Thursday, September 7

Censorship, Propaganda, and the Book Thief

 In our current climate of big-tech censorship, mass media propaganda, and an ever-increasingly polarized world, scholars are debating a World War 2 question --- would censorship have stopped the Nazis?  What lessons can be applied today?

As we have learned in previous novel studies, Germany was defeated in World War I, suffered dire consequences, and eventually came under the control of Adolf Hitler.  He envisioned the German people, specifically the Aryan people, as a superior race.  As early as 1934, he began making changes in Germany's political agreements and governmental policies.  He began to annex adjoining areas, such as Czechoslovakia, into his empire.

There is a long history of anti-Semitism, such as that we studied in the Broken Strings unit study.  Jews had long been persecuted against for their religious beliefs, and at times were forced to convert to another religion.  Many of them were money lenders (due to restrictions put into place regarding what jobs they were allowed to have), and when the economy of Germany took a nosedive, this made Jews an easy scapegoat.  In his 1925 book, Mein Kampf, Hitler accused Jews of deliberately attempting to pollute the pure German gene pool, of robbing Aryans, and of destroying the nation’s social fabric. 

We study the Holocaust and its atrocities more in depth in Under the Donim Tree.  You may also pick up the entire bundle of Jewish Studies through Literature - ten units.

Banned Books in Nazi Germany

The government banned books that were written by authors with Jewish lineage, or who had communist or pacifist leanings.  The books were removed from public, and it became illegal to own one, and many were burned.  In some occupied countries, books that were not written in German (even if German wasn't the native language) were also banned.  A few well known books that were banned included All Quiet on the Western Front and Metamorphosis.

Censorship & Propaganda

When Nazis first came to power, the German constitution guaranteed freedoms of speech and the press, but those rights were eroded over the next couple of years.  This eventually destroyed the German democracy.  It was illegal to criticize the government, and even illegal to tell a joke about Hitler!

In spite of this erosion of their rights, it was imperative for the people to support Nazi ideas, if they were to accomplish their political goals.  To get the people on board, they seized control of newspapers, magazines, radio shows, books, music, movies, and other art forms.  They did this by banning books, controlling what allowed to be published in print or on air, and even censoring letters home from soldiers.  This helped to damper the flow of negative information.

In addition to stopping negative information from getting out, a new department - the Reich Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda - was headed by Joseph Goebbels to create and promote propaganda.  Propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, and the Nazis used it to spread their ideology.  Some examples of this included: using Hitler's image all over the place, spreading negative ideas and misinformation about Jews, broadcasting Nazi speeches, holding large rallies, promoting Nazi ideas in the classroom, and creating youth groups, such as the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls.

You may also be interested in We Were There at the Battle of Britain, Breaking Stalin's Nose, or Animal Farm


  • The Book Thief
    • It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.


Make / Do

  • In The Book Thief, characters risk their freedom to access banned books. Create a scrapbook based on the books that you would be willing to take risks to read.
  • Using all the clues and snapshots given in the story, create a timeline for Liesel's life. Include important events that impacted the direction her life took.
  • Choose two characters, and then create a collage of the characters’ characteristics using words and images.
  • Trace character development Liesel’s growing from a scared, angry girl to a witty, brave young woman.
  • Write about an event that marked a turning point in your life
  • What is your favorite color? Why? What does it remind you of or what emotion does it represent?
  • Want to further explore this topic?  Download the Childhood in Nazi Germany lesson.


  • hindered
  • protestations 
  • amiable 
  • affable 
  • genially 
  • abhorrence
  • trepidation 
  • septic
  • torrent 
  • innocuously
  • echelons 
  • eventuated 
  • castigate 
  • audacious
  • catatonic  
  • bereaved 


  • How does the author use the literary device of foreshadowing to pull the reader into the story?
  • What is your favorite color? Why?  What does it remind you of or what emotion does it represent?

Get the entire World War 2 Bundle!


  • The Book Thief
  • We Were There at the Battle of Britain
  • Number the Stars
  • The Winged Watchmen
  • We Were There at Pearl Harbor
  • We Were There at the Battle of Bataan
  • Island War
  • Red Stars
  • The Night Witches
  • Mare’s War
  • We Were There at the Normandy Invasion
  • Code Talkers
  • We Were There at the Battle of the Bulge
  • The Light Between Us
  • We Were There at the Open of the Atomic Era
  • A Merry 1940s Christmas

Product samples:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.