Is there any doubt that a stamp, in the right place and at the right time can have a profound effect on not only the sweep of events, but on a personal level, an individual's life. It may be a relatively rare occurrence in the philatelic world, but it does happen.
History In and On Stamps
The story is told of how of how during the Roosevelt administration Nicaragua lost the bid for the project to create the route between the Atlantic and the Pacific when a copy of one of its stamps showing a volcano was sent to members of congress. It was enough to sway the vote to give the contract to Panama, the rest, as the saying goes is history, as is the story of the Panama Canal.
It was another stamp - the Richard Byrd Antarctic exploration stamp, also released during Roosevelt's tenure - that with a cast of characters including Jacques Minkus and department store magnate Bernard Gimbel save a man and his family from the German gas chambers of The Holocaust. The man who is Mr. Minkus' nephew, a veteran of WWII and an artist whose work presents gripping images from The Holocaust tells the story:
"After several meetings and deliberations, Uncle Jacques suggested that a Commemorative Postal Cover of the Admiral Byrd expedition might become a profitable collector's item which he would produce and distribute. Several versions of The Commemorative Cover were produced: picturing the Admiral as well as carrying a special stamp suggested by President Roosevelt (who was an avid stamp collector). The covers would go to Little America in the Antarctic to be postmarked, returned and ultimately sold to stamp collectors throughout the world. The Little America Commemorative Postal Cover proved a financial success, as was Admiral Byrd's expedition. In return, through a grateful Senator Harry Byrd, who happened to be the brother of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, as well as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the immigration visas for myself, my parents and brothers suddenly materialized.
Had the Admiral not felt compelled to explore Antarctica, I never would have reached America. One compelling event leading to another, a chronicle takes shape, step by step, and we may never know the reasons or the end. And so, on a cold February evening in l935, I finally sailed off from Southampton on board the Olympic bound for America. Nine years later it may have been from that very same port that I would sail off once again, this time on an American troop ship bound for Normandy and the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. But on that chilly February evening of 1935, towering into the darkening sky, the huge ship looked more like a dream, a phantasmagoria of a fabulous floating city, bedecked with flags and ablaze in a million lights. My Promised Land was in sight. If not for this seeming miracle, my fate would surely have been that of all others who perished in the Holocaust."
Of Stamps and Humanity
This story is not so well known in the stamp world. Jacques Minkus, while he was a master at trumpeting the wonders of stamps and stamp collecting, was not one to blow his own horn. But he was not afraid to try to make the world a better place through his personal place in the world of philately. His promotion of Luxembourg stamps to raise funds for intellectuals who fled Nazi Germany is known. His production of patriotic envelopes during WWII is a milestone in his philatelic publishing career. But they all pale next to the Byrd cacheted cover - his first cover in fact - and how it came to save his family members from the tragic fate many others met in Nazi Germany.
The Stamp Dealer's Nephew
Mr. Lewen is not only Mr. Minkus' nephew, but was also one of the Ritchie Boys, a group of predominantly Jewish-German U.S. soldiers, who had fled Nazi Germany, as Mr. Lewen did, but returned to be used on the front lines as translators in interrogations, as well as for counter intelligence. They were trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, hence the group's name.
Mr. Lewen is also an accomplished and well-known artist creating works based on his experiences in WWII and his impressions of the horror of the Holocaust. He has given About.com Stamps permission to quote his memoir, "Reflections and Repercussions".