The Holocaust Stamps Project, which collected 11 million stamps in memory of both Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, will go on display in its new home in Pennsylvania on June 11.
The postage stamps, which were collected from 2009 to 2017 by students at the Foxboro Regional Charter School, in Foxboro, Massachusetts, were moved to the American Philatelic Center, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in November 2019. The center is a museum operated by the American Philatelic Society, a national stamp-collecting organization.
The Holocaust Stamps Project was the brainchild of the Foxboro school’s now-retired teacher Charlotte Sheer. She got the idea in 2009, after her fifth-grade class read the best-selling children’s book “Number the Stars,” by Lois Lowry. The book tells the story of a Danish girl who helps smuggle Jewish families out of German-occupied Denmark during World War II.
The project soon took off, and donated stamps poured in from around the globe before the 11-millionth stamp was collected in the fall of 2017. Stamps were donated by people in 48 states, the District of Columbia and 29 countries.
Sheer, in a recent email interview, explained how and why Lowry’s book touched a nerve with her pupils.
“Fourteen years ago, my class was reading ‘Number the Stars,’ by Lois Lowry when I responded with my Jewish heart to a fifth-grade student who asked, ‘Why were Nazi soldiers so mean to the Jewish families?’ The question planted a seed for an activity that grew to become the nine-year-long Holocaust Stamps Project,” she said.
Sheer, who has stayed involved in the project despite her retirement, said she’s extremely pleased with the project’s permanent home.
“When the American Philatelic Society assumed stewardship of the completed project four years ago, I was excited that the work, begun in my own classroom, had found the perfect public venue for its unique student-created materials to begin serving as universal teaching tools.
“Today, I couldn’t be more grateful for the teamwork at the American Philatelic Society that went into developing the Holocaust Stamps Project into a world-class museum exhibit of Holocaust remembrance.”
The exhibit has taken on added meaning in the wake of the dramatic rise in antisemitism in the United States. A recent report by the Anti-Defamation League said Massachusetts experienced a 41% rise in antisemitic incidents from 2021 to 2022, higher than increases in other New England states and the country. In 2022, the 204 antisemitic incidents reported in New England was a record high since the ADL began tracking such incidents in 1979, according to the report.
The spike in antisemitism recently prompted New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to launch a $25 million “Stand Up to Jewish Hate” campaign through his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism. The campaign’s main thrust is to make the country aware that even though American Jews make up only 2.4% of the U.S.’s population, they’re now the victims of 55% of all hate crimes, Kraft has said.
Scott English, the philatelical society’s executive director, said the Holocaust Stamps Project exhibit is particularly important now because “a 2020 survey showed nearly two-thirds of millennials and Generation Z lacked basic knowledge of the Holocaust.”
In a news release, he said, “This exhibit brings to life the tragedy of the Holocaust using the voices and artifacts of the victims.
“We have a duty to connect the past to the future so that it never happens again.”
Susanna Mills, the exhibit’s coordinator, said the exhibit’s value lies in making history more accessible.
“A postcard mailed from a Poland ghetto might be the only surviving, tangible evidence of the life and death of a Jewish victim of the Nazi regime. To touch history like that makes it real,” she said. “The American Philatelic Society is proud to safeguard and share those stories told by stamps and postal relics.”
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.