Monday, August 31, 2009
Barbara Lauwers Podoski, who launched one of the most successful psychological campaigns of World War II, which resulted in the surrender of more than 600 Czechoslovakian soldiers fighting for the Germans, died of cardiovascular disease Aug. 16 at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, D.C. She was 95.
One of the few female operatives in the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor to the CIA, she found creative ways to undermine German morale. The multilingual Barbara Lauwers, as she was then known, primarily interrogated prisoners of war from her base in Rome. An antagonistic Nazi sergeant under her questioning in 1944 mentioned that Czechs and Slovaks were used to doing the Germans' "dirty work" along the Italian front. Lauwers, a private, realized there was an opportunity to flip the loyalties of her former countrymen. She quickly borrowed the Vatican's Czech and Slovak typewriters and prepared leaflets in both Czech and Slovak languages that urged the conscripts to change sides, telling them that they were being used. "Shed this German yoke of shame, cross over to the partisans," she implored them. Within a week, many Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been working for the Germans crossed the Allied lines and surrendered. At least 600 had her leaflet in their pockets.