The Society of Israel Philatelists is using a Teaneck man’s collection of Munich-related stamps to draw interest to the hobby by distributing a free CD featuring his collection.
The philatelist, who because of security concerns would identify himself only as a professor of the humanities at a local college, began collecting stamps shortly after the 197′ Munich Olympics, when members of the Palestinian terror cell Black September kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes, resulting in their deaths. His collection grew steadily through the years and now includes more than 30 pages of Munich-related stamps. When the movie "Munich" came out last year, he called the Society of Israel Philatelists and suggested using his collection in a promotional campaign. The SIP scanned it, burned it to CD, and the collection is now available to the general public.
"It happened when I was about 14 years old," said the collection’s owner, referring to the Munich massacre. "I was very Zionistic in those days, and it touched me. I wanted to make a tribute to the athletes, so I started buying commemorative philatelic items."
The SIP has about 3,000 members across the United States and focuses on postage stamps used on mail going to and coming from the Holy Land and the Jewish experience, from stamps from the British Mandate of Palestine to stamps featuring charity labels such as the Jewish National Fund, said SIP spokesman Alan Doberman. Stamps commemorating the Holocaust are also popular, Doberman said.
Famed Nazi-hunter Simon Weisenthal was also a philatelist, Doberman said. While in a displaced persons camp after the war, Weisenthal designed different commemorative postcards to raise awareness of and funds for the DP camps. His collection is scheduled to go up for auction in Germany in September.
So far, the SIP has distributed a few hundred copies of the Munich CD, all of them to non-members. After the High Holy Days, the collection will be made available to SIP members, but for now, its purpose is only to bring in new recruits.
"It’s an interesting snapshot of that time period," Doberman said of the Munich stamps, noting that this will be the first of many similar projects aimed at drawing new interest in stamp collecting.
The collection’s owner won an award in Switzerland in 1985 at an exhibit of Olympic-themed stamps as well as awards in Israel, the United States, and Taiwan. Despite this, he said, the collection has greater sentimental than monetary value. He credits his early interest in stamps and postal history for guiding him into the academic profession.
Philatelists say that when different countries issue stamps to commemorate historical events, the stamps help historians get a sense of what a society is like and help retain a piece of history. Mail sent from people in the ghettos is a popular collectible, as are stamps issued by Israel after the Six Day War. Israel issued a stamp commemorating the war, but under the laws of the Universal Postal Union, a worldwide postal system regulatory body, countries are not permitted to issue stamps of aggression or war. Countries of the Eastern Bloc ended up returning all letters from Israel that used the stamp.
The collector cited a stamp not one he owns issued in Cuba in 1978. It featured Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in the United States for conspiracy to commit espionage. The stamp, with an electric chair in the background, was Fidel Castro’s way of honoring the Rosenbergs for their "patriotism." It is the only stamp in the world with the picture of an electric chair.
"It’s one thing to rewrite a history book, but you can’t un-write a stamp or postcard," the Teaneck man said. "If you understand philatelic and postal history, you can get a good understanding of Jewish history."
SIP, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, meets monthly. Its next meeting will take place July 11 at the Cambridge Center of Israel in Riverdale, N.Y. A member who lived in Shanghai during World War II and recently returned for a visit will discuss his experiences of Shanghai then and now. For more information, visit www.israelstamps.com.