From August 13, 1971, the post offices of the Federal Republic of Germany increasingly received letters from the GDR, which one could call a letter bomb. They manage without explosives, but at least contain highly explosive material for propaganda purposes. The coats of arms of the National People’s Army and industrial combat groups are stamped …
From August 13, 1971, the post offices of the Federal Republic of Germany increasingly received letters from the GDR, which one could call a letter bomb. They manage without explosives, but at least contain highly explosive material for propaganda purposes. The coat of arms of the National People’s Army and industrial fighting groups can be considered an embossing and a stamp. In addition the slogan: “10 years of anti-fascist protection wall – 10 years of secure protection of peace and socialism”.
These are the so-called first day letters from the GDR post office celebrating the 10th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall – the first day letters are letters that were canceled on the first day of validity of the stamp used above. Even though the two German states came a little closer in 1971, this is clearly too much for the West. Initially, officials of the Federal Post Office wrote by hand on the envelopes: “Excluded from transport due to the political note”. The corresponding stamps are used later. Then the letters return to the GDR. The Bundespost is doing this for the first time. Until then, such provocations were ignored in order not to disrupt German internal correspondence. But the homage to the construction of the wall is the famous drop too many.
By this time, the GDR and the Federal Republic had acquired sufficient experience in propagandist taunts against each other. Propaganda by mail between the two German states is an important area of philatelic research. If mail from another country is rejected, blackened, or supplied with counter-propaganda due to political messages on stamps and cancellations, stamp collectors speak of a postal war.
Jan Heijs from Amsterdam is 66 years old and has been collecting stamps since he was young. He is considered the expert on postal wars around the world. In 1980, he read an article on political propaganda in an international correspondence. “He said there had always been such propaganda, but it was not known if a shipment would ever have been returned to the country of origin because of it. I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. Heijs said over the phone. In 1980, NATO equipped itself with Pershing II nuclear missiles, the Warsaw Pact from SS-20. The cold war threatens to become hot. But East and West just let their propaganda mail cross the border of the system?
The Dutchman Heijs does not let go of the subject. He researched and finally found a collector from northern Germany who had already published a catalog in 1970 with letters returned, blackened or provided with counter-propaganda. The postal wars between the GDR and the Federal Republic occupy the largest area. And the first German-German postwar period began even before the founding of the GDR and the Federal Republic.
When the Western Allies implemented currency reform in West Berlin on June 24, 1948, the Soviet occupation zone reacted immediately. West Berlin Post to East Berlin will only be delivered if there are stamps issued in the East. If not, it will be returned, and later recipients in East Berlin will be asked to pay an additional fee. Soon after, the same is done in West Berlin and an additional fee is charged for all items arriving from the East. “It lasts almost a year and a half until the four victorious powers and the German-German authorities come to an understanding and recognize each other”, explains Jan Heijs.
But even after that there are still German-German Postal Wars, they turn into a costly propaganda battle for both sides. The GDR shows itself here as the much more active and also the most productive part. Jan Heijs: “In order to consolidate the power of the SED state, additional propaganda stamps were used which contained political messages and slogans. These were stamps that had nothing to do with the normal cancellations for stamps. It wasn’t just official stamps. Additional stamps for propaganda, universities, public enterprises and even individuals printed their letters with. “
More than 3,500 of these stamps were used by post in the GDR until the 1980s. With slogans like “Vote National Front” or “Germans à table”. Initially, these propaganda stamps are addressed only to citizens of the GDR. But inevitably, many of them also find their way to West Berlin and the Federal Republic. In West Berlin in particular, it is seen as a provocation. Jan Heijs: “While people often ignore it in the Federal Republic of Germany, things are different in West Berlin. Due to the situation on the island and the demand for integration into the Soviet occupation zone or the GDR, which was often made in the first post-war years, there was a substantial reaction here more sensitive. “
Most letters with propaganda stamps are returned by the West Berlin Post Office. The stamps are even darker. Or they are provided with a counter-stamp. Under the GDR stamp “Young people unite in the struggle for peace”, the West Berlin Post stamps: “But not under the Communist dictatorship”. Some of the West Berlin counter stamps are almost funny. The propaganda stamp “Learn from the Soviet people, learn from the great Stalin how to build socialism” is a harsh reaction and stamps in red: “… and what came out of it”. The letters then go to their recipients when printed in such vivid colors.
In the Federal Republic there are no additional propaganda stamps, but the East also returns letters to the Federal Republic or blackens them. When the Bundespost published the ‘German Buildings of the Twelve Centuries’ stamp series in 1964, people reacted with outrage, and not just in the GDR. Five of the buildings shown, including the Dresden Zwinger, are in the GDR. Two in Poland and one in the Soviet Union, in areas that were German until the end of the war. It is not known whether this series of stamps was a deliberate provocation. But at least we could have predicted their effect. “Many letters with these stamps were returned from the Soviet Union, Poland and the GDR because they were considered revenge propaganda,” says Jan Heijs.
Most of the postwar years take place during the Cold War period. But they are by no means the only ones. When the troops of the Confederation of North Germany and their allies in South Germany occupied Alsace-Lorraine in 1870, “occupation postage stamps” were issued there. However, France considers this illegal and charges letters with this stamp that enter the country with postage. It is the first post-war period in history.
Expert Jan Heijs has so far counted 300 postal wars in the world, with around 70 countries involved, including the United States against Mexico (1914), Czechoslovakia against the German Empire (1934), Algeria against France (1989). In 2014, the Russian Post issued a postage stamp with Crimean motifs. Shortly before, the present Ukrainian peninsula was occupied by Russia in violation of international law. Letters with this stamp sent to Ukraine from Russia are back. By return of post in the true sense of the term. He’s the youngest in post-war history – and most likely not the last.
More information on the post-war theme is available on Jan Heijs website.