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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Phila-Trivia: The Propaganda Forgeries of World War II

During World War II, both the Allies and the Axis powers produced forgeries of their enemies' postage stamps. Among these were postal forgeries, which were intended to cause economic disruption by defrauding the adversaries' postal services, and propaganda forgeries, clandestinely distributed to increase dissent and weaken the morale of the enemy population. Many of these forgeries are listed in the Michel Germany Specialized Catalogue.

Propaganda forgeries created by the Nazis predictably included stamps with anti-Semitic messages. Notable forgeries include spoofs of Great Britain's 1935 Silver Jubilee stamp, with the slogan "This War is a Jewish War" , and the 1937 Coronation issue, noting the alliance between Stalin's U.S.S.R. and Great Britain.
Equating Stalinism with Judaism and claiming that Nazism was a bulwark against Communism was a major theme of Nazi ideology.

The Nazis also issued a set with overprints proclaiming the liquidation of the British Empire. As Germany had come late to the colonial game and wished to replace Great Britain as the world's leading colonial power, this set may be seen as an invidious expression of "colony envy."

The O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services), the forerunner of the C.I.A., ran a mission from Switzerland called "Operation Cornflakes", which involved bombing German mail trains and air-dropping bags of false, but properly addressed mail, containing Allied propaganda, including propaganda forgeries. The intent was that the false mail would be mixed in with the real mail and delivered by the German postal service. The most striking O.S.S. forgeries mock German Hitler-head stamps, and picture Hitler's face as a partly exposed skull.

The British produced a counterfeit portraying Heinrich Himmler, the head of the S.S. and as top policeman in a police state, perhaps the least popular Nazi leader. Another propaganda forgery featuring Himmler shows him leading a manacled civilian man, who represents Germany in the chain of fascism.

The British also issued propaganda forgeries intended to foment resistance in Poland, which the Nazis viewed as part of their future "living space." The Germans issued stamps for their "General Government" in Poland, not even noting the country name, as part of their policy of eradicating Polish nationalism. The British produced a forgery featuring Hans Frank, the hated Governor-General of Poland, who was ultimately executed for his complicity in the Holocaust in 1946.

In addition, the British produced fake overprints which appeared to have been created for a future German occupation of Morocco, which was held by the collaborationist regime of Vichy France. These were intended to incite suspicion and resentment among the French, who wished to retain control of their North African territories.

Perhaps the most stirring propaganda forgery was a parody of the 1943 Hitler Putsch semi-postal. The forgery portrayed General Field Marshall Erwin von Witzlehen, whom the Germans hanged for his role in the unsuccessful plot to blow up Hitler. The stamp is inscribed “Gehangt am 8 Aug. 1944" (Hanged on 8 Aug 1944). It represents a philatelic tribute to the "Black Orchestra" group who were executed following the coup attempt against the Nazi regime, as well as to the German Resistance as a whole.

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