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 soldiers’ homesickness, their will to survive, their jealousy, fears, and even prejudices. Because of the multinational, multiracial, and multiethnic composition of the various armies engaged in war on both sides, propagandists often targeted particular groups to try to cause conflicts within the ranks.
German propagandists were well aware of widespread racism in the United States and in the US Army, as shown by this Nazi leaflet aimed at Black soldiers.1 Their goal was not to convert Black Americans to Nazism, but rather to convince them to desert or surrender. Nazi racial ideology considered Black people a racially inferior threat to so-called "Aryan" society, but these views were not printed in leaflets like this one.
For their part, Black soldiers did not need to look far for reminders of inequality in American life during the 1940s. The US armed forces were segregated, and widespread racist violence targeted Black communities in several American cities in 1943.2 In addition, the US Congress would not pass anti-lynching legislation during the 1930s or 1940s despite public pressure to do so.3 Many Black Americans hoped that their participation in the defeat of the Axis Powers would produce a double victory—a victory over fascism abroad and a victory for equal rights at home.4
The featured leaflet shows some of the ways that Nazi propagandists tried to reach Black American soldiers. It conceals Nazi racism with claims that so-called "colored people5 living in Germany can go to any church they like. They have never been a problem to the Germans." The flyer claimed that Black soldiers should not fear German forces because there never have been lynchings of "colored men" in Germany, where they "have always been treated decently."6