Holocaust Postal History: Harrowing Journeys Revealed through the Letters and Cards of the Victims. Justin Gordon. Six Point Watermark, 2016, Hardcover, 170 pages.
Reviewed by Brian Johnston.
To maintain a free society, the free flow of information and the ability to communicate with fellow citizens is critical. Many of us have heard stories about Adolf Hitler’s brutality toward his citizens and his ruthless military campaigns after he rose to power in Germany after World War I and leading up to World War II. However, the limitations on communication that were in place under his rule are a big reason why he became so powerful.
Justin Gordon provides some insight into this aspect of Holocaust history with his book, Holocaust Postal Journey. The book tells the story of the Holocaust through stamps, postcards, and other mail from this era. Gordon does a good job of providing basic background information about the Holocaust while describing the various ways the Nazis monitored and censored mail during this time. He illustrates how the Nazis placed rules on what could go through the mail, enforcing them through the use of censor markings, censor tape, offices that examined mail, and even chemicals that tested paper for hidden messages. The author provides many examples, with vivid color images. He frequently shows how Jews were particularly targeted, though he doesn’t spend much time describing how other groups Hitler targeted were affected by the regulations.
Particularly touching are the stories of the people who wrote and sent these postcards and mailings. One of the author’s strengths is that he personalizes the stories of Holocaust victims and helps the reader to understand the brutal conditions these victims faced. Prisoners generally weren’t allowed to say negative things about the Nazi regime, and the government was careful to hide their brutality from the outside world. But Gordon provides extensive background information about the prisoners that helps us to understand what was really happening. Another important theme throughout the book is how the mail was used to provide relief to the persecuted Jews, including helping prisoners find loved ones and victims receive food and other goods. In short, Gordon successfully shows how censorship of mail both contributed to Hitler’s goals and made it difficult for his victims to get help. But while there are many heart-wrenching stories, there are a few positive ones as well.
At the end of the book, there is a glossary of terms, with color photo examples, along with images and descriptions of many of the stamps that were in use during this era. These last sections help tie the book together and serve as a useful reference resource for those who need a refresher on the various terms used throughout the book. Readers can read the book from cover to cover, but it’s also the kind of book that readers can spend a lot of time studying and bouncing around between the different sections.
Overall, the book was easy to read, visually appealing, and filled with many interesting facts and stories. Given all of the information about the postal aspect of Holocaust history and the frequent use of philatelic terminology, the book is most likely to appeal to stamp and postal history enthusiasts. However, anyone interested in World War II history, novices and experts alike, are likely to find plenty of rewards in this book as well. I imagine that it would generate some thoughtful conversation between both stamp collectors and history buffs. Gordon obviously has a deep passion for this topic, and I’d recommend that anyone who shares his passion read this book.