by Nora Bryson
The American Philatelic Society is proud to share that “A Philatelic Memorial of the Holocaust,” an exhibit born of the Holocaust Stamps Project, was formally dedicated on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, PA.
The ceremony included remarks from Rabbi David Ostrich of Congregation Brit Shalom in State College; award-winning filmmaker and director of Penn State’s Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative, Boaz Dvir; President Elect of Congregation Brit Shalom Deena Ultman and former Penn State Hillel board member James Ultman; APS Executive Director Scott English; and educator Charlotte Sheer, who initiated the Holocaust Stamps Project with her students at Foxborough Regional Charter School in Massachusetts. Also present were representatives of local and state government, including State Representative Paul Takac; Mark Long, representative of State Representative Kerry Benninghoff; Mykhala Richner, representative of State Senator Cris Dush; Centre County Commissioners Amber Concepcion, Steven Dershem, and Mark Higgins (chair); Ezra Nanes, Mayor of State College Borough; Bellefonte Borough Council members Randy Brachbill, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, and Johanna Sedgwick; and Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce board member Susan Munnell. Katherine Nugent and Cora Seigworth of Bellefonte Area High School performed “Somewhere” by Leonard Bernstein and “Schindler’s List Theme” by John Williams, arranged by Caleb Rebarchak.
The Centre County Board of Commissioners was one of several state and local groups who issued proclamations denouncing antisemitism and promoting Holocaust education in honor of the dedication of the exhibit. L-R: Commissioner Amber Concepcion, Commissioner (chair) Mark Higgins, APS Executive Director Scott English, and Commissioner Steven Dershem.
15 Years in the Making
“A Philatelic Memorial of the Holocaust” originated with the Holocaust Stamps Project, which began in the fifth-grade classroom of Charlotte Sheer as an activity to accompany the reading of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. The historical fiction book follows the escape of a Jewish family from Copenhagen during WWII through the eyes of a ten-year-old Danish girl.
“The children raised questions that plucked at my Jewish heartstrings,” Sheer said at the ceremony. Her students wanted to know why the Nazis were so cruel to the Jewish people – and when Sheer shared that she was Jewish and had relatives who had been killed during the Holocaust, their interest in and empathy with the subject grew.
In addition to collecting 11 million stamps over nine years, students at Foxborough Regional Charter School also created 18 collages of stamps to tell stories of Holocaust victims and survivors. Each features a white dove of peace.
“A student asked, ‘Could we collect 11 million of something?’” Sheer said. “They wanted everyone in the school to really understand.”
Though a variety of ideas for what to collect were advanced, Sheer and the students eventually settled on stamps – often considered of little value and easily discarded, they were symbolic of Hitler’s view of the Jewish people. Sheer’s classes began collecting in 2009, and with the help of the generous donors (including countless APS members) from 29 countries, 48 U.S. states, and Washington D.C., they reached their goal of 11 million stamps in 2017 and officially completed the project in 2018.
All that remained was to find the project a home – but no one that Sheer and her colleague Jamie Droste contacted had the space to display the collection, or any idea of how to do so appropriately. After two years, they reached out to the APS, which eagerly agreed to assume stewardship of the collection, beginning the four-year process of creating an exhibit to honor the 11 million victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime through philately.
“We know that two in three millennials and Generation Z don’t know the story of the Holocaust and, unfortunately, memories are fading,“ said English, who also shared the poignant story of the late Morris Rosen, APS member and Holocaust survivor, at the ceremony. “As collectors, we have a duty to preserve this story for the next generation. We’re honored to be part of educating the public on this critical moment in history.”
The 11 million stamps collected by the Holocaust Stamps Project in their new home in the American Philatelic Center. The overall height of the stamps has decreased by about 2 ½ feet since they were added to the enclosure due to the weight of the paper.
Along with the main display of stamps collected by Sheer’s class, the exhibit features a historical perspective of the Holocaust, a collection of philatelic materials sent to and from ghettos and concentration camps, a display of Holocaust memorial stamps, and collages of stamps created by Foxborough students that illustrate the stories of Holocaust victims and survivors. Countless examples of Holocaust-era philatelic materials were donated by APS members, giving context to the lives of victims and survivors under the Nazi regime. Members also generously contributed to the exhibit through the Mighty Buck Club and the sharing of their own research.
“When the Holocaust Stamps Project's goal of 11 million stamps became national news, APS members answered the call and donated from their collections,” said Susanna Mills, editor-in-chief of APS Publications and the exhibit coordinator. “And once the project was given to the APS for safekeeping, APS members donated again, giving of their time, expertise, and money, for us to create a fitting home for the project."
Though many contributed to the evolution of the exhibit, all agree that special thanks are due to Fred Fox, artist and APC building supervisor.
“When they were trying to find a home for the Holocaust Stamps Project, part of what vexed everyone was how to display the stamps,” said English when introducing Fox at the ceremony. “This is the man who figured it out.” L-R: Fox, English, State Representative Paul Takac, and Centre County Commissioners Mark Higgins, Amber Concepcion, and Steven Dershem.
Fox designed and built the wire cage to hold the stamps, painted the artwork wall, and managed much of the behind-the-scenes work for the exhibit during the height of the pandemic.
“It was an honor to do it,” Fox said. “I’m proud of the whole thing, but I’m especially proud of that wall. I painted it four times to get it just right.”
Proof of his dedication to his craft? Not to the humble Fox.
“Just means I did it wrong three times.”
Awareness Isn’t Enough: A Deeper Understanding of the Holocaust Through Philately
In his remarks at the dedication, Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative director Boaz Dvir spoke passionately about the disconnect between awareness and understanding of the Holocaust. He cited an Anti-Defamation League report which tabulated 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in 2022, a 36% increase from 2021 and the highest number on record since the ADL began tracking incidents in 1979. This is the third time in five years that the year-end total was the highest number of incidents ever recorded.
"Visitors often come and say 'I didn't realize that mail was allowed in and out of concentration camps,’” says exhibit coordinator and APS editor-in-chief Susanna Mills. “These are real artifacts that you can touch, that represent the lives of Holocaust victims and survivors."
“Is awareness enough?” Dvir asked. “We hope for more – the washing away of hate.”
According to Dvir, the Holocaust Stamps Project is something the U.S. needs more of – a hands-on endeavor that creates true understanding of antisemitism so that the horrors of the Nazi regime will never be repeated.
Deena and James Ultman echoed this sentiment, expressing their satisfaction that the project would have a permanent home with the APS, allowing people of all ages and backgrounds to learn about the Holocaust.
“I hope that this exhibit will impact not just the Jewish community,” Deena said, “but the larger community of Centre County.”
Thanks and Acknowledgments
The APS would like to acknowledge the following people and organizations for their assistance in helping this exhibit come to life.
The Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative of Penn State and Penn State Hillel for their partnership in this project.
The congregations of Brit Shalom and Chabad of Penn State for their support and guidance.
The supporters and students of Foxborough Regional Charter School for their contributions to the Holocaust Stamps Project.
Justin Gordon, Ken Lawrence, and Keith Stupell, whose postal history expertise, published research, and philatelic donations made up the bulk of the philatelic material in the exhibit.
Danny Spungen and Kiel Majewski of the Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation.
John McQueary II of State College Framing Company, Jay Mathieu of Mathieu Multimedia, and Bob Bowersox of Victorian Signs, for their work building the exhibit components.
Committee members from 2020-2022, some of whom have since moved on from the APS: Darlene Bloom, Christian Carpenter, Jo Chen, Kathleen Edwards, Isabel Gleyze, Bonnie Goble, Amy Larimer, Nick Miller, Marian Mills, Susanna Mills, Taisia Osipova, Heidi Rhoades, Erin Seamans, Denise Shivery, and Dr. Cathy Brachbill.
Fred Fox, for designing and building much of the exhibit, with the assistance of Leonard and Darlene Bloom and Sam Komlenic.
And to those who started it all: Charlotte Sheer and Jamie Droste, the students of Foxborough Regional Charter School, and the volunteers and donors, including hundreds of APS members, who contributed to the extraordinary collection of 11 million stamps.
An open house for “A Philatelic Memorial of the Holocaust” exhibit will be held on Sunday, June 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the American Philatelic Center. All are welcome to attend. Learn more here.