Sudetenland - Railway Thematics of the Anschluss

Historical Context.

Whilst the German invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939 is often seen as the start of the Second World War, the road to war began much earlier. The entry of German troops into the demilitarised Rheinland in 1936 went unchallenged, just a year after the territory of the Saar had elected to be incorporated back into Germany in a plebiscite foreseen in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Then, in the Far East, in 1937, Japan invaded China, an event which can reasonably be put forward as the first belligerent move of the World War to come. In 1938, German troops entered Austria unopposed, an event met either sullenly or enthusiastically by its people, and a union by annexation resulted, usually simply known as Der Anschluss. Although there were a few dissenting voices in Europe at this action, the memories of the Great War were still fresh in the minds of the politicians and peoples of Europe, almost all desperate to avoid war.

Up to this point, Hitler had restricted his ambitions to parts of Germany and to the German-speaking country of his birth, Austria. Next door to Austria was Czechoslovakia, one of a number of new nations created at the end of the First World War at the Paris Conference and ratified by the Treaty of Versailles. Yugoslavia and the Polish Corridor around Danzig (Gdansk) were, like Czechoslovakia, political entities that were bound to cause problems in the long-term. None of them survived into the 21st century, although Yugoslavia, due to Tito's firm hand, did have some durability.

Czechoslovakia was not just a union of Czechs and Slovaks. In the west of the country, in a region that was formerly part of Bohemia within the Austrian Empire, but by this time known as the Sudetenland, there were a very large number of people of German descent. Indeed, this region had once been part of the German Confederation.

Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Niklasdorf Gutter
A 1930s postcard view of the Pilsen (Plsen) Skoda Works, with Czechoslovakia stamp super-imposed.

With financial backing from Germany, a pro-Hitler political movement was fostered amongst the Sudeten Germans, agitating for union with the German Reich. This created a destabilising influence in the region, which sent shock waves around European capitals. Pacifist sentiment in these countries was quick to point out that it was natural enough for German-speaking peoples to aspire to such a 'union', whilst paying lip-service to the integrity and sovereignty of the Czechoslovak state.

The Munich Agreement (Sept. 29/30 1938) and Neville Chamberlain's scrap of paper are still images that stir many a conscience. The principal outcome, the annexation of the Sudetenland, for which Hitler received approval from Britain's Chamberlain, Duladier of France and the Italian fascist leader, Mussolini, and in which the Czechoslovak Government had no say, can, arguably, be said to have delayed the outbreak of war. There can be no doubt though that, from this point, war became inevitable. Czechoslovakia's principal defence lines lay within the Sudetenland. Once German troops entered the region on October 1st 1938, virtually unopposed, the remainder of the country was almost defenceless. In March 1939, German troops entered what remained of Czechoslovakia and much of Europe resignedly and belatedly prepared for war.

Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Niklasdorf Gutter

Sudetenland Philately 1938

General note of warning : There are a very large number of forgeries of almost all Sudetenland stamps and some bogus overprints besides. Great care should be exercised in buying these stamps and collectors are advised to try to acquire examples which have been expertised. Dr. Dub and Dr. Hörr, amongst others, are recognized for their expertise on these issues. The railway values are all scarce, other than the Rumburg overprint on the 50h Pilsen, which is found in reasonably large numbers.

Exact dates of issue for Sudetenland stamps are, in general, not known. Curiously, the one issue (from Asch) for which a date is given, September 21st, pre-dates the occupation by 10 days and the Munich Agreement by 8 days. Generally, though, postmarked stamps and covers carry dates in early October 1938. Almost all covers (and used stamps) bearing Sudetenland overprints are philatelic, their period of validity ending as early as October 19th 1938.

Karlsbad-Konstantinsbad Karlsbad-Konstantinsbad

The above stamps showing a railway truck above the soldiers' heads are, like the Pilsen Ironworks stamp, denominated 50h and printed in blue-green. We illustrate the Pilsen stamp for each issue below, mostly, we think, with genuine overprints but we have scans of very few of the 'soldier' type which we are convinced are genuine. This comment also applies to the scans shown above. Therefore, for the rest of this article, we only describe, but do not illustrate, the 'soldier' types. They exist with a label (German: Zierfeld) at right or left.

Overprints were applied to Czech stamps in a number of towns or districts but only those from Asch, Karlsbad, Konstantinsbad, Niklasdorf, Reichenberg-Maffersdorf, Rumburg and Sudetendeutsches Niederland are recognized as authorized issues and listed by Michel.

The overprint 'Wir sind frei!', applied in several districts, is German for 'We are Free!'. We examine the stamps of Sudetenland in alphabetical order, followed by Mährisch-Ostrau.

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Asch
Sudetenland Railway Stamps - Asch

The above stamp is not in Michel under Asch and we therefore do not provide a catalogue-style listing.

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Karlsbad and Konstantinsbad
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Karlsbad-Konstantinsbad Skodawerke Pilsen

Karlsbad : Optd. ' Karlsbad / 1.X.1938 / ( swastika ) ' in Red
50h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 62 ) [ . ]
- ditto - interpanneau pair ( label also overprinted ) ( Mi. 62WZ ) [ . ]

50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 54) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

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Konstantinsbad : Optd. ' Sudetenland ' in Black
50h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 34 ) [ . ]
- ditto - interpanneau pair ( we do not know if the label is overprinted ) ( Mi. 34WZ ) [ . ]

50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 28) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

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Niklasdorf
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Niklasdorf singles
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Niklasdorf Gutter

Niklasdorf : Surcharged with new value in Black
1.20 Kc / 50 h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 47 ) [ . ]
2 Kc / 50 h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 73 ) [ . ]
4.50 Kc / 50 h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 120 ) [ . ]
- ditto - interpanneau pair ( label not overprinted ) ( Mi. 120WZ ) [ . ]

1Kc20 / 50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 22) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

2Kc / 50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 69) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

4Kc50 / 50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 114) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

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Reichenberg-Maffersdorf
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Reichenberg-Massersdorf cover

Reichenberg-Maffersdorf : Optd. ' Wir sind / frei ! / ( swastika ) ' in Black.
50 h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 137 ) [ . ]
- ditto - interpanneau pair ( label not overprinted, expertised Osper ) ( Mi. 137WZ ) [ . ]
- ditto - interpanneau pair ( label with overprint, expertised Hübner ) ( Mi. 137WZ ) [ . ]

Note: We have also seen an interpanneau pair ( label not overprinted ) overprinted in a deep bluish-black, expertised by Osper. They may both be authentic, but we do not have the expertise to comment further.

50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 131) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

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Rumburg
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Rumburg

Left Stamp: Rumburg ( normal ). . . Right stamp : Rumburg - missing bar to swastika.

Rumburg : Optd. ' Wir sind / frei ! / ( swastika ) in Black (smaller opt than above )
50 h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Steam Train ( Mi. 51 ) [ . ]
- ditto - variety - Swastika with missing bar ( Position 71 in the sheet, rarely seen )
[ . ]

50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck (Mi. 47) [ . ]
- ditto - label at left (rifles) [ . ]
- ditto - label at right (rifles) [ . ]

The Rumburg 'soldiers' stamp exists with variety 'exclamation mark like a tear-drop'

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Sudetendeutsches Niederland
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Rumburg

'Bohemian Netherlands' is a name that is occasionally applied to the border area of Northern Bohemia, running up to the border of Germany at a point to the South-East of Dresden. It is made up principally of three towns / districts : Warnsdorf (Czech: Varnsdorf), Rumburg (Czech: Rumburk) and Schluckenau (Czech: Sluknov). The stamp shown above may well have been prepared for use but not issued, but information on it is very limited.

50h blue-green Soldiers and Railway Truck overprinted with a swastika only (not issued) [ . ]
- ditto - interpanneau-pair (gutter pair) [ . ]

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Other Sudetenland
Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Rumburg

There are a number of other overprints / cancellations found on the same Czech stamps, many of them private or bogus. The status of the stamps above is unknown to us, but they probably do not have much authenticity. The Sudetenland remains a very difficult area for philatelists with few people truly competent to expertise them.

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German Occupation of Bohemia & Moravia, March 1939.

German troops invaded Bohemia & Moravia in March 1939. Czech stamps continued to be used until November 1939, supplemented by regular issues for the 'Protectorate', which became available from July 15th. From December 1939 onwards, only Bohemia & Moravia stamps could be used, a few of which are of railway interest. Some of these exist with a variety of blank fields (Leerfeld) in the sheets. These may be covered by us later in a study of war-related stamps of the 20th century but they are outside the scope of this article.

There is one stamp, however, which is perhaps best examined here, as its overprint is very similar in design to the overprint on some of the Sudetenland stamps above. As early as March 14th 1939, German troops occupied the town of Mährisch-Ostrau and several Czech stamps were overprinted Wir sind / frei! / ( swastika ). These stamps were only valid in Mährisch-Ostrau and are listed by Michel.

The only stamp of railway interest for Mährisch-Ostrau was the 1938 50 Heller Steam Train & Skoda Works in Pilsen (Czechoslovakia Mi. 400). We have no image of this stamp but have provided an image below of the overprint on a non-railway stamp.

Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Rumburg Briefmarken Sudetenland stamps Rumburg

Above (left): A non-railway value overprinted for Mährisch-Ostrau. The 50h Soldier & Train type was, apparently, NOT overprinted in this style for Mährisch-Ostrau but the 50h Pilsen stamp was.
Above (right) A local handstamp stated to have been applied in Mährisch-Ostrau. We do not have any literature or further information with regard to the status or authenticity of such local handstamps, nor do we know whether they were ever applied to a railway-related stamp, caveat emptor.

50h blue-green Pilsen Skoda Works & Train overprinted in style shown above (Local Issue for Mährisch-Ostrau) (Mi. A.29) [ . ]
- ditto - Inter-panneau Pair (Gutter Pair) [ . ]

Note 1: The existence of the Inter-panneau pair requires verification.
Note 2 : Michel reports that there are three variations of the exclamation mark in the overprint as follows:
I : Downstroke and Stop joined.
II : Stop separated, downstroke rounded at top.
III : Stop separated, downstroke more diamond-shaped at top
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