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The Sportpalast or total war speech ( ) was a speech delivered by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the Berlin Sportpalastmarker to a large but carefully-selected audience on 18 February 1943 calling for a total war, as the tide of World War II was turning against Nazi Germany.

It is considered the most famous of Joseph Goebbels' speeches. The speech was an early 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 he asserted Germany's survival and the survival of Western Civilization was at stake.


The Vichy French leader François Darlan had been assassinated two months earlier, and on 2 February the Battle of Stalingradmarker ended with the surrender of Field Marshal Paulus and the Sixth 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 Kurskmarker (8 February), Rostovmarker (14 February), and Kharkivmarker (16 February). In North Africa, the Afrika Korps under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was beginning to face setbacks, when German supply ships sailing to Tripolimarker were sunk by the Allies on 19 January. The Western Desert Campaign had ended with British victory and the Axis were in Tunisia between two Allied forces - one from Algeria and one from Libya.

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. 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 audience reacted in a fanatical way, causing an even bigger impact; they were selected by Goebbels to perform befittingly, showing one of his many skills as propaganda minister. Goebbels also wanted, by amassing such popular enthusiasm, to convince Hitler to give him greater powers in running the war economy.


Goebbels cited three theses in the speech:

  1. 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;
  2. The Wehrmacht, the German people, and the Axis Powers alone had the strength to save Europe from this threat;
  3. Danger was at hand. Germany had to act quickly and decisively, or it would be too late;

Goebbels concluded that "Two thousand years of Western history are in danger," and blamed Germany's failures on the Jews. 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?

Setting and audience

The setting of the speech in the Sportpalast placed the audience behind and under a big banner with the all-capitals German words "TOTALER KRIEG — KÜRZESTER KRIEG" (total war — briefest war) along with Nazi banners and Nazi swastikas.

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 Speer it was the best-trained audience one could find in Germany.


Original German English Translation
"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?"
[…] […]
"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 the power in Germany.


  1. Classic picture of the setting, here published in Stern magazine
  2. German propaganda archive

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