Nazi indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany

Edited by Jose A. Scheinkman, Columbia University, New York, NY, and approved April 17, 2015 (received for review August 5, 2014)
June 15, 2015
112 (26) 7931-7936

Significance

Attempts at modifying public opinions, attitudes, and beliefs range from advertising and schooling to “brainwashing.” Their effectiveness is highly controversial. We demonstrate that Nazi indoctrination––with its singular focus on fostering racial hatred––was highly effective. Germans who grew up under the Nazi regime are much more anti-Semitic today than those born before or after that period. These findings demonstrate that beliefs can be modified massively through policy intervention. We also show that it was probably Nazi schooling that was most effective, and not radio or cinema propaganda. Where schooling could tap into preexisting prejudices, indoctrination was particularly strong. This suggests that confirmation bias may play an important role in intensifying attitudes toward minorities.

Abstract

Attempts at modifying public opinions, attitudes, and beliefs range from advertising and schooling to “brainwashing.” Their effectiveness is highly controversial. In this paper, we use survey data on anti-Semitic beliefs and attitudes in a representative sample of Germans surveyed in 1996 and 2006 to show that Nazi indoctrination––with its singular focus on fostering racial hatred––was highly effective. Between 1933 and 1945, young Germans were exposed to anti-Semitic ideology in schools, in the (extracurricular) Hitler Youth, and through radio, print, and film. As a result, Germans who grew up under the Nazi regime are much more anti-Semitic than those born before or after that period: the share of committed anti-Semites, who answer a host of questions about attitudes toward Jews in an extreme fashion, is 2–3 times higher than in the population as a whole. Results also hold for average beliefs, and not just the share of extremists; average views of Jews are much more negative among those born in the 1920s and 1930s. Nazi indoctrination was most effective where it could tap into preexisting prejudices; those born in districts that supported anti-Semitic parties before 1914 show the greatest increases in anti-Jewish attitudes. These findings demonstrate the extent to which beliefs can be modified through policy intervention. We also identify parameters amplifying the effectiveness of such measures, such as preexisting prejudices.

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Data Availability

Data deposition: The German General Social Survey (ALLBUS) data used in this paper are publicly available on-site at the German Social Science Infrastructure Services (GESIS) research facility in Cologne, Germany. The ALLBUS data were enriched with community-level data on Imperial elections and indicators of anti-Semitism (which are also publicly available) during a research visit at the GESIS Secure Data Center. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was not needed for the study because the survey had been conducted by GESIS.

Supporting Information

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Supporting Information

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 112 | No. 26
June 30, 2015
PubMed: 26080394

Classifications

Data Availability

Data deposition: The German General Social Survey (ALLBUS) data used in this paper are publicly available on-site at the German Social Science Infrastructure Services (GESIS) research facility in Cologne, Germany. The ALLBUS data were enriched with community-level data on Imperial elections and indicators of anti-Semitism (which are also publicly available) during a research visit at the GESIS Secure Data Center. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was not needed for the study because the survey had been conducted by GESIS.

Submission history

Published online: June 15, 2015
Published in issue: June 30, 2015

Keywords

  1. cultural transmission
  2. indoctrination
  3. persistence
  4. anti-Semitism

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Authors

Affiliations

Nico Voigtländer1 [email protected]
University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management, Los Angeles, CA 90095;
National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA 02138;
Centre for Economic Policy Research, London EC1V 3PZ, United Kingdom;
Hans-Joachim Voth
Centre for Economic Policy Research, London EC1V 3PZ, United Kingdom;
University of Zurich, 8001, Zurich, Switzerland; and
UBS International Center for Economics in Society, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: N.V. and H.-J.V. designed research, performed research, analyzed data, and wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Nazi indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 112
    • No. 26
    • pp. 7873-E3452

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