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The German Propaganda Stamps of World War II

At first blush a GB King George VI German ‘Parody Stamp’ would appear to be identical to a genuine example. Perhaps a clue to its real intent is the red “Liquidation of the Empire – Jamaica” overprint; suspicion is further aroused by the inferior quality paper and a number of tiny – yet shocking changes to the details of the familiar definitive design. This obvious attempt to intimidate was instigated by the German Propaganda Machine in 1944. They were used on correspondence sent to addresses within neutral countries emphasising the supposed collapse of the British Empire and promoting anti-Jewish and anti- Communist policies. There are other examples of this overprint similarly describing other parts of the Empire, including the Bahamas, Hong Kong, Singapore and Trinidad.

Closer scrutiny confirms the more sinister and provocative message. At the centre inserted into the design, above the Crown, the Cross has been removed and replaced by a ‘Star of David’. In the top left hand corner, in place of a flower, is an image of a hammer and sickle. Some examples depict a hammer and sickle in the thistle emblem in the top right hand corner. There is another at the base in the value tablet that replaces the ‘D’ currency notation. There are variants of the overprints, one refers to Allied air- raids showing “Murder” “Ruin” flanked by two falling bombs and below – “Cathedral of Cologne” and another –“Cathedral of Rouen”

Philately has long been innocently associated with the transfer of propaganda and the mail is the perfect medium to spread a political message, inflammatory material or to disseminate defeatist opinions whether via the correspondence within, or the stamps themselves.

The origins of this policy can be found in stamps used during the First World War with forgeries of German stamps produced with the aim of flooding the postal system with unpaid mail, at the same time many propaganda and fund raising labels, in the guise of stamps were produced.

Come the 2nd World War and propaganda forgeries of real stamps were produced by both sides. Examples abound and include those that seek to ridicule important political leaders by creating caricatures. The ‘Spitler’ issue produced in the USA in 1943 lampoons the original of the 10th April 1940 issued to celebrate Hitler’s 51st birthday. Hitler was known to love children and took every opportunity to be photographed and be seen with them. This example shows a child spitting in Hitler’s face. At the base the words Deutsche Reich are replaced with Deutsche Ziel (German Target). Others seek to antagonise. Printed in the USA, the 6 Pfennig violet stamp has a portrait of Heinrich Himmler in place of Hitler, done with the idea of antagonising the latter.

The British were also involved in the creation and distribution of Parody stamps. One example related to the “Winterhilfswerk” (Winter Relief Fund) series originally issued by the Nazi Party in 1938. The sale proceeds supported a winter charity whose motto was “No one will go hungry”. Anyone could apply for aid. In late 1942 and early 1943 the Political Warfare Executive authorised the issue of stamp booklets that were sent via the Special Operations Executive, to the Free Polish and Free French operating in the Mediterranean area. These portrayed caricatures including one nicknamed “Goebbels talking his head off” – he is shown without a nose and his upper jaw missing.

Towards the end of the War one of the most innovative of the Allied propaganda operations took place. The US Forces Office of Strategic Services (OSS) researched the structure and workings of the German postal service. With access to telephone directories individual names and addresses were extracted. A plan was drawn up that enabled the OSS to infiltrate the internal distribution of mail within Germany. On the 5th February 1945 a train carrying mail towards the city of Linz in Austria was bombed. Shortly afterwards a plane dropped eight mail bags containing propaganda correspondence over the wreckage. There were 96,000 individual items. These mail bags were collected by local workers who were tricked into assuming that it had come from the damaged train. Skilled forgers created Parody stamps. These were forgeries of original stamps and in one case show a Hitler’s ‘death head’ skeletal image with the inscription at the base ‘Futsches Reich’ (Ruined Empire) instead of ‘Deutsche Reich’ (German Empire). Called ‘Operation Cornflakes’ (so named after the breakfast time arrival of the mail to each addressee). A number of similar exercises followed during the closing months of the War with a total of approximately 320,000 mail bags being dropped and their contents circulated.

This operation alone confirms what ‘Propaganda Philately’ offers and the depth and different aspects there are available. There are many examples of both German and Allied Forces propaganda stamps that might encourage further research and interest. They again demonstrate how adaptable philately has been in modelling and influencing many of the historical events of the 20th Century.


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