Lithuania

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The random generator has dealt me some serious blows recently. Russia is so vast that I was put off. I threw the dice again and came up with Germany!

So I decided to tackle an interesting country, which lies between the two. Before the First World War, Lithuania (while it did have a long history of statehood and Empire) was the possession of Imperial Russia and Germany. Germany controlled the coast. Russia controlled all the Baltic coast, from Lithuania north. The Lithuanian population lived in the countryside. In the towns were Poles, Jews, and Russians. This is the original “Fiddler on the Roof" country. In 1915, German forces swept up the Baltic until the Russians stopped them on the outskirts of Riga. For the rest of the war, German troops occupied and were fed by what was a poor rural population.

Eastern Command

i recently found, tucked away in a country house sale, a mass of German stamp clippings from the posts of this period.  They are all of the Germania design, overprinted in Gothic lettering ‘Postgebiet Ob. Ost’ [Postgebiet Oberbefehlshaber Osten, or Posts of the Eastern Command]. 

The Stamps

The stamps themselves are printed in fine quality by letterpress and both the shade of the design, and quality of the overprint are consistent. There is none of the deterioration in paper and ink that showed up towards the end of the war. We find the 5pf, on postcards,10pf for letters, and some 2½pf stamps, which were used to uprate postcards to the higher rate brought into force during the war. There are also the short-lived 15pf yellow-brown, issued August 1916, but superseded by a slate-violet version the following May. The colour was too like that of the 7½pf. There are also copies of the 3pf,  cancelled on slips of paper to sell to collectors.  

The German Posts

From this specialist site we learn that on 15 January 1916 German post offices were opened in Lithuania, as in other parts of the Russian Empire that they controlled, parts of present-day Poland, Latvia and Belarus. The postmarks are redesigned on the German model with German or Polish placenames, and are neatly and consistently applied. I have only one example out of hundreds of a stamp stuck on the card and then postmarked upside-down, and that was from a town whose centre was actually destroyed by the occupiers. Perhaps disrespect was intended. Clearly the German post office planned to be there for a long time. 

The Germans intended to handle the private postal traffic of the citizens between the "Ober-Ost”, the Province of Warsaw, and Germany. Apparently all outgoing mail was subject to censorship, and many censor markings are known from complete covers.

All the dates of the postmarks lie within a few months within the year 1916. I was interested to find that they do not randomly spread through the year. Many items will leave a particular location on a single day, and a bunch more on another day. I taken the trouble to keep a log of which days the postmarks saw use at a particular town and I will share it with anyone interested. (I am still updating it with new items).

Yiddish Postal History Fragments

It is a shame that so much postal history was clipped away to make these neat fragments.  However, on the backs of the clippings can be found fragments of addresses. The handwriting is always in German and sometimes in Hebrew script (which would be in the Yiddish language). 

Photo


Sometimes an address which is clearly American can be read. My items show that postal traffic also went abroad, to America, presumably via the German all-season port of Königsberg, [now Kaliningrad]. From the evidence of these tiny pieces the writers were writing to family members in German or Yiddish, who had during the Tsarist rule before the war, emigrated to the US. Here, for the record, are the different town marks, a map of their location, and some backs of these fragments.  


In researching this material I have been helped by the superb website of the Lithuania Philatelic Society and the mine of information on the war in www.jkaptein.nl.

I am overwhelmed by the interest that can be gleaned from a neglected ‘bag of bits’ such as this. I am hugely grateful to the collectors that have been willing to share images from this period and just wish to let other collectors see what can be unearthed from these little fragments.