Eugenia C. Kiesling
Review of Daniel Uziel, The Propaganda
Warriors: The Wehrmacht and the Cons0lidation of the German Home
Front. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. Pp. 463. ISBN
argues that the Wehrmacht entered World War II with a
sophisticated theoretical understanding of the role of propaganda in
sustaining a national war effort. It prepared for war by creating
Propaganda Companies (PKs) which, though under military command
through the Wehrmachtpropaganda (WPr), worked hand in glove
with Josef Goebbels' civilian Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung
und Propaganda (RMVP). The propaganda produced by the armed forces
played a vital role throughout the war. Moreover, whatever the
claims of Wehrmacht apologists, the material disseminated by
Propaganda Companies took the same racist tone as that produced by
civilian agencies; no surprise, given their intimate relationship
with the RMVP. PK propaganda continued after the war, when veteran
propaganda warriors managed to conceal their close identification
with the National Socialist vision. Indeed, such was the PKs'
success in shaping the image of the Wehrmacht after 1945
that, whatever the military outcome of the conflict, German propaganda warriors can be said to have won their war.
successful, such a book would reaffirm the Wehrmacht's
complicity in every noxious aspect of Adolf Hitler's state, a point
that cannot be made too often. If the claims of the subtitle
were fulfilled, Propaganda Warriors would also contribute to
our understanding of the political structure of wartime Germany.
However, while Uziel is surely correct to insist that the PKs
participated in the political as well as the military side of the
German war effort, he does not present enough material to provide a
true study of civil-military relations, let alone an examination of
the home front.
Despite its promising argument, the book is far less interesting
than advertised. Its overall tedium is exacerbated by jarringly poor
and even more jarring praise for the skill of Wehrmacht
propagandists. A clinical, detached description of exemplary German
propaganda coups would be unexceptionable, but the author answers
the question "Was it effective?" with a grammatically awkward but
enthusiastic "and how" (10).
course, Uziel, a historian at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in
Israel is no apologist for National Socialism. His apparent
enthusiasm for German wartime propaganda and the men who produced it
presumably reflects a tone-deaf effort to warn readers of the
enemy's pernicious skills.
problematically positive language is rendered stranger by the dearth
of evidence for Germany's alleged sophistication in the area of
propaganda. Uziel dubs a "theoretician" the author of any book
extolling the value of propaganda in warfare. In his view, a man
capable of conceiving of the years 1914-18 as fifteen distinct
"psychological-historical" periods is intelligent rather than mad
(39-40). It is naïve to see Erich Ludendorff's claims about
the role of British propaganda in Germany's collapse in 1918 as a
shrewd analysis of the nature of modern war rather than a
self-promoting effort to feed the Dolchstoss legend (36-37).
Most of the so-called "theories" are platitudes about the importance
of rallying popular will or lists of desirable media; their probable
purpose was to create party and government jobs for aspiring
propagandists. That a five-sentence PK document of 1939 offered "a
summary of all of the theoretical writing done between the wars
about the lessons to be learned from WWI regarding propaganda"
suggests the poverty of the whole theoretical project (109).
author's admiration for his subject would be less surprising if he
offered adequate support for his claims that German propaganda
actually worked. Few will accept as uncritically as Uziel does that
mass desertion would have dissolved the Red Army had a Soviet
artillery shell not destroyed "a large supply of giant wooden
spoons" before they could be erected in view of Soviet lines to tout
the superiority of German logistics (375).
fact, most of the book details organization rather than methods or
product. Where such information could be useful, as in
demonstrating that the close relationship between the propaganda
troops and the RMVP provided "a major opening into the Wehrmacht
for a civilian ministry and for the Nazi party," the key
argument is buried under minutiae about structural changes and
personnel reassignments. Uziel rarely puts details in context. Why,
for example, say that the problem of clothing the civilian members
of the propaganda companies "remained seemingly insoluble" even
while noting that it was solved by issuing unadorned infantry
uniforms? More curiously, what lay behind the official criticism
of military reporters during occupation of the Sudetenland for "a
tendency to nag"(94)? Whole pages of meaningless details, obscured
by constantly changing abbreviations, show Uziel's inability to
select and manage his considerable archival material.
Uziel's ill-advised decision to tell two parallel stories in
sequence, first the rise and fall of the propaganda companies and
then the history of the propaganda they produced, means that one
learns that the PKs failed before learning what they actually
produced. This makes it difficult to evaluate his explanation that
the propaganda troops were disbanded near the end of the war because
the German people stopped believing what they were told (174-76).
The implication that propaganda works only when the product involves
good news makes one wonder exactly how much propaganda actually
contributed to the war effort. Goebbels, at any rate, found control
of propaganda troops worth fighting over in the winter of 1944/5,
and his snippy comments about the head of WPr provide an interesting
taste of the bureaucratic language of National Socialism (178-79).
chapter ostensibly devoted to the relationship between the
propaganda companies and the RMVP turns out to feature yet another
review of the repeated reorganizations of the propaganda troops. One
is then annoyed to be told that the real question "is not what
caused the power struggles between WPr and the RMVP, but how they
affected the conduct of Wehrmacht propaganda." The
answer--"as the wartime functionality of this system proved, their
effect was minimal, and, as concerns the daily work in the local and
lower levels, no effect at all can be traced" (206).
demonstrate the irrelevance of intra-agency conflicts to the
propaganda effort at the local level, Uziel branches out at the end
of this chapter to descriptions of lecture tours and displays,
material one would expect to find in the subsequent chapter on "War
Propaganda." We are told, for example, that in the winter of 1942/3
"thirteen highly decorated … soldiers" were diverted from the front
to deliver lectures to civilians, of which there were a great many
and those well received. Instead of explaining what was said and why
it worked, Uziel only quotes an official document's instruction that
"the aim of the lecture activity is to grasp the wide masses and to
inspire them." There is no indication of how pep talks by thirteen
men, even men sporting the Ritterkreuze, counterbalanced the
depressing news from Stalingrad (233-34, and n. 177).
oddly placed in this chapter on institutional collaboration is a
brief description of the "whispering campaign," the use of Wehrmacht
soldiers to spread useful rumors among the civilian population
(221-25). Though it was tried on a large scale only in February and
March 1945, Uziel confidently claims that "it was only the speedy
conquest of Germany by the Allies that prevented the rumor-spreading
system from becoming a primary tool of German propaganda" (225). On
the other hand, without the conquest of Germany, the whispering
would have been unnecessary. Once again, Uziel's enthusiasm for his
subject carries him away. If, as he notes later, the
Flüsterpropaganda campaign really was the high point of Germany
interagency cooperation, that in itself is a damning indicator of
German organizational effectiveness (241).
is irritating to leave the discussion of the Flüsterpropaganda
without learning what rumors were supposed to be passed along, but
hope is aroused in the beginning of the next chapter, on the
contents of the Wehrmacht propaganda. The intent here is to
demonstrate that the armed forces were yet another vehicle for
delivering the regime's message. Before exploring content, however,
Uziel surveys the means by which propaganda was distributed; here,
for example, we learn that the weekly newsreels produced by the RMVP
contained live combat footage absent from comparable U.S.
presentations. Lacking, however, are specific examples of content
and any discussion of why live footage presented in German cinemas
elicited a positive response on the home front.
Finally, Uziel is ready to tell us what kind of propaganda was
dispatched from Poland. The brief answer is military
reporting--"setting everything else aside" and offering no undue
optimism (254). By the end of the page, Uziel has returned to
counting the number of Army PKs in Poland and describing how their
reports were transmitted back to Germany. That the PKs were
instructed to provide "proof of Polish atrocities against ethnic
Germans" receives two sentences without any elaboration as to how
this fraud was accomplished (257), though one also learns that the
PKs provided some footage for the Reich's anti-Semitic films (260).
It would be interesting to see an example of the requested reports
of "the barbarity of the French" (265). And what exactly do the
"extraordinary PK reports" (358) in the RMVP archives contain?
Wehrmacht propaganda units witnessed a wide range of
atrocities, though Uziel describes their films as intended for "pure
documentary purposes" rather than propaganda (288). Regrettably, we
know neither who sent the PKs to the execution sites nor with what
intent, but Uziel does provide chilling descriptions of the home
front's response to films of Russian Jews (289). Ironically, an
event he identifies as exemplifying "mainstream" official news
coverage--the climbing of Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus by German
Alpine troops--in fact aroused Hitler to fury at the wasteful effort
discussion of official treatment of the Stalingrad disaster is
enlightening and makes one wonder whether enough evidence exists for
a thorough case study of this challenge to the regime's
propagandists. Stalingrad led to Goebbels' proclamation of "total
war," which Uziel sees as a Pyrrhic victory for the army's
propaganda theorists. Their interwar vision of "total war" came
true, but only when the civilians of the RMVP took over the show
(303-4). Whether or not "total war" is a useful concept for
explaining German military strategy, the major outcome of Goebbels'
proclamation seems to have been yet another round of reorganization.
judge the effectiveness of propaganda requires access to information
about public opinion. Uziel uses "public mood reports" where
available, but he does not offer enough information to prove we know
what the German people actually thought. Absent such proof, one
cannot assess Uziel's description of certain bits of propaganda as
"popular" (313). Whose morale, for example, was raised by the
failure of the July 20 plot (323)?
Uziel's arguments for the effectiveness of the demobilized
propaganda warriors in shaping Germany's post-war collective memory
are vitiated by unclear language. He admits that the propaganda
troops had no post-war organization, that "there was no official or
semi-official propaganda regarding the Wehrmacht," and that
"clear-cut evidence of a well organized conspiracy" is
Nonetheless, the activities of the veterans constituted an
"image-building mechanism, … a cultural and mental phenomenon"
(341). But just what does this mean?
story of the PKs veterans' post-war efforts to rehabilitate the
Wehrmacht is interesting, but how much credence should be
given to men who were, after all, both professional propagandists
and determined self-promoters?
Uziel concludes with minatory observations about the continuing
influence of the propaganda troops, whose films, he warns, continue
to provide the German people with their main visual record of World
War II. The implications of that thought-provoking observation
demand examination based on far more information than that provided
here. In The Propaganda Warriors,
Uziel hoped to improve on a first-hand account of the propaganda
troops that was "basically a non-critical technical and
organizational history" which offered "almost no mention of the
content or character of the Wehrmacht propaganda" (391). The
result is disappointing.
U.S. Military Academy, West
 Uziel, who is not writing in his native
language, has not been well-served by his proofreaders. The text
is disfigured by misspellings (including "Ludendorf"
throughout), colloquialisms ("better intro"), bizarre word
choices ("the ground became rife"), and grammatical errors
(examples from 195-96).
 As the assertion that "the first official
public announcement in the history of Germany was the
announcement made by the Governor of Berlin on October 17th
1806" (26) hints at a suspect understanding of German history
 Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1936-45: Nemesis
(NY: Norton, 2000) 530.