duminică, 20 decembrie 2009


This article was published in "Romanian Postal History Bulletin" no.2 (29), August 1999.

Even though Romania and Denmark are geographically far apart, we can find interesting and little known facts about relations between Romania and the neutral state of Denmark during the 1917 - 1918 period of WWI.

There are two aspects to this story:

Romanian POW in Danish Camps;
Romanian POW's mail handled by the Danish Red Cross.

Even though, during WWI, Denmark was a neutral country, two POW camps were established there in 1917. However the circumstances of these camps have nothing to do with repression but in fact with protection, healing, and recovery. In a humanitarian gesture, Denmark had established on its soil two hospital-camps for this purpose. This was arranged following agreements between the main warring nations (Germany and Austria-Hungary of one side, Russia of the other), the Red Cross Organization, and the Danish Government. Both sides could transfer a limited number of their sick and wounded POWs (that had been kept in the enemy's camps) to these well-supplied hospital-camps. Camp No.1 (Horserød) was assigned to the Russian POWs, while Camp No.2 (Hald) hosted German and Austro-Hungarian POWs.

The interned POWs were separated into 3 groups: 1. Totally fit for work, 2. Partially fit for work, and 3. Unable to work.

The mail from these camps has some special features: written on a wide range of covers and postcards (as we will see), they were all cancelled with a specific round postmark, with the text "KRIGSFANGELEJR No... DANMARK" (POW Camp No.... Denmark), with the "number" being either 1 or 2. To prove the sender's origin as being a POW (which allowed for the sending of mail free of charge) the postcards had to bear clear specific printed texts, if not, a supplementary marking was applied, reading "Krigsfangeforsendelse" (POW mail).

As today's Romanian territories were divided during WWI between the Romanian Kingdom (Old Romania), which was allied in the war with Russia and the Entente and Austria-Hungary (including Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina), which was part of the Central Powers, we can find pieces of mail written by Romanian POWs from both the Romanian and Austro-Hungarian Army. The following are examples:


(for Russian & Romanian POWs)

Horserød is a small village in the Frederiksborg region (Sjaelland Island), 40 km north of Copenhagen. Unfortunately, I don't know the details of the camp's structure, but probably they were similar to Hald (see below).

Let's first take a look at the mail sent by Aurel Bodescu, " a short-term military man" in the Romanian Army (as evidenced by the abbreviation in Romanian in the address "student TTR", these were the high-schools students who were conscripted for a few months only), and sent to his sister in Bucharest.

This Romanian was probably taken prisoner in the first months of the Romanian campaign (August-December 1916) and was initially kept in the Hungarian POW Camp of Ostffyasszonyfa, in the "W" group, bearing the personal number 32900. From this period we can see the camp's special postcard from Fig.1, written in 2.12.1917. From its text we know that: "a few days ago it was proposed that I go to Switzerland for treatment.. I have received nothing yet from Berne. I have received 4 parcels from Geneva." It seems that a similar arrangement (transferring the POWs for medical treatment) was established with Switzerland too (as it was with Denmark), but no further details are available at this time. We have to look carefully at POW's mail sent from Switzerland, as some surprises can appear... The sentences about Berne and Geneve are related to the already known facts of the help provided to POWs (parcels, money, mail with the families, etc).

The move for this POW came soon, but ... to Denmark, not Switzerland. Three weeks later, on 25.12.1917, Aurel writes: "I am now 4 days on Danish soil. I have been sent here for to recover from my poor health, I hope that in 3-4 months I will be fully recovered... I'm happy to be here. The place were I am has a very nice and healthy climate. We require absolutely nothing. Everything is put at our disposal. I only ask you to send me an address in France or another state, where I can ask for money if necessary. Otherwise, I don't ask for anything".

The mail is written from "Baraca 54" (the 54th hut) on a double postcard, which fortunately remained complete, as the family in Romania didn't use the reply part. The Russian Red Cross specially issued this postcard for the Russian POWs of Horserød (Fig. 2a and 2b).

It is cancelled with the postmark KRIGSFANGELEJR No. 1 DANMARK on 26.12.1917 and was censored in transit in Vienna (being addressed to the then occupied Romania).

Another item from 24.01.1918 was written on a 'Romanian' postcard [a double special postcard, issued by the Romanian Red Cross - Copenhagen Section / POWs Agency with its title written in French (Fig. 3)]. The POW used the "reply" part (which was usually intended to answer the message from the family). This (as with the use of a Russian postal form) could suggest a shortage of postcards in the camp... We can read from the text that: "... I have received nothing from you in two months... I only ask of you to send me an address in a foreign country and for you to write there, to tell them to send me money if I need it... I receive Romanian newspapers each day through Mr. Deputy Jean M. Dumitrescu from Bucharest, who is now in Kopenhagen..." The mail was cancelled with the same postmark in 25.01.1918, being censored with an illegible marking.

One has to note that:

Even if officially the camp was seen as a "Camp for Russian POWs", it served also for Romanian POWs.
Supposedly, the 'ratio' of the Russian and Romanian POWs transferred to Horserød approximately reflected the 'ratio' between Russian and Romanian POWs kept in the Central Powers camps (which was largely favorable to the Russians);
The mail sent home by the Russian POWs from Horserød (scarce from the beginning due to illiteracy) was probably largely destroyed during the harsh years of the post-1918 period in the USSR;
Theoretically one can find also (extremely rare) mail sent by Romanian Bessarabian soldiers from the Russian Army!

From here two conclusions can be surmised:

mail sent from Horserød had to be much rarer than that from Hald (where, for example, Germans and Austrians, with a higher literacy level, were kept);
mail from Romanians sent from Horserød is also very rare, due to the small initial number of Romanians in the camp (official figures are not known, but they have to be around 200-300 at the most, the rest being Russians); further, illiteracy was also more common amongst Romanian privates. One would expect to see such mail mainly from officers.
Camp No.2 HALD

(for German & Austro-Hungarian POWs)

Hald is a place on the Jutland peninsula, near the city of Viborg (with a population of 15,000 at that time). Due to an article in the German "AG Zensurpost" Bulletin No.41/1983, page 16+111, we know some more details: the camp was composed of two sections, one for officers with 200 places and the other for troops with 1000 places. On the other side of the fences, there were huts for the Danish commandment, for the guard, physicians and nurses. The interned (POWs) could freely move around the camp on a 7-km range and could visit the town of Viborg. There were workrooms for: bookbinding, carpentry, tailoring, shoemaking, locksmithing, and smithying. The products of these workrooms were well known in the whole country. A bookshop was also open, and theatrical performances were provided. Many of the interned returned home in 1917. The camp was closed in 1918.

One can presume that, in general, these features were valuable also for the Camp of Horserød.

Let's now take a look here at the mail sent by a physician, a Romanian officer from the Austro-Hungarian Army, Lt. Maj. Dr. Justin Nestor, to his family in Balázsfalva (Blaj in Romanian), in Transylvania.

He was taken prisoner in Przemysl (where the whole Austro-Hungarian garrison surrendered on 22.03.1915, at 9.00 AM, with some 120,000 men being taken into the Russian captivity). He was kept in the Kurmish POW camp, as we can see in fig. 4: a postcard written in 16/29.07.1915 (the date is given in old style/ new style), cancelled with the postmark KURMISH in 17.07.15 (the Russian post used the old style in its postmarks), censored in the town of KASAN and re-censored by the Austro-Hungarian Red Cross in Vienna. From its text: "the voyage along the Volga and Sura was wonderful. We are in all, 23 officers, all from Przemysl. Apart from me and Lt.maj. Babeu from Caransebes, there are only two other Romanian. The rest are Slavs: Czechs, Poles and Ruthenians."

Lt. Maj. Nestor was then transferred to Hald and we have two items from here that were mailed in 1917: the first is a cover (Fig. 5), cancelled with the postmark "KRIGSFANGELEJR No. 2 DANMARK" in 7.06.1917 (the sender's address is "Lazaretlager Hald bei Viborg", ("Hospital-Camp Hald near Viborg").

The second is a photographic postcard (depicting the camp itself, probably the officers' or the administrative section, see Fig. 6), cancelled with the same postmark in 28.08.1917.

The items bear two variants of the supplementary marking Krigsfangeforsendelse; this was required here because none of them has a title or another marking to specify the sender's place (as being a POW camp).


POW mail to the families back in the native country was supported by many Red Cross organizations: those in the countries, which housed the POW Camps; those in the countries of origin of the POWs; and finally those in the neutral countries (Switzerland is the most common case, but also Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, etc).

Danish Red Cross markings are rarely seen on Romanian POW mail. I know such cases only on mail of the Transylvanian Romanian soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian Army, not on mail originating from POWs from the Romanian Army itself.

Here is an example, of the private Tulbure Duda, a Romanian from Kölnök (Câlnic in Romanian), a village from the Romanian Banat (Caras County).He was taken as POW (together with the entire 23rd Honved Division, which recruited from Banat) also in Przemysl, in March 1915. In Fig. 7 one can see a postcard sent on 25.02.1917 by his wife, addressed to "Tulbure Duda, 8. Honved, Kriegsgefanger, gorod Pavlodar, Semipalatinsk oblast, Russland, Sibir(ien)", which means "T.D., 8th Honved Regiment (which was his initial unit), POW, town of Pavlodar, region Semipalatinsk, Siberia, Russia". The postcard was censored by the special bureau for POWs from Vienna and was delivered through Copenhagen, Denmark (see the marking "Brev ank. Til Kbhvn. / 5. MRS. 1917").

The follow-up is a more interesting item in Fig. 8: a special reply postcard issued by the Danish Red Cross - Copenhagen / POW Agency, as we can read the French in its title, sent by Tulbure Duda from Pavlodar in 17/30.04.1917; he says: "Honored Society! /he refers to the Red Cross Society/ Thank you very much for your care with which you sent me the letters from my family and I respectfully ask you to let them know that I am well and healthy, to the address: Maria Duda /his wife's name/, No.92, Kölnök, Krásso Szörény, Hungary; Salutations, Tulbure Duda, 8 Honved in Pavlodar, Siberia". The postcard bears the same marking Brev ank. Til Kbhvn., but with the date of 2 AUG 1917 and was censored in Russia (see the rectangular marking + the numeral "67" + the initials "H.TZ", all from Petrograd).


Fig. 9 depicts another item, which is somehow linked to the subject of this article. The Romanian Red Cross was, during Romania's neutrality (Aug.1914 - Aug.1916), the only bureau that offered information about the Austro-Hungarian POWs kept in Russia. The Danish Red Cross printed a special warning-postcard on this subject. In this case, it was sent to a lady in Bjelovar, Croatia (in Austria at that time), cancelled with the postmark KJØBENHAVN in February 1915. The text reads: "We inform you that you have to send your request to the Red Cross in Bucharest, as it is this bureau gives the information on the Austro-Hungarian prisoners in Russia. However, we will be attentive to your case and when we receive any news from Russia we will send it immediately to you. Letters from and to Austro-Hungary can be mailed through our bureau, as before".

(c) Grecu Dan 2000-2003.