WWII ALLIED PROPAGANDA
BANKNOTES

SGM HERBERT A. FRIEDMAN (Ret.)  

CONTINUED

China

The history of Chinese propaganda currency is so rich that I wrote about it on two occasions. The first was "Secret Symbols on WWII Occupation notes of China for Coins, June 1973. The second article was "Propaganda Currency of China," International Banknote Society Journal, Volume 23, No. 3, 1984. Readers who want to study the propaganda of China in more depth should obtain these original reference works. For the purposes of this article I will just state that the Chinese printers who prepared the banknotes for the puppet banks under Japanese authority allegedly placed a number of propaganda symbols on the various banknotes that they designed. These may or may not be actual propaganda. Chinese patriots say that they are, others doubt the claims.

In some cases they added letters to the scrollwork on the banknotes. For instance, on the Central Reserve Bank of China 50 cents note of 1940 they dispersed the English letters "C G W R S." The letters allegedly represent "Central Government Will Return Soon." The Central Reserve Bank was chartered 19 December 1940 under the authority of Wang Ching-Wei, chief of the pro-Japanese collaborationist government.

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The Central Reserve Bank of China 50 Cents banknote

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The hidden G.R,C,W & S

The English letters "CGWRS" are dispersed within the scrollwork above and below the word "Reserve" on the back. In the upper scrollwork four letters are in a line from left to right in the following order: "G," "R," "C," and "W." The "S" is at upper center in the lower scrollwork. The front of the note contains five hidden Chinese characters that have a similar meaning, located on the Sun Yat Sen mausoleum and in the trees surrounding the mausoleum. The true meaning of the letters has been questioned, but "Central Government Will Return Soon" was a popular and well known propaganda slogan, so there is some reason to believe that these symbols were hidden on the banknote for propaganda purposes. This banknote underwent three printings, with color changes, without the propaganda being detected by the Japanese. The 50 cent banknotes are found in red-brown, orange, and purple.

The same message is hidden in Chinese characters on the back of the 50 cents note. Chinese banknote collector Yuyuan Gu told me in 2012 that he had also found secret Chinese characters hidden on the back of the Central Reserve Bank Chinese 50 cents banknote. He says they can be arranged as “Central Government Will Return Soon.” I thought this was new information, but when I mentioned this to my friend and advanced collector Frank Prosser, he told me that I had written about these very characters in Coins, June 1973. Frank knows my research better than I do.

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Central Reserve Bank of China 200 yuan note of 1944 (red-brown)

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Hidden U, S, A & C   

The Central Reserve Bank of China 200 yuan note of 1944 bears the hidden letters "USAC" on the front and back. Those letters allegedly stand for "United States Army Coming." The characters "U" and "S" are hidden on the back; the "A" and "C" on the front.The "U" is just left of the "2" in the diagonal "200" at the lower left; the "S" about 3 mm below the base of the "2" in the large "200" centered at right. The "A" is in the margin scrollwork beneath the chop at the lower right; the "C" is between the first two large Chinese characters in the three-character group centered at left.

According to Clarence M. Fink writing in the Numismatic Scrapbook of November, 1953, The engraver of the 200 yuan note was Chang Chi Wei. He placed the letters in the note as a symbol of Chinese resistance to the Japanese occupiers. Fink says that the Japanese discovered the meaning of the letters and executed the engraver.

We can probably make a case that the Ward D. Smith and Brian Matravers book Chinese Banknotes, Shirjieh Publishers, Menlo Park, CA, 1970, is the “Bible” of Chinese numismatics. They say in regard to these secret letters:

…Major Japanese puppet banks experienced difficulties with patriotic engravers who inserted propaganda messages or the like on the plates…[The 50 cent notes] carry a concealed message in Chinese…The work was done, at least by his account, by the same engraver responsible for the better known [200 yuan] note. The latter, in which the letters  “U S A C” and the date , 1945, are to be found in the background, is the only known example of the type which seems to have upset the Japanese to some degree. The message, interpreted by all to mean “U.S. Army Coming 1945,” was correct as it turned out. The guilty engraver spent the remaining year of the war hiding in Hong Kong.

Those who doubt the story of the patriotic marks point out that the Chinese often placed secret marks on their stamps and banknotes as an anti-forgery device. Bruce W. Smith of the East Asia Journal told me in 1985 that they used western letters rather than Chinese characters because a Chinese counterfeiter would be less likely to recognize the letters. The most commonly seen letters on Chinese stamps are "C," "S," and "T," although others have been used.

So, although there is no doubt that the hidden letters really appear on the banknote, their meaning is in doubt. They might be patriotic symbols, or they might be anti-counterfeiting devices. The reader must decide.

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China 10 yuan

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Close up of turtle image

It wasn’t only letters that the printers hid. They also used symbols that represented "inside jokes." For instance, the Central Reserve Bank of China 10 yuan note of 1940 depicts 10 turtles hidden in the border. The turtle is held in low regard by the Chinese and Japanese because it lays eggs and then leaves them. The children are like fatherless bastards. A subtle insult by the Chinese.

Smith and Matraver add:

The turtle, of course, is an animal held in low regard by both the Chinese and the Japanese. Its appearance on these notes undoubtedly amused the substantial majority of Chinese who opposed the Nanking government, but if the Japanese military authorities were not amused, they did nothing to halt the continued issue for an extended period.

Bruce W. Smith adds:

In regard to the meaning of the turtles I was told by one Chinese specialist that "turtle’s egg" is a swear word in North China. It is equivalent to "Bloody bastard."

Harry W. Atkinson says in More on Insults in Money, IBNS Journal, Volume 24, No. 2:

"Egg of a turtle" is an insult. I would warn anyone against calling the chef in his favorite Chinese restaurant, "Wang Ba Doon," especially if the chef has a knife in his hand. "Egg of a turtle" is such a crude and insulting remark to a Chinese steeped in ancestor lore that decent Chinese hesitate to even say or write the characters fore this term.

U.S. Army Major Monta L. Osborne served in China from May 1945 to after the end of the war and in September 1945 was appointed China Theater Psychological Warfare Officer. He mentions hearing the following argument after a collision between a rickshaw driver and a horse-cart driver:

The horse cart driver lost his temper, and started using terms which could be recognized as "cuss words" in any language. He called the rickshaw driver, in Chinese of course, “the son of a turtle.” There is no more blasphemous term in the Chinese language. It is much worse than anything we have in blasphemy.

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China 100 yuan "wolves" banknote

The Central Reserve Bank of China 100 yuan note of 1942 allegedly has the muzzles of wolves in the border. The back to back wolves are claimed to represent Japanese rapacity and greed. Perhaps not such a subtle comment.

Harry W. Atkinson says about the wolves:

Comments about the wolf are contained in the classic edition of Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, by C.A.S. Williams. About the wolf he wrote, "Regarded as the emblem of cupidity and rapaciousness, being compared to an official who exacts money unfairly from the people in the shape of unauthorized taxation."

Bruce W. Smith adds:

There might be something to the wolf story. The Chinese did indeed compare the Japanese to wolves. In fact, there is a Chinese communist stamp that depicts the Japanese as a wolf.

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The Central Reserve Bank of China 100,000 yuan banknote

Although I have never see this story in print, Chinese banknote collector Yuyuan Gu wrote to me in 2012 to say that there was another patriotic mark on the very last 1945 Central Reserve Bank of China 100,000 yuan banknote.

This banknote has two Chinese characters called shou on the front left and right that when printed vertically represents longevity. However, when the symbol is placed in a horizontal position (on its side) the shou character represents "die" or "deceased." To me it just looks like a design on the note, but I do not read Chinese. He has circled the symbols in question. He concludes:

Since this is the last issued note before the Japanese surrender, the term "deceased" really predicted the end of the Japanese occupation and Empire.

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The Vulgar Wiseman

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Close up of finger gesture

Sometimes the Chinese were less subtle. Three Federal Reserve Bank of China notes depict Confucius allegedly making an obscene finger gesture while striking a typical pose with folded hands. This vignette was later revised, so there may be some truth to the story. The note is actually known as "The Vulgar Wiseman" by collectors.

Smith and Matravers say about this vignette:

The “worthy” who appears on the note is making an obscene gesture…This has been widely interpreted as a patriotic gesture of the part of the Chinese engraver to show distaste for the Japanese occupiers of Northeast China. The theory is probably correct but it does not explain the puzzling failure of the Japanese to get the message.

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Pueblo Crew Prisoners show the finger in North Korea

We should add that true students of PSYOP will remember when something similar occurred about 30 years later. In 1968 North Korea captured the United States Navy vessel Pueblo. The crew was put on display as part of North Korea’s propaganda campaign to show the guilt and sorrow of the "criminals." Three of the crewmen in the front row showed their resistance to being used in anti-American propaganda by making a symbolic (half-victory sign) gesture with their finger.

The Soviet Union

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Soviet parody of German 50 Reichspfennig

The Soviets parodied the German 50 Reichspfennig Reichskreditkassen note of 1939-1945. The Reich’s Credit Treasury Notes were legal tender alongside the local currency in numerous occupied countries and territories during WWII. They were first used in Poland in 1939. They were later used all across Europe, including the USSR. The front is a reproduction of the genuine note in green The back is a safe conduct message:

Pass across the front. German soldiers! Go through the front with this safe conduct pass. German soldiers! All of you who come over to the Red Army are guaranteed life, good treatment, and a homecoming at the end of the war. High Command of the Red Army.

 Partisan Propaganda Notes

Some propaganda banknotes were produced by wartime partisan movements. Many of these notes were produced by the use of a pen, scissors, rubber stamp or small printing press and thus could easily be reproduced today by an informed amateur. Due to the ease with which these dubious items can be reproduced, I would advise readers to be careful when purchasing any of this material. Treat all notes with suspicion unless they come from an old collection or from a trusted dealer who will vouch for their pedigree.

 

 Partisan Propaganda Notes – China

There were a great number of banknotes stamped with anti-Japanese slogans. The Chinese partisans took the puppet bank currency and stamped remarks on it like "Do not trade with the Japanese devils," "The Japanese are bastards," "Down with the Japanese military clique," and "Resist Japan, build the nation." There are dozens of such notes with rubber-stamped and printed slogans. We depict four such notes below. 

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Bank of Communications 1 yuan note of 1935

The Bank of Communications 1 yuan note of 1935 with partisan slogan, “Resist Japan, rebuild the nation.”

 

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Kwangtung Provincial Bank 2 chiao (20 cents)

Kwangtung Provincial Bank 2 chiao (20 cents) note of 1935 with partisan slogan, "Down with the Japanese military clique." The slogan appears in various shades and fonts, some appear rubber-stamped, others appear printed.

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Central Bank of China 10 yuan

Central bank on front red horizontal OP Central Bank of China 10 yuan of 1936 with central slogan "Public interest convertible bond," and partisan slogan at the four corners of the frame, "Resist the enemy, build the nation." The overprints are found in various combinations of red and blue and known on at least three Chinese banknotes.

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Central Bank 50 Customs gold unit of 1930 with partisan slogan

Central Bank 50 Customs gold unit of 1930 with partisan slogan "Resist the Japanese, Rebuild the nation." This slogan is found in red and blue, in various shades and in various dimensions on at least three different Chinese banknotes.

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OSS Overprint “The reason why the Japanese…”
Photocopy obtained at the National Archives
Chinese propaganda text across center of banknote 

Before we leave this discussion of overprints on Chinese currency we should mention that the American Office of Strategic Services printed a number of propaganda overprints on the back of Japanese puppet-bank currency in China. For instance, the following seven overprints are found on the back of the 1940 issue ten-Yuan Central Reserve Bank of China notes (World Catalog of Paper Money J-12):

The value of reserve notes is guaranteed even after the Japanese “locust” army has surrendered.

Those who really love their motherland will never let reserve notes circulate in our market.

He, who expects poverty and bankruptcy, accepts puppet money.

If reserve notes are accepted as money, ghost money and toilet paper could also be used as paper money.

The war has entered its last stage and it is already obvious which party is going to win. Better get rid of reserve notes you have in your possession for good and materials and ship them to safer FREE CHINA.

The reason why the Japanese issue these reserve notes is to steal our legal tender and valuable goods.

With ten sheets of reserve notes as such can we purchase a piece of ghost money or two sheets of toilet paper?

[Note: “Ghost money,” sometimes called “Joss Paper” or “Hell notes” is money-like paper that is burned in Chinese deity or ancestor worship ceremonies or traditional Chinese funerals. It has no value and is for the use of spirits in the afterlife. The OSS is telling the Chinese that the Japanese puppet money is as valueless as the paper they burn to appease the Gods and spirits.]

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Reference text for propaganda statements on
the Japanese occupation currency

Before the OSS could print the propaganda statements on the Japanese occupation currency a Chinese interpreter had to write it out. Here is the reference text for the message:

He, who expects poverty and bankruptcy, accepts puppet money.

Partisan Propaganda Notes – France

Some propaganda banknotes were produced by wartime partisan movements. Many of these notes were produced by the use of a pen, scissors, rubber stamp or small printing press and thus could easily be reproduced today by an informed amateur. Due to the ease with which these dubious items can be reproduced, I would advise readers to be careful when purchasing any of this material. Treat all notes with suspicion unless they come from an old collection or from a trusted dealer who will vouch for their pedigree.

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Parody of French 20 franc note

The first banknote in this series is the Bank of France 20 francs note of 1942. In Coins and Medals, December 1968, we find a photograph of the face and back of such a note and the text:

Hitler and Petain mocked. D. C. Graddon has shown us this interesting French banknote. Cutting up postage stamps and affixing parts of them to occupation banknotes was one way in which the French showed their objections to the Germans during the Second World War. Although it seems a childish action, anyone captured with such a note in his possession faced the death penalty. The face depicts France strangling Hitler. The back shows “Mother France” nursing her baby “Petain.”

The note was cleverly defaced by cutting the Hitler portrait from the German stamps of 1941-43 and either pasting or inserting Hitler's head above and below the rope being pulled by the Breton fisherman. The appearance was symbolic of France strangling Germany. On the back of this same 20 francs note there is a vignette of two French women in traditional dress. One holds a smiling child. Patriots are known to have taken the head of Marshall Petain from the French stamps of 1941-42 and placed it on the body of the infant. It is unclear just how this was construed as an anti-Fascist symbol. However, the purpose was certainly to send a warning message to the French leader and pro-Nazi collaborator, Marshall Petain.

In all, there are three known formats of the French propaganda banknote. They are found with the Hitler stamp alone, the Petain stamp alone, or both stamps on one banknote.

Is there any proof that these notes were circulated in wartime France? In Time, 4 September 1944 there is a letter from Private First Class Leslie Lieber:

Take a good look at the enclosed French 20 franc note. It is one of the cleverest methods of subtle non-collaboration I can imagine. The French people who gave it to me said that millions of these were circulating around while the Germans were here ... The effect is produced by inserting a German postage-stamp portrait of Hitler behind the French fisherman's rope.

Years later, a second note was illustrated by Neil Shafer in an article entitled “Bills by the Roll,” in The Whitman Numismatic Journal, May 1968. Shafer told of purchasing a roll of 15 banknotes taped together and used as a “short snorter” during WWII. This was an informal membership card and souvenir that was carried to show where the owner had been and who he had met. As the owner traveled to more countries and was assigned to different units, he added more banknotes. His notes has dozens of signatures, one dated "January 28, 1945. Shafer states that when he inspected the roll at a later date he was amazed to find the infamous head of Hitler skillfully attached to the lower left corner of a French banknote:

The head is cut from a German postage stamp and at first glance it appears that ‘Der Fuehrer’ is being strangled by the fisherman's rope - exactly the desired effect.

The Hitler-stamp variety is known in two formats. First of all, they have been seen with the stamp cut into separate pieces and then pasted above and below the rope. A second specimen in my collection has the stamp inserted in two slits in the banknote, exactly as described by Lieber and Shafer. This note was purchased from a former British soldier who wrote “It was given to me in Dieppe in 1944.” Apparently both methods were used, depending on the creativity and artistic ability of the preparers. Anyone with a sharp pair of scissors could produce such a note today. Beware!

Partisan Notes – Norway

A mysterious propaganda banknote is alleged to have been disseminated in occupied Norway. During the last war, the British regularly dropped propaganda newspaper, magazines and leaflets over occupied Europe. They printed a miniature magazine called De Wervelwind (The Whirlwind) in the United Kingdom and disseminated it throughout Holland from May 29, 1942 until the end of the war. In issue No. 11, dropped from June 21 to July 13, 1943, a Norwegian 1 Kron Norges Bank note of 1940 is depicted. The note shows a monogrammed "H" and "7" topped by a crown, overprinted at the upper left and right. These symbolize the rule of King Haakon 7th. At the bottom on the note we find the words “Kongerike! Norge!” (Kingdom of Norway). There is a long article entitled “Totale Mobilisatie in Noorwegen” (Total Mobilization In Norway). Some of the text in regard to the pictured banknote states:

Norwegian patriots printed a crown with an “H” and a “7” on 1 Krone banknotes. These circulated notes become a proud message for all Norwegians that Norway still belongs to the King and the people. H7: a challenge symbol used by the patriots bearing witness of the loyalty to their King in exile. Kongeriket Norge: The Kingdom of Norway. Not a German province easily exploited by the German.

I wrote to numerous Norwegian numismatic specialists and ex-intelligence agents and none have ever seen this note. It is my opinion that the entire story was made up by a British propaganda agency. I believe that they first manufactured, then illustrated the mythical anti-Nazi currency in an attempt to encourage the Dutch to keep faith and continue to defy the Nazis, just as the Norwegians were doing. I do not believe that the banknotes were ever disseminated.

By coincidence, there were small banknotes used by Norwegian prisoners of war in the POW camps. These notes did have the "H" & "7" symbol and crown mentioned by the British, but there was no patriotic slogan. Did the British get the idea for the propaganda story from seeing these notes?

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The Back of the 1944 50 Kroner War Note

There were also banknotes issued by the Norwegian Government in exile in London, to be used by allied forces during the liberation of Norway. Some notes were circulated in 1945, but most were never issued and destroyed. There were two issues, one dated 1942 and the other dated 1944. In both cases the back of these notes depict the “H7” and the crown.

There are other privately-made propaganda overprints known. For instance, an old sales catalog from a Norwegian numismatic dealer depicts a 1940 10 kroner note with a picture of Vidkun Quisling glued to the reverse and handwriting along the edge which reads “Death to all quislings! Down with the traitor!”

Coins were also used as a silent form of resistance. The Norwegian specialist Anders A. Kvernberg adds:

Shortly after the occupation, most Norwegian coins were shipped off to Germany to be melted into army hardware. They depicted the royal monogram, “H7” for King Haakon VII. Some patriots kept them and made small pin-backs which they secretly wore on their clothing inside of the lapel.

Once the coins were gone, paper issues were made of the lower denominations, 1 and 2 kroner. The new 1 krone note was called a “quisling,” which incidentally rhymes with the word “usling,” meaning a person of low standards. The 2 kroner note was called an usling. The hidden message was that a quisling was worth half that of an usling.

Partisan Notes – Italy

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Defaced Italian 5 lire Regno d’Italia note

There is one banknote believed to have been prepared by a partisan movement within Italy. There is absolutely no documentation on this item and it could have been prepared by anyone. It is a defacement of the Italian 5 lire Regno d’Italia note of 1940. The front of the genuine currency shows a bust of King Victor Emanuel at the left. In the propaganda parody, an unknown artist has drawn dark hair failing over the king’s right eye. He has also inked in a brush mustache under the nose. The general effect is to change the image to that of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. In addition, the following words have been written in ink at the right of the portrait: “Vinceremo! Videcemo?!” The first word is Italian and means “We will win!” The second word is Serbo-Croat and means “We shall see.”

The defacement is apparently the production of a Slav-speaking Italian from that area around the pre-war Italo-Jugoslav border.  The partisans (whoever they were) hoped to attack the German leader and perhaps smear the Italian King as being just a shadow ruler dominated by Hitler. The effect of the note is quite striking and the propaganda surely struck home.

Partisan Notes – Poland

The Warsaw Uprising began on 1 August 1944 as a revolt by Polish partisans against the occupying German forces. Russian troops were just a few miles away on the Vistula River, and the Poles believed that their uprising would be aided by the fighting between the Red army and the German forces. In reality, the Russians halted their attack and waited as the Germans wiped out the Polish partisans. After 63 days of fighting, the surviving Poles were forced to surrender. Once there was no longer an effective Polish patriotic movement, the Russians moved in and filled the void with their own people.

Under the German occupation of Poland, the German-controlled Bank Emisyjny W Polsce issued two series of banknotes. The first group appeared on 1 March 1940; the second group on 1 August 1941. These notes remained valid well into 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising, Polish partisans overprinted these notes with emblems and slogans. Whether the intention was to create propaganda or to pay partisans fighting against the German occupying forces is unclear, but some of the pieces served as quite effective propaganda. At least nine different overprints were used during the Uprising.

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Overprint Nazi swastika hanging from a gallows

One overprint depicts a Nazi swastika hanging from a gallows with the text "Deutschland Liegt an Allen Fronten." This is a parody of "Deutschland Siegt an Allen Fronten," a slogan used on German postal cancellations. The Nazis bragged that "Germany wins on all fronts" and often accompanied this phrase with a "V for victory" sign. The Polish parody can be translated as "Germany lies (sleeps, breaks down) on all fronts." In Yiddish, the term translates to "Germany lies (false statements) on all fronts." Either way, this was an effective attack on Germany and the gallows a warning of retribution to come.

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Polish Banknote - Braterstwo Broni Anglii Ameryki Polski Niech Zyje

A second patriotic overprint on a Polish banknote is, "Braterstwo Broni Anglii Ameryki Polski Niech Zyje" ("Long live the Brotherhood in arms of England, America, and Poland"). It is worth noting that the Poles left out the Soviet Union. The overprint also bears a crowned Polish eagle atop a large "V" for "victory" and the letters "P W" which represents "Polska Walczy" ("Fighting Poland") or "Wojsko Polskie" ("Polish Army"). This symbol was used by the Poles throughout the years of German occupation. It reappeared again in the 1980s as a symbol of the Polish Solidarity movement.

Another overprint is:

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10 Zloty overprinted note.

A third overprint depicts the Polish national eagle and the text, A. K. "Regula" Pierwszy zold powstanczy Sierpien 1944 R (Home Army "Regula" / The first soldier’s pay / August 1944). The letters "A. K." represent Armia Krajowa (Land Army). Regula [literally "rule"] was the name of a battalion of the A.K.

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100 Zloty overprinted note

A fourth overprint depicts the Polish national eagle and the text, Okreg Warszawski Dowodstow Zgrup IV (Warsaw district group IV Headquarters).

Partisan Notes – Yugoslavia

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Yugoslavian Partisan Notes

The Partisans in the mountains of Yugoslavia also produced banknotes with strong anti-Fascist statements. Colin Narbeth mentioned these in an article entitled "More Propaganda Banknotes" in Coins and Medals, August 1967:

More direct propaganda was used by the partisans in Slovenia. These hardy individuals issued their own paper money under the title "Liberty Front of the Slovenian People" with circular inscriptions which left the Nazis in no doubt as to their sentiments: one says Svobodo Narodu ("Liberty to the people") and the other Smrt Fasizmu ("Death to Fascism"). Some of these notes were lithographed by secret presses in the woods.

This is a just a brief look at some of the Allied propaganda banknotes of WWII. I could have added many more banknotes and leaflets but this is enough to give the reader an idea of what was being done on the front lines and in the occupied territories. Readers who care to comment or have additional information are encouraged to write the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.

End: 23 February 2004