A new study said the language the Nazis used in propaganda throughout their rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s served to slowly dehumanize the Jewish people, with the language changing over time.
According to a study published on November 9 in the journal Plos Onelinguistic analysis of Nazi propaganda from this period shows that the framing of the Jewish people shifted from focusing on disengaging the German people’s moral concern for them to suggesting that Jews had a much greater capacity for agency to be “malicious” after the Holocaust began.
“We studied the use of mental state terms considered fundamentally human: experience, the ability to feel sensations and emotions, and agency, the ability to think complex thoughts, plan and ‘act intentionally,’ said Alexander Landry, Ph.D. in organizational behavior. student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-author of the paper, said Newsweek.
Through propaganda, the Nazis portrayed the Jewish people as having less and less ability to experience basic human emotions and sensations, thus dehumanizing them in the eyes of the German public. It was potentially an attempt to make the idea of the mass murder of Jews more palatable to the rest of the country.
“Recognizing others’ experiential capacity grants them moral concern and protection from harm, while recognizing others’ agency makes them morally responsible for their behavior. Jews’ experiential capacity declined from 1927 at the start of the Holocaust in June 1941, suggesting that they were denied moral concern and that this may have helped facilitate the start of systematic mass violence against them. the Holocaust, Jews were given greater agency,” he said.
Landry suggested that this may have been an effort by the Nazis to justify their continued persecution by portraying the Jewish people as intentionally malevolent and “highly capable of planning and intentionality”, while also being of subhuman moral character.
As Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to power in the 1920s, they made their position on the Jews clear, claiming that the Jews were to blame for a variety of misfortunes that Germany had suffered, including the loss of WWI. Once Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933 and took full control of the country in 1934, he passed a series of anti-Semitic laws, including the Nuremberg Laws, which prohibited Jews from marrying or have sex with non-Jews.
Towards the end of the 1930s, Jews began to be herded into ghettos and taken en masse to concentration camps. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany systematically murdered approximately six million Jews, roughly two-thirds of the entire Jewish population of Europe and one-third of the Jews of the world at the time.
Landry and his team collected 140 individual pieces of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda ranging from November 1927 to April 1945 from the German Propaganda Archive, which contained a total of 57,011 words. They then assessed the prevalence of certain terms related to mental state, distinguishing between those associated with agency, such as “planning” or “thinking”, and those associated with experience, such as “hurting” or “enjoying”. “.
“We then used a psycholinguistic tool to quantify the proportion of fundamentally human mental state terms in propaganda text describing Jews. A nuanced pattern of results emerged. Jews were progressively denied the ability to mentally experiment human rights leading to the Holocaust,” Landry said. said.
This pattern could have been even stronger if researchers had had access to more propaganda of the time.
“Inevitably, much of the Nazi propaganda material was lost during the war, and even more remains untranslated into English. Most problematic is the relative lack of material we have from the period before Nazis came to power. Hitler (1927-1933) when the Nazis were still a relatively marginal political party that did not yet have a stranglehold on the German media,” Landry said.