Monday, September 27, 2021

Cito cito cito

Today we look at a letter and quite often we don't give a thought to how the letter arrived, if we are luck enough for it to arrive. Very often our main mode of communication is WhatsApp or something similar or even an email, although sometimes our mail goes into a spam folder.

But this was not always the case. Are any of you marathon runners? Have you ever given any thought to its origin, and no it is not because of the Olympics; that only started in 1896 at the first Olympics. Well way back before then, there were no computers or smartphones and very often no writing paper or people who could read or write, so what happens if you need to bring news to Athens of an important victory over an invading army of Persians? Well the legend says that in 490BC, an ancient Greek messenger raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers and hence the marathon was born. Personally I don't even feel like driving 40km but I am not a Greek messenger. Apparently after giving the message, the poor exhausted messenger simply collapsed and died.

Legend or not, it shows how important a message is and hence our story of the day. We will fast forward almost 2000 years to the Republic of Venice. The Republic of Venice realized early on that they also need to transfer messages to other cities, in Italy and elsewhere and they allowed for a courier service. Venetians were merchants and traded all over Europe. News regarding prices, goods, merchants and others was very important to get the best deals. The earlier the news arrived, the better the result. This is actually not much different from day, but the Venetian Courier service filled a void!

The service started off as a private service but in the 14th Century, the Great Council decreed that all couriers operating in Venice were subject to the control of their supervisors and also on rates. So the service became an official postal service. I actually have not found any information on the rates but if someone knows, I would be happy to update this post.

So now you employ the service to take a message from Venice to somewhere else, say Verona and you want it to get there quickly, so you pay extra and a notation of "cito" or "haste" is added to your letter. A horse was almost always used in mail but if the mail has the notation of cito, it means the horse must run. I have no idea how long it took the Greek messenger to run 40 km before he died, but Venice to Verona is about 120km, meaning treble the amount and a trot or a run can take ages. So you can pay extra by adding "cito cito cito" would mean fast, fast, fast, in essence no resting and top speed. There is little documentation about this service only in the age of customer service did people realize that you need to document a service so that people can ignore it.

Let's be real, even a horse would not be able to run the 120km at top speed. So if you are in a real hurry, you can can pay for the change of a horse along the way. The drawing of a stirrup on the letter, as on the image on the right, indicates that you are entitled to a change of horse along the way. So you pay for as many changes of horses that you want. An image of three stirrups indicates a change of three other horses along the way.

Now we have couriers carrying important messages throughout Europe and who are the messages of interest to? Your rivals, meaning other merchants. So you need some security, some insurance, right? A hangman's gallows was added to the letter threatening death by hanging to anyone interfering with the mission. I have seen two gallows on a letter, not sure what that would mean, you can't exactly kill someone twice, can you?

The item shown below was sent from the Rectors of Verona (yes, it also worked in the reverse direction) to the Chief of Venice, the Head of the Council of Ten (one of the major governing bodies of the Republic of Venice) in July 1506. The three citos shows maximum speed and the stirrup grants him a horse change alone the way.

For more information see:
  • "Post and Courier Service of Early Modern Italy" ~ Postal History Journal No 055
  • "The Cito Mark Part I" ~ American Philatelist Vol 069 No 06, March 1956
  • "The Cito Mark Part II" ~ American Philatelist Vol 069 No 07, April 1956

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Jerusalem is under siege

Today I have a surprise for you. A very good friend has volunteered to write something for us. So thank you Yoram Lubianiker for joining us.

On November 29th 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution (#181) for the termination of the British mandate. Palestine was to be divided into a Jewish state and an Arab state, with Jerusalem as a Special International Regime. The resolution was accepted by the Jewish side with great enthusiasm.

One of the manifestations of this reaction was a label issued by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), entitled “The Jewish State” which shows the map of the partition plan. The Jerusalem area is marked in red, and is completely surrounded by Arab territory. 

A full sheet of the JNF label

While the Jewish side rejoiced the upcoming Jewish state, the Arabs completely rejected the partition plan, both before and after the UN resolution. In fact, Arab riots began on November 30th, the day after the UN resolution was reached, and those riots gradually escalated into war.

Alexander Lustig
A prominent feature of the Arab war plan was to target Jewish settlements whose supply lines were under Arab control. One example was Gush Etzion – a group of four Jewish settlements which were located a few kilometers south of Jerusalem. On January 16th a platoon of 35 Jewish soldiers who were sent by foot to reinforce Gush Etzion was attacked by superior Arab forces. All the members of the platoon were killed and their bodies were viciously mutilated. Among them was 24 years old Alexander Lustig, a holocaust survivor who worked as a graphic designer for the JNF. As a JNF employee, Lustig was exempt from military service, but he felt the need to take part in the battle for an independent Jewish state and volunteered to serve. Just before he was drafted Lustig completed the design of the JNF label shown above.

Jerusalem was a city with a large Jewish population, located in an Arab dominated vicinity, as the map above shows. From December 1947, Jewish Jerusalem was under a de-facto siege. Transportation to the city from the west (i.e., from the Jewish area) was limited to the only road in existence, and that road was under constant attack. Therefore supplies were brought in by convoys, many of which were unable to break through. Things went from bad to worse as the British mandate came to an end.

On May 2nd, 1948 the Mandate postal services were terminated. Throughout the country, the Jewish population started operating its own mail service, using JNF labels that were converted into postage stamps using the overprint “דאר” (Doar = post), see the post When is a label not a label. These overprints were produced in Tel Aviv and in Haifa, and exist on numerous different JNF labels. Since Jerusalem was under siege, the overprinted stamps could be delivered to Jerusalem. Instead, “The Jewish State” labels were overprinted locally in Jerusalem for intracity postal usage, as well as for a handful of letters that were flown from the city to Tel Aviv.

On May 16th, after the State of Israel was founded, the Israeli post issued its first stamps, a set of stamps  known as “Doar Ivri”. Of course they could not be delivered to Jerusalem due to the siege, so the usage of the overprinted JNF labels of “The Jewish State” continued there for a while.

The letter seen below was sent from besieged Jerusalem to Ra’anana via Tel Aviv. It is franked with JNF “The Jewish State” labels overprinted with the word “דאר” and a face value of 10 mils – the postal rate for letters within the country at the time. There were 3 different overprints, and the one shown here belongs to the second issue.

 At that point in time, there were no regular postal connections between Jerusalem and the rest of the country, and letters submitted to the post offices in Jerusalem were held in the post office until the siege was partially lifted (the so-called first and second convoys of the ceasefire). The sender of this letter either had some postage privileges due to his position or (which is more likely) knew someone who was in a position to help. Therefore, this letter was one of the very few that were taken by the very few airplanes that flew between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The letter thus arrived at Army Post Office “Base A” in Tel Aviv, where it was cancelled on June 9th. It was subsequently forwarded to its destination in Ra’anana, either by courier or by the Israeli post.

Despite toning that developed over the years in different places this is a very rare cover, that commemorates the siege imposed by the Arabs on Jerusalem.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

This war is a Jewsh War

Throughout history Jews have always been the scapegoats for everything. Hitler found it easy to gain support by blaming the Jews. The anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer often wrote, "The Jews Are Our Misfortune." So why not blame the Jews for Hitler's mistakes and failures during WW2?

Remember the cute story of Operation Cornflakes? If not, you can get a reminder here. However this was not the first Allied propaganda attempt. In 1943, parodies of the 6-pfennig Hitler stamps appeared instead a portrait of Heinrich Himmler. Who was Himmler, you ask? In brief he was a leading member of the Nazi Party of Germany a main architect of the Holocaust. I could go on and on about him but maybe another time.

The Gestapo collected the parodies and forwarded them to Himmler. When he saw the stamp, he was personally insulted and wanted to his own back. How to get back at those insolent Brits? Hmmm, good question. Better question, how to also blame the Jews?

So Himmler meets with Hitler who was complaining that their overseas propaganda was a dismal failure. Himmler apparently replied that he remembered a report entitled showing that there were over ten million stamp collectors throughout the world! But here was an opportunity, fight fire with fire or fight parodies with parodies.

The German Propaganda Ministry jumped on the chance to lower British morale. They wanted to sell to the British that they would gain nothing by the war. They selected the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp near Berlin for the project and elected S.S. Major Bernhard Kruger to head the team. Kruger was already running Operation Bernhard out of the camp where a Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon Smolianoff, was already producing counterfeit pounds which were difficult to detect. The aim was to put billions of pounds on the British markets to weaken the UK economy and create inflation.

Kruger already had a team of Jewish prisoners of the concentration camp working on Operation Bernard and set them to work on the new project. They were selected because they had skills in composing, engraving and printing. They were separated from other inmates and were given special privileges. Clean uniforms, decent food, anything to keep morale high otherwise how would they produce good counterfeits? I suppose threats would also have worked.

Their guidelines were that genuine British postage stamps must be used and and the basic design and color must be retained. Jewish and Communist symbols must be also be incorporated into the design. The intent was to imply that Britain was under the influence of both Judaism and the Soviet Union. This was not the first time that the Nazis tries to connect Judaism with Communism.

The first project, my own favorite, was the parody of the 1/2d. Silver Jubilee issue of 1935 where they replaced the profile of King George V with that of Joseph Stalin. Two Star of Davids were added in the top corners. Instead of Silver Jubilee, it read: “This is a Jewsh War” (a missing I). Was this sabotage by the Sachsenhausen inmates? I doubt it as they would have been killed. Bear in mind that the S.S. had quality control over the propaganda parodies and somehow this slipped through. This parody was an attempt to blame the Jews for the war. 

Another cute parody was of the Coronation issue of 1937. Here Queen Elizabeth was removed and replaced with Joseph Stalin. There is a direct connection to the tripartite Teheran Conference with the text “Teheran - 28.11. 1943”.

What else did they do? They made a parody of the King George VI series of 1937. They added a Star of David in place of the Cross on the King's crown, a Hammer and Sickle in place of the pence symbol and other places. Some of these were so subtle that I didn't see them myself until someone pointed the changes out to me. The most visible one, intentionally or not, is the Star of David in the crown.

Strangely there are also overprints on the King George VI parodies. We have World Bolshevism, World Capitalism, World Judaism. There is also a series of overprints are called "Liquidation of Empire'. They added many British held territories such as Singapore, St. Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Bermuda, Hong Kong and others. Apparently all the parodies were produced without gum.
Now the question arises, how to distribute the parodies among the enemy? One idea was to drop them over British cities, just like Operation Cornflakes (which was not yet operational) but the Luftwaffe claimed that their bombers had no space.

Himmler had hoped to impress everyone with his stamps, he actually believed that the sales to philatelists would bring wealth to the Reich. He was unable to sell them because his agents did not want to act as salesmen and get caught. But when they were given the items free, distribution started. They actually sold them to Swiss and Swedish stamp dealers because both countries were presumably neutral.

After the war the stamps, forged currency and others were dumped into Lake Toplitz, in Austria. Who is coming with me to look for some?

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Tuesday, September 7, 2021

An armored car stamp

We recently spoke about the Israeli interim period in which the British had not yet left, but were still playing games with us and one of those games was interefering with the transfer of mail. I wrote two posts about this, one "When a label is not a label" and the other "Whiskey Mail". Here comes another in this fascinating period in our postal history.

The story is about a city called Rishon Lezion. I would not want to live there but I am in the minority because it is among the largest cities in the Israel currently one about a quarter of a million inhabitants. I know that is small by most countries standards but we are a small country, about the size of New Jersey in the USA. For us Rishon as it is known, is so large that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish its border and the neighboring town known as Holon.

But Rishon Lezion was not always so big. In 1882 about 10 pioneers together purchased about four acres of land to establish the city. The city grew, of course, and other cities were established around it, such as Tel Aviv, Holon, and a city called Nahalat Yehuda, north of Rishon, which today is part of Rishon Lezion itself. However in 1948, Rishon Lezion had about 12,000 inhabitants, 5% of its size today. In those days between Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv there were orange groves, sand dunes and two hostile Arab villages, Beit Dajan and Yazor.

Remember the post about Safed and the problems it experienced in 1948? The Whiskey mail post? Not only Safed suffered, there were battles all over the country and of course the British, like today, did nothing to protect the Jewish inhabitants. The Arabs from the villages around Rishon Lezion began attacking Jewish vehicles traveling between Rishon and Tel Aviv. Shots, stones and ambushes were daily occurrences and as you can imagine it was exactly a pleasant time.

Some citizens took an initiative and made home-made armored vehicles. Basically they took a bus and added steel to it, and the buses accompanied the cars that were on the road. Until in one ambush seven people were killed near Yazur and all traffic to Tel Aviv was stopped

Like today, Tel Aviv at that time was the center of business (not our capital), trade, post office, supplies, etc. and people had to get there and back. They had to find a way to get there and they did. They found a way that passed through fields, dirt roads to Holon and from there to Tel Aviv. Instead of 20 minutes to get to Tel Aviv, it just took about two hours. Something I learned from spy movies, is that a route must be changed so that no one could study and ambush them. So the drivers did that, especially taxi drivers, every day they found a different way between the fields, the main thing that the belligerent Arab units would not learn the route.

Contact with Tel Aviv was also problematic. There were no phones to speak of and the official mail services of the Mandate were not regular, only once or twice a week, and people need to be in contact.

Here's a thought. If there are cars making trips back and forth, why can they not take and fetch mail? So the local council convened and decided to set up its own postal services. Of course it was not legal because there was supposedly still the Mandatory Postal Service, so as always happens, they decided to set up a committee to deal with the issue and make sure that the committee had no connection to the local council, wink wink.

The committee convened and decided on the design of a stamp for the service, a stamp showing the armored vehicle that was in service from Rishon LeZion to Tel Aviv. Since this was a local postal service of Rishon LeZion, the service started in only one direction, from Rishon. 

What is amazing here, is that from the moment of approval, stamp design, stamp printing until the moment the first letters came out, only eight days passed. All this in an emergency when surrounded by hostile villages. Which committee would have been successful today where most committees decide not to decide, especially if it is the UN.

The service operated similarly to a courier service. Someone who needed to post a letter would buy stamps at high prices (someone had to finance the service) and bring the stamped letter to a specific restaurant in Rishon Lezion. A courier would collect the letters at eight in the morning and travel to Tel Aviv with an armored taxi. In Tel Aviv, he would take the stamped letters to recipients and return home.

As soon as people saw that the service was successful, neighboring Nahalat Yehuda also joined the service. Of course Tel Aviv merchants also joined in and the same courier would collect the mail from an agreed collection point in Tel Aviv and would return with the mail.

The service operated for about a month and was stopped on May 6th when the postal services of the People's Administration went into operation.

Of course collectors and stamp dealers liked the service and saw potential and they also sent letters as curiosities, but that is life.

Sold in "Tel Aviv Stamps" auction in February 2021

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