For three days in September of 1943, stamp collectors in Zagreb temporarily set aside their war torn lives and enjoyed Croatia’s Third Philatelic Exhibition.
The event had been postponed for a week because of uncertainties in Zagreb triggered by the surrender of Italy, Croatia’s Axis ally, on September 8th. But under the leadership of the Croatian Philatelic Alliance the show went on, complete with a special post office.
Croatia was moving into the final chapter of the reign of terror of Nazi puppet dictator Ante Pavelic. Five months after the stamp show, allied bombers would begin their raids over the city.
But in the late summer of 1943, the brutal Pavelic regime was slaughtering its own people, sending trains full of Jews to the camps in the east, and murdering hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Roma.
A few months before the stamp show, Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler came to Zagreb and pressed Pavelic to speed up the capture and deportation of the city’s Jews.
Croatia’s stamps of the era reflect the harsh militaristic nature of the regime, and a disturbing testament to the genocide and the holocaust. Pavelic himself appears in uniform. Other stamps depict storm troopers and members of the Black Legion.
But one graceful stamp stands out from the rest that were issued during those days of horror. It is a semi-postal of the old St. Mary’s Church and Cistercian Monastery as they appeared in 1650. Artist Vladimir Kirin and prolific engraver Karl Seizinger collaborated on a stamp that is noteworthy for its beauty in the midst of a bloodstained country.
The stamp was produced at the State Printing Office in Vienna, which by 1943 had been printing stamps for more than ninety years.
When the organization was founded in 1804, it had a collection of 5,000 alphabets, and could print in any known language, dead or alive.
When Pavelic’s Independent State of Croatia finally fell, the nation was folded into Yugoslavia. Pavelic fled to Austria, and was on the run for the rest of his life, in Italy, Argentina and Spain.
A member of the Yugoslav Secret Police shot Pavlic while the dictator got off a bus in a Buenos Aires suburb in 1957. With a bullet lodged in his spine, he fled to Spain, where died two years later at the German hospital in Madrid.