WWII & Philately

For stamp dealers coming of age in the 1960s the stamp world was replete with Europeans who had escaped from Hitler and Stalin. Most were Jews, though looking back through the less opaque lens of our time, I know several were political escapees and at least one was fortunate enough to get out or he would have worn a pink star before he was exterminated. In 1965, the average philatelic refugee was about fifty, so in the prime of his professional life. And there were scores of them on the American philatelic scene.

The reasons that refugees were over represented in the stamp world are several. First, it was easier for stamp dealers to get out of Europe, than it was for many other “inferiors” whom the Nazis planned to exterminate as they moved across Europe. Many people who knew they were on the list of those whom the Germans would kill simply waited too long to leave and by the time came where they felt they had to go, they no longer could. This procrastination was fed partly by economics. A stockbroker or a business owner didn’t want to leave behind his assets and his livelihood. Stamp dealers had more flexibility and they could put substantial assets in a satchel and be off to a new country in days instead of months. Further, most European professionals knew that their skills were not salable in the English speaking world. A prominent Austrian attorney would have to be a cab driver (if he was lucky) and such a diminution  in status blinded many smart people to the dangers that they were facing. Stamp dealers could be up and running in the same business as they were at home as soon as they found lodging in America. 

But there is one other reason I think that stamp people made it out of totalitarian Europe in greater numbers than others. Philatelist have an appreciation for the world and geography that makes travel and change less daunting. And their collections showed them a view of the world in which political change is constant. Any philatelist in 1938 who looked at the hundreds of different philatelic issues cause

d by WWI could only look at the world and know how amorphous national boundaries are and that total political safety is an illusion.

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