During World War II, Axis and Allied forces dropped millions of leaflets behind enemy lines. In contrast to political propaganda campaigns, this battlefield propaganda did not seek to convert the targeted audience over to a particular cause, but to weaken military morale and convince soldiers to surrender.
Leaflets and broadcasts at the front frequently played on the soldiers’ homesickness, the will to survive, jealousy, fears, and even prejudices. Because of the multi-national, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic composition of the various armies engaged in war on both sides, propagandists often targeted particular groups try to cause dissension within the ranks.
German propagandists were well aware of widespread racism in the United States and in the US Army, as evidenced in this Nazi leaflet aimed at African American soldiers.1 Their goal was not to convert blacks to Nazism, but to convince them to desert and surrender. The Nazis considered blacks to be racially inferior and a threat to "Aryan society," but they intentionally avoided such notions in leaflets like this one.
For their part, black infantrymen did not need to look far for reminders of inequality in American life during the 1940s. The army was segregated and race riots erupted in Detroit and other American cities in 1943.2 Moreover, the US Congress would not pass anti-lynching legislation during 1930s or 1940s, despite some public pressure to do so.3 Many black Americans hoped that the defeat of the Axis Powers would be a double victory over the enemy abroad and for equal rights at home.4
This leaflet illustrates some of the ways in which Nazi propagandists try to reach African American soldiers, deliberately concealing Nazi racism with claims that "colored people living in Germany can go to any church they like. They have never been a problem to the Germans." African-American soldiers, the flyer declared, need not fear Germans for there never have been lynchings of "colored men" in Germany, where they "have always been treated decently."5