The Holocaust Historiography Project

British Wartime Propaganda Lies

During the Second World War, Britain’s main “dirty tricks” propaganda agency was the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), a unit of the British Foreign Office. This psychological warfare agency invented and distributed “black” propaganda disinformation to boost morale among anti-German British and Americans, and to promote anti-German sentiment in neutral countries. Its work also included manufacturing and distributing bogus German documents.

Some of the PWE’s most bizarre falsehoods were distributed on phonograph records as part of a secret “Special (Venom)” campaign directed to Arabs. These fables included reports that Hitler hated Arabs, and that a Jewish doctor had cut off the German leader’s testicles. Epithets applied to Hitler in this report included including “pig,” “swine” and “bastard.” Such exotic propaganda was considered necessary, the PWE advised, because Hitler’s prestige was “tremendous in Arab countries.”

The Arab-oriented campaign also included stories suggesting that the Germans were using mosques as brothels in Axis-ruled Tripoli. According to another PWE story, “Germans [were] so short of cloth they are training agents to disinter bodies in Muslim cemeteries and seize shrouds for use as machine rugs in Germany.”

One of the most malicious PWE “black” reports was this April 1943 story: “On entering Tunis Allied troops found dead children cut up as butchers' meat in the German army store. Portions of them had already been used as pork ration. Typically enough, the Germans had filed their identity cards.”

Some British officials were skeptical of this campaign’s effectiveness. For example, a PWE story that Goebbels had enriched himself during the war, and had hidden away a private fortune, said one official, “would evoke admiration and envy rather than disapprobation.”

This “Special (Venom)” campaign was first made public in 1994 when the relevant files were declassified from Britain’s Public Records Office (and then reported in The Guardian newspaper, London, September 8, 1994, p. 22).

During the war years, British agencies produced and disseminated a wide range of anti-German propaganda lies. According to one suggested story, the Germans were using poison gas to secretly kill off their own wounded soldiers. This manufactured “rumor,” designed to mislead and demoralize the German public, was proposed by Britain’s Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee in October 1941. (A facsimile of the secret wartime document confirming this is published in facsimile in the Sept.-Oct. 1993 Journal, p. 43.)

Even some of the more bizarre propaganda stories have proven remarkably durable over the years. A good example is the wartime fable that the Germans were manufacturing oil and soap from the bodies of murdered Jews, a report that became an important feature of Jewish and Allied war propaganda. Two major Jewish agencies, the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Congress, energetically promoted this lie. (See: M. Weber, “Jewish Soap,” Summer 1991 Journal, pp. 218, 234.)