A postcard sent from the concentration camp at Dachau
Postcards and letters were a universal method of communication in an age when the only vehicles of mass communication were the printed newspapers. These simple artefacts give us a view into the minds and hearts of the people who fought on the battlefields and also those who fought on the home front.
Postcards, in particular, were a very popular form of communication during both the world wars in the twentieth century. There were a number of reasons why this was such a commonly used method of communication between those at the front and those at home.
During times of war it is usual for all mail to be censored. In order to check all mail it has to be opened. Of course, postcards do not need opening.
Postcards are a quick and easy way to send a message home and do not require the sender to obtain and use an envelope and writing paper.
Postcards carry an image of some kind - it might be a photograph, a painted image or just a simple line drawing - which in the days before personal cameras was a bonus.
Many of the men involved in these wars, particularly the First World War, had little formal education so writing was not common for them. Writing a lengthy letter would have been difficult for many. A postcard was more manageable especially if it was necessary to get a friend to write it for you.
Postcards were seen as a kind of souvenir, something to hold on to in the future to remember a particular moment in the conflict.
Postcards were inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to send and easily available.
Even the stamps that were stuck on the postcards were used for propaganda purposes. The stamps issued by the German government during the 1936 Olympics in berlin were all reinforce the idea of the superiority of the ‘Aryan' race with their images of strong, muscular, powerful German athletes.
Postcards were produced for many different reasons and to serve very different purposes. Some were simply a way of a soldier letting his family know where he was (if that was not classified information) and how he was faring. Others might be used to celebrate a particular victory in battle and could be issued to all soldiers to send to back home to their families.
However, many postcards were produced by government propaganda departments to "get the message across." Both allied powers (Great Britain, France, USA, Russia and others) and the their opponents in the two world wars (Germany, Italy, Japan and others) used different types of postcard as a part of their propaganda campaigns. The different levels of propaganda were known as ‘white', ‘grey' and ‘black'.
‘White' propaganda does not hide its origins from those to whom it is delivered or intended for. For instance, the propaganda newspaper Frontpost , bore the legend, in German, "Published by American troops in Western Europe ." It was delivered by air-drop during World War two to German soldiers fighting on the various fronts.
During World War Two, the allied aircraft dropped the newspaper, Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops) into battlefield and German-occupied areas. Although the recipients knew that it was being dropped by allied aircraft, nowhere on the publication did it specifically state that it was published by the allies. This is an example of what has come to be called ‘Grey' propaganda.
The whole purpose of ‘Black' propaganda is to make the recipient believe that it comes from another source than it actually did. This type of mis-information is associated with covert psychological warfare operations. Examples include forged identity cards and ration coupons, counterfeit currency, and propaganda letters and postcards. During World War II, black propaganda accounted for around five percent of the material packed into leaflet bombs, with the rest being various kinds of grey and white propaganda.
Others were used to deride the efforts of the opposing forces or to highlight a significant victory over the enemy.
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