When Stamps are More Than a Hobby

About twenty years ago an old customer of ours Walter Schwarz wanted to sell his stamps. Walter was a good friend of mine despite the fact that he was 80 and I was in my early thirties. His story was compelling. Walter was an Austrian Jew living in Vienna when the Anschluss made it obvious that it wasn’t healthy to be Jewish in Austria under Hitler. Famous Jews like Sigmund Freud with international contacts were able to get visas to countries where they could emigrate and save their lives. But Walter was a commercial artist, creative sure, but modest in means, young and without friends in high places. He had the resume of the kind of person who couldn’t get out, who got sent to a concentration camp and died. But Walter had an idea. He went to the Vienna library and got phone books for American cities and wrote to people in the United States who had the same last name as he had begging them to sponsor him and save his life (his name was Schwarz without a “t” so it made for a bit of a hook).

 Sponsorship meant allowing an immigrant to live in your home, promising to help find him a job and supporting him until he got onto his feet. I wish I could tell you that Walter had offers pouring in, but truth be told, only one man, from Baltimore offered to sponsor him. Walter has been a life long stamp collector and had enclosed in the letters he sent to American Schwarz’s some stamps and a few lines about his interest in philately. The Baltimore Schwarz was a stamp collector and Walter always believed that the only reason that man agreed to sponsor him was because they shared a hobby. In 1980, Walter was old and ill and wanted to sell his stamps so that his wife wouldn’t have to worry about them. So what we did was evaluate his stamps and agree on a price, but we didn’t pick them up until after Walter was gone so that he could, up until the last, enjoy the hobby that had saved his life.

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