Crowd Control

The Breslau Centennial Hall had been designed to hold twelve thousand people, but three weeks of relentless campaigning by the Brownshirts had swelled the throng to twice that number. Hundreds of  swastika flags hung in rows from the ceiling, and Goebbels had strategically placed dozens of agitators throughout the crowd. They knew their instructions to the minute.

The doors were locked at six, the scheduled start time for the rally. The ventilation system was shut down. After an hour, the doors were briefly reopened to admit those who had been turned away.

In another hour Goebbels began to send the decoys out to the podium, men who looked like Hitler. They would adjust the microphone, then leave.

The agitators began circulating rumors. Hitler had been arrested. Assassinated.

Then Goebbels cut the lights, plunging the crowd into darkness.

A spotlight clicked on, illuminating the podium. The crowd erupted. The silent Führer stared them down.


What Pegman Saw


Historical Note: 

Although it is difficult to confirm, some historians believe Adolph Hitler gave a speech at the historic Centennial Hall in the contested city of Breslau (Wroclaw) prior to his political ascension as Germany’s Chancellor in 1933. In charge of all propaganda was Josef Goebbels, a master of the new techniques of crowd manipulation, message control, and mass intimidation by implied consent.

This story reconstructs one told by my grandfather, who saw Hitler speak in Munich sometime in 1932. Hitler began this speech by standing motionless at the podium for almost ten minutes until the crowd gradually calmed into a barely restrained silence. Then he began chanting in a mournful whisper about the low and degraded state of Germany. After a long, long recitation of these “facts,” Hitler posed the question: “And who did this to us?”

You know the rest.