As the Second World War drew to a close, several million people of many nationalities were driven by force from, or voluntarily fled, their homelands. Approximately 175,000 to 200,000 Latvians left their nation to escape the Red Army. It has never been determined exactly how many survived this process, how many perished, or how many managed to flee Soviet-occupied zones after the surrender. By the end of 1945, a total of around 120,000 Latvian refugees had been registered in the western regions of Germany and Austria, most of whom were housed in displaced persons (DP) camps.
On September 30, 1944, Latgalian book publisher Vladislavs Locis and some of his company’s staff reached the German capital, Berlin. At the Traunstein DP camp in Bavaria on March 3, 1949, a group of cultural figures and public servants from Latvia’s eastern province of Latgale, including N. Trepsa, V. Locis, J. Rancans, and A. Urbss, established a foundation named in honour of Andryvs Jūrdžs, a 19th century Latgalian cultural figure. In 1963 the Andryvs Jūrdžs Foundation published its first non-postal stamp. The texts on the foundation’s stamps were primarily in the Latgalian language.
Alongside collectors of postage stamps, there are also many who collect so-called non-postal stamps, also known as agitation or propaganda stamps, issued by state and non-governmental organizations or even privately by individual persons. Collectors might be interested in the non-postal stamps of Latvians, Estonians, and Lithuanians that were used for mail deliveries in the DP camps, which had their own autonomous, fee-based postal services. The first stamp of this kind was issued at the Schongau DP camp in Bavaria in 1946. It displayed the coats-of-arms of the three Baltic states and the text ‘Baltic DP Camp Post.
There is currently only one issued catalogue of Latvian non-postal stamps: Latvian Non-Postal Exile Stamps, 1947-1978; compiled by Manfreds Zichmanis; Toronto, Canada: Latvian Philatelic Society, 1979.
Four primary themes feature in the Latvian and Latgalian non-postal stamp issues:
- the marking of events and gatherings significant to Latvians, such as song festivals and exhibitions,
- jubilees of important persons,
- fundraising for charitable goals,
- propaganda purposes.
These stamps were often placed on postal envelopes – not as payment for delivery services, but rather to promote or agitate for the depicted theme. The main goal of these Latvian organizations, foundations, and private persons in issuing non-postal stamps in the West was to announce to the whole world about the occupation of the Baltic states and their illegal incorporation by the USSR.
This catalogue introduces the non-postal stamps issued by the Andryvs Jūrdžs Foundation. Altogether they comprise 42 sheets containing 73 various stamps. Most of the stamps are dedicated to commemorating Latgalian cultural figures or to celebrate events such as the 1968 Latvian Song Festival of Europe in Hannover, the marking of 800 years of Christianity in Latvia, or the establishment of the American-Latvian Catholic Association. Four artists primarily worked on the graphic design of the stamps: Juris Soikans (Germany), Janis Trups (USA), Jezups Deksnis (USA), and Ontons Zvidris (Canada).
The Andryvs Jūrdžs Foundation stamps were issued on small-format sheets, in rows of four, eight, or ten, depending on the size of the stamp. These fascinating sheets cannot be mistaken for any other Western-issued Latvian non-postal stamps, because the sheet edges feature texts in the English, German, French, and Latgalian languages urging donations in support of Latgalian literature: On some sheets each stamp is completely unique, and collectors are advised to acquire full sheets.
Andryvs Jūrdžs Foundation stamps were also issued in relatively small runs – only 500 to 1000 small sheets per issue. After 1984 some runs reached 2000 and even 4000 sheets. Some were issued as perforated stamps, others without perforations. Some runs even featured both perforated and non-perforated versions. The official issues were numbered; extra runs, however, were not numbered. The stamps were sold in exchange for donations, at first costing 5 DM per sheet in Germany, with the price later reduced to 2 DM per small sheet. In the United States they were sold for USD 2.50, in Canada for CAD 3.25, and in other countries according to the US dollar exchange rate.
The stamps included in the catalogue were printed primarily in Bavaria at Niedermayer & Miesgang, Buchdruckerei and Verlagsanstalt, Neuötting am Inn, but also at Hans Steffens Graphischer Betrieb in Hamburg and Druckerei Lenters & Co. in Dortmund.
In light of the fact that the Latvian Postal Service could not issue its own national stamps during the Soviet occupation, each stamp issued by the foundation was adorned with the name “Latvija”.
The publishing of this catalogue was financed by the Latgale Programme of the Latvian Culture Capital Foundation. The publisher is the “Latgalu sata” Centre for Traditional Latgalian Culture. The catalogue was written by philatelist Zigurds Sviķis.
The catalogue displays the cultural and political goals of the Latgalians living in Germany and other Western countries after the Second World War. It introduces the broader Latvian public to the life and times of Latgale’s public, political, and cultural figures. It also illuminates significant historical events and invites collectors to expand their interests to include these non-postal stamps.