The German-Japanese Propaganda Connection

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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Flag of Germany Flag of Japan

The Tripartite Pact was signed in Berlin, Germany on 27 September 1940. It was signed by Chancellor Adolf Hitler for Germany, Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano for Italy and Japanese ambassador to Germany Saburo Kurusu for the Empire of Japan.

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The Tripartite Pact Signing

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 leading to a declaration of war by Great Britain and France. The Empire of Japan started fighting in China in 1937, but it was not until it attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 that the United States found itself at war. Germany might have avoided war with the United States but Hitler foolishly declared war on America on 11 December 1941. Although nobody knew it at the time, the die was then cast and the Axis powers were doomed to be defeated by America’s ability to produce weapons and war materials as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

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Chancellor Adolf Hitler Prime Minister Hideki Tojo

Both the Germans and the Japanese used propaganda almost from the very start of the war. Both of the Axis powers used every theme to demoralize their enemies including lies, rumor, sex, vilification, divide and conquer, ultimate defeat and the joy of surrender and captivity. The number of different leaflets that they produced numbers in the thousands and the number dropped from aircraft or fired by artillery and rocket is well into the millions.

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Japanese Marines invade Shanghai in 1937

Germany, attacked from both the east and the west in a two-front war surrendered on 7 May 1945. They supported the Japanese until the very last moment, sending them plans for aircraft engines, rockets, and perhaps even atomic research by submarine. What was not so well known was that they also sent a propaganda team to Shanghai, China, to support the Japanese in their war against the Americans.

My friend, Jo Williams, who lived in Shanghai during the war told me:

We used to walk by the huge Nazi swastika flag hanging from the upper floors down to street level on the Bund in Shanghai. I have childhood memories of bad vibes coming from that dark sinister flag. I never entered that building. The largest Nazi public relations headquarters outside Germany was operated in Shanghai which, as an “international city” requiring no passports or legal regulations housed businesses from all over including Jewish intelligentsia banished from pre-holocaust Germany; refugees from the 32 Pacific rim countries occupied by Japanese invasions starting in 1875; “White” Russians fleeing political revolution; even a secret Communist Soviet headquarters right on our street Rue Ratard in the French quarter.

This strange German unit operating in Shanghai was first brought to my attention by U. S. Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, Chief Prosecutor, Military Commissions. He was about to lecture on their activities at Harvard Law School and wondered if I had a sample of the actual leaflets produced in Shanghai. There were no images available and I was unable to help in his search. He sent me several legal transcripts from the trial of the Germans after the war, including Law Reports of Trials of German War Criminals selected and prepared by the United Nations War Crime Commission and also a copy of the Charles Lane article “Shanghaied,” printed in the The Green Bag – an Entertaining Journal of Law. Generally, my articles are image-driven and I base the length of the article and the amount of text on the number of leaflets and posters I depict. We will have none of the actual Shanghai products to depict in this article so although I expect to use some images, this will be a relatively short story. I should also point out that there were many defendants in the military trial and most of the paperwork involved with the case discusses the legality of the trial and the various appeals. Since we only care about the propaganda aspect, I will delete over 80% of the official data.

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American Leaflet 2094 Informing the Japanese People of the German Surrender

This leaflet informs the Japanese people that their ally has quit the war and now America can turn the full fury of its armed forces on the Empire of Japan.

Japan fought on until 2 September 1945. This story is about what happened in those four months between the surrender of Germany and the surrender of Japan.

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Baron Jesco von Puttkamer

A German aristocrat named Baron Jesco von Puttkamer left Berlin in the spring of 1941 for Japanese-held Shanghai. His mission was to organize a German propaganda office to broadcast the message of Adolf Hitler’s government to the Far East and beyond. Von Puttkamer’s father was a major-general in the WWI. Though a graduate of military schools, he did not follow in his father’s footsteps and instead became a journalist and advertising man. Propaganda is little more than advertising and public relations so he already had the foundation for psychological operations. Von Puttkamer signed up for the Nazi Party on 1 October 1932, and worked part-time for Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg where he and wrote and edited propaganda books. He was fluent in English and at one time handled a General Motors account. Once war began, he joined an economic espionage unit of German military intelligence, then moved to the German foreign ministry’s propaganda section. He toured of the Far East, and in an April 1941 report called Shanghai the ideal location for a covert German propaganda base. Soon afterwards, von Puttkamer was assigned to Shanghai to open a German Information Bureau, which appeared to be a news and information service but was in fact the producer of propaganda broadcasts and leaflets. He established his covert propaganda bureau in the penthouse suite of the Park Hotel and later in a villa next to the German church.

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A German Propaganda Booklet Printed in Shanghai

This 39-page booklet containing 15 chapters, The British and American Air Warfare against Civilians, was printed by the German Information Bureau in Shanghai in 1944. It explains in great detail how the German bombing was tasteful and humanitarian while the Allied bombing was evil and terroristic. Some of the chapters are: “German endeavors to outlaw or restrict air warfare,” “Area bombing replace target bombings,” and “The effect on the civilian population.” In one chapter the booklet quotes the Bishop of Chichester who says:

The indiscriminate bombings of big towns like Berlin or Hamburg is another matter. It has been admitted that the objective of the air raids on Berlin and Hamburg was the complete destruction of these towns. Such indiscriminate bombing can hardly be regarded as a legitimate act of war.

It is hard to feel sympathy for the Germans who had bombed Warsaw and Rotterdam and London, but in their defense, there is a belief among some historians that it was a lost British bomber dumping its bombs over a civilian area that caused Hitler to change his attacks from British airfields to London. Still. One might say that “the chickens have come home to roost.”

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German Booklet “Shanghai Calling”

This 36-page propaganda booklet was printed 31 March 1942 by the German group in Shanghai. The cover mentions the radio station “XGRS” which we assume means “German Radio Station.” Station XGRS began operating in Shanghai in early 1940. The programming at first was anti-British and it contained news of German and Japanese actions. This issue contained stories such as photos of 6 Allied ships sunk during the Battle of the Java Sea, and an article entitled “Roosevelt Man of Peace.” The article is rather sarcastic and depicts Roosevelt as one professing peace while wanting war. A few of the author’s comments are:

American newspapers are likening Roosevelt to George Washington, who was “first in peace, first in war and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” If Americans believe their own propagandists, then undoubtedly they have the shortest memory of any people on Earth…The Lend-Lease Bill had passed the House and Senate…So the supplies were on the way. If the United States could turn itself into the work-shop for democracy, the democracies were now financially able to use what it produced. If U.S. weapons or U.S, food could turn events in Europe or Asia, they could now be legally shipped.

We should mention that although the data seems confusing, it is possible that von Puttkamer took part in a meeting in 1942 where the Germans attempted to convince the Japanese to place all of Shanghai’s Jews in a concentration camp or to simply kill them. This alleged meeting is mentioned in Shanghai Refuge: a Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto by Ernest G. Heppner who called von Puttkamer “The Goebbels of the Far East.” He is also mentioned by Barbara Winter in The Most Dangerous Man in Australia. Allegedly, he was asked to provide propaganda to a pair who would take it to and distribute it in Australia. Von Puttkamer turned the proposal down because he considered the scheme “too fantastic.”

Patricia Luce Chapman mentions Puttkamer in her supplement to Tea on the Great Wall, Earnshaw Books, Hong Kong, 2015, entitled Nazis vs Jews in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai, China. She mentions hearing rumors of a Nazi death camp planned for the Jews of Shanghai. Germany had cancelled their citizenship and the Jews were therefore stateless people. The site chosen for the camp is believed to be Chong Ming Island, just north of Shanghai.

The Japanese would not kill the Jews, but they did agree to place them in a ghetto. After the war the Ohel Moshe Synagogue in Shanghai became the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Chapman says:

In 1986, a group of Jews who had taken refuge in Shanghai revisited their former home in the ghetto. With immense gratitude towards the local people for their help, they presented a plaque to the People's Government of the Hong Kou District, inscribed:

“20,000 Jewish refugees survived in Shanghai during the Second World War. To all the survivors and friendly Chinese people we dedicated this plaque.”

Chapman mentions other Nazis that arrived on the same submarine that brought Puttkamer to Shanghai. She says that Heinrich Himmler sent Colonel Josef Meisinger, the “Butcher of Warsaw” who had been chief of the Gestapo in Warsaw, Poland, to Japan in July 1942. His assignment: to eliminate the Jewish people in China.

The third Nazi official on the submarine was Dr. Robert Neumann who specialized in medical experiments on prisoners at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He was invited by Baron von Puttkamer to lecture on his observations of racial physiognomy in 1943 in Shanghai.

Von Puttkamer was not the only German agent in Shanghai. Another organization aligned with German military intelligence was known as the Bureau Ehrhardt, in honor of its chief, Ludwig Ehrhardt – whose real name was Lothar Eisentrager.

After the Japanese surrender in early 1946, von Puttkamer, Eisentrager and 25 other German intelligence officers, propaganda agents and diplomats were rounded up by the American Military Mission in China. An American military commission convened at the Ward Road Jail in Shanghai to hear the case against them. The Americans decided to prosecute the Germans’ collaboration with the Japanese after the surrender of Germany as a war crime – specifically, contributing to the military efforts of the United States’ enemies after their own country’s unconditional surrender. The charges were:

Between the 8th May and 15th August, 1945, individually and as officials, nationals, citizens, agents or employees of Germany, while residing in China at a time when the United States of America was at war with Japan did, in China, in a theatre of military operations, Knowingly, willfully and unlawfully, violate the unconditional German surrender by engaging in and continuing military activity against the United States and its allies, to wit by furnishing, ordering, authorizing, permitting and failing to stop the furnishing of aid, assistance, information, advice, intelligence, propaganda and material to the Japanese armed forces and agencies, thereby by such acts of treachery assisting Japan in waging war against the United States of America in violation of the laws and customs of war.

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Landsberg Prison

In the end, the commission convicted Eisentrager, von Puttkamer and 19 others, but acquitted six defendants – five because they were deemed legitimate diplomats and a sixth because the prosecution had not shown that his anti-Allied activity did indeed continue past V-E Day. Jesco von Puttkamer was sentenced to 30 years and Lothar Eisentraeger was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentences were served at Landsberg Prison in Bavaria in the U.S. occupation zone in Germany where all war criminals convicted by U.S. tribunals were housed. For this article the charges against von Puttkamer are the most meaningful:

The accused Jesco von Puttkamer was described as "head of the German Information Bureau at Shanghai, the military propaganda agency of the German Embassy to enemy occupied China" He was charged with willfully and unlawfully engaging in military activity against the United States and its allies, to wit psychological warfare by designing and furnishing to the Japanese armed forces for their use propaganda material in the English language consisting of, inter alia, leaflets, posters and photographs designed to influence, adversely to the United States and its allies, the actions of the United States troops and civilian populations.

The accused Puttkamer continued his work on propaganda leaflets after the surrender. Some of the pamphlets he turned out explained to the readers the uselessness and horrors of war and invited them to lay down their arms. They were written in English and obviously intended to reach the United States troops. The writers signed themselves “Organization of American Soldiers serving Overseas.” About 5 or 6 different types of anti-allied propaganda pamphlets were supplied to the Japanese between the material dates of the charge and about 150,000 to 200,000 of each type were printed.

The military commission was very lucky to find a single leaflet to use as evidence against the Germans. During the direct examination phase, Chinese printer T. H. Chow was questioned. He worked for the printing firm of Millington Limited from 1927 until the end of the war, much of that time under Japanese control. He admitted producing German propaganda, and said that the Japanese military propaganda was done by an ABC Press. He stated that the German Information Office sent in a printing order once or twice a month. Even after the German surrender they continued to come. He did not know the word “leaflet” so said that the Germans wanted “Fly shots, like sheets thrown from airplanes.” Chow said that when the printing was done his orders were to send them directly to Japanese military headquarters. When asked about other leaflets allegedly printed Chow stated that “We only pick out this one – only this one left in drawer, see. So the others I can’t find…”

On 5 May 1947, the Army Advisory Group, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, reviewed the Record of Trial. I have edited the text because the names of numerous German and Japanese witnesses and defendants were included in the paragraph. Some of the findings were:

The testimony…leaves no question about the fact that the accused…continued military propaganda operations against the Allies as charged. An ex-employee of the German Information Bureau testified that…continued to work on propaganda leaflets after 1 May and proudly showed samples thereof. Such pamphlets pointed out the uselessness and horrors of war and invited the reader to lay down his arms…

A Chinese employee of a printing company operated by the Japanese during the occupation stated…came to the company to have the propaganda leaflets printed several times in June and July giving instructions for delivery of them to Japanese Army Headquarters. After the surrender this Information Bureau supplied the Japanese with these leaflets to drop from airplanes and some were dropped…

Prosecution Exhibit No. 49 is one of the leaflets received in evidence and identified as submitted by the accused for printing and delivery to the Japanese. It shows a dead soldier in an American uniform lying over a machine gun and suggests that crooks and war profiteers of the American home front were fostering the war and, that the veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States was distributing the 1eaflets.

Weekly propaganda meetings were held with the Japanese after 8 May at which advice was offered to the Japanese…also helped with advice on radio propaganda to be used by the Japanese.

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Two Ways of Spending the War
German Leaflet to Americans on the Western front

The review mentions prosecution Exhibit 49. I have seen the transcript and it describes the leaflet thusly:

This exhibit, received, in evidence shows apparently a dead soldier, apparently in an American uniform, draped over a machine gun with the barrel pointing to the ground. The text on the front is:

Will you be next?

Today, at the front, he died. A young American soldier, a human being, like you and I.

Tomorrow, more will be killed – there will be no end to human suffering in months and years to come.

The text on the back of the leaflet is:

Next time you see a list of dead and wounded, ask yourself;

Why must this slaughter go on and on?

Does this war still make sense?

Must we conquer all these far-away territories?

Who is interested in keeping the war going?

If you think about these questions you will agree that something must be done at once to stop the squandering of human lives.

Servicemen and veterans should make their voices heard in America. United and properly organized, they can become a powerful force in American public life that may bring the present world catastrophe to an end and prevent a new one.

Write to your Congressman, to your local newspaper, to your church and labor union. Tell them how you feel about the war and what you think of the American home front with all the crooks and war profiteers.

Become a member, today, of the
Broadway at 34th St., Kansas City, Mo.

Notice that this leaflet is “black” in that it claims to be an informative message from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The concept of the dead soldier on the ground was often used by the Germans. As early as 1940 they produced leaflets showing dead Frenchmen with the question “Where are the Tommies?” In July 1944 they produced a series of leaflets coded AW33 and AW36 that showed dead soldiers on the ground and text such as “Where are your Yanks?” and “Your allies are assisting you on all fronts.” In December 1944 they printed leaflets showing a dead American soldier and the text “Two ways of spending the war.” An uncoded October 1944 leaflet depicted a dead American staff sergeant and the text “Ain’t it fun to be a soldier” as did leaflet A-128 with the text “Your job to die.” The Shanghai propaganda seems to have followed this common German theme. Propaganda messages that implied soldiers were dying at the front while Jews and war profiteers got rich was also a common German propaganda theme.

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Leaflet A-127

Another common German propaganda theme claimed that soldiers were dying at the front while Jews and war profiteers got rich. For instance, German leaflet SW3 depicts a civilian and a woman on the front with the text, “Sucker, you believed it. They don’t give a damn. They enjoy their war profits. If they asked you again, what would be your choice?” German leaflet A-127 shows a smiling boss looking at a disabled veteran and the text “It’s your job to fight.” Text on the back tells the soldiers that the rich are getting richer and when they get home there will be no money and no jobs for them. It adds, “But those guys who had millions when it started will have more millions when it is over.” I add these leaflets simply to show that what the Germans were producing in Shanghai was very similar to what the German propagandists in Western Europe were dropping on American and British troops. You can clearly see the Nazi connection.

After several unsuccessful legal battles to have their sentences overturned, the Germans were released from jail in 1950 as the United States began to see the Soviets as their enemy and the Shanghai group as propagandists whose crimes were more technical than real. Curiously, Germany still has a strong influence in China. Searching for “German Shanghai” I found:

The German Centre Shanghai is located in the Zhangjiang High-Tech Park in the heart of Pudong. Its office and event space is embedded in beautiful landscaped grounds. In the German Centre Shanghai, a lively slice of Germany has arisen: Here is where the heart of the German community in Shanghai beats; here is where bilateral business contacts originate.

Jesco von Puttkamer immigrated to Canada in 1958. He operated a British Columbia fishing resort with a Native American theme. Despite his wartime Nazi activities he traveled frequently to the U.S. without any problems at the border. He died in Vancouver in 1973.

In 2015, I heard from a Dutchman who had moved to Switzerland and became a close friend of Jesco von Puttkammer junior. He claimed that:

Jesco senior moved his family to Davos, Switzerland shortly after the outbreak of the war. In those days many NAZI party members moved to Switzerland to spy or to put their money in Swiss banks. At wars’ end his family remained stranded in Davos without any income. Mother von Puttkammer worked as a cleaning lady in Swiss homes and was called “Baroness von Putzkammer,” (“Baroness Room Cleaner”). Jesco junior, after completion of his study as an engineer, was invited by Werner von Braun to join his team, and he became a prominent member of the group that successfully ran the Apollo project. I suspect that von Braun in his NAZI days knew Jesco senior, and that this was helpful to Jesco junior.

This concludes our study of the German-Japanese propaganda connection. Readers with comments are encouraged to write to the author at