American Philatelic Society

Life Member L10740-051714

Jay T. Carrigan


(USA)

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Censorship in the Soviet Zone, 1945 - 1950

This web page is intended to be an introduction to, and an overview of, a very complex philatelic subject.  For additional information, consult the references listed at the bottom of the page.

Officially, there was no censorship in the Soviet Zone

Censorship in the Soviet Zone can be divided into three distinct types:

Type 1: Local Censorship, mostly from July to November 1945.  Examples are known from as early as June 1945 and as late as April 1946 (Görlitz in both cases).
Type 2: Regional "Secret" Censorship, from late 1945 to early 1947.
Type 3: Regional "Open" Censorship, from April 1947 to August 1950.
 
Some authorities consider the "Central" censorship of foreign mail performed at the Berlin NW7 office to be a fourth type of censorship.
 
"Secret" Censorship is when mail has been censored without any markings being applied to so indicate.  "Open" Censorship is when censored mail is handstamped to indicate that the mail item has been subject to censorship.
 
In both types of Regional Censorship, letters were opened by slitting or cutting, usually on the right side but sometimes on the left.  Unlike the censors in other zones, the Soviet regional censors did not reseal the letters with tape but instead crudely glued the inside of the envelope near the opened edge.  This can often be initially recognized by the "wrinkled" appearance of the right (or left) side, and confirmed by examination of the edge of the envelope.

 

Type 1 Censorship ("Local"):

More than two dozen instances of local censorship markings are known.  In addition, official records note the existence of many more  censorship stations from which no attributable covers are known.  Most of these were in operation for only a very short period of time.

Censor marks and/or censor labels are known from the following towns:

 
Berlin none recorded
Sachsen Döbeln, Geringswalde, Görlitz, Gößnitz (Kr Altenburg), Lunzenau (Mulde), Niesky (Oberlausitz), Weißwasser (Oberlausitz), Werdau (Sachsen), Zwenkau (Bz Leipzig) 
Brandenburg Eberswalde, Kyritz (Prign), Meyenburg (Prign), Neuruppin, Perleberg, Pritzwalk, Putlitz
Mecklenburg Bützow, Fürstenberg, Güstrow, Krakow am See, Laage (Meckl), Neubrandenburg, Schwaan (Meckl)
Provinz Sachsen Magdeburg, Thale (Harz), Torgau
Thüringen none recorded
 
Most local censorship stations operated during periods when only post cards and unsealed letters were permitted.  For our purposes, a sealed letter that has been opened and resealed by a local censorship station and not marked in any way is indistinguishable from one processed by a regional censorship station, i.e. Type 2 censorship.
 
Görlitz local censor mark on front of 4.7.45 local cover (over-)franked with 12 Pf. Görlitz first local issue, gray paper (Michel no. 4).
 
Forgery:  This censor mark has been forged!  The genuine marking is 13 x 76 mm, whereas the forgery is 17 x 78 mm.  The forged censor mark has been applied to otherwise genuine covers, both philatelic and commercial.
 
Pritzwalk local censor mark on front of 24.10.45 cover to Berlin with two-line boxed cash franking mark.
 
Werdau hectographed label used to re-seal 16.7.45 incoming letter from Grünbach; otherwise no censor markings.
 

Type 2 Censorship ("Secret"):

The censors cut or slit open one side of the envelope.  Following examination of the contents, the envelope was resealed with glue from the inside.  If necessary, the contents were protected with a small folded strip of plain paper or portion of a Russian language newspaper.

This form of censorship is known from December 1945 through Spring 1947.

 
31.12.45 letter from München (American Zone) to Berlin SW68 (American Sector), forwarded to Berlin-Templehof (also American Sector).  However, all mail to and from West Berlin went via the exchange office at Berlin NO55 (until it was closed in April 1946, this office processed mail from all sectors of Berlin, all of Brandenburg province, and all interzonal mail to or from Berlin and the Soviet Zone).  

The letter was opened on the right side by the Soviet censor and then glued from the inside. The 8.1.46 backstamp of Berlin SW68 documents the period when the letter was under Soviet control.

The 15.1.46 backstamp of Berlin-Templehof and the 16.1.46 arrival docketing strongly suggest that American censorship was also performed in Berlin (the censor number 11891 is unrecorded in Riemer, being in between blocks of numbers known to have been used in München and Berlin).

 
3.1.47 letter from Reuth (Kr Plauen Vogtl) to USA, returned for additional postage, which was then cancelled on 4.1.47.  Opened on right side and glued from the inside.  Traces of glue are evident near the top right 24 Pf. stamp.
 

Type 3 Censorship ("Open"):

"Open" regional censorship, using a Russian language censor mark, began in early April 1947 as a result of the Allied Control Council hearing complaints from the western allies regarding what postal patrons perceived as "damaged" or "tampered" mail.  The method of opening and regluing from the inside continued.

 

The censor mark is in Cyrillic characters, "SOVIET ZONE" at the top, and "MILITARY CENSOR" at the bottom.  The central bridge contains a four-digit number.  The censor marks are struck in black, violet (shades), red and green.

 
 

Censor numbers were allocated in blocks to the regions, but the individual numbers were allocated to the censor stations at random (i.e. on an "as needed" basis)

 
Berlin Censor numbers 5200 - 5330.
Censor stations at NO55, NW7, O17 and N4.
Censor numbers 5260 - 5330 were used at Berlin NW7 exclusively for foreign mail.
Sachsen Censor numbers 5331 - 5419.
OPD Dresden censor stations at Dresden and Bautzen.
OPD Chemnitz censor stations at Chemnitz, Leipzig and Zwickau.
Brandenburg Censor numbers 5420 - 5450 and 6200 - 6239.
Censor stations at Potsdam, Cottbus and Eberswalde.
Berlin O17 and N4 also served portions of Brandenburg province.
Mecklenburg Censor numbers 6240 - 6299.
Censor stations at Schwerin, Rostock and Stralsund.
Provinz Sachsen Censor numbers 6300 - 6349.
Censor stations at Halle and Magdeburg.
Thüringen Censor numbers 6350 - 6399.
Censor stations at Erfurt, Gera, Gotha(?) and Weimar
(so far no individual censor numbers have been identified as being assigned to Gotha).
 
28.5.47 letter from Erfurt to Zwickau, censor no. 6369 struck on reverse (see above), indicating censorship at Erfurt (after 7.48 this number was re-assigned to the Weimar censor station and first used there in 11.48).  Opened on right side and glued from the inside.
 
30.5.47 letter from Weimar to Kiel (British Zone), censor no. 6384 struck on reverse in red (see above), indicating censorship at Weimar.  Opened on right side and glued from the inside.
 
26.9.48 letter from Markkleeberg to USA, censor no. 5277 stuck on reverse, indicating censorship at Berlin NW7.  The letter was posted unsealed and the censor mark was struck across the flap after sealing.
 

The Soviet Zone became the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) on 7.10.49, but the use of the "Soviet Zone" censorship handstamps continued until August 1950.  Responsibility for surveillance of mail then passed to the Staatssicherheitsdienst ("Stasi", or secret police) of the DDR.  Many of the same censorship stations continued in operation under Stasi direction.  The use of censor handstamps was discontinued and indications that mail had been opened became increasingly difficult to detect.  But that is another story.


References:

1.   Strobel, Wolfgang & Walch, Hans-Joachim, "Sowjetische regionale Postzensur in Deutschland 1945 bis 1950", 1997.
2.   Richter, Hans-J., "Briefzensur in der sowjetischen Besatzungszone Deutschlands und im Ostsektor von Berlin", 1994.
3.   Riemer, Karl-Heinz, "Die Postzensur der alliierten im besetzten Deutschland nach dem II. Weltkrieg", 1977.

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