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Psyching out the enemy

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in Leaders & Managers

It is often said that leaders see opportunities in rotten situations.

That was certainly true for Barbara Lauwers, who led one of the most successful psychological operations of World War II.

The Czech-American’s job was interrogating prisoners of war. In 1944, a Nazi sergeant she was questioning sneered that Czechs and Slovaks were used to doing the Germans’ dirty work.

Lauwers realized she could flip the loyalties of her former countrymen. On Czech and Slovak typewriters, she wrote leaflets urging them to throw off “this German yoke of shame” and switch sides.

Within a week, Czech and Slovak soldiers streamed over to the Allies. At least 600 carried her leaflet.

The Nazi who tipped off Lauwers made another mistake. He wouldn’t stop mocking President Roosevelt, so she punched him in the nose.

—Adapted from “Operative’s Missives Weakened Enemy Soldiers’ Morale,” Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post.

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