The Sportpalast speech (German: Sportpalastrede) or total war speech was a speech delivered by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the Berlin Sportpalast to a large but carefully selected audience on 18 February 1943 calling for a total war, as the tide of World War II had turned against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies.
It is considered the most famous of Joseph Goebbels's speeches. The speech was the first public admission by the Nazi leadership that Germany faced serious dangers. Goebbels exhorted the German people to continue the war even though it would be long and difficult because—as he asserted—both Germany's survival and the survival of a non-Bolshevist Europe were at stake.
Compared with the previous year, 1943 started inauspiciously for Germany, with major military problems on all fronts. Following the earlier key Axis defeat three months earlier at the Second Battle of El Alamein in northwestern coastal Egypt, the primary "turning point" of World War II in Europe occurred on 2 February 1943 as the Battle of Stalingrad ended with the surrender of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus and the German 6th Army to the Soviets. At the Casablanca Conference, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill demanded Germany's unconditional surrender, and the Soviets, spurred by their victory, were beginning to retake territory, including Kursk (8 February), Rostov (14 February), and Kharkiv (16 February). In North Africa, the Afrika Korps under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was being brought close to defeat, when German supply ships sailing to Tripoli were sunk by the Allies during January. The Western Desert Campaign had ended with the British victory at El Alamein in November 1942, and the Axis were in Tunisia between two Allied forces—one advancing from Algeria, the other from Libya. The fortunes of Germany's Axis allies were turning as well. Italy's military collapse had made the war in Africa a largely German operation, and in the Pacific, the Americans had just completed their months-long reconquest of Guadalcanal after their victories against Japanese forces at Midway and the Coral Sea.
Adolf Hitler responded with the first measures that would lead to the all-out mobilization of Germany. On 2 February, 100,000 restaurants and clubs were closed throughout the country so that the civilian population could contribute more to the war.
Setting and audience
The setting of the speech in the Sportpalast placed the audience behind and under a big banner bearing the all-capitals words "TOTALER KRIEG – KÜRZESTER KRIEG" ("total war – shortest war") along with Nazi banners and Nazi swastikas, as seen in pictures and film of the event.
Although Goebbels claimed that the audience included people from "all classes and occupations" (including "soldiers, doctors, scientists, artists, engineers and architects, teachers, white collars"), it was evident to outsiders that the propagandist had carefully selected his listeners. After the speech, Goebbels said to Albert Speer that it was the best-trained audience one could find in Germany.
Goebbels cited three theses in the speech:
- If the Wehrmacht was not in a position to break the danger from the Eastern front, then the German Reich would fall to Bolshevism, and all of Europe shortly afterwards;
- The Wehrmacht, the German people, and the Axis Powers alone had the strength to save Europe from this threat;
- Danger was at hand. Germany had to act quickly and decisively, or it would be too late.
In the speech Goebbels explained at great length the threat posed by International Jewry: "The goal of Bolshevism is Jewish world revolution. They want to bring chaos to the Reich and Europe, using the resulting hopelessness and desperation to establish their international, Bolshevist-concealed capitalist tyranny." Rejecting the protests of enemy nations against the Reich's Jewish policies, he stated, to deafening chants from the audience, that Germany "intends to take the most radical measures, if necessary, in good time."
While Goebbels referred to Soviet mobilization nationwide as "devilish", he explained that "we cannot overcome the Bolshevist danger unless we use equivalent, though not identical, methods [in a] total war". He then justified the austerity measures enacted, explaining them as temporary measures.
Historically, the speech is important in that it marks the first admission by the Party leadership that they were facing problems, and launched the mobilization campaign that, arguably, prolonged the war, under the slogan: "And storm, break loose!" (Und Sturm, brich los!). Goebbels claimed that no German was thinking of any compromise and instead that "the entire nation is only thinking about a hard war".
Goebbels attempted to counter reports in the Allied press that German civilians had lost faith in victory by asking the audience a number of questions at the end, such as:
Do you believe with the Führer and us in the final total victory of the German people? Are you and the German people willing to work, if the Führer orders, 10, 12 and if necessary 14 hours a day and to give everything for victory? Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today? 
The recorded oral version of the speech differed in some ways from the written record. The enthusiastic and unified crowd response recorded in the written version is, at times, less than fully supported by the recording.
Especially significant is that in the oral (vs. written) record of the speech, Goebbels actually begins to mention the "extermination" of the Jews, rather than the less harsh terms used in the written version to describe the "solution", but catches himself in the middle of the word.
|Original German||English translation|
|Ich frage euch: Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?||"I ask you: Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even yet imagine?"|
|Nun, Volk, steh auf und Sturm brich los!||"Now, people, rise up, and let the storm break loose!"|
The last line originated in the poem Männer und Buben (Men and Boys) by Carl Theodor Körner during the Napoleonic Wars. Körner's words had been quoted by Adolf Hitler in his 1920 speech "What We Want" delivered at Munich's Hofbräuhaus, but also by Goebbels himself in older speeches, including his 6 July 1932 campaign speech before the Nazis took power in Germany.
Millions of Germans listened to Goebbels on the radio as he delivered this speech about the "misfortune of the past weeks" and an "unvarnished picture of the situation". The Sportpalast audience reacted fanatically, causing an even bigger impact; they were selected by Goebbels to perform appropriately, showing one of his many skills as propaganda minister. Goebbels also wanted, by amassing such popular enthusiasm, to convince Hitler into giving him greater powers in running the war economy.