The Theresienstadt Parcel Tax Stamp 10th June 1943 by Dave Cleaver
These are some notes I put together while doing some research into the Bohemia & Moravia Theresienstadt parcel stamp. It is published here for the enjoyment of others, and does not pretend, or purport, in any way to be a definitive accurate work on the subject, and could well contain errors.
On 10 July 1943, the authorities in Bohemia and Moravia had begun issuing a label or stamp for use on packages sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The status of this label was unique in that the stamp was only used for packages sent to inmates at this one camp. There was no similar arrangement for sending parcels to other concentration camps, and it is important to note that the system only covered parcels emanating from within the Protectorate.
Unsurprisingly, the Authorities deliberately made it difficult to buy them. According to some writers, any person wishing to send a parcel was required to go to Gestapo headquarters, in person, to obtain permission to send a parcel. Many people wishing to help inmates were clearly deterred by the prospect of having to do this, and, in effect, identifying themselves to the Gestapo. If the application was successful, a certificate was issued, which then permitted the sender to purchase the stamp, for 1000Kr (somewhere in the region of £5 in today’s money) a very considerable outlay in the 1940s. In theory, the parcel would then be delivered to the Camp. There is also reported to have been a complicated process to be negotiated by any inmate wishing to receive an aid parcel. A submission had to be made to the Jewish Council in Prague, every two months, for permission to receive a parcel. The Council would then consider the request and, if approved, would formally contact the sender with the appropriate instructions. Some sources suggest that these instructions also contained the stamp to be fixed to the parcel, thereby contradicting the statement that senders had to appear in person at Gestapo HQ.
Stories abound of these parcels being deliberately diverted “elsewhere”, but those that did arrive had the wrappers torn off, so that contents could be examined and censored, before being passed to the addressee. Many believe that few of the contents ever found their way to the intended recipients.
By mid-1944 the truth about Theresienstadt was beginning to leak out, and stories were circulating freely. At a time when the tide of the war was beginning turn against the Axis, and in favour of the Allies, this was a huge embarrassment to the Nazi regime. The reality was that Theresienstadt was a transit camp for Jews en route to extermination camps , although the squalor, deprivation, disease and overcrowding was so great that around 33,000 died in Theresienstadt before they could be moved to Auschwitz.
On 23 June 1944, (just a few days after D-Day) the Nazis finally permitted the Red Cross to visit the Theresienstadt camp, in order to dispel what the Germans referred to as “rumours” about the status and purpose of Theresienstadt, and its links to what the Nazis called the Final Solution.
In a sophisticated and comprehensive propaganda effort, fake shops, cafés and other amenities were erected to imply that the Jews lived in relative comfort. The Red Cross visit was highly stage-managed, with delegates closely marshalled along a pre-set route, and forbidden to converse with inmates. Following the visit, Red Cross delegates published highly favourable reports of what they had seen. Internees were described as “guests” who had enjoyed the performance of a children’s opera, Brundibar, written by inmate Hans Krása. The hoax was so successful for the Nazis that they went on to make a propaganda film Theresienstadt. Filming began in mid-August 1944 and lasted for about five weeks. Directed by Kurt Gerron, it was meant to show how well the Jews lived under the “benevolent protection” of the Third Reich. After the filming was completed, most of the cast, and even the filmmaker himself, were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp where they were murdered.
Postal items to and from Teresienstadt are, of course, highly collectable today, with individual items commanding a substantial premium. To many collectors, the idea of building a collection on the basis of such a disreputable and dark episode of human history is deplorable and extremely unpalatable. Nevertheless, there is a strong counter-argument which says that episodes such as this must be documented and remembered, as a warning from history that evil can only thrive “where good people do nothing”.
The original stamps measure 35½ x 24½mm, and depict a panoramic pastoral view featuring fields, trees and mountains in a dark green colour. They were printed in Prague in sheets of 25, and are perforated 10 – similar to stamps, but bearing no tariff denomination. Because many of the parcel wrappings were destroyed, cancelled copies of the stamp are rare. Unused copies seem to abound, but it is well known that large quantities have been produced later. Often these are genuinely described as reprints, reproductions, replicas, fakes or forgeries, but if such words are not used in the descriptions of items for sale, then prospective purchasers should be wary. If it is intended to buy a genuine item, which would probably cost in excess of £300, then it is advisable to only purchase items with a Certificate of a Philatelic Opinion of Authenticity from a well-respected philatelic organisation. Having said that, some philatelic experts are clear that after the war legitimate remainder stocks were found, with many printing proofs and printers’ waste with colour and perforation variations that were nothing more that experimental printings.
Later “reprints” were also printed in dark green, but are also known in brown, black, and other shades of green. They are not generally printed in sheets of 25, and most of them are imperforate.
My collection includes this small sheet of 12 imperforate stamps. It was not identified as a reprint, reproduction, or the like, but for the £12:00 paid, I assumed from the outset that this was not the genuine article. I am therefore unlikely to be disappointed.
Note – the stamps shown at the top of the page are images of genuine stamps but, unfortunately, are not part of my own collection.