Nazis were masters of propaganda. Much of it was designed to enforce their anti-Jewish ideology. The ideas expressed in the propaganda materials were appalling and frightening when spread by the Third Reich. However, the significance and meaning of these materials changed when acquired by new hands, specifcally by Jewish hands. This folding leaflet disguised as an American dollar bill is one example. Sgt. Albert Wenger found the “American dollar bills” at Kaufberen Air Base. The German propaganda, now owned by a Jewish American G.I., became a symbol of Allied victory. The significance changed from a way to blame Jews for the war into a way to expose the Germans and help Americans understand the importance of defeating the Nazis and what that victory meant to the world.
The Germans dropped these leaflets over France beginning in 1943. Presumably, German planes left from Kaufberen for Paris and other French cities to flood the air with the anti-American anti-Jewish message in the form of a well-disguised U.S. dollar. The bill unfolds to reveal a message in French with that old stereotype about Jews and money. The text explains that that the “American Minister of Finance is the Jew Morgenthau jr.” and that the dollar bill is loaded with Jewish symbols. The message finishes by blaming the Jew for war: “Will this dollar be enough to compensate us for the sorrows caused by the Jewish war? Money has no smell … but the Jew has one!”
Wenger found this leaflet when the U.S. was occupying Germany in 1945. With the material in the hands of a Jewish American who had exhibited great character as Allied Forces won the war, the absurdity of the materials becomes clear, the antisemitism almost laughable. German propaganda attempted to exploit Jewish stereotypes and reinforce old canards while Wenger and hundreds of thousands of his fellow Jewish Americans in the military were defying those same stereotypes.
The permanent collection at NMAJMH is filled with German propaganda, much of it anti-semitic. This includes Der Sturmer newspapers with hideous depictions of Jews, portraits and glossy photo books glorifying Hitler and his racial philosophies, films proclaiming Nazi triumphs. These souvenirs bought home by Jewish Americans in the military are no longer a symbol of Nazism, but of pride at proving the anti-Semitic ideas false through military service.
An earlier version of this appeared in The Jewish Veteran.