Transition of the Austrian Post to the Reichspost in 1938

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A question often asked amongst philatelists is, what happened to the Austrian postal system after the Anschluß on 13th March 1938. The recycling of many pre-Anschluß files during the Reich as irrelevant waste paper, the deliberate destruction of much of the wartime records in 1945 as possibly incriminating, and the loss of many files during the bombing of Vienna all conspire to make authoritative answers extremely difficult to obtain.

However, some information can be obtained from the available German records; and one must bear in mind that following the Anschluß, Austria was regarded as "having returned to the Motherland" and was officially designated "Land Oesterreich". The former Austrian authorities were quickly downgraded to implementers of Berlin's orders, and there was no need or scope for local initiative: so the loss of the Viennese files is not a catastrophe. The relevant printed documents from 1938, contained in the "Reichsgesetzblatt 1938, Teil 1, Berlin" and the "Bundesgesetzblatt für das Land Österreich 1938, Wien", are:

Reading these volumes shows that there were matters long familiar in the "Altreich" but unknown in Austria; nor could the German postal employees be expected to know the Austrian special provisions. So, everything had to be republished in the 'other place', and philatelic researchers must peruse them both. For the postal details, the appropriate starting place is the Austrian "21st Postgebührenweiser" (ie, table of rates) valid from 1st January 1935; this had had only a few amendments between then and 13th March 1938. The details of the transition from that to the German Reichspost are the subject of this article.

I have used "Land Austria" below to translate "Land Oesterreich", the post-Anschluß name of Austria; and "Germany" to mean "Das Reich", the country ruled by Hitler on 1 March 1938, sometimes referred to in the originals as "Altreich". Pre-Anschluß Austria is called "Austria". Quotations directly from the official sources are in boldface, like this.

This card was issued to mark Hitler's progress around his expanded State. The places shown are those where he made formal speeches: see below at 3rd & 8th April.

As is made clear in the Wiener GFuPVM [see 'further reading' (b)]. there are THREE postal periods which can (and must!) be separately considered:

The 1st German - Austrian rates period (13th March - 3rd April 1938)
There was a Fieldpost for German soldiers in Austria (lasting up to 20th May); it must be distinguished from the Civil post which remained unchanged.

The 2nd German - Austrian rates period (4th April - 31st July 1938)
The basic rates were now calculated in German currency, while the ancillary charges for express, airmail, registered and pneumatic services remained at the Austrian rate and were calculated in Groschen. For both, either German or Austrian stamps [at a rate of exchange of 1˝ Gr = 1 Rpf] could be used.

The 3rd German - Austrian rates period (1st August - 31st October 1938)
The German tariffs were now in force, not only for the basic rates, but also for all incidental charges; however Austrian postage stamps in private hands could still be used until 31st Oct and be exchanged free of charge up to the 31st Dec.

Key Dates in 1938
11 MarchFederal Chancellor Schuschnigg resigns. Seyss-Inquart installed as NS-Federal Chancellor and forms a transition Cabinet.
12 March"Military assistance" requested (in Seyss-Inquart's name) from the German Reich. German troops cross the Austrian border.
[According to "The Second World War" by Sir Winston Churchill, all the heavy artillery and tanks broke down at Linz and had to be taken to Vienna by train for Hitler's parade on the 15th!]
13 MarchGerman troops occupy all of Austria; FPOs set up for them.
Joint declaration of the Seyss-Inquart (Austrian) and the German governments that henceforth Austria was reunited with Germany.
15 MarchHitler enters Vienna. The three Dolfuss stamps withdrawn and invalidated.
17 MarchReichsmark/pfennig introduced alongside Schilling/Groschen.
4 AprilSome basic postage rates change to German and are expressed in Reichspfennig. Mixed German-Austrian franking possible.
10 AprilThe Anschluß was approved by a plebiscite in both countries.
25 AprilAustrian currency (Schilling/groschen) no longer legal tender.
15 MayAustrian currency no longer accepted at Post Offices etc.
20 MayGerman FPOs closed.
1 AugustAll postage rates change to German, in Reichspfennig.
5 AugustSale of Austrian stamps ceases at Post Office counters.
31 OctoberAustrian stamps lose their postal validity.

The 1st German - Austrian rates period (13th March - 3rd April 1938)

"Der Führer in Wien" 15 March: internal postcard.

"Der Führer in Wien" 15 March: foreign postcard to Egypt.

15 March: The Dollfuss stamps of 24g (both colours: ANK589 & 590) and 10S (ANK588) were withdrawn and lost their validity for franking both inland and foreign mail. See below at 6 April.

17 March: "Legal tender in Land Austria is, as well as the Schilling, the Reichsmark, which has the value 1 Schilling 50 Groschen." See separate article on the Demise of the Schilling in 1938.

18 March: The following rules appeared in the Berlin Gazette for the Fieldpost for the German troops in Austria 1. The Postal arrangements for the German troops in Austria will be provided during their stay in Austria by the Field Post Offices set up for these troops… 3. Mail to and from the German troops in Austria is subject to the ordinary German domestic fees. However unfranked or insufficiently-franked ordinary letters and postcards sent to the German troops in Austria should until further notice not be surcharged. Likewise ordinary letters and postcards, which are posted by these German troops as unpaid Field-post letters or cards at their Field Post Offices, should be transported without surcharge…

The discretionary clause in reference to the free posting is repeated in order No. 11 of the Army Command 10 (Innsbruck) for the soldiers: "Field-post letters or cards handed in or posted in mailboxes by the German troops in Austria are free of charge. They must carry the designation 'Feldpost' and the issuing unit, eg Schütze XX Feldpostnummer 123" [see example cancellation at 8th April].

For the Civil post, the Generaldirektion in Vienna produced provisional Postal Stationery with swastika overprint and new denominations in Reichspfennig [postcards Schneiderbauer No. 299 I, 300 I and 306 I, letter cards No. 67 I: see top illustration on next page]. However these were not approved by the Reichspostministry. The Austrian rates remained in force for basic and ancillary services. German postage stamps were not valid [but see second illustration below!].

26 March: "Ordinance on the introduction of new postage for letters and postcards in Land Austria." The new rates came into force on 4th April 1938; some are given here. The cheaper "local rate" was reintroduced; it applied within the delivery area of the office of posting; but if several post offices lay in the same community, they formed a uniform local district.

Letter card: Vienna I to Vienna III, 26/5/1939. Overprinted card, reused.

Commercial postcard from Vienna to Denmark, dated 2 April 1938,
with 12 Rpf and 3 Gr purporting to make up the foreign postcard rate
of 15 Rpf which was introduced 2 days later!

3 April: The "Führerblock" issued (in Germany) on 5 April 1937 became valid for franking in Land Austria. This is a 2x2 block of 6Rpf+19Rpf stamps, issued for Hitler's 48th birthday, with huge margins with inscriptions. Issued perf 14 (SG635), imperf (SG636) and with rouletted margins (SG637). As explained in the 'commentary' of 15th April, it was sold on Sunday 3rd April but only at a special post office at Graz on the occasion of Hitler's visitation; and on the 4th when he was in Klagenfurt, the 5th in Innsbruck and so forth: general sales began on 13th April. Examples dated 3rd April are RARE!

The 2nd German - Austrian rates period (4th April - 31st July 1938)

4 April: The ordinance of 26 March on the introduction of new postage for letters and postcards in Land Austria took effect. Simultaneously, postage stamps of the German Reichspost became valid for use in Land Austria.

Such cryptic statements had to be explained more carefully to the German postal workers. So the Berlin Gazette published explanatory notes, which I paraphrase as follows:

a) From 4 April 1938 mail in and from Land Austria can be validly franked, not only with Austrian stamps, but also with German stamps with in relief the head of the late lamented ReichsPresident Field Marshal von Hindenburg.

b) From that day the post offices etc in Land Austria will issue German Hindenburg stamps of 5, 6, 8, 12, 15 and 25 Rpf as well as postcards of 5, 6 and 15 Rpf and reply-paid postcards of 5+5, 6+6 and 15+ 15 Rpf.

c) Austrian and German stamps can be used side by side on mail posted in Land Austria. The use of Austrian stamps for mail in and from Germany is not permitted.

This forbidding cannot have applied to reply-paid cards with 5Rpf Hindenburg imprints and 1 or 2 groschen supplementary franking, where the reply part came from Germany back to Land Austria. The reply-paid part of such cards franked with the stamps of any arbitrary country had to be treated as validly franked on their return to the country of origin. A summary of the Postal rates to and from Land Austria in 1938 is in Appendix I of this article.

d) When calculating the value of the stamps a Reichspfennig corresponds to the value of one and a half Austrian Groschen; eg a stamp of 6 Rpf has the value of 9 Groschen, a stamp of 15 Rpf the value of 23 Groschen.

e) When deciding the value of the franking of mail which is franked completely or partially with Austrian stamps, the Groschen values are to be converted into Rpf according to the rule of 1Rpf = 1˝Gr. Fractions of Rpf are to be ignored. Any resulting deficit is to be charged Postage Due at the rate of 1˝ times.

Note the post-conversion rounding down (apart from 1Gr = 1Rpf). By mid-June this had changed, ˝+ being rounded up. The original notes stated "die Groschenwerte sind insgesamt umzurechnen" which should mean that the Groschen values were added and the total then converted. However examples can be found where each Groschen stamp must have been separately converted, to explain the absence of a surcharge. The original document gave two "worked examples".

The effect of all this was that the new basic rates were now calculated in Reichpfennig, while the ancillary charges for express, airmail, registered and pneumatic services remained at the Austrian rate and were calculated in Groschen. As the Austrian system was moved over to the German, that which was not explicitly changed remained unaltered. For both, either the specified current German stamps, or those Austrian stamps still valid (at a rate of exchange of 1˝ Groschen = 1 Reichpfennig), or a mixture, could be used. A further complication is that the monthly accounts of a Post Office were prescribed as "convert each then add" (eg 3@5Gr = 3@3Rpf = 9Rpf) while sales were "add then convert" (eg 3@5Gr = 15Gr = 10Rpf): so the Office 'bought' them at 9Rpf, sold them at 10Rpf, and made 1Rpf profit!

Inland letter dated 4 April from Wien to Leipsig. Requires 12Rpf; franked (12+4) * 2/3 = 10.67 Rpf (which in April counted as 10 not 11) plus 5Rpf making 15Rpf in total. Original has printed return address: probably not philatelic.

4th April postcard from Baden bei Wien to s'Gravenhage in Nederlands. Foreign rate 15Rpf; franked (12+4) * 2/3 = 10.67 Rpf + 6 Rpf making 16 Rpf in total.

Inland letter from Wien to Hamburg dated 4 April; rate 12 Rpf; franked 3 * 2/3 = 2 Rpf + 5 Rpf + 5 Rpf making 12Rpf in total. The German Winterhilfswerk stamps were not authorised for use in Austria at that date, but it would take a bold man to reject them!

6 April: "The Dollfuss stamps of 24 g and 10 S were withdrawn with effect from 15th March 1938 and have lost their validity for franking both inland and foreign mail".

Curiously, this announcement was made retroactively; it is recorded in a Vienna postal decree published on the 13th April as having being decided on the 6th April. Theoretically then, mixed frankings with Dollfuss and Hindenberg stamps are possible, though also very improbable! However the issue of Die Postmarke published on 31st March states that the immediate withdrawal was communicated to all post offices by telegram on 15th March; I suspect that the Vienna 'decision' was recognition of a fait accompli. It adds that the Vienna Collectors Counter was besieged on 12th March by collectors who had postponed buying a 10S Dollfuss: they soon sold out, so that the trade price rose to several times face value. (The 24g stamps had been sold out some time previously.) The 10S could be exchanged at all Post Offices for 'acceptable' stamps, although this was not publicised.

8 April: The special 6 Rpf stamp "Ein Volk - ein Reich - ein Führer" will be issued in Land Austria on the occasion of the referendum of 10th April 1938. [This is ANK 662 (Berlin printing) and 663 (Vienna printing).] Likewise the special referendum postcard, priced at 6Rpf + 9Rpf surcharge, total price 15 Rpf. In theory, the Berlin printing was sold and used in Germany, the Vienna in Land Oesterreich. Philatelic variations are known; this example also has the German-troops-in-Austria fieldpost cancel!

9 April: reduced-rate postcard to Czechoslovakia; rate 10 Rpf; franked 6 Gr * 2/3 = 4 Rpf + 6 Rpf making 10 Rpf in total.

Links such as the following, in a box, are to remarks based on a contemporary commentary "Der Übergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich" (The transition of the Austrian postal system to the Reich), a series of articles in the issues of "Die Postmarke" from April to July 1938.
See Der Uebergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich Part 1: 15 April 1938

19 April: The special issue stamps of 12+38 Rpf with the picture of Adolf Hitler [this is ANK664, Hitler's 49th Birthday, issued on the 13th] came into circulation. "Each member of the post in Land Austria must consider it as his particular duty, to further the distribution of the stamps by all means possible" (urged the Vienna PTVB). According to the Berlin ABR, distribution of these stamps in Land Austria on their issue date was "not possible for technical reasons".

21 April: Decree: The available 12 Groschen postcards may be used as Foreign postcards if the corresponding supplementary franking be affixed. Attention is drawn to the present fees for postcards to Czechoslovakia & Hungary (10Rpf = 15Gr) and to other foreign countries (15Rpf = 23Gr).

25 April: Austrian currency declared no longer legal tender (it was still accepted at Post Offices etc till 15 May)

See Der Uebergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich Part 2: 30 April 1938

3 May: with immediate effect the "Swiss Border" rates become the Germany-Switzerland Border rates: for letters 12 Rpf or 18 Groschen per 20 grams, for simple postcards 6 Rpf or 9 Groschen, for reply-paid postcards 12 Rpf or 18 Groschen.

4 May: an example of the dual calculation system. Franked 108Gr. The foreign letter rate was 25Rpf, which converts to 38Gr, and the airmail surcharge to Southern Rhodesia was still the 'Austrian' rate of 70Gr: total 108Gr.

9 May: a very mixed franking! (1+3+4+3+12)= 23 Gr * 2/3 = 15.33 ie 15 Rpf + 6 + 6 makes 27Rpf, enough for the foreign letter rate of 25Rpf.

Another example of dual systems is the "Rückschein" and "half Rückschein" systems. The Rückschein was where the sender paid for his mail (on the usual weight-related scale) plus the return postage for a proof-of-delivery card plus a fee for the service. The schedules for ordinary Rückscheinbriefe were accordingly listed (PuTVBl 30 March), as: Weight (up to, grams) 20/250/500: local rate (Rpf) 18/26/30; inland rate (Rpf) 22/34/50. These rates equate to 8/16/20Rpf for the outgoing local mail, plus 8Rpf for the local return mail, plus 2Rpf fee. The German system was quite different, and was charged differently.

The HALF Rückschein was where the sender was entitled to post unfranked mail, eg as a government department, or a local authority who paid in cash: the HR then covered local-area return postage on the card plus fee, so was 8Rpf + 2Rpf making 10Rpf, the same as the pre-Anschluß rate of 15Gr.

15 May: Austrian currency no longer accepted at Post Offices, banks etc

See Der Uebergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich Part 3: 16 May 1938

18 May: 30 Gr * 2/3 = 20 Rpf + 5 makes 25Rpf, the foreign letter rate of 25Rpf.

20 May: The Field-post for German troops was discontinued on 20th May, and the exemption from fees and charges ceased: "The Amtsblattverfügung Nr.94/1938 is cancelled, since the Fieldpost service has been discontinued for German troops remaining in German-Austria. The designation 'Feldpost' is no longer to be used. With this, all rate reductions cease; letters and postcards are fully chargeable in both directions again."

21 May: By the rules: (1+3) = 4 Gr * 2/3 = 2.67 Rpf + 12Rpf makes 15Rpf if rounded up, as was the practice by May. The foreign postcard rate was 15Rpf.

27 May: The "Abwicklungsstelle des Reichspostministeriums für das Land Österreich" (the former Generaldirektion of the Austrian Post Office) announced that "the stamps of 8, 12, 25, 45 and 64 Groschen are now not required and are to be withdrawn from counter sale and returned to the central warehouse".

See Der Uebergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich Part 4: 31 May 1938

17 June: It is announced, that the central warehouse will now send the following Hindenburg Head German stamps to the post offices: 1, 3, 4, 10, 20, 30, 50, 60, 80 and 100 Rpf. It has also prepared for certain post offices the German Airmail stamps with values of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 40, 50, 60, 80, 100 Rpf and 2 and 3 Reichsmark. These stamps are now valid for franking. The stamps of 8, 12, 24, 25, 30, 35, 45, 60, 64 Groschen and 1 and 2 Schilling are to be returned to the warehouse.

21 June: A mystery! 12 + 5 = 17 Gr * 2/3 = 11 Rpf + 6 Rpf makes 17 Rpf, which is too much for an inland letter on 21 June and not enough for a foreign one. Anyone got an explanation?

See Der Uebergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich Part 5: 22 June 1938

6 July: 1 Gr counted as 1 Rpf + 11 Rpf makes 12 Rpf, the inland letter rate.

8 July: Reissue of page 2 of the "21. Postgebührenweisers": basic rates unchanged but expressed solely in Rpf. A few rates (eg printed matter) were still expressed in Rpf/Gr (and some eg the Postlagernd rate not mentioned). The registration fee remained unaltered at 27Rpf/40Gr: see the Rates table column 'C' and the separate article on Austrian Registered Post Rates.

9 July: Promulgation by the German Governor in Land Austria, whereby the ordinance on the introduction of new postage rates and the assimilation of the postal services in Land Austria from 9 July 1938 is disclosed. This was actually published on 22 July. The individual paragraphs of this ordinance came into force at various dates.

See Der Uebergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich Part 6: 18 July 1938

Although "Die Postmarke" continued to be published, this series of articles ceased here. The copy in the VoePh library in Vienna (danke, Frau Pollischansky) appears to be complete although in bad condition. It is possible that the author had decided to emigrate…

The 3rd German - Austrian rates period (1st August - 31st October 1938)

1. August: Parts of the ordinance of 9 July 1938 came into effect; the following consequences were announced:

(a) Letters with advice of delivery have not yet been introduced in Land Austria; they are thus permissible only in Germany.

(b) COD letters between Germany and Land Austria are permissible from 1 November 1938.

(c) Mail circulars from Germany to Land Austria may not yet be accepted until further notice.

(d) Printed matter with receipt cards for disability insurance or printed matter from professional associations or insurance companies are permissible only in Germany

(e) From that day, letters posted in Land Austria attract the same Air Mail surcharges as in Germany.

(f) Due to the withdrawal of Postage Due stamps, the following are to be paid in cash … postage due and similar fees on letters… late-posting fees are to be paid by affixing stamps. Any Postage Due stamps remaining at post offices are to be returned to the warehouse.

The effect of this was that the German tariffs were now in force, not only for the basic rates, but also for all incidental charges; however Austrian postage stamps in private hands could still be used. The rates table is the same as that issued on 1st November: see Appendix I column 'D'. Places still storing stocks of Postal Stationery and stamps in Groschen and Schilling currency were to return them to the warehouse. The postage stamps were invalidated after 31 October, but could still be exchanged free of charge up to the 31st December.

It was also announced that the Nazi Party stamps could now be used in Land Austria; they had been useable to it since 24 March.

The withdrawal of Postage Due stamps had been expected earlier - since they bore "ÖSTERREICH" and "GROSCHEN" as well as a large Austrian eagle they were decidedly politically incorrect! The German system had always been to write the amount on the envelope; they did not use Postage Dues. The simplest solution was to abolish them. See separate page.

3 August: German Bildpostkarten may be obtained henceforth also through post offices in Land Austria.

5 August: "All stamps in Groschen and Schilling currency are to be withdrawn from sale with immediate effect and returned to the warehouse by 10 August." This decree ended the counter sale of the former Austrian stamps. They remained valid for franking up to 31 October 1938.

18 August: Stamp Retailers were notified that stamps in Groschen and Schilling currency could be exchanged without fee up to 31 August 1938.

Local letter dated 4 August. Rate 8 Rpf; franked 6 Rpf + 3 Gr = 2 Rpf making 8 Rpf in total.
[The 'overspilling' of the address is standard Austrian practice]

8 September: It is pointed out that Air Mail stamps should not be used for the franking of surface mail.

1 October: It is again pointed out that Air Mail stamps should not be used for the franking of surface mail. Some aspects of the "21. Postgebührenweiser" amended; however letter rates are not affected by this. The German "regulations for Air Mail" come into force in Land Austria.

4 October: The following general instruction was issued with regard to the subsequent cancellation of postage stamps: "The experimental introduction of subsequent cancellation of postage stamps not cancelled on posting by printing them with the day’s date in transit or at place of destination and the identification of subsequent cancellation by the letter 'n' [for 'nachträglich entwertet' = 'subsequently cancelled'] in indelible or blue pencil in German script to be applied next to the cancellation strike has proved its worth at the Post Offices etc that do not use special cancellers for subsequent cancellation and will be permanently retained. No other markings are to be applied."

Austrian system for uncancelled stamps: Vienna W1 canceller, used 7th April 1938 German system for uncancelled stamps: Wien 1 Nachträglich entwertet (this example used in 1943).

31 October: In the Official Gazette of the Reichspostministerium is found the following decree: "With effect from the 31st October 1938 all Austrian postage stamps lose their validity for the franking of mail. Unused stamps of this kind can be exchanged at the post offices in Land Austria up to the 31st December 1938 free of charge for valid postage stamps (exchange rate 3:2). Redemption against cash is impossible."

1 November: From this day the post offices in Land Austria are to use the reissued "22nd Postgebührenweiser" (ie the rates table: see its column 'D'). Between 26 March and the issue of this, they had had to manually amend their copies of the 21st Postgebührenweiser, issued 1 January 1935.

Thus the 7˝ months transition period with its mixed frankings and specifically Austrian practices was brought to an end. One could say that the 1st November 1938 marked for postage stamps and postage rates the "completion of the Anschluß of Austria into the German Reich".

Further reading:

  1. "Postgebuhren und Postwertzeichen im Lande Österreich 1938" by Dr C Kainz in Wurth's Annual for 1980.
  2. "Postalisches aus der Anschluß-Zeit ans Deutsche Reich", by Herr H Frech in issue 2/98 of the Wiener Ganzsachen Frei- und Poststempel-sammlerVerein Mitteilungsblatt.
  3. "Der Übergang des österreichischen Postwesens an das Reich", a series of articles in the issues of "Die Postmarke" from April to July 1938: March 31, number 6; April 15, number 7 pages 94 and 95; April 30, number 8 page 110, labelled part II; May 16, number 9 pages 127-128 part III; May 31, Number 10 page 146, part IV; June 22, number 11/12 page 161, part V; July 18, number 13/14 page 177, part VI. The August and subsequent issues of 1938 do not contain any further instalments.
  4. "Der postalische Uebergang der oesterreichischen Post- und Telegraphenverwaltung in die Deutsche Reichspost im Jahre 1938" by F. Heinisch in "Die Briefmarke", Nos 11/1987 - 4/1988.
  5. Austrian Registered Post Rates and "The demise of the Schilling in 1938".
  6. And only for the brave, the collected issues, described at the beginning of this article, of "Amtsblatt des Reichspostministeriums, Ausgabe A", "Post- und Telegraphenverordnungsblatt [-/für das Lande Österreich]" and "Nachrichtenblatt der Abwicklungsstelle des Reichspostministeriums für das Lande Österreich".
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©Andy Taylor. Last updated 12 June 2023