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Eastern Silesia 1918 - 1920

 

Originally published in the Czechoslovak Specialist no. 5 / 2000 (USA, www.czechoslovakphilately.com )

Revised and updated versions of the article published in the Czechout no. 3 / 2002 (UK, www.cpsgb.org.uk )

and Oost Europa Filatelie no. 4 / 2002 (NL, www.geocities.com/fcoe2001/fcoe.htm )

By Lubor Kunc

English corrections made by Philip Townshend of United Kingdom. Thank you for you help !


The Czech occupation of a part of Silesia is one of „the well kept secrets" of the Czech history . This story is not widely known, however every collector of Czechoslovak stamps knows its outcome - the Czechoslovak and Polish stamps with overprints SO 1920. Let’s look at it !

On October 28, 1918 the Czechoslovak Republic was established. At the same time a state of German population called „The Province Sudetenland" with its capital in Opava (Troppau) was founded in Northern Moravia and Bohemian part of Silesia . The goal of establishing of this state was the same as the founding of remaining German states in Bohemia : to save the area for German and to incorporat it directly into Germany after WWI.

The Czech population established in Ostrava on Oct. 29, 1918 own Národní výbor with aim of incorporating the Eastern Silesia area into Czechoslovakia . And in addition on October 30, 1918 the Polish population founded the Polish National Council (Rada Narodowa) in Tešín (Cieszyn / Teschen). All these organisations play the key roles in our story.

The main problem lay in determining the borders between Czechoslovakia and Poland in this area. Národní výbor and Rada Narodowa set first preliminary borders on November 5, 1918, but both sides felt the borders were not definitive . The borders were not convenient for Czechoslovakia, because some important towns and the large coal mining areas belonged as per the agreement to Poland, but Czechoslovaks need to earn time for fighting with „ Sudetenland Province" .

The Czechoslovak government started late in November liberation of all German areas in Bohemia and Moravia, incl. the territory of „The Sudetenland Province". As result of this action, Opava was occupied by Czechoslovak units on December 18, 1918. Until end of December the Czechoslovak troops occupied all towns and villages belonging to the Province, after which only two players in the contest for Silesia remained .

The relationship between Czechoslovaks and Poles in Eastern Silesia was getting worst in Dec. 1918 and Jan. 1919. Neither side was prepared to accept the offers of the other party, both of them wanted the whole area for own state.

On Jan. 10, 1919 the Polish government declared that elections for Polish Parliament, would be held for Jan. 26, 1919 (see a stamp in fig. 1 issued in Northern Polish Postal District, Michel – Polen, Nr. 125, showing Mr. Trampczynski, first Chairman of Polish Parliament – called Sejm – elected in the 1919 elections).

The Polish voting districts contained area of Eastern Silesia as well. The Czechoslovak government refused the incorporating of the above area to the Polish voting districts. According to information contained in Mr. Permans´s book, the Tešín area was one of the Bolshevik centres, in which the Bolshevik agents called for Soviet revolution, workers were under their influence and the coal production goes rapidly down, which caused large problems in coal distribution in whole Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.

Because the negotiations between Czech and Polish governments have no positive result and the Polish government was not in a position to defeat the communist movement in Silesia, which had negative impact on Czechoslovak economy, the Czechoslovak government decided to occupy the territory. This military action was called „Expedition of colonel Šnejdárek" . Colonel Šnejdárek was one of the officers of Czech Legions in France during WWI, and after return from France he was one of the best officers of Czechoslovak Army .

The expedition started on Jan. 23, 1919. Czech troops occupied area between the preliminary border of Nov. 5 and Wisla River and the expedition finished on Jan. 30, 1919, when the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defence instructed the troops to stop the expedition but to stay on the occupied territory.

Beginning on Feb. 3, 1919 a Peace Conference was held in Paris. The result of this conference was setting of preliminary borders between Czechoslovakia and Poland and an agreement that the Czechoslovak units will leave the part of the occupied area given by the Conference to Poland until Feb. 25, 1919.

 

I. Post Offices given by the Paris Conference to Czechoslovakia

Czech Name Polish Name German Name
Bohumín 1+2 Bogumin 1+2 Oderberg 1+2
Dolní Bludovice Bledowice Dolne Nieder Bludowitz
Dolní Domaslovice   Nieder Domaslowitz
Dombrová Dabrowa Dombrau
Hnojník Gnojnik Gnojnik
Horní Suchá Górna Sucha Ober Suchau
Chotebuz Kocobedz Kontzobendz
Karvín 1 (Karviná) Karwina 1 Karwin 1
Komorní Lhotka Ligotka Kameralna Cameral Ellgoth
Louky Laki, Slask.Austr Lonkau in österr. Schlesien
Pudlov Pudlów Pudlau
Ropice Ropic Roppitz
Rychwald Rychwald Slask Reichwaldau
Stonava Stonawa Steinau

 

II. Post Offices given by the Paris Conference to Poland

Czech Name Polish Name German Name
Holešov ve Sl. Goleszów Golleschau
Ohrazená Ogorodzona Ogorodzon
Pruchná Próchna Pruchna
Puncov Ponców Punzau
Strumen Strumien Schwarzwasser
Tešín 1 Cieszyn 1 Teschen 1
Ustron Ustron Ustron
Velké Kuncice ve Slezsku Konczyce Wlk. Gross Kuntschitz
Žibridlovice ve Sl Zebrzydowice Sl Seibersdorf

 

From philatelic point of view the stamps used at the post offices mentioned in the list no. II from Jan. 23 to Feb. 25, 1919 are the Czechoslovak ones. More details you can find in philatelic part of the article.

The conference was more successful for Czechoslovakia, because we have got some towns and mining areas belonging as per the agreement of 1918 to Poland . This solution was accepted by both parties, the Czechoslovak units left the area by the above deadline and the Polish troops occupied Polish part of the area set by the Conference of Paris.

Another destiny had following post offices, which the Paris Conference of 1919 decided to give to Poland, but the Allied gave them to the Czechoslovakia in 1920 :

 

III. Post Offices given by the Paris Conference to Poland, but on Aug. 10, 1920 returned to Czechoslovakia

Czech Name Polish Name German Name
Bystrice ve Sl. Bystrzyca Bistritz in Schl.
Darkov Darków Darkau
Detmarovice Dziecmorowice Dittmannsdorf
Frýštát ve Slezsku Frysztat Slask. Austr. Freistadt, Österr. Schlesien
Jablunkov ve Sl. Jablonków Jablunkau in Schl
Návsí Nawsie Nawsi
Nemecká Lutyne NIemiecka Lutynia Deutschleuten
Petrovice u Frýštátu Piotrowice k. Frysztatu Petrowitz b. Freistadt
Skrecon Skrzecon Skrzecon
Tešín 2 Cieszyn 2 Teschen 2
Trinec Trzyniec Trzynietz
Vendryne Wendrynia Wendrin

 

The peace negotiations continued . In April 1919 first proposal of Czechoslovak-Polish borders was presented. On August 22, 1919 the proposal was rejected by France and the negotiations seemed have ended without success. The solution should be a plebiscite in the Eastern Silesia area, which was announced by Allied on September 27, 1919 . This decision incensed the Czechoslovak legions in Russia. The outrage was so big, that a company refused to take part in a review in Tomsk arranged for deputies of Czechoslovak government.

On July 7, 1920 next Peace Conference opened in Spa (Belgium) . The result of the conference was common agreement of Czechoslovakia and Poland to ask Allies to play role of arbiter in setting the borders, instead of arranging the plebiscite. The Polish preparedness to accept an Allies´ decision was caused by a need of Allies´ support in Polish-Soviet conflict. The Czechoslovaks believed, that they pursue the Allies to accept their demands, so they expressed agreement with the solution as well. The Allies´ decision about new borders between both countries was made on July 28, 1920 and both states declared their acceptance. As result of this agreement, the towns mentioned in list no. III were occupied by Czechoslovak army between August 6 and 10, 1920.

I am sure you have detected, that Tešín is mentioned in both lists no. II + III. This is no error, it was really so. The town had belonged until Šnejdárek´s expedition to Poland. Than the whole town was occupied by Czechoslovaks . This situation lasted only 1 month, because the Paris Conference decided to return Tešín town to Poland. The Allies´ arbitration of 1920 than divided the town into two parts – Polish one called Cieszyn consisting of the centre of the town (incl. post office Tešín 1) and the Czech one called Ceský Tešín containing the railway station and post office Tešín 2. This division lasts until now – as you can see, Berlin was not the only divided town in Europe ! The hard times in the Tešín town could be illustrated by provisional bank notes issued by Rada Narodowa, when the insufficient quantity of legal tenders occurred.

Fig. 2a) shows a Polish side of a provisional banknote of October 1919

 

 

and fig. 2b) shows German side of another provisional banknote of April 1919 .

 

 

Because the Poles were less satisfied with the borders than the Czechoslovaks, Poland occupied this area in 1938 thanks to the Munich Treaty. This action was celebrated by a Polish stamp of 1938 (Michel – Polen Nr. 330) shown in fig. 3 celebrating “return of Tešín area to the fatherland” (I thank to my friend Karl Ruzicka for discovery of the stamp!). But this is another story !

 

 

The Šnejdarek expedition had an influence on the Czechoslovak economy as well. Because the Eastern Silesia was last area with unknown borders in Bohemia/Moravia, it was needed to wait with the monetary reform replacing the Austrian currency with the Czechoslovak one for a setting of borders. Because the Parisian Conference set the borders in Eastern Silesia and exact date of their validity, the Czechoslovak Finance Minister Rašín was allowed to prepare the monetary reform for Feb. 26, 1919. As you know, one of the results of the monetary reform was finishing of the validity of Austrian and Hungarian postage stamps in whole Czechoslovakia on Feb. 28, 1919.

Fig. 4 shows a piece of a money order franked with Austrian 25 Hellers stamp and mailed at post office in Polska Ostrava (Polnisch Ostrau ; situated in the Czech part of Silesia) on Feb. 27, 1919, that means during the monetary reform .

 

Now I would like to draw your attention to the philatelic side of the above history.

Here is a table showing, what postage stamps were used in the Eastern Silesia in years 1918 – 1920. As you can see, the situation was a bit different in Czechoslovak and Polish parts of the area .

 

Stamp(s)

Czechoslovak part of Silesia

Polish part of Silesia

Austrian stamps (without overprints) see fig. 5

Oct. 28, 1918 – Feb. 28, 1919 (fig. 4,15,19)

Oct. 28, 1918 – Jan. 20, 1919 (fig. 15,16)

Austrian stamps (with overprints)

Dec. 12, 1919 – Jan. 31, 1920 (overprint Pošta Ceskoslovenská 1919)

see fig. 6

Jan. 10, 1919 - ? (overprint Poczta Polska)

see fig. 7

Czechoslovak stamps

see fig. 8

Dec. 18, 1918 – 1938 on Czechosl. territory (fig.19)

Jan. 23, 1919 – 1938 in towns mentioned in list no. I (fig. 17a)

August 10, 1920 – 1938 in towns mentioned in list no. III

Jan 23, 1919 – Feb. 25, 1919 only on territories occupied in frame of Šnejdárek expedition (see list no. II ) (fig. 18)

Polish stamps

see fig. 9

Oct. 28, 1918 – Jan. 22, 1919 in tows mentioned in list no. I ; (fig. 16)

Feb. 26, 1919 – August 10, 1920 in towns mentioned in list no. III

February 1919 – 1939 on Polish territory

Czechoslovak SO 1920 stamps

see fig. 10

Feb. 13, 1920 – August 10, 1920: only at the Czechoslovak post offices in the Plebiscite area

April 19 – August 10, 1920 : Post office of Cz. Prefect in Tešín (fig. 12)

Polish SO 1920 stamps

see fig. 11

April 15, 1920 – August 10, 1920 : in towns mentioned in list no. III

fig. 17 b

April 15, 1920 – Sept. 10, 1920 : only at the Polish post offices in the Plebiscite area

 

fig. 5 - 11

 

Generally we can say, that Czechoslovak stamps were not valid in the Polish territory nor the Polish ones in the Czechoslovak territory, with only few exceptions. The exception were caused by violent acts like occupation of territory belonging to the second party (e.g. by Šnejdárek expedition) or by agreements reached at various Peace Conferences (e.g. decision of Paris Conference of Feb. 1919 dividing the area into two portions – see lists no. I + II/III) . In both cases the area belonged to one or other of the players, who started to use own postage stamps there, which lasted until next occupation/peace conference.

The "exceptions" relating to the Czechoslovak stamps were as follows :

1. On Polish territory occupied by Czechoslovaks in Šnejdárek´s expedition only the Hradcany stamps without any overprints could be used for period Jan. 23 – Feb 25, 1919. This ended with withdrawal of Czechoslovak forces from the towns mentioned in list no. II in Feb. 1919 (see fig. 18 + 19) ;

2 . Just 1 post office called “Poštovní úrad cs. prefektury v Tešíne” (Post office of Czechoslovak Prefect Office at Tešín) being located in Polish part of Tešín town used in period April 1920 – August 10, 1920 Czechoslovak SO 1920 postage stamps (see fig. 12: special delivery SO 1920 stamp on a slip of paper mailed at the post office, red cancel, date July 26, 1920) . This was special post office used by the Czechoslovak Prefect in Tešín as well as by International Plebiscite Commission. The mail was delivered by cars on the route Tešín (PL, Cz. Prefect’s Post Office) – Mor. Ostrava (CZ)– Svinov (CZ, Rail. Station), where it was given to the Czechoslovak Postal Administration.

 

The "exception" relating to the Polish stamps was as follows :

  1. Before the territory mentioned in lists no. I + III was occupied by Czechoslovaks, only Polish stamps were valid in the towns only (by Polish I mean all stamps valid on Polish territory at that time). Czechoslovak military action ended validity of the Polish stamps in the towns stated in list no. I (see fig. 16), whereas their validity in towns mentioned in list no. III was only interrupted by the Šnejdárek ´s expedition - after withdrawal of Cz. units Polish stamps remained valid there by August 10, 1920 (see fig. 17b).

No case is known where the stamps of both parties were allowed to be used in one place at the same time or ones´s stamps being used in the other´s territory. That means, it was not possible e.g. to mix Czechoslovak and Polish SO 1920 stamps on the same cover or to use Polish SO 1920 stamps on territory belonging to Czechoslovakia.

Interesting story is the issue of Czechoslovak and Polish stamps with overprint SO 1920. When the plebiscite was announced in Sept. 1919, both parties decided to issue special stamps for the plebiscite areas, which were under their command. On Jan. 2, 1920 Polish body “Rada Narodowa” of Tešín approved proposal for issue of the definitive stamps. This proposal was confirmed by Ministerial Council of Warsaw, but only on Feb. 3, 1920, which caused a considerable delay in their issue, so the Allied commission decided to stop the issue of the definitive stamps and ordered to overprint existing Polish stamps with the same overprint as the Czechoslovak ones were . The Polish stamps should show various patriotic Tešín themes like the Tešín´s main square - see example of the unissued stamp on fig. 13 .

 

The Czechoslovak SO 1920 stamps were issued from Feb. through August 1920. First of them were issued on Feb. 13, 1920, the last ones (T.G. Masaryk issue of 1920) were overprinted so late, that they could not reach the plebiscite area by August 10, 1920 and they exist only in mint condition. Examples of Czechoslovak and Polish SO 1920 stamps you can find in fig. 10 + 11.

Entire no. 14 is a money order for an amount of 3 Crowns (!) sent from Horni Vlckovice (Ober Wölkersdorf, probably part of German state „The German Bohemia Province" at that time) on Nov. 27, 1918 to Opava (Troppau). Opava was at the time capital of the German „Province Sudetenland" situated in Silesia .

 

Entire no. 15 is a parcel dispatch note for a parcel sent from Bystrovany (at that time and now Czechoslovakia) through post office Tešín 1 (at that time and now Poland) to Mosty u Tešína (at that time Poland, now Czechoslovakia) on December 13, 1918. The postage was paid by Austrian definitive stamps (used as preliminary stamps of Czechoslovakia) and on other side you can find the Austrian postage due stamp (as Polish preliminary stamp). Because no post office was located in the village Mosty u Tešína, the parcel was delivered through a contract post office (CPO) - its cancel you can find on the front page of the document. The cancels of CPOs on the parcel dispatch notes are not often to be found. The one bears a cancel „Kann ausgefolgt werden" . The cancel was used in old Austrian Monarchy for parcels to show, the parcel can be given to the addressee . Because this cancel was used after fall of the Austrian Monarchy, someone removed the Austrian Eagle and the left part of the cancel remained empty. I believe the cancel was used at post office Tešín 1 .

 

Another example is entire no. 16 - money order for 80 Crowns sent from Bohumín (Oderberg / Bogumin) to the village Andelská hora ve Slezsku (Engelsberg, österr. Schles.) on Dec. 16, 1918. Today the money order would be domestic mail, but at that time Bohumin belonged to Poland and Andelská hora was located in Czechoslovakia .

 

 

The money order in fig. 17a was sent from Bohumín to Prague on June 19, 1919. You can see the bilingual German - Polish cancel (coming from Austrian Monarchy ), however at that time Bohumín was part of Czechoslovakia - see list no. I .

 

 

Entire no. 17b - a registered letter sent from post office Tešín 2 (at that time in Poland, now Czechoslovakia) in March 1920 to Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad, at that time and now in Czechoslovakia)

 

Thanks to the fact, that the Šnejdárek expedition took place in January and February 1919, the Hradcany (and probably the Czechoslovak postage due) stamps were valid on the occupied Polish territory for about only 1 month !

Until now, we know of only two Polish post offices using the Hradcany stamps: Tešín 1 and Ustron. The Hradcany stamps with the cancels of the two post offices (and possibly also with those of other post offices mentioned in the list no. II.) from the period Jan. 23 - Feb. 25, 1919 are very rare, because they were valid only for very short period and we know only small quantity of covers franked with them.

The entire no. 18 is a money order sent from the occupied territory (post office Tešín 1) on Feb. 20, 1919 to Kunštát (Kronstadt in Böhmen) franked with the Hradcany stamps and in addition with the Czechoslovak postage due stamp affixed in Kunštát . This is very interesting franking, because the Czechoslovak postage due stamps were issued first time in Feb. 1919, so that postage due stamps or covers with them sent in February 1919 are not often to be found. And a mixed franking of a Hradcany stamp used on occupied Polish territory and Czechoslovak postage due stamps is very unusual !

 

In few post office the Czechoslovak postal officials used the Czechoslovak stopgap cancels because the Polish postal employees had moved the equipment of the post offices, incl. cancels, to the Poland before Czechoslovak occupation of the towns. An example is entire no. 19 . This is the money order sent on Feb. 22, 1919 from Poruba u Orlové (Poremba) on Czechoslovak territory to Ustron situated in the occupied territory . The money order was franked with mixed franking of Austrian and Czechoslovak stamps . It reached Ustron on Feb. 24 - see the stopgap cancel from Ustron.

 

Now short view to the correspondence of Czechoslovak soldiers of Tešín area. The entire no. 20 shows a postal card sent by one of the Czech soldiers to Podolí (now in Prague) from the post office Tešín 1 on Feb. 5, 1919. The first very interesting thing is that the cancel bears the letter 5d, which is not mentioned in Votocek´s Monograph (see Monograph no. 16, vol. II, page 24) . The second interesting thing is the mention of the full address of the sender : II. brigáda I. ceskoslovenský delostrelecký pluk III. delobitna trídírna polní pošty Uherské Hradište Morava. This card is proof that the field post sorting office served not only to the Czechoslovak army in Slovakia, but also the Czechoslovak troops in Silesia.

 

We have to add, that majority of correspondence sent by Czechoslovak soldiers from the occupied territory was mailed at the post office Tešín 1, only small part was sent through another post offices of the region. There exist no special field post cancels for the Czechoslovak troops in Silesia.

Mr. Watt mentions in his book, that Czechoslovak troops occupying Tešín area numbered 15.000 men . Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention, where he found that figure. In my opinion the figure is much overestimated. For comparison, I can mention, that total number of Czechoslovak soldiers and officers serving in whole Slovakia amounted at Dec. 31, 1918 to 10.000 men (see page 26 of B.C.Day´s book).

The entire no. 21 is postal card sent on Jan. 22, 1919, a day before start of Šnejdárek´s Expedition, through Czechoslovak Field Post to Ceské Budejovice. Its sender was a Czech soldier belonging to a Czechoslovak military unit situated at Slovak-Polish borders. The name of his unit was I. ceskoslovenský delostrelecký pluk IV. delobitna . As you can see, this military unit belonged to the same regiment as the unit of sender’s of entire no. 20 . However in my opinion the IV. delobitna didn´t take part in the Šnejdárek expedition, because the one was located too far from the Eastern Silesia area, the card bears a very interesting message relating to this military action. Here is free translation of its part : Dear Marenka, I would like to inform you that we have moved from Košice to the Polish borders. We are now situated in a village at Poprad River. The other text is a private message unimportant for us. The message is clear : because of Šnejdárek expedition the Czechoslovak military units moved from all other areas to the territory near the Polish border to be able to defend Czechoslovak territory in case of a Polish attack. I only wonder that censors allowed delivery of the card, when the sender mentions the area he moved to. But by comparing dates Jan. 19, 1919 (on this day the card was written) and Jan. 22, 1919 (on this date the cards was posted at Field Post office) we can deduce, that the censors held the card back until the message was not dangerous for the expedition.

 

Finally the card no. 22 was sent by a Czech soldier serving in Czechoslovak Infantry Regiment No. 93 from Slovak town Nové Zámky (Ersekujvar) early in March 1919. The sender wrote in the message, that they had moved from Silesia to Slovakia and that he posts together with the card a letter he had written just before his departure from Tešín. The message means, the soldier belonged to a unit operating in the Tešín area, which was as per Paris Peace Conference’s result moved back to the Czechoslovakia. Because at that time the tention in Czechoslovak-Hungarian relations was rising and in March the Communist had taken over the government in Hungary and set up Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Czechoslovak government immediately moved the units from Silesia to Slovakia to defend its territory.

 

Czechoslovakia and Romania attacked Hungarian Soviet Republic in April 1919, but during Hungarian counter-offensive important parts of Slovakia were lost, where a Slovak Soviet Republic under Hungarian protection was established. The Slovak and Hungarian Soviet Republics were beaten in early July 1919. More detailed information you can find in Mr. Day’s book mentioned in the resources section.

As you can see, the postal history of Eastern Silesia is not easy, but a very interesting part of Czechoslovak postal history connected with other events as well. I hope you might find similar philatelic items in your collection and I hope you will share them with other collectors like Mr. Welvaart of the Netherlands, who provided me with very useful information about diplomatic aspects of the theme, and prepared scans of the nice illustrations. Thank you, Mr. Welvaart !

 

Resources :


Important Information :

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