Unique stamps, envelopes and cards mailed from Nazi-era death camps and Jewish ghettoes were sold at auction today but the world’s Holocaust museums left private collectors to sweep them up.
The hundreds of historic, and emotive, items were part of a philatelic collection put together over 40 years by US lawyer Herbert Rosedale who won fame acting for parents trying to free their children from the grip of religious cults.
Rosedale, of Romanian Jewish origin, died in 2003, leaving the collection – much of it uncatalogued – to his family.
“It was the collectors bidding here, not museums or institutions and not even dealers,” said auctioneer David Feldman after the sale which took bids over the Internet and telephone as well as from the hall.
The two major lots – over 500 envelopes, or covers, from big camps like Auschwitz and from small short-lived ones, and some 100 items of mail from Nazi-appointed Jewish ghetto leaders, or Judenrat – were bought by a French collector.
The buyer, whom Mr Feldman’s Geneva-based auction house declined to identify, paid a total of 56,000 Swiss francs ($60,630) for them, plus 18 per cent commission.
“But museums today, even the most high-profile ones, don’t have the budgets for this type of purchase,” said Feldman aide Karol Weyna who prepared the vast Rosedale “Holy Land and Holocaust” legacy for the sale on behalf of the lawyer’s family.
The whole collection, which covered the region from Turkish rule in the 19th century through to Israel of the 1990s, brought some 520,000 Swiss francs ($560,440), said Mr Feldman.
The total was more than 50 per cent above the estimate.
Of the two major lots, Mr Weyna described the concentration and forced labour camp collection as “a phenomenal holding that begs for someone to research fully and present in exhibition form”.
It included mail, often simple but deliberately deceptive “I am well” cards from camp inmates to family and friends left behind in ghettoes, and from guards and officials to their families and to relief organisations like the Red Cross.
The lot sold for 26,000 Swiss francs ($28,150), only just above the bottom estimate of 24,000 francs.
Collector Edward Victor from California, who runs an Internet site on the philately of the Holocaust, said there was more interest at present in Judenrat, or ghetto, mail, including Gestapo documentation.
“There is a lot of camp mail out on the market. At the start, when prisoners were taken to the big camps they were often made to fill in many cards before being taken straight off to the gas chambers,” he said.
“These were sent off by the camp post office at intervals. But later on they just piled up and when the Allies liberated the camps they found sacks stuffed full of them.”
The Judenrat collection, with the special handstamps applied to mail from official ghetto community leaders in dozens of Nazi-occupied towns across Poland and including cards sent to camp inmates, went for a much higher price.
The maximum estimate was 8000 Swiss francs, but the collection fetched 30,000 francs ($32,480) in active bidding.