We are currently processing a collection of letters written by a soldier during World War II to his wife back home. The soldier was sent to Europe in 1944 and saw battle in Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Germany. In one of his letters he mentions propaganda leaflets that are being dropped by the Germans in order to rile the troops. He expresses hopes that he can grab one to send home to his wife for a souvenir, but says that it’s been hard to get a hold of one. He finally retrieves one and sends it home to his wife (and we have it in the collection) saying that he guesses some wives are doing this (see leaflet), but he doesn’t seem too concerned.
This type of find represents an opportunity to emphasize the importance of retaining such artifacts and recognizing their historical importance. It would be an error to write off this leaflet simply as pornography or Nazi “memorabilia” that should be swept under the rug and never mentioned again. In context with the letter to which this leaflet was attached, we learn so many valuable things: how hard the flyers were to acquire, the troops reactions to this war tactic, whether troops believed the material was accurate, and where the leaflets were distributed. This adds to our collective historical knowledge of this tactic and its effects from valuable firsthand knowledge.
This particular leaflet was dropped in Ardennes but was likely dispersed on other fronts as well and targeted American troops. These sexualized leaflets were meant to lower the morale and resolve of Allied soldiers in the war by playing upon the notion that their wives were bored and unfaithful, but more often served as pin-up pictures rather than demoralizers. Leaflets were also dropped on British troops that detailed how the American soldiers were taking the Brits’ women while they were on the warfront. Very few of these leaflets survived. They were made of very poor quality paper and it is even rumored that soldiers used them as toilet paper. (For a short and interesting read on propaganda usage in World War II, see the PBS website on the Ken Burns’ documentary The War.)
Below is the image from the front of the leaflet (edited by the Special Collections for publishing on this blog) and the accompanying text on the back of the leaflet. The leaflet can be seen unedited along with the entire collection of letters in the Special Collections department. (Click on the images to enlarge the text.)