On Tuesday 18th February Giles du Boulay presented material on ‘Danzig – The Propaganda War’. Danzig is the German name of what is now the Polish city of Gdansk on the Baltic. The presentation covered the period between the wars, from the Treaty of Versailles through to the first shots of the Second World War. During the Great War Danzig was a major shipbuilding base for the German U-Boats. Under the treaty, Poland had hoped to acquire a corridor to the Baltic with Danzig as its main port, but Lloyd George was against the idea and instead Danzig became a Free City under the League of Nations. However, it was still liable for reparations and the German disarmament and so we saw postcards of German U-boats sectioned for scrap. The German troops were removed and replaced with French and British troops, so we saw some examples of field postmarks.
Stamps were initially German, with overprints being introduced as soon as available and a transition period when both were legitimate –Giles had examples of all three usages. The city had its own postal service, but the Polish authorities were also allowed to set up a service which they did, issuing their own stamps to undercut the letter rate for letters to Poland. The two systems were separate to the extent that mail posted with the wrong stamp would attract postage due.
Danzig was over 90% German and as soon as the Free City status had been created, a propaganda war started between Germany – who wanted re-unification, and Poland, who wanted the city to fall under their full jurisdiction. We saw many examples of propaganda labels, postcards and even letters. With the rise of the Nazi party in Germany the propaganda war intensified and the policies against the Jews in Germany were also implemented in Danzig. Giles had letters from Danzig to Jewish emigrants in Tel Aviv (then in Palestine), to children evacuated under the Kinder transport, and to the Jewish refugee ship, the Astir, which was refused permission to land in Palestine.
Hitler’s rise continued and high ranking Nazis were frequent visitors to Danzig; the popularity of Hitler was shown by a cover sent from Danzig addressed to Hitler at the Reichstag in April 1932 and almost certainly a birthday greeting. Other scarce items included telegrams to Tasker who was the head of the Nazis in Danzig – one sent from Goering, and another from Albert Bormann (Hitler’s adjutant).
The free city status ended on September 1st 1939 when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein fired the first shots of the Second World War, attacking a Polish munitions compound on the Westerplatte peninsular in Danzig Harbour. We finished with a cover from the ‘reunified’ Danzig.
Our next meeting will be Tuesday 3rd March at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre when members will present entries for the Robson Cup Competition. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or contact John Davies on 01295 255831.