German Propaganda Archive Calvin College

Background: One of the last major Nazi propaganda campaigns was the “Shadow Campaign” of the first half of 1944. It was intended to encourage people to be alert to enemy spies. There is an entry in Goebbels’s diaries dated 12 October 1943 in which he approves the outline of the campaign. This page includes two articles of background information sent to local-level propagandists. There were about a dozen posters that accompanied the campaign, each of which included the shadow of an enemy spy. This material is taken from the newsletter that went to all local group propaganda leaders.

A note in the Zeitschriften-Dienst, the weekly newsletter that went to all magazine editors, passed on this instruction in its 21 January 1944 issue: “All German magazines are expected to join in the shadow campaign and support this important propaganda. Entertainment magazines and industrial publications should particularly be involved. The Press Department of the Reich Government, Magazine Division, will shortly send out material, and the individual experts are available to editors for suggestions and more precise details if — as is strongly desired — magazines continue this important campaign with their own work. Editorial staffs are also encouraged to make their good ideas broadly known by passing them on to the Press Department of the Reich Government, Magazine Division.”

The source: “Parolen für die Mundpropaganda,” Rüstzeug für die Propaganda in der Ortsgruppe, #2 (1944), pp. 14-15, and “Tatsachenberichte zur Schattenaktion,” Rüstzeug für die Propaganda in der Ortsgruppe, #3 (1944), pp. 19-23. There are copies of this at the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in Leipzig and the Bundesarchiv in Berlin.

Guidelines for Oral Propaganda: The Shadow Campaign

The shadow campaign began on 15.1.1944 with portraying a black shadow and hanging the first three shadow posters. The goal of the campaign is to put an end to irresponsible chatter that could aid the enemy. To advance the campaign, each party and people’s comrade will be given a weapon he can use against the chatterers. This weapon is the whispered “Pst!,” which was used spontaneously at times by party and people’s comrades at the start of the shadow campaign. Over the next three months, the task of the party is to systematically make clear to the German people that the whispered “Pst!” is a warning that “the enemy is listening,” and to behave accordingly. This should happen in three sequential stages, each one with increasing impact.

1. First Phase:

Between now and 2 April, a few carefully chosen men and women in each local group (using the 5-man system) should interrupt inappropriate conversations in this way: “Pst! The enemy is listening! You know that! And you surely do not want to help him against us!? If the enemy had heard that, or learned of it fifth or sixth hand, we would all be hurt, our soldiers at the front, and you yourself!” This line of thinking can be put in one’s own words. But do not make a fuss or arouse opposition! Be gentle! Behave well! Be compelling and serious — as serious as one who is fully convinced of the truth and urgency of what he is saying, who is deeply concerned about Germany.

2. Second Phase:

Between 2 April and 30 April, each local group should use all suitable men and women to spread the slogan in abbreviated form: “Pst! The enemy is listening! You know that, and surely do not want to help him hurt us!” This should happen with each overheard inappropriate conversation. The warning and the words can now be said a little more loudly and more publicly. The ground on which they fall will already have been prepared.

3. Third Phase:

Between 1 May and 15 May (and in the days following), all party members should use the warning “Pst! The enemy is listening!” whenever possible. Each inappropriate conversation with one’s acquaintances, and each conversation overheard, should be interrupted without regard to the consequences. Depending on the person and the situation, this may be very sharp, scolding, serious, or whatever else is appropriate: sometimes with a smile, cheerfully, a bit brazenly!

The dates are not absolute, but lay out the general outline of the campaign. In many cases, things will move more quickly than expected. But be sure that things do not slow down and fade away before 15 May!

Although at first glance this seems easy, it is very hard for the individual party comrade. Experience shows that the individual quickly gets tired if he has to say the same thing in the same words thirty, forty, or fifty times a day, as is the case here.

Deal with this by noting the difficulty, and making it clear that it is duty to stubbornly persist at it.

Those obviously unsuited should be left out of the campaign. One can expect that some will also fall by the wayside during the campaign. Considerable additions from wide circles of the population are surely to be expected. These helpers should be appreciated, but not managed.

The participants in the first phase are to be sworn to secrecy.

They, along with the participants in the second and third phases, are to be told that the warning and slogan come from the people, which is the case.

The major propaganda battle will be successful if, by 15 May, a tenth of the German population respond to inappropriate conversations with the warning “Pst,” and the remaining nine-tenths of the German people understand what “Pst!’ means, namely: “Attention! The enemy is listening!— Be careful! Be silent!”

The warning “Pst!” will begin to show up occasionally, then more and more, until it finally will be heard on 15 May with unprecedented frequency. No German will fail to encounter it every day! The party and the individual party comrade must ensure that each German knows what it means — and that each German behaves accordingly!

One more thing to remember. Each force produces a counter force. Those in the first phase will certainly experience this, but those in the second and third phases will also get more or less friendly reactions from those they are warning.

They should remember that the people’s comrade has much — very much, indeed — to bear, and can become “nervous.” And second, remember that the first warning will not be enough. It may take ten, twenty, or a hundred warnings before the person finally shuts up!

Each local group propaganda leader should set an example of effective oral propaganda, and see for himself the effects of the oral propaganda he is directing. This oral propaganda campaign will be a unique example of the use of oral propaganda.

Reports on the Shadow Campaign

Issue #2 of the Rüstzeug reported on a special oral propaganda campaign whose purpose is to make the warning “Pst!” an effective weapon against all careless talking. It is always necessary to deepen the knowledge of the danger that careless talking has for our war effort. The party must use ever opportunity to advance the campaign. The following material which builds on that provided in issue #2 may be used in cell meetings and discussion evenings.

Well, we are moving ...

The bookkeeper Albert Schm. certainly was not thinking as he spoke to a business associate on the phone. He even named the date and location. He had full confidence in his business associate. Schm. However, he probably did not realize that conversations can be overheard. That is not at all difficult. Particularly when such conversations travel a long distance. What if an enemy agent had overheard the conversation!? Bookkeeper Schm. can hardly imagine that his careless talk might endanger the lives of several hundred workers — and he himself! He must realize that such information can be important. The enemy certainly knows that things are moved, but he doe not know when and where. That does not concern him. He who, like Schm. gives such valuable information to the enemy aids the enemy in the truest sense of the word. In this case, the result was a long prison sentence. The bookkeeper Schm. brought a great deal of misery on himself, not to mention his family. But should we feel sorry for him? Are not the hundreds of workers who moved to the new site much more important? The destruction of an important factory can have effects on the front. We see that everyone has reason to be careful of what he says on the telephone. We also see that which people chatter carelessly or without paying attention, we must remain hard. It is not a matter of the individual, but of the whole. Therefore, chatterers must be punished.

Was the third one deaf?

Private S. was home on leave. He met his former work mate W. on Sunday at a pub. A third person joined the table. As the waiter came, it turned out that the newcomer was deaf, and could only communicate through sign language. Just as the man who worked in the armaments factory was interested in the experiences of the soldier, the soldier was interested in what was going on in the factory. W. said among other things that a high-ranking officer was coming in a few days to see a new weapon. Two days after the meeting, S. had to return to the front. Several weeks later, he read in his home town newspaper that there had been sabotage at the factory in question, and that the culprit has been captured. It was Agent L., who had been pursued for a long time. He pretended to be deaf at a pub near the factory and listened to conversations of the factory’s workers. Among the dead was W., who left a wife and four children behind.

The man with the pipe

The fact that she went out with him on the same day she met him was her choice.

However, the fact that the old maid Gerda B. promptly told him which offices at railway headquarters she cleaned was a matter for all people’s comrades. Naturally, she did not suspect anything when he said to her:

“I smoke a pipe. Could you bring me some waste paper, since that does a fine job of cleaning my pipe.”

She took some along from the central transport office. She had told him she worked there.

A fire in the pipe smoker’s room brought to light papers with details of the transport of important war goods.

Rapid action by the police prevented further damage in this case.

The careless chatterer Gerda B., however, had to face the court.

He who does not keep silent, who carelessly and without consideration harms the people’s community and above all the front, must be severely punished.

The cheap wrist watch

The following case shows how an apparently minor misdeed can cause great harm to the people’s community, even leading to the deaths of many people’s comrades.

A German soldier bought a wrist watch from a jewelry shop in a small French town. The price was low, but still more than he could afford. But he could not bring himself to leave. He looked at other watches, but always came back to this favorite. Finally, the shopkeeper smiled and sold it to him for a considerably reduced price. The soldier, moved by this, said he would later pay the difference. The shopkeeper, however, refused, saying: “Well, I have a son in Germany.”

The soldier felt obligated to ask about the son, and it turned out that the son worked in his own area. He was a French officer, a prisoner of war, who had volunteered to work in Germany and now, released from captivity, worked as a chemist in a German factory. The jeweler and the soldier, joined by the jeweler’s wife, have a warm conversation, during which the wife asks the soldier to take a package to her son the next time he goes home on leave. Although the soldier know that soldiers were not allowed to carry packages and letters from occupied territories back to the Reich, he believed that this would be harmless given what the jeweler had done for him. He accepted the package, and delivered it to the jeweler’s son when he went home on leave. He was greeted warmly by the son, and even said he was willing to take a small package of jewelry back with him to the parents in France, since the French officer did not want to trust it to the mail.

The fateful role this innocent soldier played came to light only when the jeweler’s house was searched for other reasons, and it turned out to be a hidden base of the English Secret Service. The matter with the package and the jewels was not so harmless after all!

Every wartime prohibition — even those that seem trivial — protects the lives of people’s comrades. He who through lack of discipline violates a prohibition important for the war effort is nothing other than a murderer of his people’s comrades. Whether the murder results from intent or from criminal carelessness, the result is the same. Therefore, the penalty is harsh,

The film lover and espionage

Thanks to her ability, her diligence, and her drive, Gerta P., the 21-year-old daughter of a civil servant, was quickly promoted. She had every change of becoming the private secretary of the head of an important armaments factory within a few months.

Early last November, she was entrusted with an important task. She was to fetch secret drawings and plans from the Gau capital, 140 kilometers distant. She took the morning train and had the documents before noon, with four hours to wait before the return train. She decided to tour the city, and visit some relatives. But as she walked around, she saw that a movie with her favorite actor was playing. She joined the ticket line. A well-dressed man began talking with her, bought her ticket, and helped her at the coat check stand. When he asked for her briefcase, she refused and kept it with her during the film. When the film was over, the stranger again helped her at the coat check stand. As she turned away from the mirror, he had vanished into the crowd with her briefcase. She had given him the briefcase to hold for must a moment. — All attempts to find the stranger were fruitless. Though carelessness, Gerta P. committed a serious offense. She had been warned repeatedly of the consequences of such carelessness. The long prison term she received seems mild in comparison to the consequences her carelessness can have for our soldiers.

She lost everything by talking too much

S. lost everything she had through a major terror attack, saving only two suitcases with clothing she had taken with her into the basement. — The next morning, S. heard that her factory, which manufactured special instruments — was going to be moved to a less endangered area. She herself was being transferred to M., where she quickly found an apartment. Full of joy, she told those in her emergency apartment that her factory was being moved to M., and that she had already found an apartment there. Too late, she realized that she had said too much, but her indiscretion seemed minor. Fourteen days later, there was a surprise attack on the small city M., and she lost everything she had left. Eight days later, she was arrested. During her interrogation, she learned that charges had been made against her for spreading secret information. She was told by the interrogating official that her careless talk apparently had led to the destruction of her factory and the death of workers. Her genuine regret did not save her from a serious penalty. For those chatterers whose careless talk risks the lives of other people’s comrades, a jail term is often too mild!

... really interesting people!

As attorney E. L. W. finished tying his tie, he was in a good mood, and jokingly told his wife, who was always a bit slow, to hurry up. “don’t be a pest!” she said, “I’ll be ready in three seconds!” “That means fifteen minutes,” he laughed. “OK, but you have to agree that one always meets interesting people at the Ks. She replied: “And they do spoil you so! Especially bank director Opelski and his wife! And if I were jealous...” Dr. W. laughed heartily. “Please! You know that Opelski has commercial relations with us, and that relations with us are useful! He is an important person, a charming conversationalist, and very smart! He knows the whole world, and one can learn a lot from him!”

Dr. W. seemed to be welcome at the gathering. They joked about his being late, and then it was time to eat. An excellent dinner, as always. Dr. W. had a weakness for a wonderful Muscatel from Montefiascone. The bank director, who as always sat next to him, said: “That is a noble wine, but if, as I hope, you and your wife can come to visit us in Warsaw, I will serve you a red wine from Riciosto, which was appreciated by none less than the Goth King Theodericht! He even went to Venice to get it...” He drank, then said softly: “Venice! That reminds me, I was going to ask you something about a harbor, now what was it?... The problem is that my bank is involved in a large harbor project, but I do not know much about the area... I would like your advice... But I see that my wife is mad because I have occupied you for so long. Well, when we have a chance, let us talk about it later over coffee. Prost, my dear doctor!”

During coffee, the young department head sat between the bank director and his lovely wife, while his wife Erika was surrounded by others.

There was wonderful Polish schnapps. They drank over and over again to Polish-German friendship. Dr. W. would have been only too pleased, had not the bank director made some comments about a German harbor that he knew to be completely wrong. By chance, he had seen the plans for new construction at the harbor, and what the bank director had said about its capacity was so far wrong that he could not remain silent. He jotted down a quick, but precise plan of the harbor. His memory was so good that, despite the schnapps, he provided precise technical and statistical details. He could see that he impressed the bank director, who said: “I give up, Herr Doctor. You have a wonderful memory!” Flattered, Dr. W. said “Thank you! I will send you what I cannot remember.” For a second, the bank director glanced at his wife, then turned to wife Erika, who was just coming, kissed her hand, and said: “Dear lady, my compliments. I have rarely met a young man as well-informed as your husband! The world belongs to such people! And let us also drink to beautiful women! Prost, ladies!”

Dr. W. let his wife drive them home, since his head was not quite straight, but he was most satisfied. “Well, what do you say, Erika? Wasn’t it lovely? Opelski is a leading bank director, but he doesn’t know anything about harbors! And that new refinery for artificial petroleum is not being built in W... Well, I will talk with him about that later...” He leaned back... “In any case, interesting people...”

His wife Erika nodded and said: “Sure, but I don’t think you should drink so much, Erich! — You have to go to work tomorrow morning!”

“I’m OK, dear. I’m OK.”

For months, Dr. W. is a welcome guest in K., where he often meets the bank director, and has a drink with him, until June 1939, when he and his wife leave suddenly to visit, he says, the spa in Gestein.

Dr. W. is surprised and disappointed that he does not hear anything from Opelski. He misses the worldly bank director, with whom he could talk so pleasantly, and who thought him so knowledgeable. However, he did not have much time to think about it, for Germany soon responded to Poland’s attack, and Dr. W. expected to be called to the service. Instead, to his astonishment, he was arrested at his office and charged with treason. He could not understand it. He thought it could only be some kind of terrible mistake.

But it was not a mistake!

In the files of the Polish secret service, there was the plan of an important German harbor with secret details, and on the back of a railway card stamped with the chamber of commerce of D., there were parts of the plan for an industrial area. The file noted the source: “Attorney W. is very intelligent, well informed, ambitious, and entirely unsuspecting. By careful handling and discussion that gives him opportunity to show his knowledge, he reveals everything that he knows. Men get more from him than women.” That is how the enemy secret service characterized Dr. W.

As the accusation was read to Dr. W., he broke down completely. He realized that the Polish bank director and his wife were agents of the Polish Secret Service, who had been assigned to get important information from him.

The party was the stage, the esteem one really had for him and his knowledge, were the bait that trapped him. The excellent wine and schnapps were the tools used to loosen his tongue even more.

The facts of the matter are clear. Attorney E. L. W., department head in the Chamber of Commerce in D., had through criminal negligence given valuable information to the enemy, thereby gravely endangering national defense. He had to have known that these matters were secret, and that he could reveal them to no one.

His career was destroyed, for in the interest of the people Dr. W. had to bear the consequences of his actions, a punishment for him and a warning to everyone else!

A careless word leads to the death of tens of thousands

Who still remembers that the collapse of the offensive in 1918 was the result of treason?

Midsummer 1918. The French people was sick of war. England had suffered the blows of German submarines. The masses of Americans were not yet in action. The German army, however, believed that a final major effort by Germany would bring victory.

The major offensive was planned to the last detail by the Supreme Command, and was to destroy the enemy on both sides of Reims. That would have put Paris on our hands, and Paris meant France. — Absolute secrecy was essential so that the attack would be a surprise. The attacking divisions could not send out mail. — But on 4 July 1918, a French spy heard a medic shout to a nurse on a passing hospital train: “Things will happen on 15 July in Champagne!” (The same rumor surfaced between 7 and 10 July — according to the reports of foreign spy services — complete with the day, place, and even hour! — in Belgium and other German cities.)

When on the morning of 15 July, after a heavy artillery barrage, German armies stormed the area around Reims, they found that enemy positions had been deserted. But in front of the rear trenches, which had not been bombarded, tens of thousands of our best soldiers fell, ending the last major German offensive, and with it final victory! What terrible guilt rests with the careless chatterer!

In the past, one viewed such cases as tragic and unavoidable, excusing them by referring to the carelessness of those involved. Today, in the fifth year of war, the German people has changed in fundamental ways. The German keeps silent! The careless chatterer must realize that he will receive harsh penalties. That is only just.


[Page copyright © 2007 by Randall L. Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]

Go to the 1933-1945 Page.

Go to the German Propaganda Archive Home Page.