The 16th Maynard Sundman Lecture

November 6, 2019

Kees Adema and Jeffrey Groeneveld: World War II Postal History and its Social Impact

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ELLIOT GRUBER: Welcome to the National Postal Museum, to your National Postal Museum.

Welcome to the 16th Maynard Sundman Lecture.

Uh, and I would like to thank Susan, Jessie, and Lauren for helping to put this event together.

And I would especially like to thank Don Sundman and his brother David for their generosity in making this, uh, special event happen every year.

So thank you very much, Don.

So I'm going to be introducing Don.

I was told to keep it very short, and I will.

Don is the president of the Mystic Stamp Company, the largest such company in the United States, if not North America.

He is also the chairman of the Council of Philatelists for the National Postal Museum here.

What I learned in looking up some of Don's history, uh, in addition to being a leader in the philatelic community... which that started back in 1974 when he became the president of the Mystic Stamp Company.

So we're... not to give secrets away, we're similar in age.

And, uh, I'm entering college and he's running a company.

So very ambitious, uh, and obviously very successful in those years.

Uh, and Don, when he took over, uh, realized he did not have enough stamps at the Mystic Stamp Company or maybe just not the right stamps.

And then he began to restructure the Mystic Stamp Company to provide the best products and service to its customers, which if you think about it is very similar to what a museum does.

How do we provide the best exhibits, the best programming, and the best opportunities for our visitors here at the National Postal Museum.

So I'd like to thank Don.

I've been here now alm-over two years.

I'd like to thank him for his keen insight, his advice, for your friendship, and I cannot think of a better, stronger partner to be working with than Don Sundman and the Counsel of Philatelists as we move to transform the museum, uh, toward the next century.

So with that, Don, thank you very much.

DONALD SUNDMAN: Thank you, Elliot.

The, uh... and welcome. I'm so happy that people, uh, come to this lecture to honor my father, Maynard Sundman.

So I'm going to speak just a little bit about, uh, his legacy and why I'm here.

Um, my dad started selling stamps in the 1930s, and he had saved $400 and... from working various jobs and started his little business.

And, um, he shut it down for World War II, which ties in a little bit with this story today, and entered the Army.

And he went to North Africa and Italy and he told me stories about how he was like, just a few days behind the fighting.

And so he would go into these towns in Italy and look at the post offices to see if they had any stamps.

And there'd be snipers firing, a little bit like that Hillary Clinton story, I guess, in Croatia where she got off the plane.

But I think my father's was true.

Four years later, the war ended.

He moved to New Hampshire with my mother, started the Littleton Stamp Company and, uh, later started selling coins.

1974, my family bought Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York, Central New York.

My dad was 60 years old when we bought that business.

So I think it's kind of neat that he was no kid and still taking on debt and, uh, getting into... adding an additional business to our family business.

So Littleton is now Littleton Coin Company.

Mystic is Mystic Stamp Company.

And both are leaders in our fields and we help thousands of collectors enjoy the hobby of stamp and coin collecting.

We believe that the world's better off with more collectors.

It's such a fantastic hobby.

It leads to... you know, it's goal-oriented, lifelong learning.

It's really a fantastic way to spend time.

My father's mission, which my brother and I continue, is to bring the fun of collecting to a wide audience.

And so that's part of why we love the Smithsonian is that... you know, what better name in the world than the Smithsonian for museums and what better postal museum? This is fantastic.

So we're very proud that we're associated with it and we can do this lecture.

So the museum also brings the fun of collecting, exposes it to, you know, hundreds of thousands of people a year.

And this lecture, I think, is part of that mission.

I'm very happy and proud to be here. Thank you.

SUSAN SMITH: Thank you. Is this working? Great. So I'm Susan Smith.

I'm the Blount Research Chair here.

And what we're going to do today is a little bit different from what we've done in the past.

We are going to learn about the collections and the project from our two speakers and then have a moderated panel with some questions.

And then we're going to open up to Q&A from the floor and from people that are watching this streaming.

So thank you very much, Don, for your support for this program.

And without further ado, I'd like to introduce our two speakers.

We have Kees Adema and Jeffrey Groeneveld, and they're going to start with a presentation.

KEES ADEMA: Good afternoon. My name is Kees Adema, and this is my coauthor Jeffrey Groeneveld.

We're honored to speak today about two subjects that really reinforce each other.

One, that postal history and its social cousin are very much history and should be treated as such.

And two, that social history can make a pacifist point by describing the horrors of World War II.

These are fascinating times for postal history, which used to be the stepchild of philately.

No more.

People like Eliot Landau paved the way with exhibits such as Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War, which exposed racism.

In our case, the emphasis is on the Second World War.

That that subject has gained so much in popularity is no coincidence.

In June of this year, it was seventy-five years ago that the Allies landed in Normandy.

The so-called "greatest generation" is dying out.

I cannot tell you how many children of deceased World War II veterans have come up to me after one of my talks to express... express regret not knowing more about their father's exploits during the war.

Many veterans refused to talk about it and now it is too late.

So it is up to people like Jeffrey and myself to speak and write about the war using our own collections.

We also use family archives to shed lights on obscure facts.

Both of us believe in shedding light on the often fascinating lives of those involved.

You will see a few examples in the PowerPoint presentation that follows.

Truth be told, eight years ago when the idea for this book first took shape, I did not know where it would lead.

Then gradually, I realized and Jeffrey, who would become my coauthor, concurred.

The content gradually assumed an importance that exceeded philately or indeed postal history.

By writing about war, we made a statement about peace.

Jeffrey and I show that surviving letters and documents form the proof that events really happened, that concentration camps really existed, that countless millions really perished.

A recent poll concluded that twenty-two percent of Americans are not aware of the Holocaust.

They do not deny it.

They're ignorant of it.

Our collections enabled us to trace back the start of censorship, the genesis of internment and Nazi concentration camps, and Goebbels' fake news propaganda machine to name but a few subjects out of many.

The letters and documents provide a chronological path of paper evidence for the entire Nazi era, thus the title The Paper Trail.

It is our mission to keep the facts alive to honor those who can no longer do so.

We dedicated the book to our children and especially our grandchildren, one of whom is sitting over there, in the hope that they will see a more peaceful world.

Thank you.

We will now start with the PowerPoint presentation.

And where I gave the introduction, Jeffrey will give the conclusion.

My family lived in Arnhem, of A Bridge Too Far fame, in September of 1944.

Operation Market Garden, the attack, Montgomery's attack on Arnhem to create a path through the east and enter Germany started on September 17, 1944.

It was also the day that my brother was born in the cellar of our house in Arnhem.

Of course, a situation like that where eventually the Germans defeated the Allies, sadly enough, it is also a philatelic candy shop for a collector because a letter such as this one the 16th of September 1944 was sent to Arnhem, was returned.

This is, of course, a wonderful piece for a postal historian because there are so many aspects to it.

I just wanted to show one picture of my brother and myself at the end of the war.

It was May 1945.

We were... we had moved to near Amsterdam where the Hungerwinter was in effect.

And we managed to survive.

My father died right after the war because of a result of the war.

I mention this to show how personal this subject is to me and, you'll see, to Jeffrey.

So this is Operation Market Garden.

Here is where we lived. The Allies attacked like this.

They didn't manage to get across the bridge to Germany.

So the whole town of Arnhem was evacuated by the Germans.

It was mentioned in the, um, Nuremberg trials as one of the towns that had suffered way out of proportion to everybody... to everybody else.

The Germans took every pot and pan, made everybody move east... move, move west where there was no food.

And the town was totally, uh, robbed by... by the Germans who took all the furniture, every pot and pan, and sent them to the towns in Germany like Duisburg and Dusseldorf that were bombed.

And they... all these subjects were taken by the Germans.


All right.

I was born after the war, 1963, and this is a picture of me as a baby with my parents and maternal grandparents who had come to the Netherlands in the early 1950s when they fled Indonesia after it gained independence.

Like so many others from the former colony, they did not speak much about the war because they had to adapt to a new life in Holland where they were not always favorably received.

Um, later, my mother told me that her father had suffered enormous traumas because of what had happened during the war.

He had been a train driver and was arrested by the infamous Kenpeitai, this Japanese secret police, tortured, and was about to be beheaded because he had committed sabotage during one of the train transports.

Only because one of his brave superiors pleaded for his release saying that the trains could not run any longer because, uh, they needed all train drivers he was released, which was an exceptional example of mercy which... which the Japanese did not very often show.

My mother lost three uncles during the war.

Two of them were slaughtered by the Japanese and one suffered from pneumonia and died in a Japanese camp in Nagasaki in 1944.

Um, unfortunately, not many... or no document or letter at all remains from the war in Indonesia because after the war, the Dutch Independen... or, the Indonesian Independence War started, which was even more ferocious and horrible for my family because they were Dutch, after all.

And luckily, I found in the Dutch archive the camp card from my great-uncle who died in Nagasaki.

And this is the only picture that we've got left of him.

And we thought that this was suitable, a very appropriate start of our book, The Paper Trail.

Right. Kees.

KEES ADEMA: So this was really the start of my collection.

I found this card in a box of material that I had bought.

And it was nothing special as far as I could see until I saw the name of the person to whom the card was addressed.

I said, I know this man. Heymans.

Harry Heymans was a member of the New York Collectors Club which I joined in 1965.

We had a Dutch society that met there every month.

And Harry Heymans by the time I bought this had already died.

I said, well this is an interesting card.

I've got to figure out how this thing got to Batavia and then to New York.

So here's what happened.

Um, Holland was occupied by the Germans on May 10th, 1940.

And immediately, mail traffic stopped.

It was reinstated on the 18th, um, 19th, or 20th of June.

So this card was sent right after that to Java from Amsterdam.

I said, my goodness, how does this thing get there.

Well, it went via Berlin where, um, where it was censored by the Germans.

Then, uh, it went to Moscow.

And then the, the tr-the mail had to be taken off the train because the gauges for the train were different.

So now this thing goes to Moscow.

Uh, It goes to Chita, to Harbin, to Mukden.

Originally, it would have gone to Vladivostok because there was a ferry service from Vladivostok to Shimonoseki in Japan.

However, the Japanese by that time had become pretty aggressive and the Soviets didn't trust them anymore.

So they said to everybody, no, no, you can't go to Vladivostok.

You got to take this train. So Trans-Siberia Express.

And then the Trans-Manchurian Express.

So this card then went to Korea, Busan, which was Japan occupied. Then to Tokyo.

And then by neutral ship to Batavia.

But when it got there, Harry Heymans had seen the writing on the wall, so he had moved back to New York.

So this card was then forwarded to New York.

So now it goes back from Batavia to Hong Kong.

It goes all the way back to San Francisco and overland to New York.

How do we know that the card arrived? It came out of his estate, so obviously, uh, obviously it got there.

And here is where the social aspect takes over.

Because then I saw the name of the writer of the card.

And the guy's name is Abraham Asscher.

And I said, I know that name too.

Abraham Asscher was a famous... the top lawyer in Holland, one could say.

And he lived on one of the canals in Amsterdam.

I went there actually to that address.

It's one of the top addresses.

It has been changed a little bit on the outside, but it's obviously a top, top address.

So I said, my goodness, I have to find out what Abraham Asscher is all about.

So I did the research.

The Dutch Jews had to declare all their property to the Nazis.

And they usually would find... if you were wealthy, they usually would find some mistake, some tiny mistake that said, ha-ha, you tried to, uh, you tried to mess with us.

We confiscate your entire property.

And that is what happened to Abraham Asscher.

So the family then moved to a small apartment in the southern part of Amsterdam.

What happened to Abraham Asscher? Well, he was also punished for his fraudulent behavior, as they call it, and he was sent to Camp Amersfoort.

Abraham Asscher was a, uh, a diabetic.

Jews could not receive packages.

So Abraham Asscher died after two months because of his diabetic condition.

His wife and daughters, three daughters - fourteen, thirteen, and eleven, were put on a train first to the holding camp, the transit camp in the north of Holland.

And then in 1943, they arrived in Auschwitz and all died on the same day.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: We go back to the beginning of the war, May the 14th, the bombardment of Rotterdam.

This is a cover which is a witness of the bombardment.

And um, it's one of the few covers left from the bombardment.

Only a handful has... has remained.

It was posted by, let's see, by the Council of the Poor at the Witte de Withstraat in Rotterdam, which was actually one of the streets that was bombed heavily and almost completely destroyed.

And what you see here are some burn marks.

And there is a stamp over here.

There are no postal marks because they were all destroyed during the bombardment.

But there was a stamp left, which said the following thing: "Retrieved damaged from letter box by the post office in Rotterdam." Well, that could have been any damage, of course, but the date right here says, Arrived the 20th of May 1940." Somehow, during those turbulent times, officials still stuck to procedures.

And because of these procedures, just stamping letters when they arrive, we know that this indeed was a cover that witnessed the offense of the bombardment in Rotterdam.

And, uh, well, something to... which you will not find very easily nowadays.

Perhaps remember the dates. May 1940.

Rotterdam. See some burn marks, and you know for sure that it is a witness of those ordeals.


KEES ADEMA: This is a very special cover.

It's dated the 4th of December 1944.

Bethel, Ohio.

Uh, this letter was carried on a plane from San Francisco.

It was supposed to go to Sumatra but had to make a stop in Honolulu.

Um, as it... as it turned out, um, the plane left forty minutes late and thus arrived forty minutes early in Honolulu when the captain received a message, um, from his company saying, "Code A" which meant war in the Pacific.

If the plane had been on time, it would have been shot down by the Japanese because the, the attack started at seven o'clock on Sunday morning the seventh.

But what was interesting, the plane was hidden in Hilo.

And we know that because this is the censor.

This was released by ICB, which was the Information Control Branch, the, the American censorship office.

But here comes the social aspect again.

Why was this plane forty minutes late? Well, not in your wildest imagination will you guess this.

The captain's daughter, Captain Turner... and this is all documented... his daughter had a piano recital.

And he asked the company Pan Am, he says is it all right if I leave a little later? And they said, yeah, sure, you know.

There was some important people onboard, including the prime minister of Thailand, Siam.

So he left forty minutes late.

And guess what? If he had been on time, that plane would have been shot down by the Japanese.

So it one... believed to be one of three covers that was carried on a Pan Am clipper called the ANZAC Clipper.

So it's a very rare piece.

You know, all philatelists like to brag a little bit about all the wonderful things that they've found.

Well, I found this in a small box with five other covers that I had bought for next to nothing and realized the date.

And then I did some research on it.

It was one of three covers apparently known that just made it to Honolulu but was not shot down.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: All right. A philatelic coincidence.

Well, thanks... thanks to modern means of communication, Kees and I were able to, uh, exchange the text we had written and the, uh, scans that we had made.

And one day when we were working on the Dutch East Indies part, I sent some scans to, uh, to Kees.

And almost immediately, he... he responded in... in exhilaration.

And he was really amazed he said because without me knowing it, he had been writing on this soldier called de Groot.

And he served the Dutch East Indies army at the moment.

And he was writing to his wife and his wife was writing to him about the things that just happened.

And he also wrote the moment when the Japanese invaded the isle of Java.

Ah, one of the things he wrote was, for example, "I'm going to sleep until six because I have to stay awake tonight.

Hopefully those Japs are not going to wake us up again." Because, well, you may have... you may guess what happened.

But de Groot unfortunately, when the Japanese... there was a quick march through the islands of Java and the Dutch had to surrender within a few days.

De Groot was taken prisoner and in the end, he died in a camp in... in Burma, I think it was.

But I sent Kees the scans.

And they turned out to be the second part of the archive that he had achieved in the 1990s at a stamp show in Singapore while I had bought the rest of the archive at a stamp show in Holland in the early 1990s.

So, after seventy-five years, we were able to combine the two parts of the archive so that it has been restored right now.

My part contained a Red Cross letter indicating that de Groot indeed had died and an account of his burial at the Palembang war cemetery and some other information which tells us that later on his body had been removed to the Menteng Pulo, um, war cemetery in the Dutch East Indies in Jakarta.

This is... this is the Red Cross letter that I send to Kees and which, well, to our surprise combined the archive and restored it in the end.

One of the many surprises that we had during our project.

KEES ADEMA: The war, um, is asking, any war is asking, um, people to confront their own conscience.

Um, I decided also to include two documents.

I could have picked quite a few different things and so could Jeffrey.

I have about a thousand letters in my con... in my collection, so we would have been here for a while if I used them all.

But this is a Dutch officer's sworn statement.

Dutch officers were put into a camp, uh, in Germany, but they were released if they would sign a letter of allegiance to the Germans.

So, what would you have done? You... the war is over.

The Germans have won.

They have taken you prisoner. Now what are you going to do? Are you going to stay in a camp or are you going to sign this letter, um, and go back to your family? It's one of those moral questions that those officers had to face.

I can give you... I can give you the answer.

Most of them signed the letter and went home.

They were severely criticized after the war because after the war finished, the moral conflicts continued.

The officers who had signed were severely criticized by the officers who had not signed.

The second piece of... the second document is an example of Goebbels' fake news.

He invented that, by the way.

Here... the letter, this document, is meant to be read on the German radio, the German national radio.

It's dated December 28, 1942.

And this is supposed to be read by the journalist on, uh, on live radio.

And he is reporting how everything is going swimmingly for the Germans.

Of course, they had just been beaten in El Alamein and the fight for Stalingrad was on the way.

But here, um, the report says that forty-six German... uh, forty-six Soviet tanks had been destroyed, or fifty-nine had been destroyed.

And the Italian and, um, and other allies were of a great help.

The war is going swimmingly.

It's going to be over soon because everything is going just hunky-dory.


Well, we all have philatelic items which we've stored in our albums but we don't know about the background of them.

This is a letter sheet which was compulsory when you were interned in the Westerbork transit camp.

Well, it... it's not a very special letter sheet because there are thousands of them.

Yet most of the times, they are the last written remains of those who were sent to the east and to concentration camps.

So there is a high emotional value to them.

When you, as we did, do some research on the receiver and the, uh, the sender, you will be astonished.

In this case, the sender is a Mrs. Katz Franken whose two sons were art dealers in The Hague, I think it was.

And they were forced by the Germans to collect all kinds of art for the Führermuseum in Linz.

And they possessed a Rembrandt, this one, which Dr. Posse, who was responsible for the Führermuseum, wanted desperately.

And for some reason, he did not force them to give them this Rembrandt.

But they made a deal.

Twenty-five members of the Katz family who had already been at Westerbork transit camp were released in exchange for this very valuable Rembrandt.

And some members of the Katz family were allowed to go abroad to Gibraltar, to the... to Jamaica to the Gibraltar camp where Jews, uh, were awaiting the end of the war.

Mrs. Katz, their mother, was released and died peacefully in 1944, aged 75.

The sender, her daughter Sibilla unfortunately was sent to a concentration camp, to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Yet, when the Russians approached, the inmates were transported by train to one of the other camps.

But for some reason the train never reached its final destination and it got lost.

It wandered through Germany.

And after weeks, it stopped near Leipzig where the guards left the train and after a few days the train was discovered by the locals.

When they opened the cars, they noticed almost everyone had died, including Sibilla Levy Katz.

This is the Schipkau Memorial, which was erected after the war in memory of those who perished on the train.

Just an ordinary letter sheet.

Ordinary letter sheet, but a very spectacular story behind it.

KEES ADEMA: We wanted to cover a little bit because we have a time limit.

Um, this is a card quite rare from the Thai-Burma railway prison camp.

This is a Dutch... this was written by a Dutch lieutenant who was held prisoner by the, uh, by the Japanese and worked on the railroad.

Interesting thing is that the Imperial Japanese Army always had a wonderful message for the people to whom the card was addressed, the family members.

It's also amazing that this card arrived.

The Japanese, who had not signed the, um, Geneva Convention, would first put on the censorship markings.

And then, um, this is a Berlin censorship marking.

So the letter arrived in Holland.

It also came out of a Dutch archive.

So here's what the Japanese are writing for the family.

"I am still in the POW camp in Burma.

There are 20,000 prisoners, being Australian, Dutch, English, and American.

There are several camps of 2 to 3,000 prisoners who work at labor daily.

We are quartered in very plain huts.

The climate is good.

Our life is easy with regard to food, medicine, and clothes.

The Japanese commander sincerely endeavors to treat prisoners kindly." That was preprinted.

"Canteens are established where we can buy some extra food and smokes.

By courtesy of the Japanese commander, we conduct concerts in the camp and a limited number go to a picture show once a month." And then he writes, "I am in good health.

I just became a bit taller." And that was a code for he had lost a lot of weight and became very thin.


To end this part of our presentation, I'm going to show you, well, a very ordinary cover.

It was posted right after the war in December and sent by one of the first flights to, uh, the Dutch East Indies.

This is in 1945.

Censored by the Dutch censor.

But what makes it interesting are, once again, the addressee and the sender because the addressee is, as you can see here, Victor Koningsberger.

And Victor Koningsberger was a courageous professor who at the beginning of the war, as early as November 1940, protested when his Jewish colleagues at the University of Utrecht were fired.

And because of that, he was arrested and spent eighteen months of internment in one of the internment centers in the southern part of the country.

The addressee is Dr. Rümke, one of his friends, who was a psychiatrist and who later examined famous war criminals in the Netherlands.

But at that moment, he was still in Java in a camp.

During the war, he had been in Japanese camp.

And ironically, after the its liber-the liberation of Dutch East Indies, the Dutchmen had to stay in those camps because the war of independence had started and Dutch nationality... Dutch citizens were not really safe.

Um, Victor Koningsberger... there is a portrait of him... and that's his friend, Dr. Rümke... wrote to his friend.

Because when we found this cover, our hearts started beating a bit fast because it contained the original letter.

And in it, Victor Koningsberger tells about what happened to him and his family during the war.

For example, he wrote, "The last year of the war everyone was an outlaw.

In addition to suffering terribly from cold, famine, and the round of... of males, there was total terror." And he also wrote about what he had heard about the Japanese camps where his friend had stayed.

And he says that he thought it was even worse than he could ever have imagined.

This is just another example of social history combined with postal history.

And, the contents of the letter and the cover makes it interesting.

And as Kees said earlier, surviving letters and documents from the past prove that events like the ones we've just described really happened.

So, the social context of all these philatelic items gives them extra value, and not only money-wise.

Thank you for your attention.

SUSAN SMITH: Thank you.

So, I'm going to ask a couple of questions, and then we're going to open it to the floor.

So you've just seen a very good example of more traditional postal history of the postal markings, the rates, and the routes as well as the more social aspect of postal history as well as some of the social impact that postal history can have.

And as I was relooking at your book, the two of you mentioned three different ways that postal history has a social impact.

And you mentioned two of them here, and I wanted to ask about the third.

So Kees, you had written that it helps us keep the flames of memory burning as long as we read and write and obviously share in situations such as this one today, contributing to peace by showing the ugliness of war.

And Jeffrey, you had mentioned that you had come across somebody who you were able to reassure, a survivor, that something had actually happened because you had the postal history as evidence.

Are there more cases like that? And is that a common situation? It sounds like you've come across several pieces from people that you knew.

You've talked to people, did some interviews.

Can you talk a little bit about that aspect? JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Yes, I can.

Well, I'm trying to find a good example of one of the discoveries we've made.

Um, once... I was given a little leaflet well, clearly related to the war.

It was printed in 1945, I think it was.

And it were some regulations about how to send letters.

But of course, we all know how to send letters.

And then I did some research.

And it turned out that after the war, there was some sort of interim government, uh, which was organized by... by the military.

So there was a military authority, and they organized a new kind of service meant for people who were displaced persons coming from the... the camps in the east, going back to Holland, and then arrived in Holland and they were, well, they were researched for some time.

And they were... their health was checked upon. And while they were there, they sometimes had to stay for a couple of weeks.

They were able to send letters to their relatives.

And, well, once I had done the research on where this instructions came from, I went to a show and suddenly I saw some item written by a student who had, uh, refused to sign the form that Kees referred to, which was for officers.

But students also had to... to sign a loyalty paper.

And many students, especially from Delft, refused to do so.

And they were arrested and sent to camps in Germany.

And this specific card, which was a special card issued by the military authority, described exactly what the boy or the student had done, where he had gone through in... in Germany, and that he finally had returned home and that he hoped that he would, well, meet his parents, which he still did not know whether they were alive or not.

He hoped that he would meet his parents in Delft very soon.

So, so that is another example of connecting personal history to, well, the social aspect of it, yes.

SUSAN SMITH: Right. And as you gave us a demonstration today, you use many materials beyond philatelic materials, the stamps, the covers, the markings.

Um, you had posters and magazine covers and interviews and photos and passports and other forms of official ID.

What are the challenges and are there any disadvantages to this approach? KEES ADEMA: You mean to... SUSAN SMITH: Of using such a wide variety of material? Other than... KEES ADEMA: Well, in my own case, I can only answer.

I don't know exactly what system Jeffrey used.

But Don asked me about it before.

What I did in my collection of letters, over the years I always cut out pieces of newspaper articles, articles in philatelic magazines, personal notes, radio on it.

You can't... you can't imagine how many sources I used.

And I'm not even talking about the major sources like the Holocaust Museum, which is an incredible resource with absolutely fantastic people.

They were such a help.

And they helped... they helped us very much along.

I would put a name in.

I said, you know, I can't find this person.

And they said here it is. Oh, my goodness.

It was almost... it was unbelievable how they helped.

And the Holocaust Museum is not the only museum that helped us.

The Jewish Archives in Amsterdam, they told me about Asscher being... having diabetes and not getting his insulin in the camp, that kind of thing.

Another thing that is very interesting.

I gave a talk not too long ago in Connecticut.

Um, and this lady comes up to me.

She's in her nineties.

She says, you know, my family came here just before the war, but I have all the correspondence from my father with the family in Westport, Connecticut.

I says, wowm you know. She said, my family is Jewish.

I don't want to mention the name.

But she says it's not a typically Jewish name.

Her father felt that they were going to be in trouble in Germany.

That they saw it coming.

But nobody wanted to sponsor them.

What he did, he wrote to everybody with that same last name in the United States, none of whom were Jewish.

He wrote to... he used all the phone books apparently, according to this woman.

He got one response from somebody in Westport, Connecticut who had the same last name.

He says, I'll sponsor you.

Not only did he sponsor them, he paid for the trip.

He paid for their lodging when they came to Connecticut.

And went on and on. And this woman said to me... I said did you ever figure out what... why would this man do it.

Apparently, he was married to the sister of Morgenthau, the Treasury secretary.

And then she said, you know, I want you to have my archive.

I said, no, no, no.

Because that creates a lot of... a lot of responsibility.

You have to write about this whole thing too.

I've done my writing.

This is my fifth book, so.

It's enough.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Okay. Can I add? SUSAN SMITH: Please. Absolutely.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Because people always say, well, you're a philatelist so why do you need so much space? My wife is over there and she can confirm that philatelists need enormous amounts of space, not only because we, you know, collect stamps and postal history but all the other information.

And one of the problems we had to face was because we've got so much in our own archives, which covers which other item... which other documents we had to include in the book because the book is... well, it's 750 pages.

It could have been 1,500 or even 2,000.

So, so, yes, to choose the most important items, that was one of the challenges we had to face.

SUSAN SMITH: So what was the criteria for the most important objects? JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Oh, yes, well, well.

KEES ADEMA: Well, we had to agree.


Which was very difficult.

KEES ADEMA: But you know something? I've done a lot of writing.

And I can tell you... this is not because he's sitting here.

We have had the best cooperation.

We did not have one argument. We discussed things.

And if we felt he had the strongest argument, we would use his piece or whatever.

It went swimmingly. Yeah.

SUSAN SMITH: And what did you learn from one another? KEES ADEMA: Not to write another one.

No. No, we learned a lot.


KEES ADEMA: Because, the reason I asked Jeffrey originally to join me is because he has such an incredible knowledge about camps and mail to camps and, you know, all the different aspects related to camps in Europe.

So I asked him originally.

Said could you help me with the camps.

But it expanded, and I was so glad I asked him.

It was the smartest thing I ever did was to ask Jeffrey to join me because he's just a fantastic... he's a walking encyclopedia about many things.

So, yeah. Very grateful.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Now I'm going to blush.

So, yeah. Well, what did I learn from Kees? SUSAN SMITH: Yes.


No, to set a time limit. To set a time limit.

Because if Kees hadn't told me that, well, "I'm approaching a certain age," we must put it to an end.

As Kees said, when we stopped writing, we found new information.

And new information kept on coming.

So I suggested, well shall we wait... the deadline, we can move the deadline one month ahead so we can write another paragraph or another chapter.

But Kees said let's stop because otherwise well, it will be a never-ending story.

KEES ADEMA: And you know, one of the other things that happened, a lot of people when they realized we were working on this, came to us with archives and information.

One of the things that specifically stands out to me.

There was this son of a person, a fisherman.

We were talking about dilemmas before, moral dilemmas.

The Dutch fishing fleet from IJmuiden was still out at sea when the war broke out.

And one of the fishing boats had a radio and heard that Dutch had been attacked.

So now, what would you do in this situation? Are you going to go home or are you going to go to England? What do you think happened? They all went to England.

All went to England, yeah.


KEES ADEMA: Most of them. Yeah. Yeah. And the Dutch... some of those Dutch fishing boats were actually used at Dunkirk.


Talking about people coming to you with their archives.

There was a man, and he came with an archive.

His, uh, his family lived in Switzerland in 1940.

Can you imagine staying... living in Switzerland in 1940, one of the safest places in Europe at that time? They decided to leave the country because they feared a German invasion.

And where did they go to? They went to Dutch East Indies.

They went from Switzerland to Africa because there was no direct connection to the Dutch East Indies.

So it took them months in order to... to reach the Dutch East Indies.

And when they arrived there just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, they thought they were safe.

But then, well, the rest is history.

They were all arrested, interned, and sadly many of the members of the family perished in the Japanese camps.

So when do you take the right decision? KEES ADEMA: Another interesting thing is that one of their travel companions, a non-family member, had a suitcase full of money and advanced all the money for everybody in the group.

There were about fifteen, something like that.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Something like that.

KEES ADEMA: And they traveled all through Africa.

He says you'll pay me back in the Dutch East Indies.

And they did. And they did.

But he had... there are pictures of them.

Actually their story is in the book.

It's a wonderful story how some people are so, uh, selflessly offering their own financial resources or whatever to help other people.

The book is replete with that. It's wonderful to see.

Humanity. That's what it's all about.

SUSAN SMITH: I'd like to open it up to the floor for questions.

Can you pass the mic back, Dan, right here? AUDIENCE: Yes. I wondered regarding rare stamps.

What is the rarest Dutch colonial stamp? You really didn't get into this.

My uncle had a big collection of stamps, including Netherlands.

And he had the 20 gulden stamp pre-1900, a rare stamp, used.

He didn't have it unused.

But I wondered, uh, he was very proud of it.

I wonder is there anything in the Dutch colonial series that might be equivalent of this? Another question.

The Japanese, I would think, probably overprinted stamps when they got into the Indies.

Are any of these extremely rare? Are any of them questionable? Is there anything to be known about that? KEES ADEMA: Well, the first subject is not really suitable for this because we're not really talking about stamps.

And I know we... Susan is looking at us because we have a time limit.

I'll address the second part, if I may.

The Japanese apparently... well, there are a lot of Japanese overprints of Dutch East Indies stamp if that's what you... what you meant.

And some of them are extremely rare, and there are thousands of them.

You know, I don't collect that. It's outside my range.

I don't really collect stamps. I really collect postal history.

JEFFREY GROENEVELD: There are many of them, but there are many forgeries.

So if you get one, always make sure that someone checks upon them because probably it's falsified.


AUDIENCE: I believe 40,000 NSB fought on the Russian front.

Is there any postal history relating to... I don't know if they were in Stalingrad or where they were... sent back to the Netherlands? JEFFREY GROENEVELD: Yes.

I obtained a small archive of two young people corresponding with each other.

The strange thing is it contains forty or fifty letters right from the moment the boy joined the German army.

And the only thing that they write about is why haven't you written earlier to me because I've been waiting for... for some sign of life.

And then suddenly, there is in this collection of forty letters there's one letter from I think it's Stalingrad.

And the only thing the boy says, I can't say much about what I'm experiencing now.

I'll tell you after the war. Full stop.

But indeed, there is some correspondence left from, well, Russia.

KEES ADEMA: There was also a Dutch SS unit.

Um, if they... they signed up, if they... one of the conditions, they said, the Germans said, well, if you sign up with the Dutch SS, you will not be sent to the Eastern Front.

You'll go to a relatively safe area.

So they signed up and promptly went to the Eastern Front, of course.

That's what happened.


Unfortunately, most of these covers don't contain any letters because after the war they were believed to be traitors and quislings, indeed.

Probably people were ashamed of the contents of these letters.

KEES ADEMA: For a long time, World War II was not a very popular subject.

It was not collected that much.

Certainly when I was growing up in Holland, I collect... I started to collect stamps in 1947 when I was seven years old.

And I did not... well, nobody collected World War II.

People wanted to take mental distance from them.

It was... they had experienced so much, you know.

And in my case my father died when he was thirty-three.

I was eight. Was a result of the war.

So the war was always a, a very touchy subject.

And on top of all of everything, you know, I found out through the Freedom of Information Act that an uncle, a brother of my mother, uh, whom according to family lore was one of the parachutists who landed at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden had in fact been a tailor in the German navy.

So, uh, my mother said if my fa... if my grandfather, her father, if he had ever known about that, he would have killed him.

But there were all these conflicts, you know.

I married a German woman, you know.

So the German side was sitting on one side during the wedding and the Dutch side was... I thought World War III was going to break out because, you know, my grandfather was not the most subtle guy.

He refused to speak German.

And of course, my father-in-law was in the German army.

He was a telegraph operator.

And, uh, he was telling everybody what a great time he'd had in Holland during the war.

And then we found out in some pictures he had been stationed in my hometown.

So, you know, why do you think we moved to the States? AUDIENCE: My name is Megan Lewis.

I'm a librarian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

So thank you for letting everyone know that we were so helpful to your research.

And we actually in the two decades I've worked there, we do periodically get letters from or emails from collectors saying I got this letter from a POW camp or a concentration camp, do you have any further information on this person.

And we will try to help.

Especially with political prisoners from, like, Dachau, they had to write their prisoner number, so it's actually fairly easy for some of the camps to find information on that person.

So you answered my first question, was, cause I know there was a high... you know, the members of the Dutch SS unit, and you know, a high percentage of the Dutch population were actually official members of the Dutch Nazi party, a higher percentage than actually Germans were official members of the German Nazi party.

And so I was going to ask how does that relate to after the war.

And it sounds like people just didn't talk to it, the materials were destroyed.

The second question is because I have... we do have your book, so if anyone wants to come to see it at our library, we're open Monday through Friday 10 to 5.

Um, you do have a lot about personal information.

And we get a lot of genealogists who look at our collections of letters saying, uh, you know, this is the last, you know, piece of paper that ever showed that my grandmother actually existed on the planet or in some cases the only document that shows my mother, my grandmother had ever lived.

Have you gotten any... reached out from any family members whose families were in this book that didn't know these materials had happened? Or do you have... KEES ADEMA: Well, in Holland, the situation is very controversial because there were 150,000 Jews in Holland before the war.

And in Holland, believe it or not, the highest percentage of Jews, um, didn't make it to the end.

I think 125,000 were killed.

So there were only 25,000... there were a lot of reasons for that.

Holland geographically is very flat and it doesn't have many forests.

And it... so people had to hide in farms.

My grandfather went into hiding.

He's not Jewish, but he went into hiding.

He didn't see the sunlight for a year.

You know, so there were a lot of circumstances that contributed to that.

But, um, I have, um, been in touch with so many people, um, whom I was able to give information to.

It was really surprising to me actually... I was stunned, actually to find out how a lot of people, um, have not bothered to trace their family roots.

To me, you know, that is... I was in my hotel yesterday.

I'll give you an example.

I was talking to this young man who worked there.

I was waiting.

And, um, and he was... he was Jewish.

And, um, he says, what are you... I said, well, I'm talking at the museum tomorrow.

He says, you know, my family was Jewish, and they came... my grandfather came here just before the war and fought during the war.

I said, do you have any details on that? I said, do you have any letters on it? No. No, we've never bothered to investigate.

I mean, that to me is so against everything that I believe in because I have to figure out everything, you know? AUDIENCE: It's the grandchildren now who are doing, in our... KEES ADEMA: Yeah.

AUDIENCE: And we have one collection where it's a philately collection.

And it was re-cataloged.

And the archivist wrote down every to and from of every letter.

And within six months of that finding aid going on our website because our collections catalog is Google searchable... so people aren't even going through the collections catalog.

They're going through Google and finding it.

We got six requests for copies of specific documents.

And so we had to keep s... ordering the collection from offsite storage.

And when we started digitizing collections, the reference staff was like, do this one first because we're tired of having... A, it's not good for the paper.

And B, we're just tired of having to have it shipped back and forth, so.

And we've had... talk about your person who wrote letters.

This is not the first case of it.

And we actually have three letters from three different stamp collectors from the same person.

He was a Viennese Jew who was a professor at a business college.

And he wrote every business college in the United States looking for someone to sponsor him.

Unfortunately, he could not find anyone to sponsor him.

But he sent the exact same letter.

Three different stamp collectors found copies, and they all sent them to us.


So that parallels the person that I was talking about.

AUDIENCE: And we... I know of another case where the husband and wife sat down and wrote everyone in New York with the same common Jewish last name in the New York phone book and found someone to sponsor them that way.


And they sometime... my students sometimes ask me, "Sir, do you have any hobbies?" And when I tell them I collect stamps, you see them think, oh, this man doesn't know what to do with his time and probably he's some silly old fool.

But when I tell them well, that I not only collect stamps but what I do and that I wrote the book and I start telling the stories, then they start to become all ears.

And they want to know.

And they start asking questions.

So I think, yes, social history is part of the future because future generations will be interested in the stories behind the covers and behind all the documents that, in our case, we have assembled about the Second World War.

KEES ADEMA: According to my mother, I started collecting... or I was interested in letters at a very early age.

I was always fascinated by the mailman who would put these pieces of paper into the individual slots.

So I must have been four, maybe five.

I found this packet of letters in a cabinet at home.

It had a little pink ribbon around it.

And so I immediately removed the ribbon and I knew what to do with those letters.

I put them into all the neighbors' mailboxes.

And they were my parents' love letters.

Which they... my mother always was amazed that I did not wind up in the Amsterdam underworld after such early criminal behavior.

SUSAN SMITH: Are there any final questions? We have time for one more.

Okay. Well, a big round of applause, please, for Kees and Jeffrey.

A Discussion with Kees Adema and Jeffrey Groeneveld, co-authors of The Paper Trail: World War II in Holland and Its Colonies as Seen Through Mail and Documents.

About Kees Adema and Jeffrey Groeneveld

Two lecturers posing for a photo holding their book

Kees Adema is an internationally known postal historian and author with five books and some 75 articles and papers to his credit. During his many presentations letters from his own collection illustrate lesser known subjects related to World War II. The latest of his books, written with co-author Jeffrey Groeneveld, is The Paper Trail which looks at the war in Holland and its Colonies through mail and documents. Adema received the highest awards for original research, the Luff Award, the Earl of Crawford Medal, the Costerus Knighthood and the Lindenberg Medal and was elected to sign the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists, philately’s highest honor.

Refer to caption
Cover of "The Paper Trail: World War II in Holland and Its Colonies as Seen Through Mail and Documents"

Jeffrey Groeneveld, a renowned philatelist in the Netherlands, has regularly written for Dutch philatelic magazines on a variety of subjects for more than 35 years. He is one of the country’s leading promoters of youth philately. As a collector he specializes in both thematic and postal history, while focusing on the Second World War. His thematic collection on the four Dutch queens was awarded a gold medal in Essen/London. In 2018 The Paper Trail, written in close co-operation with Kees Adema, was published. The book was awarded Large Gold medals at international stamp exhibitions in Verona and Stockholm. Earlier this year Jeffrey Groeneveld was made a Fellow of The Royal Philatelic Society London.