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A big lie (German: große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." Hitler claimed the technique was used by "the Jews" to blame Germany's loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, who was a prominent nationalist and antisemitic political leader in the Weimar Republic.
Hitler's use of the expression
But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.
All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X
The principle is sometimes translated and abbreviated as the pithy saying: "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it."
Goebbels's use of the expression
Later, Joseph Goebbels put forth a slightly different theory which has come to be more commonly associated with the expression "big lie". Goebbels wrote the following paragraph in an article dated 12 January 1941, 16 years after Hitler's first use of the phrase. The article, titled Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (English: "From Churchill's Lie Factory") was published in Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.
The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.
Jeffrey Herf maintains that Goebbels and the Nazis used the Big Lie to turn long-standing anti-semitism into mass murder. Herf argues that the Big Lie was a narrative of an innocent, besieged Germany striking back at an "international Jewry", which it said started World War I. The propaganda repeated over and over the conspiracy that Jews were the real powers in Britain, Russia and the U.S. It went on to state that the Jews had begun a "war of extermination" against Germany, and so Germany had a duty and a right to "exterminate" and "annihilate" the Jews in self-defense.
Usage in Hitler's psychological profile
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
The above quote appears in the Nizkor Project's site though the source document is not cited. The quote does not appear in the report, A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend, by Walter C. Langer with collaboration by Henry Murray, Ernst Kris and Bertram Lewin, which is available from the US National Archives, though it does appear, unreferenced, on page 57 in Langer's ebook by the same title (without mention of the collaborators on his previous work). A somewhat similar quote — "never to admit a fault or wrong; never to accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time; blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong; take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind" — appears on page 219 in a different report also available from the US National Archive, namely, Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behaviour and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany's Surrender, by Henry A. Murray, October 1943 though Murray's work is neither referenced in Langer's ebook nor in the Hitler's Source-Book compiled by Langer and upon which his ebook heavily depends.
- "Project Gutenberg of Australia - Mein Kampf tr. James Murphy". Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-23.
- Joseph Goebbels, 12 January 1941. Die Zeit ohne Beispiel. Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP. 1941, pp. 364-369 [original German: Das ist natürlich für die Betroffenen mehr als peinlich. Man soll im allgemeinen seine Führungsgeheimnisse nicht verraten, zumal man nicht weiß, ob und wann man sie noch einmal gut gebrauchen kann. Das haupt-sächlichste englische Führungsgeheimnis ist nun nicht so sehr in einer besonders hervorstechenden Intelligenz als vielmehr in einer manchmal geradezu penetrant wirkenden dummdreisten Dickfelligkeit zu finden. Die Engländer gehen nach dem Prinzip vor, wenn du lügst, dann lüge gründlich, und vor allem bleibe bei dem, was du gelogen hast! Sie bleiben also bei ihren Schwindeleien, selbst auf die Gefahr hin, sich damit lächerlich zu machen.]
- Jeffrey Herf (2006). The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II And the Holocaust. Harvard University Press. p. 211.
- Jeffrey Herf, "The 'Jewish War': Goebbels and the Antisemitic Campaigns of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry", Holocaust and Genocide Studies, (Spring 2005) 19#1 pp 51–80,
- A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler. His Life and Legend by Walter C. Langer. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Washington, D.C. With the collaboration of Prof. Henry A. Murr, Harvard Psychological Clinic, Dr. Ernst Kris, New School for Social Research, Dr. Bertram D. Lawin, New York Psychoanalytic Institute. p. 219 (Nizkor)
- Dr. Langer's work was published after the war as The Mind of Adolf Hitler, the wartime report having remained classified for over twenty years.
- Hitler as His Associates Know Him (OSS report, p.51)
- Langer, Walter (2011-03-24). www.all-about-psychology.com, ed. A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend. www.all-about-psychology.com.
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