we might call ‘lying by omission' or leaving out some of the information. Another type of propaganda is based entirely on un-truths but it presents these lies in a manner which is convincing enough to be believable. A further type of propaganda works by greatly exaggerating an existing truth.

White, Grey and Black Propaganda
Both the allied powers and their opponents in the two world wars used different types of postcards, posters, newspapers and radio broadcasts as a part of their propaganda campaigns. The different levels of propaganda were known as ‘white', ‘grey' and ‘black'.

‘White' propaganda would not hide its origins from those to whom it is delivered or intended for. For instance, the propaganda newspaper Frontpost , stated quite clearly, in German, "Published by American troops in Western Europe ." It was delivered by air-drop during World War two to German soldiers fighting on the various fronts.

Also during World War Two, the allied aircraft dropped the newspaper, Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops) into battlefield and German-occupied areas. Although the recipients knew that it was being dropped by allied aircraft, nowhere on the publication did it specifically state that it was published by the allies. This is an example of what has come to be called ‘Grey' propaganda.

The whole purpose of ‘Black' propaganda is to make the recipient believe that it comes from another source than it actually did. This type of mis-information is associated with covert psychological warfare operations. This type of propaganda is much more difficult to create and to distribute. Examples include forged identity cards and ration coupons, counterfeit currency, and propaganda letters and postcards. During World War II, black propaganda accounted for around five percent of the material packed into leaflet bombs, with the rest being various kinds of grey and white propaganda.

The 1936 Olympic Games
In 1936 Germany put its propaganda machine into top gear because of the fact that the Olympic Games were being staged that year in Berlin. For the Nazi government this was too great a chance to miss to show the world that it was once again a great power and that it's athletes were the strongest, fastest, most highly skilled of all the nations taking part. To this end they exploited every chance to show off the great Aryan dream to the world.

  • Sculpture of athletes built for the 1936 Berlin Olympics

    Along the Unter den Linden, around the Olympic Stadium and outside the Reichs Chancellery appeared these great stone constructions which displayed the German athletes as almost superhuman in...

  • Commemorative stamps from the 1936 Berlin Olympics

    Postage stamps have often been more than just a convenient way of paying for postage and this was particularly so during the Olympic Games of 1936. In line with the importance of the Olympic...

  • The teams arriving during the opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympics 1936

    On August 1,1936, Adolf Hitler opened the XIth Olympiad. Musical fanfares directed by the famous German composer Richard Strauss announced the dictator's arrival to the largely German crowd....

  • The World's press at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in 1936

    The world's press were invited to the games to capture the events of the games. However most reporters and journalists were wholly unaware of the fact that German authorities had temporarily...