RRCHNM Delivers Arnhem Postal History Prototype Database

Many of us started “pandemic projects” large and small over the past several years. Tim Gale’s project, a prototype website and database of his extensive collection of postal artifacts, is one of those projects that is finally coming to life. Developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Arnhem Postal History will be a website with a database, an interactive map, and philatelic exhibits focusing on World War II in the Netherlands based on the 1,500 items in Gale’s collection. Arnhem Postal History is named in honor of the Battle of Arnhem which was fought in September of 1944. However, the scope of the collection is much wider than the Battle of Arnhem, encompassing postcards, letters, postal covers, and other documents from 1939-1945.  

The collection includes examples of censorship, stoppages in delivery of mail, alternative means of transporting mail, and Red Cross form letters. Some of these are featured in the two philatelic exhibits that will reside on the site, “The Evolution of the Holocaust in Holland” and “False Hopes and Lasting Thanks: The Battle of Arnhem.” The first details the almost complete destruction of the Dutch Jewish population, from the arrival of refugees from Germany to the last transport to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Sobibor. The second looks at the Battle of Arnhem and the intersection of the lives of the Dutch civilians and German and British combatants. Three further exhibits are in the works and will be added to the website in the future.

Gale’s original interest in Arnhem is related to the experiences of individual soldiers as they moved through the houses and buildings of Arnhem and Oosterbeek, where much of the fighting occurred during the disastrous Operation Market Garden. When he was gifted a single postal cover sent from Leeuwarden to Mevrouw (Mrs.) B. Haartsen-Heeck at Utrechtsweg 69 in Oosterbeek and recognized the address as being on a street that saw ferocious fighting, an idea began to form. “It started me thinking about the experiences of the lady whose home was located right on the front line of battle,” he said. Another acquisition included a map of with the house and the shooting positions around it. Gale then actively began collecting postal artifacts related to the Battle of Arnhem and World War II in Holland to understand the lives of the everyday Dutch people during that turbulent time. 

Graduate research assistant Rachel Birch spent a summer delving into the collection to contextualize it. “The global reach of the mail from this relatively small geographic area is amazing… from a bird’s eye view, the collection seems  random, however, at the granular level, patterns and individual lives start to shine through” she said. “The collection also depicts the heartbreaking ramifications and devastation of a world war. The knowledge that the correspondence you are reading never reached a loved one because of the destruction of a building or a death creates a visceral response providing a very physical reminder of the human destruction and loss of the second World War.”  

Kristin Jacobsen, Project Coordinator, added “We take for granted that we can contact our loved ones with relative ease. Many of these pieces never made it to their intended recipients, and often families and friends had no news of each other for several years. Mevrouw Haartsen-Heeck’s letter, for example, was returned to the sender, with the reason Postal Traffic Blocked.”   

Gale’s vision for the collection includes the addition of more materials, exhibits, and partnerships with interested individuals and organizations that can contribute information and contextualize the items. Arnhem Postal History will be a tremendous resource for researchers, philatelists, educators, and the general public to explore the everyday lives of Dutch citizens under German occupation.  


the center today.
Each year, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s websites receive over 2 million visitors, and more than a million people rely on its digital tools to teach, learn, and conduct research. Donations from supporters help us sustain those resources.