Postal censorship is a form of censorship that involves the opening and reading of letters and packages, usually by government officials. It is primarily used during war or civil unrest as a method of military censorship - to keep military information and tactics secret from enemies, and to prevent espionage. Postal censorship can also be employed in furtherance of moral censorship. Mary Eritano’s presentation on the Comstock Laws focuses on this in particular and can be found on the Ning site under videos. Hazardous materials are also censored for the purpose of aviation security. This presentation will focus on the military aspect of postal censorship, specifically during World War II. It will look at the reasons for censoring mail, ways in which people worked within - and around - the system, and some of the impacts WWII postal censorship has had on the present day.
We’ll start with the reasons behind postal censorship. Why censor the mail? Germany’s Ordinance on Communication in 1940 summed it up nicely. The following was not permitted to be communicated: Information on facts in the army which were subject to secrecy, 2. Rumours of all types, 3. Photos and pictures of all types which are subject to secrecy regulations, 4. Propaganda by the enemies (flyers), 5. Critical comments on measures taken by the army and the government of the &quot;Reich&quot;, 6. Statements raising the suspicion of espionage, sabotage and &quot;subversion&quot;. Postal censorship was also used as a method of improving or decreasing morale among civilians. Following the 1939 Defense of the Polish Post Office in Gdansk, Poland - a battle in which postmen fought and held out for 14 hours trying to protect their post office from becoming a German communication hub - all postboxes were removed from the city. While this was partially to inhibit communication, it mainly served to decrease morale.
One of the major problems with sending letters overseas was that they were heavy and bulky, and the space occupied by letters could be better used for supplies. This slowed down mail as much as censorship did. Victory Mail, better known as V-Mail, was developed as a method of reducing bulk and increasing the speed of communication. V-Mail was written on standardized stationary, confining letters to a specific size and reducing time spent in the censorship process. It was then photographed onto microfilm and shipped abroad, where it was developed onto 4x5 photographs. These photographs reduced the letters to nearly illegible size, but this wasn’t a problem to friends and family desperate to communicate: within the 41 months V-Mail was in service, 1.25 billion letters were sent this way to and from troops stationed abroad.
According to an announcement in the February, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, “ The organization performs two services free of charge. In any country where normal communication channels have been closed, it will make inquiries as to the whereabouts and welfare of persons with whom contact has been lost. It will also, when addresses are known, deliver twenty-five-word personal messages between civilians of belligerent nations.” By November 1942, Inquiry Service processed an average of 300 inquiries and 2700 messages per day. It was tedious; the article warned citizens that &quot;it may take weeks or months to get word through.” While not as peppy as V-Mail, this service was perhaps more important in answering the most important questions: Where are they? Are they okay? It also has the distinction of being a free service, which V-Mail was not, and provided help locating people regardless of whether they were military or relatives still living in the old country. These two examples show ways in which normal civilians were able to communicate quickly and with assurance, despite postal censorship. Now we’ll turn to another question - if you weren’t a normal citizen, and had mail that wouldn’t make it past the censor, how did you get your message across?
Censorship of the Post During World War II Maria Harris LIS 60001:001 Fall 2009