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ANDREW URUSHIMA
THE 1944 POW OLYMPICS: GROSS BORN AND WOLDENBERG
The 1944 POW Olympics
Historical Background:  During World War II, the Olympic spirit was kept alive at two prisoner of war camps which were constructed in eastern Germany after the defeat of Poland by the Third Reich.  With the permission of the camp commandants, Polish prisoners at the Gross Born and Woldenberg officer camps were independently allowed to hold a version of the “Olympic Games” in the summer of 1944.  Though the games were not officially sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, the games had many of the trappings of the modern day games, including athletic and cultural events, and the awarding of medals.

Philatelic Elements:  Under the terms of the Geneva Convention, prisoners were allowed to set up their own self-government including an intra-camp postal service.  The postal services that were created served both a functional role in delivering intra-camp mail but also served as a social outlet for prisoners to pass the time of imprisonment.  As a result, there exists a variety of wood-cut cards, commemorative cancels and cachets created primarily for philatelic purposes.

The exhibit presents the stamps and postal stationery and their varieties issued to commemorate the games and the related cachets and postmarks.  The exhibit highlights both the commemorative items that were issued as well as scarce internal usages.

The first half of the exhibit presents the 10 fen Woldenberg Olympic issue featuring a runner breaking the victory tape and the related commemorative postmark.  Highlights of this section include:

  • Title page: Woodblock cachet with two 10 fen Olympic issue tied with special commemorative postmark.  These sheets were given as awards to the victorious athletes.  Few are known due to size of the printing.

  • Proof printed in black notable by a diagonal cut from the defaced clichós.  Known printing: approx. 100.

  • Three unadopted essays that were produced and included in the Olympic program.

  • Six varieties of the commemorative postcard with woodblock cachet.  The postcard was printed in the 5 colors of the Olympic rings.  Due to the limited availability of red ink, the card is exists in 2 distinct shades of red.  The second shade is an amaranth shade.

  • Registered cover bearing correct 40 fen rate tied by commemorative Olympic postmark.

  • Short rate cover bearing correct postage due (double rate).

The second half of the exhibit focuses on the stamps, postal stationary, and postmarks issued by the Gross Born camp.  The design of the 10 fen and 20 fen stamps reflect the Olympic Rings and laurels.  The design of the 50 fen stamp shows an ancient chariot racer and the Olympic Rings.  A 10 fen postcard and souvenir sheet were also issued.  Highlights of this section include:

  • Registered letter bearing 50 fen Olympic issue and commemorative cachet.  Interior of letter sheet is invitation to one of the cultural events held during the games.

  • Color varieties of each issue.  Color varieties exist due to inconsistent availability of the various inks used.

  • Used and unused examples of the 10 fen postal stationery on both white and grayish paper varieties.  Printing: 3,025 cards.

  • Registered cover, special delivery cover including 50 fen and 10 fen Olympic issues with commemorative Olympic cachet and day 2 philatelic exhibition cancel.

Selected Bibliography:

  • Bura, Fabian, “The Woldenberg and Gross Born Commemoratives for the XIII Olympiad,” Journal of Sports Philately, February 1965.

  • Longden, G. Howard, Polish Prisoner of War Camp Posts, 1994.

  • Podolsky, Sherwin, “The Olympic Movement Remembered In The Polish Prisoner Of War Camps Of 1944,” Journal of Olympic History (formerly Citius, Altius, Fortius), Spring 1995.

  • Volk, Heiko, Die Olympischen Spiele im Blickpunkt der Philatelie und ihren Randgebieten (The Olympic Games from the Viewpoint of Philately and its Related Areas), 1976.

  • Bura, Fabian, “The Woldenberg and Gross Born Commemoratives for the XIII Olympiad,” Journal of Sports Philately, February 1965.

  • Longden, G. Howard, Polish Prisoner of War Camp Posts, 1994.

  • Podolsky, Sherwin, “The Olympic Movement Remembered In The Polish Prisoner Of War Camps Of 1944,” Journal of Olympic History (formerly Citius, Altius, Fortius), Spring 1995.

  • Volk, Heiko, Die Olympischen Spiele im Blickpunkt der Philatelie und ihren Randgebieten (The Olympic Games from the Viewpoint of Philately and its Related Areas), 1976.

Proceed to the exhibit gallery.