Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In time of war

The image is a directory of post offices printed by the Reichspostministerium in Berlin in July 1944.  It contains information on how to properly address mail with the correct postal code.  I'm intrigued that at the height of the Second World War they would do such thing.  Only ten months to go before Hitler’s suicide. The book contains a map of all the postal districts in the Grossdeutch Reich, at a time when some of these districts, in the Baltic states, were already in Soviet hands. [1] 

And here's another puzzle.  Postcodes were introduced in Germany on July 25, 1941. This was a world first. Unless you count the London postal districts (NW1 etc) introduced by Rowland Hill in 1856. 

Though on reflection I suppose you could say that the German postcodes contributed indirectly to the war effort by making postal workers more productive, thereby releasing some of them for war work.

Let’s accept that.  But how would you justify choosing 1944 to bring out a new edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary?  You could, I suppose, argue that it made civil servants more productive when they were writing memos, though the case is far fetched.  The Shorter Oxford consists of two big tomes, hardly a work to be consulted when you're in a hurry.  So it can only be a matter of pure scholarship, and hats off for that. Were German universities doing the same sort of thing in 1944 I wonder? I've browsed through the German dictionaries at University College Cork and on the web, and the best I could come up with is the Duden spelling and style dictionary published in 1941. It's the official spelling rules in the German Reich and Switzerland, published by the Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig.  

Second World War dictionaries. My Shorter Oxford was not actually printed during the war but the Duden was.

I mention the 1944 edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary because it's the one I have on my shelf. It's a 1962 reprint bought second hand in Bristol in 1967.  I took it down recently to see if the word access is listed as a verb, or only as a noun. As I expected it's listed as a noun only. An example from about 1530 is given “At our access to the pope’s presence” (access here meaning entrance).

From this I infer that in 1944 you couldn’t access something, though today you can. 

Nor in 1944 could you highlight the fact that access used only to be a noun, as the word highlight doesn't occur in the main listing, only in the addenda added in 1956.  I have more to say in this subject but first I need to get my ducks in a row.  An expression I've only ever used once before and I vowed never again, but I've broken my vow.

I started with the postal directory issued by the German post office in 1944, and I'll finish with a couple of postage stamps in my collection issued in April 1945, showing that the post office continued doing what it does to the bitter end.  

The stamps shown above were the final issue by the Reichspost, issued on April 21, 1945. They were commemorative stamps, celebrating the assumption of power by the Nazis, the date being the 12th anniversary of that event.  The stamps were placed on sale in Berlin only, for a few days before the fall of the city to the Soviet Army.

The stamp on the left features a Storm Trooper / Military Police Officer (SA).   The stamp on the right features an Elite Storm Trooper (SS).  Here are some other rather fine stamps issued by the Reichspost earlier that year.:

The grey stamp at the left was issued on January 6, 1945 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of municipal l
aw in Oldenburg. Wow! The pink one was issued in February 1945 to commemorate the proclamation of the Volkssturm (People's Militia) in East Prussia to fight the Russians.

But back to those final stamps. They were delivered on April 21 to six Berlin post offices only. Four of the six post offices seem to have been abandoned on or before the day the stamps were issued, the fifth post office closed on April 25, and the last Berlin post office closed on April 28. The city was overrun on May 2.  It seems that none of these post offices were accepting or delivering mail during this period.  Moreover stamp collectors have been unable to find any authenticated franked copies of these final stamps.  Some apparently franked copies do exist, but philatelists believe they were not used for postage, but are manufactured souvenirs, for sale to occupying troops and personnel after the capitulation. [2]

[1] For more on the post office directory with maps, see USM Books
[2] Source for postage stamp information: Stamp Collecting World