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The Spy Singer Who Revealed Nazi Secrets to the Allies In Invisible Ink

The power of music in World War 2


What sounds like a part written by Quentin Tarantino that perfectly fits into the script for “Inglorious Basterds” is a true story about an American-born singer and actress who used her stardom to spy in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War 2.

This is the story of Josephine Baker.


Onset

As Adolf Hitler’s forces marched across Europe and into France in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Josephine Baker felt compelled to help the Allied cause against the Nazi invasion.

By Studio Harcourt, Paris — [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112945443

When war broke out in 1939, Baker lived in France and soon began aiding the French Resistance in secret operations against the Nazis.

With invisible ink.

Using her celebrity as cover, Baker smuggled valuable information to Allied forces.

Baker’s fame as an actress, singer, and dancer enabled her to travel across international borders when others could not.


Backstory

As a Black American woman born in segregated St. Louis, she first went to Paris in 1925 seeking artistic freedom. Baker quickly enchanted audiences in France, becoming a high-paid performer in the 1930s.

Her star power granted Baker access to high-profile social events attended by political and military officials.

Behind the scenes, she used these encounters to ingratiate herself with Axis collaborators and gather key intelligence about Nazi operations.


Hidden messages

Baker’s most creative tactics involved hiding secret messages in plain sight within her sheet music and costumes.

A true artist.

She worked closely with the French Resistance network, using lemon juice invisible ink to embed information inside her music.

Dancing on stage with a violin section behind her, Baker secretly passed on encoded communications tucked into her annotated sheet music.

The messages contained valuable details on Axis troop movements, airfields, naval bases, and fortifications throughout Europe.


Touring through the Nazi Reich

While on tour, Baker also hid scraps of paper scrawled with invisible ink messages in her underwear and pinned inside her dresses.

She stashed tiny slips barely bigger than a stamp in her bra with essential information about enemy positions and plans.

Baker knew she would not be thoroughly searched at border checkpoints due to both her fame and the implicit bias of the era.

This allowed her to smuggle critical tactical info across borders right under the noses of Nazi security forces.


Famous underwear

When appearing in neutral Spain in 1941, Baker pieced together over 50 reports from the French Resistance into a single document hidden in her underwear.

She traveled to Portugal and on to Rio de Janeiro, where the message was safely relayed thousands of miles to Allied intelligence services.

While she publicly sang and danced her way through performances, Baker secretly carried vital specs on German tank production, troop counts, and plans to invade Switzerland. A plan that would never be executed.


Until the end of the war

Baker continued these covert efforts until 1944 when she had to flee to North Africa after her espionage activities put her at risk of capture.

In Algeria, she entertained Allied troops until the end of the war.

Her spy work never attracted public attention during the war, remaining classified until decades later.


A French legend

In recognition of her contributions to the Allied cause, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor with rosettes by a grateful France after the war.

She became the first American woman in history to receive this honor from the French.

While Josephine Baker is still remembered as an iconic jazz-age entertainer, her brave exploits as an undercover agent make her a unique hero figure of World War II.

Her willingness to take tremendous personal risks and her unsung tactician work was a key part of the French Resistance and helped change the course of history with the power of music and invisible ink.

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