News, Views and Holyland Postal History

JDC #4JDC #6Leath #1Leath #13aOver several recent blogs I have discussed various categories of postal history and philately comprising the scope of SIP interest. These are listed on our website home page by clicking on “Our Fields”  and then clicking on the individual field you are interested in, following which a screen highlights the nature of that specific area. Not that the 16 listings aren’t adequate to satisfy a gamut of interests, however, today I plan to discuss yet  another source of investigation- international mail to and from the Holyland and its postal history implications.

Postal communications to and from the Levant open up an intriguing number of fascinating postal history vignettes that broaden the philatelic and historical experience immensely. Here are just two such covers that lend themselves to raising the curtain on great stories:

Figure 1  is a WW II communication  addressed to a Mr. Benno Gross in Haifa, Palestine during the time of the British Mandate, sent through the US Army Postal Service from APO 742, the legal division of the US military government in Germany. The mailing is from the Tracing Office of the American Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and entered the mail stream in New York City. By doing a Google search and then expanding the story through Ancestry. com and several other easily accessible search engines, a marvelous story develops on the history of the AJDC and its 100 year history as a humanitarian organization serving millions of both Jews and non-Jews in 85 countries since WW I and into the present era. Figure 2 gives you a taste of the nature of work by the AJDC in refugee rescue worldwide. To appreciate the full story read my article when it is published in the SIP journal, The Israel Philatelist, in the near future.

Figure 3 is an envelope posted in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1938 to a Presbyterian reverend in New Jersey using an envelope with a return address on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The address turns out to be the exquisite French gothic, Presbyterian Building (Fig. 4), with a remarkable history of sustainability through multiple reincarnations. The story of the recipient of this letter, Reverend Leath adds to the flavor of this postal history study, and will see the light of day in a future issue of The Israel Philatelist.

Both these envelopes came to me without their original letters; yet, the envelopes themselves- the “covers” as postal historians call them- yield amazing stories available to novice and experts alike through the use of the internet. An added benefit is that many of these covers are readily available at nominal cost through philatelic auctions, dealers and shows. The use of internet search engines are either free, or available with affordable subscriptions. Additionally, the original letters are not infrequently still contained within the cover, adding yet another great discovery.

Well then, international mailings- even more to add to our philatelic experience in the Holyland.

Jesse Spector


News, Views and Holyland Postal History

On browsing  the SIP website the “Our Fields” screen lists the 16 categories comprising the scope of our philatelic and postal history interests. I plan to continue my survey of the individual sites for you, having begun this investigation with my last blog a few months ago. The Holocaust, as viewed by the philatelist and postal historian, will be today’s subject.

One need only examine a recent philatelic auction catalog devoted to Judaica to note the extensive array of material being addressed. One major area of collecting and research is obviously concentration camp mailings. Figures 1 and 2 are examples of these form letters mailed from one of the most notorious death camps- often written by inmates who had already been put to death by the time the communications were mailed. I will address this type of philatelic enquiry in a separate blog shortly. The letters, not infrequently written under duress to lend a sense of false civility to the Nazis actual activities, are sensitive, tragic and poignant. Collecting this material, and reading or having someone translate for you the contents will invariably become an addicting philatelic endeavor.

A separate area of Holocaust postal history is that related to letters, official notifications, Red Cross mailings and other war-related communications pertaining to military personnel, civilians and prisoners of war caught in the maws of the global conflict in territory controlled by the Nazis. A great deal of this field is devoted to the Jewish experience, but also captures vividly the similar experience of other “marked” racial, ethnic and national groups, including, among others, Polish non-Jews and Catholic clergy. Survival was always in doubt, and life under threat of punishment, harassment and execution at the whim of a perverse totalitarian state was a maddeningly daily experience. The intriguing material in this subset of Holocaust material runs the gamut of experience bringing a palpable reconstruction of the tragedy to light.

A third group of material considered part of, but not exclusive to, philatelic Holocaust collecting and study is broadly captured by the term “ephemera.” In this case it’s somewhat of a misnomer, taking into account the definition of ephemera as items of collectible memorabilia originally expected to have only short tem usefulness or of no lasting significance. This Holocaust material is breathtaking in scope, of indelible, long-lasting consequence in terms of historical documentation of the “unbelievable,” and an area of interest to postal historians, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and any and all who have an interest in moral philosophy. Postal history and philatelic catalogs will show extensive collections of ephemera available: anti-Semitic literature including posters, manuscripts, pamphlets; government licenses restricting Jewish professionals’ activities; edicts restricting Jewish activities; and paraphernalia including yellow Star of David cloth insignias to be worn on clothing, and paper money printed for use within forced Jewish ghettos and certain concentration camps.

These are by no means all of the areas of Holocaust collecting, study and research available to the interested collector on a readily accessible basis; but, certainly sufficient to attract a goodly number of you I’m sure. This is a most challenging, extremely meaningful and, yes, sad area of avocational interest. I can think of hardly any others, however, of greater personal impact in terms of intimate connection with concepts of morality, humanity and their tragic opposites.

Poland #29  Form letters with contents containing written communications from concentration inmates at Auschwitz Concentration Camp


Jesse Spector


News, Views and Holyland Postal History

Edith Straus #3Edith Straus #4

In my previous blog I addressed the general approach the postal historian takes to researching a cover, including a number of web sites available at either no charge or a nominal fee. I would now like to hone in on a cover to demonstrate how this research is accomplished and the amazing results that ensue.

Our cover is a special delivery letter to a Mrs. Edith Straus in care of what appears to be the word “Chromos” at Aeolian Hall in New York City. The letter is postmarked February 12, 1918 during WW I. The reverse of the cover includes a purple censor marking from the US Dept. of Justice on Ellis Island. The letter content of this communication is not present, thus all we have to go on is the cover information.

On searching Ancestry I located an Edith Straus in the 1920 Federal Census, married to an Isaac Straus and having four young children. Going through immigration records on Ancestry I found Isaac Straus, born in 1882, having arrived on the SS Amsterdam in 1914. Then I located Isaac in the 1917-1918 Directory in the City of New York, with an address matching that on our cover on 42nd St. Aeolian Hall, Wikipedia informs us, is the name of the building at this location where concerts were held on the 3rd floor.

Google then located Isaac Straus in an article on February 23, 1918 in a magazine devoted to the print business, informing that he was president of Alpha Omega Publishing Co., and had been taken into custody by US Naval Intelligence and was under investigation at the alien camp on Ellis Island. He was alleged to have been acquiring tuluol, the chief  ingredient in the production of the explosive TNT for export to Germany. I then easily located his biography in several Jewish-American publications detailing his birth in Germany, marriage to Edith in the first decade of the 20th century,  and arrival in the US in 1914 at which time he entered the newspaper publishing business, establishing the American Jewish Chronicle advocating close ties with the Russian-Jewish community in the US and Germany. At the same time he established the Chromos Chemical Company with two large plants in Brooklyn.

Dr. Straus, for he held a medical degree from Germany, became one of the wealthiest and most prominent members of the German-Jewish community in New York, as would become evident from articles in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and The New York Tribune as well as in papers throughout the US after his incarceration on Ellis Island charged with sedition. The web site, with access to hundreds of newspapers over the past 150 years- vividly detailed his having consumed almost $800,000 of German Government monies during the war years to spread German propaganda in the US and to acquire toluol for Germany; as well as having obtained a military contract to construct gas masks for American soldiers, which he planned to sabotage with a defective chemical that would not protect against inhalation of poisonous gases by allied troops.

Newspaper articles inform that Isaac Straus was kept in detention for the duration of the war at the internment prison of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia after a harrowing transfer from Ellis Island. Crowds at the train station during his transport were bent on lynching him. He was released from detention in early 1919 , remained in the US as evident by the 1920 Federal Census, but then returned with his family to Germany sometime in the first half of the 1920’s, since I located him in the 1924 address book of Directors and Supervisory Board Members in Berlin- access obtained by my upgrade from US to world Ancestry account- where he was reported as dealing with radioactive materials.

Interestingly, while still in the US, The Washington Herald reported that he had been indicted in 1920 by a Washington, D.C. grand jury for nefarious financial transactions and tax evasion, yet there is no evidence of his having been subsequently found guilty of the charges. Finally, going through Ancestry, I found him on passenger lists to the US on steamships from Germany to the US on two occasions in the late 1920s.

I suspect that the advent of the Nazis in the 1930s bode poorly for Isaac Straus based on his religion, despite the service he rendered his native country during WWI. Well then, a cover with a fantastic history indeed. An example of how one can research a cover with the world at your fingertips. Have I wetted your appetite?

News, Views and Holy Land Postal History

In browsing the SIP web site Home Page clicking on the “Our Fields” screen brings you to 16 categories of study that comprise the general scope of our philatelic and postal history interests. There is something for everyone, with interests running the gamut from historic to contemporary, local to worldwide. As a postal historian let me tell you how I approach a cover that has caught my attention in order to research it for an eventual publication.

The fact that the cover, with or without its contents, indicates a certain time period and topic makes it immediately accessible to exploration on the internet. I will arbitrarily choose one of these 16 areas for purposes of today’s discussion and show you how I attack it.

Let us take a World War II era cover as an example. My initial review is to determine the sender and the receiver, the date of mailing, the countries involved and the postage used. I look for censor markings and details that tell me if this is civilian or military mailing. All of this activity takes but a few minutes and immediately tells me if this is something worth pursuing further. If you happen to be a history buff, or have a particular interest and expertise in WW II you will immediately have your antennas up thinking about this particular cover and why it might be worth researching. On the other hand, if the field is relatively new to you, there was likely something specific on that cover that caught your eye. For the moment that should be your target. As you pursue an investigation on one aspect your comfort level increases and you spread your wings further.

To research a cover you have to have at least a few basic search engines, most being free, others of reasonable subscription cost. Most of any researcher’s initial work can be done on Google, Bing, Wikipedia and Only the last mentioned has a subscription charge and can be taken on a monthly or annual basis. With these as starters you can look up details about the time period, the sender and receiver of the cover including census records, biographies, marriage and death certificates, military records, family trees set up by others, and the list is endless. After several successful “hits” on the object of your attraction you will then pursue putting meat on the bones of your initial research material.

The search engines I described above are generic enough that they will allow you to do Holy Land research almost as easily as if you were concentrating on United States material alone. You will not find yourself in a lonely avocation without friends, that is certain.

Like building a library one book at a time you then will gradually add search engines to your research favorites such as The New York Times Archives, Newspaper Archives, Geni, Jew Gen, Find a, Archives, Fold 3, etc. Your laptop will become a veritable unlimited resource at your fingertips. You will then be able to access original newspapers and books-page by page from as far back as a century and a half ago with rapidly acquired skill. Your cover, and what attracted it to you- a Jewish name, an organization, a mailing to or from subsequent WW II belligerents, a Holy Land censored military posting, whatever- can be accessed and ever so quickly come alive. The start of your article will become a reality.

Postal history research involves inquisitiveness, patience and a desire to look at a cover and attempt to let the genie out of the bottle. You will be amazed at how frequently one succeeds. In my next column I’ll dissect a specific WW II cover with you and show you the dramatic results. We will do the same in the future in other areas of the Our Field listings.



When is a Collection Complete

When is a collection complete? It could be as soon as all catalogue number items have been found or when the collector says it is complete. This became an interesting question for me in regard to my New Jersey 1937 1st Flight exhibit. This is a cachet cover collection/exhibit I started when I lived in New Jersey and within the last several years has become my exhibit project.

I have put together a two frame exhibit which I have shown several times and for which I have received consistent Silver awards. I like to think it is a work in progress as I aim to raise it to the Gold level.

One of the comments I make in the judges synopsis and on the title page is that it is a complete presentation of all the cachets and covers prepared for the one day flight around New Jersey. While this was true when the exhibit was prepared it is no longer true.

Enter e-bay. I check the site daily for covers related to the flight. I do see covers related to the flight, but they are covers I already have. I had just about given up hope of finding any new covers when all of a sudden a series of covers have appeared on e-Bay. Of course, I chase after them and for the most part have been successful. What I find amazing is that there is competition for the covers. For a long time I felt I was the only collector of these covers, but I am no longer alone.

However I can still continue my assertion that I have a complete collection – at least as of today.

PS I am always in need of articles. If you have sent an article and I have not published it, send me an e-mail to remind me:

Jewish Astronauts