In the bitter streets of Berlin, a young Joseph Goebbels wanders alone.

He is hungry. He is shamed. The world has failed him.  Hyperinflation and record unemployment are roiling Germany and laying the state to waste. Political shockwaves are ripping the country apart.

He buys a newspaper with his last coins. The front page blazes with the latest news of Hitler’s failed coup and fiery trial. 

“Nineteen Twenty-Four” is a historical short story about the crumbling of democracy 

Has Goebbels found his saviour?

Or embraced his own doom?

2,000 words / 8 minutes of ominous reading pleasure

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‘Propaganda does not deceive people. It merely helps them to deceive themselves.’ Eric Hoffer 



Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved

What good is a doctorate in German language and linguistics from Heidelberg University when everything is going to ruin?

What use are words when people are rioting in the streets, when police brutalise young and old alike? When politicians stand idly by as everything fails? As the entire Fatherland crumbles? 

Joseph Goebbels is writing in his diary again. Scratching out thoughts in his shaky hand on the thin pages, worrying about his hopeless life, his lost country. He had turned twenty-seven and had celebrated by hocking his last suit at a Berlin pawnshop.  

His diary had been a gift from Else Janke, a school teacher from his hometown of Rheydt. A woman he was half in love with. She was half-Jewish after all. When they first met he showered her with love letters, with love poems. With promises of endless love and desire, of faithfulness. Such empty, useless words.

Goebbels had come to Berlin to become a man of letters. He had written a novel no one wanted to publish, two plays no one wanted to see. He keeps to himself. He knows people mutter behind his back about his limp, his club foot.

He tries to turn the other cheek. He is a good Catholic after all. He keeps a small framed portrait of Jesus on his worn bedside table. His mother had given it to him. Jesus’ hands clasped in prayer behind a sliver of glass as he looks up to the heavens above.  It sits next to his well-read bible and his favourite novel by his favourite author, Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. Cut out newspaper articles sit under a pair of scissors.

He somehow managed to get a job as a clerk at Deutsche Bank. The French had invaded the Ruhr to force payment of reparations from the Great War. This triggered a worsening of hyperinflation that tore through the German economy. During the day he witnessed heartbreaking scenes of account holders pleading to withdraw their savings. At night he read in newspapers that it was all the fault of the Jews. The insolent Jews. The Marxists and communists. The capitalists and racketeers. All profiting from the struggles of the German people.

He could not stomach the bank job for long. Now he is just another lost young man in the endless lines of unemployed, scratching out a living by selling an occasional article to populist news sheets. He bites his nails incessantly. He has not eaten all day.

Alone in his miserable boarding room, alone with his absent thoughts, his slings and arrows. Terrified of what the future will bring

Today is Tuesday, the first of April, the holiday of fools. Goebbels does not feel like celebrating with the crowds. But he has to eat, maybe get half a bowl of pea soup for a few coins? Share some leftover bread with a passerby.

It is early evening when he steps out into the Berlin streets. The air seems sharp, electric. Groups of young men are huddled over the afternoon edition of “Berliner Tageblatt”. Reading out reports in the newspaper of the conviction of Adolf Hitler in Munich earlier in the day, laughing and clapping in delight.

Hitler had been brought to trial on a charge of high treason after leading a failed revolution to take over the Weimar Republic, to free Germany of the Communists and the parasites.

Hitler had hoped to grasp power just as Mussolini had the year before when the Italian fascist marched on Rome with his far-right comrades. Hitler had stormed the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich with his Nazi Brownshirts and taken two nationalist politicians - as well as the local police chief - hostage. But all three men quickly escaped, calling in police and army reinforcements. Shooting broke out and Hitler was arrested. Sixteen Nazis and four police officers were killed in the fighting. It was an abysmal failure.

Everyone thought the fumbled coup would be the end of the Nazi Party, the nail in the coffin for the four-year-old political movement that had garnered a lot of press but little support across Germany.

Goebbels had followed the trial with an eagle eye. The international press predicted Hitler would either be executed, serve a long prison sentence or face deportation.

Instead of buying soup, Goebbels buys a copy of the newspaper from an excited street seller. A photograph of a triumphant Hitler dominates the front page, wearing a trench coat with his right arm and hand raised in the air. His eyes defiant.

The headline above the photograph in bold red type says: Trial Farce Ends

Goebbels reads that although Hitler had been found guilty of high treason, the conservative judge had sentenced him to just five years imprisonment with a conditional release after six months.

Goebbels smiles. All Hitler’s talk about government failure, about the Socialists, Revolutionaries, Marxists, and the racial tuberculosis of the Jews had struck a chord. The judge justified the lenient sentence because Hitler’s actions were purely patriotic, unselfish, noble.

Goebbels reads that the judge’s announcement had brought cheers from spectators. When Hitler was taken to a second-floor room to await transport back to prison, he walked to the window and waved to the crowd below. The crowd gave him a loud ovation. Cries of ‘Heil Hitler!’ rang through the streets.

Of course the trial had been nothing but a political carnival. The court had allowed Hitler unprecedented leeway to make endless propaganda speeches, banished a cartoonist from the courtroom because his caricature of Hitler had not been to Hitler’s liking.

Hitler’s address at the conclusion of the trial went on for two hours. It is repeated word for word across page two and page three of the newspaper. Goebbels marvels at the language, at the call to return Germany to greatness.

How the fallen at the beer hall putsch had not died in vain, how no mother had told Hitler that the death of her child on that day lay on his conscience. How on the contrary, ten, hundreds, and ten thousand men and women have come and joined their ranks. A wave of young Germany rose up, and joining together everywhere, and in powerful organisations, announced their new-found will.

How the putsch had been not a great failure but a great triumph, how the German people had become terribly enthusiastic to an extreme degree, and therefore how Hitler now believes that one day the hour will come when these masses who today bear the swastika, and walk the streets carrying their swastika banners, will unite themselves with the very units which opposed them. How the blood which flowed on that day is not doomed to divide the people forever.

Down the street a cluster of young men greet each other by shooting their right hands into the air and shouting ‘Heil Hitler!’ before laughing and embracing.

Goebbels keeps reading how Hitler’s army grows and grows, from day to day, from hour to hour, faster than ever. How in the near future these wild groups will become battalions, and the battalions will grow to be regiments, and the regiments to be divisions, and the old colours of the German Empire will be picked up out of the slime, and the old flags will whip in the wind, and reconciliation will be attained, just as on the day of the last judgment!

How history will one day laughingly tear up the charges of the prosecution, and laughingly tear up the verdict of the court. How history will declare Hitler innocent!

A shiver runs through Goebbels. Hitler has managed to convey every confusion he felt, every blow that stung in a sprinkling of words. He looks around in a daze as his shame evaporates. He hears more cries of ‘Heil Hitler!’

A young man asks Goebbels if he can buy the newspaper in his hands. Copies have all sold out. Goebbels smiles and shakes his head. And wanders back to his boarding room.

Once inside his room, he gently locks the door. Moves to the edge of the bed and sits down. Unfolds the newspaper, picks u the scissors and carefully cuts out the portrait of Hitler, right arm raised to destiny.

Goebbels picks up the small framed portrait of Jesus, turns it over and removes the backing board. He breathes in deeply as he lifts out the printed card of Jesus and replaces it with Hitler’s newspaper portrait. Slips the backing board in place and sits the frame back on the bedside table.

Hitler’s words behind his newspaper portrait bleed through, trapped within the glass.

And Goebbels’ fate is sealed.

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Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti

All Rights Reserved

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This is a work of fiction. While many of the characters portrayed here have counterparts in the life and times of Joseph Goebbels and others, the characterisations and incidents presented are totally the products of the author’s slippery imagination. This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It should not be resold or given away. Thank you for your support. (Couldn’t do it without you.)

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