TODAY we feature the moving story behind a letter sent from a Jewish father to his refugee daughter during the Second World War, as researched by Paul Woodness of Solihull Philatelic Society.
This year Solihull Philatelic Society – a local group of collectors who specialise in the study of stamps and postal history – celebrates its 50th anniversary.
A MEMBER of Solihull Philatelic Society member has uncovered the true story – all through the back of an envelope – of a Jewish refugee who fled the Nazi’s by boat and sought refuge at a little known refugee camp on the Greek Island of Rhodes
Paul Woodness, aged 71, from Knowle, has painstakingly traced Slovakian doctor Lilly Ickovic-Frischer’s perilous journey aboard a boat called the Pentcho to Rhodes, and then Italy, after acquiring an envelope sent by her father Dr Pavel Ickovic in April 1941.
Tragically this was the last letter she received from him before he was captured and died at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in March 1942.
Stamp markings on the envelope cover (pictured) tell the story of the route which the letter took to reach Lilly.
Paul has been collecting postal history related to the Greek Dodecanese islands, which includes Rhodes, for 40 years and has items from the 1860s up to present day.
He was tipped off about this very special envelope or ‘cover’ – as referred to by collectors – three years ago from a dealer friend in Thailand who specialises in military postal history.
The retired pet food salesman managed to discover the story of the boat – the Pentcho – via the internet, assisted by a renowned London-based Postal Historian Denis Vandervelde.
Paul, who has two daughters, said: “It involved six months of intense research.
“Having collated much of the story from various articles on the internet, I displayed this cover at a meeting of the Italy and Colonies Study Circle of which I am a member. It received much interest. A fellow member Denis Vandervelde who lives in London, and is of Jewish decent, offered to help me by checking details with his contacts. It was by pure coincidence that he showed the article to a neighbour, and although not adding to the story, confirmed that his parents were also held in the Italian camp at Ferramonti.
“Despite collating the postal history for 40 years I’ve been totally unaware of there being a refugee camp on Rhodes. I have since discovered a film about the Pentcho. I also wrote to LiIly’s daughter who now lives in America – but have not received a reply as yet.”
Paul began collecting stamps following a car accident in 1975 when he was laid up in bed for three months aged 26. A collision with a jackknifed articulated lorry left him with serious injuries to his left leg and elbow.
THE FULL STORY As told by Paul Woodness
The incredible story of an envelope posted 80 years ago from Slovakia to Rhodes, reveals the dramatic and dangerous journey of a group of Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution by sea.
Lilly Ickovic-Frischer and her husband went to Bratislava Medical University and qualified as doctors, it is not known whether they were living in Bratislava, but they joined other young Jews escaping the Nazi regime and caught a 279 tonnes boat named Pentcho. The boat required much work to make it seaworthy.
But it left Bratislava on May 18 1940 severely overcrowded with 407 passengers. The intended route was down the Danube for 10 days, to the Romanian port of Sulina and the Black Sea, then through the Sea of Marmara bordering Turkey, then to the Aegean and on to Palestine.
Crammed into the lower decks, passengers were only allowed a few minutes of fresh air each day.
The boat carried forged documents with Romanian visas stating their destination as Paraguay.
The trip to the Black Sea became a nightmare, as they were turned back on numerous occasions, and held by Danube officials who doubted whether the boats was safe, and also for six weeks by the Yugoslav government.
The boat picked up more passengers at Bezden and now totalled 514. Following high level talks involving the newly formed National-Socialist regime in Slovakia and the Yugoslav government they were allowed to continue the journey.
They ran aground after their fuel ran out and conditions were so bad that a Red Cross flag and ‘Without Food’ banner was raised.
After three days a Romanian boat arrived and towed them to the southern Romanian city of Giurgui where the Pentcho was supplied with fuel, food and water. On September 4 it left for Sulina when it collided with a police boat and had to turn back and was delayed for seven days to carry out repairs. The boat finally made the Black Sea on September 21 (after three months at sea rather than the 10 days originally planned).
The Pentcho almost sank in a storm in the Black Sea before reaching the Aegean. They reached Piraeus on September 30 and received supplies from the Athens Jewish community.
On October 3 the Pentcho left for Mersina, but was intercepted off the Greek island of Stampalia by Italian torpedo boats, who explained that they had passed through a magnetic minefield, had they been seen at night, they would have been sunk by the Italian Navy.
The boat was allowed to continue, but on October 9 the boat’s boiler failed, and the boat drifted onto a rocky island Kamila Nisi in the Aegean Sea, thought to have been uninhabited.
After trying to attract attention, an Italian ship reported their plight to Rhodes, and on October 19 and 20 the passengers were taken to Rhodes and taken to the Sports Stadium which became a refugee camp.
The conditions were poor and they had to rely on the Jewish community to provide food and water. The Jewish community on Rhodes had until that moment been unaware of the plight of the Jews on mainland Europe, and the existence of concentration camps.
On December 24 they were moved to San Giovanni barracks, where they stayed until March 1942.
Lilly’s father Dr Pavel Ickovic had clearly been alerted to their situation and in April 1941 wrote to his daughter at the Stadium Camp.
Lilly, her husband and many others were transferred to an internment camp at Ferramonti di Tarsia in Italy.
The Italians treated the Jewish prisoner fairly and allowed the building of synagogues, schools and other cultural centres.
In September 1943 the Allies liberated their camp, the first such liberation. Lilly and her husband continued practicing medicine in Italy, before going to Israel in June 1944.
The emigrated to U.S.A. in 1953, working in New York. Lilly ended her medical career as Director of a Methadone Clinic and died in 2002, aged 89.
Her father Dr Ickovic was in the wood trade and had a trading business in Michalovce, his property was seized and he was sent to Auschwitz in 1941. He died on June 4, 1942.
ABOUT THE SOLIHULL PHILATELIC SOCIETY, BY MEMBER JOHN BARKER
EVER since Rowland Hill introduced the first postage stamp, the Penny Black and Two-Penny Blue in 1840, the issue of stamps by countries across the world has captured the interest of millions of people.
Stamps became a ‘window on the world’ and stamp collecting became one of the most popular hobbies towards the end of the 1800s continuing right up to recent times. Most children had a stamp collection and exchanged their ‘swaps’ with other children and with it the wealth of information surrounding those stamps and what they represented. It was an infectious curiosity and provided understanding of the world around us.
It was against this background that the Solihull Philatelic Society was formed in 1970. At the time, most big cities had thriving Philatelic Societies with their origins going back to the turn of the century.
John Nicholson, a local stamp collector placed an advert in the Solihull newspaper asking stamp collectors who may be interested in forming a society in Solihull to attend a meeting.
The very first meeting was held at the Solihull Cricket & Tennis Club in Marsh Lane where John was a member – and as the saying goes ‘the rest is history’…About 40 enthusiastic stamp collectors from all walks of life attended this meeting and the Society was set up and a programme of weekly meetings arranged. Since then we have continued to meet every Tuesday evening at this venue during the months September through to April up to the present day.
Although the internet and social media may have replaced stamp collecting as the youngsters’ window on the world, it has been a great asset to the collector who can now look up the history surrounding a letter, who it was from, who it was addressed to and the social context of its contents.
Stamp shops, such as Shirley Stamps on the Stratford Road near to the Haslucks Green Road junction, have long gone. Now with a touch of a button on the computer you can find stamps and postal history from locations across the world.
Stamp collectors’ horizons have widened over the years with developments in areas such as Postal History, Thematics, Aerophilately, Social Philately, Postal Stationery and many, many more. What one collects is a matter of personal choice, your own unique collecting field, be it the postal history of your own town, a theme such as Cats & Dogs or Postal Rates during the German Period of Inflation.
Although many of our 71 members are mainly stamp collectors who are happy to collect at home with the help of our exchange packet, we are also proud to boast that we have 16 members who give regular talks to other UK societies and stamp clubs, on a variety of subjects, dealing with stamps and postal history of Fiji, Germany, Registration Mail, Andorra, Belgian Congo, India, 19th Century mail to and from Australia, Morocco, Greek Islands and many more. Perhaps the most unusual being the extensive collection of Postal Orders and National Savings Stamps.
As part of our 50th Anniversary celebrations we are holding an Auction of stamps, post cards and coins at the beginning of November with all proceeds going to the Marie Curie West Midlands Hospice. All donations would be most welcome. We have managed to keep our meetings friendly and welcome collectors from beginners to the experienced. Visitors are always welcome at our meetings.
If you would like to find out more please contact our Secretary, Paul Woodness on 01564 776 879 or go to solihullphilatelicsociety