World War II Postal Services

On a recent trip to London I rekindled an old passion for stamps and stamp-collecting, that ultimate nerd hobby whose very name, “philately,” is a sure-fire ticket to the deformation of any young boy’s social life. At the newish British Library, there’s a fantastic stamp collection located in the prestigious area of the, er, well, it’s actually in the cafe. You can browse it while inhaling the remnants of other peoples’ lunches.

Of particular note were the World War II collections, including stamps from Nazi occupied countries, the “Judenpost” of the ghettos, and the various underground Polish postal systems. The Polish government-in-exile created stamps in London for circulation in occupied Poland depicting various liberating aircraft and tanks. (Polish political prisoners also sent letters from Auschwitz, according to this illustrated article.)

The Poles also had an underground post operating under the noses of the Germans, complete with time-date stamps, an entirely alternate system. The punishment for discovery was death, so that there is something immensely civilized about the use of official stamps and seals on the underground letters. The Model Collection displays various Allied stamps in the Occupied Zones of Germany set up by Yalta. Stamps with Hitler’s image on them had to be recycled, and each of the occupiers had different systems for attempting to oblierate the image using various ink blots and geometrical patterns.