SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.) 

Note: in Volume 26, 2017, of "Perspectives," the Journal of the Psychological Operations Association, LTC Dennis W. Barrow (Ret.) mentions that soldiers coming to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center for training seldom have any knowledge of the value of the safe conduct pass. He says: "I spend time educating them on this product and provide resources to study. As arguably the most successful PSYOP product ever used, I believe it is a worthy concept to learn and exploit in future conflicts. A good primer for the Safe-Conduct Pass is Herb Friedman's article 'Passierschein'." In October 2023, an author wrote to me, "I am writing a book about the life Vivian Williams. Chapter Four is about Samson Knoll, who was a member of the U.S. Army’s Psychological Warfare Branch during the European campaign of World War II. I describe his work for the PWB, which included composing leaflets in English and in German. If you grant permission to use an image, I will, of course, provide the standard citations and credit the image to you." Some material and leaflet images from this article were depicted in the YouTube film called Playing Mind Games, Tactical PSYOP in WWII by Dr. Joseph Fischer, part of the Ft. Leavenworth Series: "Selected Topics on WWII."

An Early German Passierschein “Safe Conduct Pass” for the Soviets

Notice the interesting opening text of this leaflet: The presenter of this does not wish for a senseless bloodbath in the interests of the Jews and Commissars.

Researcher Nick Smirnov investigated the background of the modern safe conduct pass and found that leaflets with the various language terminology “safe conduct,” “Passierschein,” or “Пропуск” were older than he thought. He had believed that printing leaflets with “Passierschein” was a German idea and used just against Soviet troops and Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia. Researching further, he found that Finnish troops used a similar term on one leaflet during the Winter war (1939-1940).

Continuing to search he found that the first "Safe conduct" form was likely invented by Polish troops during the Russian-Polish war of 1919-1921. The text of the Polish “Przepustka” (Safe Conduct) leaflet is very similar to the German “Passierschein” of 1941. It stated that the Safe conduct was useful for unlimited numbers of Russian soldiers. The Soviet 16th Army stole the Polish idea during that war and produced their own Safe conducts for Polish soldiers.

Salvacondotto – Laissez Passer – Pass

In this article we will show how early safe conduct passes were a hodge-podge of different leaflets, in different languages, offering different rewards to various enemies for the act of surrendering. Some passes were good for one person, some for a company of men. Some told the reader to destroy or hide their weapon, others told them to carry it over their shoulder pointing downward. Some were in multiple languages. This pass was used by Allied forces facing the Italians in North Africa. The pass is in three languages. There is English for the American and British troops, Italian for the Fascist forces, and French for the Free French soldiers who had joined the Allies under De Gaulle, or for those troops of occupied France collaborating with the Germans. There was a need for one safe conduct pass that would work for all the Axis powers.

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By the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, the British, French and Russians had already printed and dropped a host of surrender leaflets on the German Army. The leaflets were of different sizes, colors, texts, and even the surrender instructions were different. There was no overall guidance, and certainly no uniformity. This all changed with the arrival of American troops in the United Kingdom and the strong alliance between the U.S. and British psywarriors. For the first time the two allied nations worked together to prepare a standardized safe conduct leaflet that would be exactly the same wherever used. The final version of the "passierschein" has been called the most effective single leaflet of the war. It was considered so powerful that in 1944 the Allied Supreme Headquarters issued a directive forbidding reproduction of the safe conduct pass on other leaflets. They wanted to protect the authenticity of the document.

How did this leaflet evolve? What were the intermediate steps and what changes were made? This is the story of the most effective leaflet of World War II.

The story of the "passierschein" ("safe conduct pass") for Germany is interesting because of the alleged belief on the part of the Allies that the German officer or soldier would react in a positive way to an official looking document. Therefore, the Americans and British collaborated to produce a fancy official document bearing national seals and signatures that would rival a stock certificate. They produced the leaflets late in the war in various formats with different code numbers.

Paul M.A. Linebarger mentions the theory in Psychological Warfare, Infantry Journal Press, Washington D.C., 1948. He says:

Germans liked things done in an official and formal manner, even in the midst of chaos, catastrophe and defeat. The Allied obliged, and gave the Germans various forms of very official looking ‘surrender passes.’ One is printed in red and has banknote-type engraving which makes it resemble a soap-premium coupon.

Daniel Lerner says in Sykewar, George E. Stewart, NYC, 1949:

This safe conduct pass was generally regarded as the most successful leaflet produced by the Psychological Warfare Branch of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)…everything about the leaflet was designed to appear authoritative: the format handsomely engraved on good paper in a rich color, has been described as "looking like a college diploma.

Carl Berger’s mentions the Passierschein in his report: An Introduction to Wartime Leaflets, written under contract to the U.S. Army in 1959:

First produced and distributed soon after the Normandy invasion, the early Passierschein contained the seal of the United States and the British royal crest; its text, in English and German, directed Allied frontline troops to give good treatment to surrendering Germans. As the campaign continued, a series of improvements was made in the leaflet, based on results of prisoner-of-war interviews. Martin Herz recalled that by the time the Passierschein went into its sixth printing, the following changes had been made: (a) the German text was placed above the English; (b) a note specifically stated that the English text was a translation of the German; (c) General Eisenhower's signature was added; (d) his name was spelled out after it had been learned Germans did not recognize his handwriting; (e) the leaflet color was changed from green to a more conspicuous red; (f) under the word “Safe Conduct,” a note was added stating that the document was valid for “one or several bearers.” Continuous interrogations of the German prisoners had netted these improvements.

In phrasing Safe-Conducts, Allied leaflet writers considered it essential to expound constantly the good treatment theme and Allied adherence to the Geneva Convention. These promises were printed on the back of the pass. Sometimes, however, the leaflets seemed to promise so much (i.e., hospital care, mail privileges, education) that the Germans were skeptical. For example, a German major captured on the Western front in February 1945, declared that in his opinion the Passierschein was the most effective Allied leaflet he had seen. He said of its promises that, if captivity was really that good, it was much better to surrender than to fight on. Nevertheless, he had not become a prisoner voluntarily.

Once the SHAEF Safe Conduct had reached its final form, the Psychological Warfare Division forbade all field units to manufacture "home-made" passes. The theory was that a standard SHAEF pass would achieve the status of an official "document” in the eyes of the Germans, whereas a proliferation of different kinds of Safe Conducts might reduce the effectiveness of all. In addition to the Passierschein, which was useful for surrenders of small. Groups, the Division also experimented with a "Unit Surrender Pass," for use in situations involving the surrender of large enemy units, such as companies, battalions, and other units. This leaflet was a failure.

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Three Versions of the Standard Safe Conduct pass

In general, all of the Passierschein were nearly the same. They all had the same message in German and English on the front:


The German soldier who carries this safe conduct is using it as a sign of his genuine wish to give himself up. He is to be disarmed, to be well looked after, to receive food and medical attention as required and to be removed from the danger zone as soon as possible.

Dwight D. Eisenhower,
Supreme Commander,
Allied Expeditionary Force

Some of the leaflets also have the message in French on the front. All of the leaflets have the great seals of the United States and the United Kingdom on the top front; those with French-language text also have the seal of France. All of the passes bear the facsimile signature of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The messages on the back differ in subject and length but most stressed six points.

1. Immediate removal from the danger zone.
2. Decent treatment as befits soldiers.
3. The same food as American soldiers.
4. Hospital care.
5. Postal privileges.
6. Return home after the war as soon as possible.

Shortly after the end of WWII, the U.S. Army Air Force prepared a classified report titled Special Operations: AFF Aid to European Resistance Movements 1943-1945. It mentions the official safe conduct pass:

Local tactical leaflets, designed to serve a temporary situation, were disseminated largely by artillery and fighter bombers. There were three basic tactical leaflets. Most important was the passierschein, which was introduced in July 1944. Effective from the beginning, this passport to a prisoner-of-war cage Went through three revisions.

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British soldier prepares leaflet balloon launch of German Safe Conduct Passes

Although this leaflet clearly show a member of the British “M Balloon” unit sending off safe conduct passes, British expert Lee Richards told me that the picture itself is propaganda. By 1943 the M unit only sent “black propaganda” into Germany and the picture is probably meant to disguise that fact and imply that they just ballooned harmless white leaflets. In fact, he adds “Looking closely at a higher resolution version of the photo you can see that just the top leaflet is the Safe Conduct, beneath it are the forged Skorpion newspapers.”

The image sometimes appeared on the back of a leaflet. For instance, ZG49 is entitled:

To the Survivors, soldiers and officers of the 7th Army.

This leaflet bears the passierschein on the back identical to leaflet ZG53. 640,000 copies of leaflet ZG49 were dropped on 16 August 1944.

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ZG53 also has the passierschein on the back of a leaflet entitled “Stay Alive!” Two million copies of ZG53 were dropped from 23 to 24 August 1944. The text on the back of ZG53 is: 

Stay Alive!

The 7th Army does not exist any longer. But the individual (soldier) can save his life. The following instructions are meant to help you stay alive. If you want to save your life do the following:

1. Stay back! Whoever proceeds to the Seine will meet thousands of  fighter-bombers.

2. Stay away from the streets! The retreat routes are streets of death.

3. Weapons away! Wait until the allied advance units appear – then:

4. Rally yourselves! The eldest (of you) will be responsible for the discipline.

5. Helmet down – belt also – hands up! Wave a white flag!

We are obliged to treat you fairly and correctly like opponents that fought bravely for as long as they could before they were forced to surrender due to the enemy superiority.

Show the reverse of this leaflet upon surrender!

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Germans in France surrender using leaflets. 26 September 1944.

This placement of the Passierschein on the back of a regular leaflets was quickly prohibited. The book Publicity and Psychological Warfare 1943-1945, by the Twelfth United States Army Group, European Theater of Operations, explains:

In order to have a single safe conduct pass for the entire front, the safe conduct pass was produced only by Psychological Warfare detachment SHAEF. In December, 1944, Psychological Warfare Detachment SHAEF issued directives forbidding reproduction of the safe conduct pass on the reverse of Army Group leaflets in order to protect the authenticity of the document.

Most of the safe conduct passes bear a "ZG" code, though some bear a "WG" code. These codes were used on combined US-British SHAEF leaflets to Germany 1944-1945.

There are six disseminated versions of the leaflet and they were constantly improved through each production run. They were printed by Waterlows of London. Among the leaflets using the general format of the Passierschein are WG21, ZG21, ZG21A, ZG37, ZG61, US/GB-ZG61A-1944, ZG61K, ZG76, US/GB–ZG.90– 1944, and US/GB-ZG.139-1945.

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ZG 21 Front

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ZG21 Back

ZG21 was dropped in July of 1944. The Allies printed 4,253,175 and dropped 3,360,000. This is an early version in brown and light gray-yellow from the Headquarters, 21st Army Group. The text on the back mentions Chapter 2, article II, treaty number 864 of the Geneva Convention in regard to German prisoners of war receiving the same rations as Allied soldiers, payment for camp work, educational lessons and mail. In this early version, the English text is above the German, there are no signatures of any commanding officer, and the authority is the 21st Army Group. As we mentioned earlier, once SHAEF designed a standard leaflet to be used by all forces, the Army Group was prohibited from printing and disseminating such leaflets. An almost identical leaflet was meant to be dropped to Germans in France. It is coded ZG21a. Records show that 253,175 were prepared for delivery to France, but there is no official record of them being distributed.

The text on the back of ZG21 is an explanation of the rights of prisoners of war:

In accordance with Chapter 2, Article II, Treaty Number 846 of the Geneva Conference of July 27, 1929, prisoners-of-war in American or British armies: Their food is prepared in their own manner by cooks taken from their ranks.

In America or Canada, prisoners-of-war receive 80 cents a day for work inside or outside the camp. Half that amount is deposited in a bank for after the war, the other half being paid in tickets which enable prisoners-of-war to purchase cigarettes, candy and soft drinks, etc., at the canteen.

Prisoners-of-war are afforded facilities for the holding of courses of instruction and study, for the performance of sports and games, the holding of concerts, theater performances and lectures. They may read newspapers and listen to the radio.

All communications between the prisoner camps and home goes via the Red Cross and is fast and dependable. After the war, prisoners are returned to their country as soon as possible.

Leaflet JEM-1

This is another strange and unidentified Passierschein. My old Psywar Society Guide to Series Codes is usually infallible at identifying these odd codes. In this case it was Stumped, the only code starting with a "J" is the British "J" for the Channel Islands, and "JU" for Yugoslavia. Of course, we know this leaflet was made by Americans because of the seal at the top. Notice it is not signed so it will probably forever remain a mystery. We know it is early in the war because once the official passierschein was printed all others were forbidden.

The German text on the back begins:


The allied armies are rolling inexorably towards the heart of Germany. They beat the Wehrmacht in every battle. In the 5 precious years of the war Germany has spent its strength and has nothing left to oppose the Allied superiority.

And ends:

You have fulfilled your task in the war, and you have a new task for you and all other Germans: to help in the rebuilding of Germany! If you decide to help, it is for Germany.


The Report of Operations of the 12th Army Group, Vol. 14 says:

Germans usually don't speak English. American soldiers usually do not understand German. In this obvious fact lay a grave barrier to the surrender of the German soldier. How was he to indicate quickly and on the instant, before being shot, that he was giving up? To meet this situation, this headquarters developed a leaflet, which reproduced, in German phonetic spelling, the words, ‘I surrender.’ It came out ‘Ei Sorrender.’ After reading this, the German soldiers could easily say the words that any American soldier would understand. This phonetic phrase was printed over and over again in millions of leaflets and troop newspapers with indisputable effect. The value of the phrase went far beyond its actual employment by a German soldier in surrendering. By planting the phrase in the German soldier's mind, by making it a byword among German troops about which they could talk and joke - and even sneer - the phrase gained currency and stayed in the back of the mind for possible future reference. It did what the leaflets were intended to do, i.e. make the German familiar and at home with the idea of surrender, so that the switchover to action became that much easier...


An Un-coded Safe Conduct Pass signed by General Howard Alexander

This leaflet is similar to the one above but it bears the signature of the Commander of the 15th British Army Group, General Alexander. Once again, the back mentions the Geneva Convention

When Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Allied Commander for the Normandy invasion he suggested that General Alexander become ground forces commander. However, Alexander remained in command of the 15th Army Group in Italy and eventually captured Rome in June 1944. Alexander remained in command of 15th Army Group, as well as its successor, the Allied Armies in Italy, for most of the Italian Campaign, until December 1944, when he relinquished his command to American General Mark Clark and took over as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces Headquarters, responsible for all military operations in the Mediterranean. Alexander was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

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A PWB/AFHQ Safe Conduct Pass for German Troops in the Mediterranean

We should point out that leaflets similar to the above were produced by the Psychological Warfare Branch (PWB) of Allied Forces Headquarters in the Mediterranean (AFHQ). The standard safe conduct pass was used in Northwest Europe by The joint Anglo-American Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). They were generally signed by Eisenhower. The PWB leaflets were not signed by General Eisenhower since he was not Allied Commander in the Mediterranean Theatre. Notice that this leaflet is signed by General H. R. Alexander, Commander in Chief, Allied Armies in Italy. We should mention that Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander was later promoted to Field Marshal and titled 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis.

Notice also that the seals at the top of the leaflet are different that the usual U.S. and British national emblems. It has been suggested that they are the WWII emblems of the U.S. and British Armies.

We mention Mark Clark above as being considered to command the 15th Army Group. He had previously commanded the U.S. 5th Army. In December 1944, Lieutenant General Mark Clark became the new Group Commander and above is a safe conduct pass he signed. What is strange about this leaflet is that it is addressed to non-commissioned officers, in other words enlisted leaders that we call Sergeants in the United States. This is rare since Officers have more power and responsibility and it is usually, they that propagandists target to have them bring over entire units. A sergeant might have control of a squad or a patrol, so generally they can influence far fewer people. This safe conduct pass bears no code number but we know that Clarke led the 15th Army Group that was composed of the U.S. Fifth Army and British Eighth Army, and also had units from other allied countries and regions; such as Corps from Free France and Poland, one Division from Brazil, and multiple separate Italian and Greek brigades, besides supporting and being supported by the local Italian partisans. The Group operated in the Italian Campaign between 1943 and 1945.

The front of the leaflet is in English. The back is in German and says:



This pass is valid for every German Sergeant along with those teams who report to him and want to surrender. He and his men must come up to the allied lines armed in the usual manner at the time of handover, without a helmet or hat and with their hands raised. The sergeant will wave this pass over his head. He and his men are entitled to food and drink, and, if necessary, medical treatment. You will be removed from the danger zone as soon as possible.


MARK CLARK, Commanding General, XV Army Group

German soldier! These passes are used by group or platoon leaders. The moment may come when it will be used to save your life and the life of your comrades! Or if you prefer, keep the pass yourself for the time being and give it to the sergeant when the moment is right.

Another Mark Clark Safe Conduct pass
This one a bit more complex with the text in English, German, Italian, and Polish

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ZG 37

ZG37 was dropped from August to September 1944. The Allies printed 18,500,000, dropped 16,956,000. This is a later version of the passierschein in both an eye-catching bright red or bright green color. However, it lacks the Eisenhower name or signature. The text on the back is the same as ZG21 and mentions Chapter 2; article II, with treaty number 846 corrected. The text is:

In accordance with Chapter 2, Article 11, Treaty Number 846 of the Geneva Convention of July 27, 1929, captured soldiers* in American or British hands receive the same food as soldiers of the American or British Armies. Their food is prepared in their own manner, from cooks taken from their ranks.

In America or Canada, prisoners of war receive 80 cents a day for work inside or outside the camp. Half that amount is deposited with a bank for after the war, the other half being paid in tickets which enable prisoners of war to purchase cigarettes, candy and soft drinks, etc., at the canteen.

Prisoners of war are afforded facilities for the holding of courses of instruction and study, for the performances of sports and games, the holding of concerts, theatre performances and lectures. They may read newspapers and listen to the radio.

Mail connection between prisoner camps and home goes via the Red Cross and is reliable and comparatively fast. After the war, prisoners are returned to their country as soon as possible.

* According to The Hague Convention (IV, 1907) the following are considered as soldiers: All armed persons wearing uniforms or a badge which can be clearly distinguished from a distance.

Note that at the top front of the leaflet we see the same English language message: “The German soldier…” However, the German language message below now starts with an additional line: “To the British and American outposts:” The rest of the German text is the same as the American text.

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ZG61 was dropped from September 1944 to March 1945. The Allies printed 67,345,800, dropped 65,750,000. This leaflet bears the name and signature of General Eisenhower. It was printed in both red and green. The text on back is entitled "Basic Principles of International Law regarding Prisoner of War." The text is:


(According to the Hague Convention, 1907, and the Geneva Convention, 1929)

1.  From the moment of surrender, German soldiers are regarded as P.O.W.s and come under the protection of the Geneva Convention. Accordingly, their military honor is fully respected.

2.  P.O.W.s must be taken to assembly points as soon as possible, which are far enough from the danger zone to safeguard their personal security.

3.  P.O.W.s receive the same rations, qualitatively and quantitatively, as members of the Allied armies, and, if sick or wounded, are treated in the same hospitals as Allied troops.

4.  Decorations and valuables are to be left with the P.O.W.s. Money may be taken only be officers of the assembly points and receipts must be given.

5.  Sleeping quarters, accommodation, bunks and other installations in P.O.W. camps must be equal to those of Allied garrison troops.

6.  According to the Geneva Convention, P.O.W.s must not become subject of reprisals nor be exposed to public curiosity. After the end of the war they must be sent home as soon as possible.

Soldiers in the meaning of the Hague Convention (IV, 1907) are: All armed persons, who wear uniforms or any insignias which can be recognized from a distance.


To prevent misunderstanding when surrendering, the following procedure is advisable: Lay down arms, take off helmet and belt, raise your hands and wave a handkerchief or this leaflet.

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The Smaller Artillery Version – ZG61A.

This miniature leaflet was fired inside an American artillery shell and you can see the stippling down the right side caused by the explosion that releases the leaflets into the sky.

Captain Mike Mathams told me that he had 30 copies of ZG61A in pristine condition that he recovered from a base ejecting leaflet artillery shell when he worked as an Ammunition Technical Officer in a British Ammunition Depot in Germany in 1962. He wanted me to know that the leaflets were also delivered by artillery shell. The shell also contained 30 copies of ZG119, a leaflet entitled “To stop the fight means…” that was also airdropped from 19 March to 19 April 1945. He said:

The leaflets were found in 1962 among stock ammunition (both current then, and much left over from WWII) held in 3 Base Ammunition Depot, Bracht, Germany (very close to the Dutch border). The depot has long since closed but was then the largest British Ammo Depot in Germany. I was a Captain in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and it was my first appointment as an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) after completing 15 months training in UK.

I can't remember why that particular round of ammo was selected for examination; possibly because it had different markings to others in the same batch. Anyway after we found the leaflets we opened up others in the hope of finding more but that was the only one. We shared the leaflets we found between the technicians in the ammunition workshop, and that's how I came to have mine, which have been in a box in the roof for 49 years!

Curiously, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force says in the formerly restricted booklet Leaflet Operations in the Western European Theatre that this most successful of all Allied leaflets was actually based on an idea first found in Russian combat leaflets. Since we were allies during the war the U.S. Army apparently was willing to give the Russians some credit. I am sure after the war was over nobody would credit the Russians with any successful ideas.

The booklet goes on to say about the Safe Conduct Pass:

Designed as a document complete with the crests of Great Britain and the United States, the S.H.A.E.F. insignia and the signature of the Supreme Commander, this leaflet embodied the relevant provisions of the Geneva Convention and instructed the Allied outposts to take the bearer prisoner and treat him decently. So successful was this leaflet all through the campaign that it was mixed in the proportion of 10 percent, and later, fifteen percent, with all other combat leaflets dropped. In situations especially favorable from a tactical point of view, bombs filled with nothing but “Safe Conducts” were dropped on German troops.

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ZG.76 was dropped from November 1944 to February 1945. The Allies printed 10,000,000 leaflets, but dropped just 8,740,000. This leaflet has "Safe conduct" overprinted in French diagonally on the back over the text and an added message in French at bottom. This leaflet could be used by German troops facing the French First Army. The text on back is entitled:


According to the Hague Convention, 1907, and the Geneva Convention, 1929.

What makes this leaflet a little different from the average leaflet written all in German is that at the bottom this leaflet there is a short message in French which implies that the Allies thought that the Germans might be surrendering to French forces. The French-language text is:

This German soldier carries this safe conduct pass as a sign of a sincere desire to surrender. We must disarm and the deal with him appropriately. He must receive the food and medical attention he needs and should be moved from the danger zone as quickly as possible.

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ZG87 was dropped from 23 December 1944 to 29 April 1945. The Allies printed 10,000,000 copies of this leaflet and dropped 7,050,000. Two million were dropped on one air raid over Paris alone. This leaflet is different than most of the Passierschein because it is in three languages on the front. The propaganda text is found in German, French and English. All three messages are signed by Eisenhower. The French is certainly why the letter “F” was added to the code. The back of the pass is entitled: 

Basic Principles of International Law Regarding Prisoners of War

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US/GB-ZG 90-1945

ZG90 was dropped from December 1944 to April 1945. The Allies printed 34,988,000, and dropped 30,968,800. This leaflet has a small added comment under the word "Passierschein" on front which says, "Valid for one or several bearers." It was meant to convey to the German soldier that multiple users could come across the lines on one passierschein. The text on back is entitled "Basic Principles of International Law Regarding Prisoners of War."

I hate having to continually add these warning to my articles, but in 2010 a New York dealer began offering reproductions of this leaflet on EBay. As always, I must advise readers to only purchase leaflets from veterans who personally brought them back, or trustworthy dealers that can provide a legitimate pedigree for the item. The dealer in question here says:

The reprint is a faithful full size full color two-sided reproduction of both the front and the back on high quality paper. It very, very closely resembles the original in every way.

Robert Visser, an eighteen-year-old Dutch student who had been arrested by the Germans in November 1944 saw the ZG-90 passierschein in action. He says in part:

On 2 March 1945 there was intensive shelling of Oberaussem, located between Aachen and Cologne. The Germans and Americans were shooting at each other with howitzers. There were four German soldiers in the shelter that were uncertain about what to do. I talked to them and suggested that if they intended to fight they should leave the shelter and not expose the civilians to harm. I also told them that I could speak English and could assist them in surrendering. After some back-and-forth talk they informed me that they would not fight and intended to surrender. They had copies of the ZG-90 “safe conduct” leaflets that had been dropped by the millions from Allied planes. These safe conduct passes were addressed to German soldiers and told them that they would be treated humanely if they surrendered.

About 4:30 p.m. we heard machine guns just outside the shelter. Then the door to the shelter splintered and the area near the door was sprayed by machine gun fire.

On some other Allied propaganda leaflets it was stated that those who wanted to surrender needed to shout as loud as possible “Ei Sorrender.” I took that message to heart and started yelling as loud as I could “I surrender! We surrender!” The German soldiers shouted “Wir Ergeben Uns.” After a short time, which seemed like an eternity, we heard the words, “Come here.” I told the German soldiers to raise their arms and marched them outside. The three American soldiers burst out laughing when they saw my disheveled personage bringing out four frightened prisoners of war. The GI’s shook my hand, patted me on the back and started playing Santa Claus. They gave me chewing gum, cigarettes, grapefruit juice and a can of corned beef. The two soldiers and sergeant were from the 395th Regimental Combat Team attached to the Third Armored Division.

ZG139 was not disseminated, although the Allied printed 8,000,000 copies. The text on back is entitled:

Basic Principles of international Law Regarding Prisoners of War.

There is also a US/GB ZG.90A-1944 and US/GB ZG.90K-1944. They are basically identical to US/GB ZG.90-1945, except that the A variety is 11x18 centimeters. I have seen the K version on crinkled paper which indicates that it was delivered by artillery shell.

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WG21 was dropped from November 1944 to January 1945. The Allies printed 10,456,000 leaflets and dropped them all. This leaflet has a diagonal overprint in German over propaganda text:

Also valid for the Volkssturm

The Volkssturm was the territorial army formed to defend the home front in WW II.

The text on back is entitled:

Basic Principles of international Law regarding Prisoners of War.

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An Uncoded Canadian Passierschein

There is a strange variety of the official Passierschein safe conduct pass that was used by the Canadian 1st Army against the German troops who were defending the Breskens pocket during the battle of the Scheldt in northern Belgium and the southwestern Netherlands in September 1944. The front of the leaflet is pretty much the standard front except it does not bear the bright red color. The back is a long text which says:


After weeks of fierce fighting, the battle for Breskens is over. The overwhelming power of the 1st Canadian Army has squeezed the sealed-off 64th Infantry Division to its final stand. Behind them is an even greater enemy - the sea. On Walcheren and Beveland, the great dikes have been torn open by Allied fighters. Many garrison bases are already flooded and isolated, and the water is still rising. Further east, The Allies hold the only connection with the mainland.



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The Allies did not only think in terms of individual soldiers. They also produced a larger leaflet of the same general type with all the seals and signatures, but this one to be used by an entire unit to surrender. On the left side of the document is printed: HAND IMMEDIATELY TO THE COMPANY COMMANDER. On the right side: SUBSTITUTE FOR A SURRENDER DOCUMENT. The text of the main message is:



The unit pass is to be used for the surrender of larger units – Companies, Battalions and larger units. This unit pass takes the place of a document of surrender signed by the Company Commander (Battalion Commander, Commander of Battle Group, etc.) or by his duly authorized representative. The unit pass must be brought in by the Company Commander (Battalion Commander, Commander of Battle Group, etc.) or by his duly authorized representative. The bearer of this Unit Surrender Pass undertakes to surrender his unit without resistance. On the other hand, the unit will be immediately removed from the battle zone in its entirety. The unit is guaranteed the same treatment as commonly accorded to Prisoners of War, strictly in accordance with the Geneva Convention, (as detailed on the back of this document). In the portion appearing below, the Allied outposts are instructed to give the bear of this unit pass all cooperation in facilitating his task.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Supreme Commander
Allied Expeditionary Force.

The unit pass was coded ZG102. The allies printed 6,250,000 of them and dropped 4,250,000 of them from January to April 1945.

The September 1945 issue of ARMY TALKS, an Information and Education Division news magazine for Allied troops mentions the unit safe conduct pass:

The most popular – that is, the most effective – direct surrender appeal leaflet was the safe conduct. This was dropped at the rate of more than 10,000,000 a month….Many German soldiers called it an “admission ticket.” Others referred to it as a “free pass for life.” The fact that after very early drops, it carried the signature “Dwight D. Eisenhower” in facsimile, unquestionably gave it higher prestige and conviction. It was good for “one or more.” Later, a unit surrender pass helped to pull them in. To please literal minded Krauts it was twice the size of the single surrender ticket. Sound psychology in dealing with Teutons.

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A German Parody of the Allied Passierschein

Were these passierschein effective? Lerner says that they were the most effective leaflets of the war. One way to tell if you are hurting the enemy is that he is forced to retaliate. The Germans did so in the case of the surrender pass. They produced a parody that was almost identical to the Allied leaflet. The general appearance and color of the parody is the same as the red SHAEF leaflet. However, on the leaflet depicted above the back has been faded, probably by laying on a street or grassy field in the sunlight. Sunlight will fade the color of paper, especially a low-grade paper used in a propaganda leaflet. Text on the front is in German and English and has been changed to:


The German soldier who carries this safe conduct is using it as a sign of his genuine wish to go into captivity for the next ten years, to betray his fatherland, to return home a broken old man and very probably never see his parents, wife and children again. (Signed) Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force.

Please turn over

There is a longer text message on the back in German and English. The initial German-language text at the top of the page is:

German Comrades!

Mister Eisenhower considered it to be efficient to send our soldier’s safe conduct passes for desertion. They look like this sheet of paper.

The Scorpion reprinted it with coat-of-arms, signature and everything else, just altered the text of the obverse a bit and wrote the following on the reverse:

The English and German language text in the center of the leaflet is:


We are returning your age old dodge, after having made the necessary rectifications, with sincerest thanks. It was highly amusing, and we must commend you on your efforts.

But please refrain from molesting us further in this direction.

It should be obvious to you that the ideals for which 90 million Germans have fought (according to Churchill) "like lions" for over five years cannot be so very rotten that we could be lured into surrender through mere ham and eggs.

Rather a cheap inducement on your part, indeed.

Hoping that we can rely on your sagacity to comprehend, we remain as of old, with

Heil Hitler!

Hard times, what?

The final German-language text at bottom is:

This “copied” safe conduct was then shelled over to the enemy. It´s his turn what to do with it.

But you, comrades, we ask you:

Had you answered in exactly the same way?

Did the Scorpion “sting back” well?

Anything missing?

Or is it complete?

Note that the American finder of this leaflet, a soldier from Pennsylvania, and a member of the US Army’s 84th Infantry Division “the Railsplitters,” added a note at the bottom before mailing it home. He says:

Don’t know if this one’ll pass the censor – I believe so.

During the war, all mail being sent home from the front would be opened and checked to make sure that no military secrets were accidently given away. The soldier wonders if some American censor will find the leaflet to be Nazi propaganda and confiscate it. Luckily for him, the censor clearly realized that this was just a harmless war souvenir and let it pass.

Note: The Germans mention “The Scorpion” in the above leaflet. They had a propaganda organization called Skorpion that produced leaflets under the general direction of Himmler. Early in the war the German Army produced many leaflets, but after the attempt on Hitler’s life, the job was giver to Himmler. Many Skorpion leaflets were marked with a black scorpion. The leaflet points out that the propagandists have fought back against the Allied propaganda and ask the German soldier if he also has fought back.

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A Genuine German Safe Conduct Pass

During the war the Germans did produce a number of safe conduct passes for Allied troops. They are in different forms, colors and languages. I selected this particular specimen because of the color red and the way it almost imitates the standard Allied passierschein. These safe conduct passes were aimed at American soldiers in Western Europe and dropped starting December 1944. We do not know exactly which unit printed them, but each bears a number (the highest I have seen is 13) and what appears to be a Maltese Cross. The back of the leaflet depicts a humorous image. For instance, number 3 has two American GIs looking at a dark-skinned female and the text “No, ma’m, we don’t want no bananas…We want Lifesavers.” A roll of the candy ‘Life Savers” is at the bottom right. Leaflet number 7 shows a hand holding a bird and says “You are lucky…You got the bird in your hand…Hold on to it!” The leaflet above is number 13 and the back shows a salesman with balloons in the form of life savers and the text “Buddy, here is an idea! Get it?”

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Beware collectors! - Fake Safe Conduct Pass and German Reply

Due to the growing interest in WWII propaganda leaflets, some forgeries of the American WWII Passierschein and the German rebuttal have recently appeared on the market. They are fairly good copies with one major mistake. The colors are reversed. Instead of being on red paper with a white border, the copies were printed on white paper with a red border. It is hard to understand such a blatant error, unless the forgers wished to be able to say that they were not attempting to fool anyone or partaking in a counterfeiting scheme, since the colors were obviously wrong and the leaflets were obvious fakes.

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A more accurate Forgery

In 2011, better counterfeits of the Passierschein appeared. The one above is coded 61K and has the right color combination and there is a good reason. I noticed on the back that the German collector Klaus Kirchner had stamped it, meaning that the genuine leaflet was in his stock at one time. Someone bought the leaflet, copied it front and back with the “KK” stamp still on the back and offered it on EBay as a reprint at $14.99.

There is a discussion of the effectiveness of the U.S. Psychological Warfare Leaflets in an article entitled "The Voices of Freedom," in Army Talk's, Vol. IV, No. 18, dated 16 September 1945:

Within a very few months after the landings In Normandy, American and British PW Interrogators were able to gather plenty of evidence to show that SHAEF appeals, by voice and leaflet, were getting results. In October 1944, it was officially reported that 77% of prisoners taken by the Allies had read one or more of the leaflets…About 80% of the prisoners taken on the Brest peninsula had leaflets in their Possession. On one occasion, three Germans surrendering had only one leaflet for the trio. They gave themselves up, each with one hand held high and the other clutching a corner of the precious document…Another German gave himself up with the statement that he had "a document bearing General Eisenhower's personal signature." In one day 44 men of the 256th Volksgrenadier division deserted to a Third Army unit and nearly all carried the Safe Conduct surrender pass.

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