Goebbels was born in 1897 into a Catholic family at Rheydt, an industrial town in the Ruhr district. From early childhood he suffered a deformation in his right leg and wore a brace and special shoe, which left him with a limp. At the start of World War I he volunteered for military service, but was rejected. He studied at universities in Bonn, Berlin and Heidelberg (where he was awarded a PhD), and then worked as a journalist, and tried to write novels and plays.
Goebbels joined the Nazi party in 1924, and became allied with Gregor Strasser, Nazi organiser in northern Germany. He came to the attention of Hitler, who gave him a private audience in April 1926, and then appointed him a party leader for the region of Berlin. He soon discovered his talent for propaganda, writing tracts such as The Second Revolution and Lenin or Hitler, and launching the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff (The Attack). In 1928, he was elected to the Reichstag (one of only 10 Nazis), and the following year he became the Nazi party propaganda chief. In 1931, he marred Magda Ritschel, and they would have six children. However, Goebbels was an inveterate womaniser, and was known to have had many affairs.
Goebbels played a key role in successive election campaigns, and was instrumental in seeing Hitler elected leader in 1933. Goebbels, himself, was made minister for propaganda and national enlightenment, a position he then held until his death. He worked assiduously to centralise and control all aspects of German and cultural life, not only the press, but the media, the performing arts, literature, etc, purging them of Jews, socialists, homosexuals and liberals. At the same time, he ensured a development of high culture, such as Wagner’s operas, and plenty of light entertainment for the masses. Once war began in September 1939, his influence over domestic policy strengthened, and, increasingly, with Hitler appearing in public less, he became the face and the voice of the Nazi regime. As a dedicated anti-Semite, Goebbels was strongly linked to the Nazi Final Solution policy, and, especially, the deportation of Jews from Berlin.
In the final stages of the war, Hitler, before killing himself, appointed Goebbels Chancellor of Germany, but it was empty gesture, since a day later - on 1 May - Goebbels and his wife killed themselves, having already murdered their six children. Further biographical information on Goebbels can be freely obtained online at Wikipedia, the Jewish Virtual Library, or from the pages of Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel available at Googlebooks.
Goebbels began to keep a diary in 1923, shortly before his 27th birthday, while unemployed. Most of his early entries were about a young woman with whom he was having a turbulent relationship (and whom, in fact, had given him the diary). According to biographers, the diary quickly became a kind of therapy for the troubled young man. Apparently, these early diary entries show little interest in politics, and there is no mention of Hitler or the Nazi movement until the following year. i.e. after Goebbels first met Hitler in July 1925.
In 1934, the year after Hitler had become Chancellor and appointed Goebbels a minister, Goebbels published an edited version of his diaries for propaganda purposes: Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei. Eine historische Darstellung in Tagebuchblättern (From the Kaiserhof to the Reich Chancellery: A Historical Account from the Pages of a Diary). This was translated into English in 1938 and published by Hurst and Blackett as My Part in Germany’s Fight.
Wikipedia has a full entry on Goebbels’ diaries, and their history. Goebbels filled 20 hand-written volumes until 1941, and then - fully aware of their historical value - had them stored in underground vaults at the Reichsbank in Berlin. Thereafter, he dictated his entries to a stenographer, who typed up corrected versions. In 1944, he ordered all his diaries to be copied for safekeeping, and a special darkroom was created at his apartment for the diaries to be transferred to microfilm, a recent invention. The boxes of glass plates containing the microfilmed diaries were buried at Potsdam; and the original handwritten/ typed diaries were stored in the Reich Chancellery. Goebbels made his last entry on 10 April 1945.
Some of the original diaries survived the aftermath of the war - a complicated story involving ex-President Herbert Hoover and Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Louis P. Lochner. (For more on this see Andrew Hamilton’s excellent article in Counter-Currents Publishing). These diaries were edited and translated by Lochner and first published in English in 1948 by Doubleday (New York) and Hamish Hamilton (London) in 1948 as The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943. Hamilton notes: ‘An instant bestseller upon its release, the book was serialized in newspapers and magazines and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. The Hoover faction and Doubleday, however, were forced to surrender most of their profits to the Office of Alien Property and destroy 30,000 copies of the book still in stock. The original sheaf of 7,000 transcribed pages was, however, deposited at the Hoover Library at Stanford, where it remains today.’
Further extracts appeared in print over the years. In 1962, came The Early Goebbels Diaries: the journals of Joseph Goebbels from 1923-1926 (edited by Helmut Heiber, translated by Oliver Watson, published by Praeger, New York; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London). In 1978, came The Goebbels Diaries: the last days as edited Hugh Trevor-Roper (one of the central characters in the Hitler diary debacle - see Dacre’s non-fake diaries) and translated by Richard Barry (published by Putnam, New York; Secker and Warburg, London).
Controversy surrounded the publication in 1982 of The Goebbels Diaries: 1939–1941, as translated and edited by Fred Taylor (Hamish Hamilton, 1982; Putnam, New York). According to New York Magazine, the diary material was bought ‘from an unidentified German source in a shadowy deal in London’, and, ‘while no one is claiming the book is a forgery its story is one of publishing practices that seem, at the very least, sloppy and misleading to readers.’ The article goes on to explain how the diary pages may well have been doctored in an effort to tailor history from a Russian perspective.
Meanwhile, the 1,600 glass plates of microfilm buried at Potsdam had been discovered by the Soviets and shipped to Moscow, where they sat unopened for decades - until discovered by a German historian, Elke Fröhlich, in 1992. Then, over 15 years (1993-2008), Fröhlich and others edited the entire collection on behalf of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte, with the support of the National Archives Service of Russia. They were published in a definitive edition of 29 volumes (each one about 500 pages) by K. G. Saur Verlag as Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels, Teil I Aufzeichnungen 1923-1941. It has been estimated that despite the various English editions of the Goebbels diaries, only about 10% of the total, now published in German, has actually appeared in English.
A few extracts in English from Goebbels’ diaries can be found online. Most of the following are taken from PBS’s website The Man Behind Hitler, but a couple (those from 1942) are taken from The Nizkor Project website (which has filtered out only those entries concerned with the fate of the Jews.)
4 July 1924
‘We need a firm hand in Germany. Let’s put an end to all the experiments and empty words, and start getting down to serious work. Throw out the Jews, who refuse to become real Germans. Give them a good beating too. Germany is yearning for an individual, a man - as the earth yearns for rain in the summer.’
17 July 1924
‘I’m so despondent about everything. Everything I try goes totally wrong. There’s no escape from this hole here. I feel drained. So far, I still haven’t found a real purpose in life. Sometimes, I’m afraid to get out of bed in the morning. There’s nothing to get up for.’
13 April 1926
‘. . . I learned that Hitler had phoned. He wanted to welcome us, and in fifteen minutes he was there. Tall, healthy and vigorous. I like him. He puts us to shame with his kindness. We met. We asked questions. He gave brilliant replies. I love him. . . I can accept this firebrand as my leader. I bow to his superiority, I acknowledge his political genius!’
16 June 1926
‘Hitler is still the same dear comrade. You can’t help liking him as a person. And he has a stupendous mind. As a speaker he has constructed a wonderful harmony of gesture, facial expression and spoken word. The born motivator! With him, we can conquer the world. Give him his head, and he will shake the corrupt Republic to its foundations.’
26 October 1928
‘I have no friends and no wife. I seem to be going through a major spiritual crisis. I still have the same old problems with my foot, which gives me incessant pain and discomfort. And then there are the rumours, to the effect that I am homosexual. Agitators are trying to break up our movement, and I’m constantly tied up in minor squabbles. It’s enough to make you weep!’
15 September 1930
‘I am shaking with excitement. The first election results. Fantastic. Jubilation everywhere, an incredible success. It’s stunning. The bourgeois parties have been smashed. So far we have 103 seats. That’s a tenfold increase. I would never have expected it. The mood of enthusiasm reminds me of 1914, when war broke out. Things will get pretty hot in the months ahead. The Communists did well, but we are the second-largest party.’
31 January 1933
‘We’ve made it. We’ve set up shop in Wilhelmstrasse. Hitler is chancellor. It’s like a fairy tale come true! He deserved it. Wonderful euphoria. People were going mad below. . . A new beginning! An explosion of popular energy. Bigger and bigger crowds. I spoke on the radio, to every German station. “We are immensely happy,” I said.’
11 May 1933
‘Worked until late at home. In the evening, I gave a speech outside the opera house, in front of the bonfire while the filthy, trashy books were being burned by the students. I was at the top of my form. Huge crowds. Superb summer weather began today.’
20 June 1936
‘Yesterday: Schwanenwerder. We were waiting for Max Schmeling’s fight with Joe Louis. We were on tenterhooks the whole evening with Schmeling’s wife. We told each other stories, laughed and cheered. . . In round twelve, Schmeling knocked out the Negro. Fantastic, a dramatic, thrilling fight. Schmeling fought for Germany and won. The white man prevailed over the black, and the white man was German. I didn’t get to bed until five.’
23 October 1940
‘Churchill has issued an appeal to the people of France: impudent, offensive and bristling with hypocrisy. A revolting, fat beast. I drafted a speech with a sharp, withering response. If we don’t answer them, the English will continue to draw strength from their illusions.’
10 December 1940
‘Yesterday: A glorious day in Berlin. We are two hours late. Very heavy air raid on London. Some 600,000 kilograms. Entire districts of the city engulfed in flames. Only one aircraft lost. A really fine show. London is playing things down, but the American reports are strong and vivid. Nice to hear. The previous day they were talking about a decline in our offensive capability.’
24 June 1941
‘Sixteen hundred feet of newsreel from the start of our Russian campaign. Some of our new weapons are shown - huge monstrosities that smash to pieces everything in their way. The divine judgement of history is being passed on the Soviet Union.’
27 March 1942
‘Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the General Government [Poland] are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only about 40 per cent can be used for forced labor. The former Gauleiter of Vienna, who is to carry this measure through, is doing it with considerable circumspection and according to a method that does not attract too much attention. A judgment is being visited upon the Jews that, while barbaric, is fully deserved by them. The prophesy which the Fuehrer made about them for having brought on a new world war is beginning to come true in a most terrible manner. One must not be sentimental in these matters. If we did not fight the Jews, they would destroy us. It’s a life-and-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus. No other government and no other regime would have the strength for such a global solution of this question. Here, too, the Fuehrer is the undismayed champion of a radical solution necessitated by conditions and therefore inexorable. Fortunately a whole series of possibilities presents itself for us in wartime that would be denied us in peacetime. We shall have to profit by this.
The ghettoes that will be emptied in the cities of the General Government now will be refilled with Jews thrown out of the Reich. This process is to be repeated from time to time. There is nothing funny in it for the Jews, and the fact that Jewry’s representatives in England and America are today organizing and sponsoring the war against Germany must be paid for dearly by its representatives in Europe - and that’s only right.’
13 December 1942
‘The question of Jewish persecution in Europe is being given top news priority by the English and the Americans. . . At bottom, however, I believe both the English and the Americans are happy that we are exterminating the Jewish riff-raff. But the Jews will go on and on and turn the heat on the British-American press. We won’t even discuss this theme publicly, but instead I give orders to start an atrocity campaign against the English on their treatment of Colonials. Efforts are under way to declare Rome an open city, so that it won’t be bombarded. The Pope is studying the question of air raids on Italian cities and seems to be exerting pressure on the English to spare at least certain districts. The declarations issued by the Vatican on this question are extremely clever and cannot but win favor for the Pope, at least in Italy. But the Italians are willing to accept any help offered them in this painful situation. The Italians are extremely lax in the treatment of Jews. They protect the Italian Jews both in Tunis and in occupied France and won’t permit their being drafted for work or compelled to wear the Star of David. This shows once again that Fascism does not really dare to get down to fundamentals, but is very superficial regarding most important problems. The Jewish question is causing us a lot of trouble. Everywhere, even among our allies, the Jews have friends to help them, which is a proof that they are still playing an important role even in the Axis camp. All the more are they shorn of power within Germany itself.’
3 April 1945
‘At the daily briefing conferences the Luftwaffe comes in for the sharpest criticism from the Führer. Day after day Göring has to listen without being in the position to demur at all. Colonel-General Stumpff, for instance, refused to subordinate himself to Kesselring for the new operations planned in the West. The Führer called him sharply to order saying that the relative positions of Kesselring and Stumpff were similar to those of him and Schaub. In the West, of course, it is now and for the immediate future a continuous process of muddling through. We are in the most critical and dangerous phase of this war and one sometimes has the impression that the German people, fighting at the height of the war crisis, has broken out in a sweat impossible for the non-expert to distinguish as the precursor of death or recovery.’
The Diary Junction