The exhibition A Letter Home is dedicated to the postal communications and mail of the WWII period. The unique items on view include original pieces of mail and digital copies of postal production dating from 1941–1945: postcards, soldiers’ triangle letters, lettercards, envelopes and samples of paper used for writing letters.

As early as 1941, during the early days of war, special rules about postcard printing and mailing were introduced in the USSR. On July 12, 1941, People’s Commissariat of Communications issued an addition to the existing postal regulations concerning the free delivery of personal correspondence to and from the front: the troops were supplied with free envelopes and postcards, while the rest of the population had to buy postal production at established tariff rate and continued to pay for postal services for domestic postal operations. The circulation of letters during wartime exceeded the pre-war letter traffic many times over. By the late 1941, 70 million letters were delivered to the field Red Army forces monthly. Everyone, including children used to write letters. For instance, among the displayed pieces there is a postcard Father, Kill the Enemy with a picture by the artist A. Pakhomov, which was sent by 9-year-old Alexander to his father, military engineer Vasiliy Zkopan-Grabovsky to besieged Leningrad. Another notable item on view is a postcard with a caricature A Runaway Catch by V. Nikolayev, which was sent by an anonymous man to his son Sasha. The text in the postcard is written in big block letters, so that the boy could read the handwriting.

In wartime the letters were often delivered to addressees faster than at present day. According to the date stamps on letters and postcards as well as to the texts where they confirmed the delivery of mail pieces we can suggest that a postcard was usually delivered to an addressee within 5–7 days, while a letter used to reach its destination point within 10–12 days at average. That owed to the measures assumed by People’s Commissariat of Communications for speeding military mail delivery: pieces of mail were transported by any means of transportation available in certain terrain types – by railroad, by ships, cars, planes or even by motorcycles. The usage of postal vehicles for any other needs was prohibited. Mail delivery and ammunition supply of the troops were of the same priority during wartime.

A handwritten and sent by post message was the most convenient way to exchange some information during WWII. The characteristic feature of wartime letters was that the correspondents used to specify the date of sending (usually in the beginning or rarely in the end of the letter). That key element of the message indicated that the addresser was alive at the time of writing. All letters and postcards sent to and from the front were subjected to censorship and all confidential information was blocked out in black ink. The opened and censored pieces of mail were stamped “Passed by Censor.” At the exhibition one can see the censored letters dating from the early days of war, when an opened letter was marked by a rectangular piece of white paper on the back side, as well as more recent lettercards, letters and postcards stamped by censors. The numbers of military units were encrypted in five-digit numerical code (often went with a letter) in order to prevent the enemy from obtaining data on the current disposition of forces.

During WWII the bulk of postal printing production was made at the Moscow or Leningrad-based publishing houses. The political sections and editorial offices of various military units were also known to print lettercards, letterforms and other stationery. However, they usually produced poor quality paper and printing ink and often used any material available at the moment: pieces of battle-field newspapers, letters of commendation, etc. That is why there was a great diversity of front-line mail pieces which differed in color range, size, paper quality and kind, etc. The current display also features a famous “triangle” letter, which has become a symbol of the Great Patriotic War. That piece of paper of any quality (usually torn from a notebook) with handwritten text and address in it, unsealed and folded into triangular shape was widely used both at the front lines and home front.

Many wartime postcards featured the reproductions of works by renowned artists. Among the pieces on view there are postcards representing masterpieces of Russian and West-European art, published by the State Hermitage and the State Russian Museum in 1941 (Girl with a Fan by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Military Council in Fili by Alexei Kivshenko, Pyotr Bagration by Vasiliy Tropinin). The pre-war negative images were used for creation of photographic postcards with portraits of celebrated actors, singers and ballet dancers. The highlights of the exhibition include souvenirs and postcards with portraits of the singer Edith Utyosova, actors Lyubov Orlova and Boris Chirkov, ballet dancers Galina Ulanova and Vakhtang Chabukiani, printed in 1941, and film frame pictures (Chapayev, 1934), etc.

The Soviet postcards also served propaganda purposes widely representing the recognized symbols of Russia’s glorious past and present. At the display one can see postcards depicting Alexander Nevsky, Denis Davydov, Semyon Budyonny, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, as well as variety of posters, drawings and caricatures, patriotic statements by prominent political and cultural figures encouraging fighting the enemy. Printed lyrics, verses, musical scores and slogans also served important propaganda function.

The featured letters are very important for us now, as they unveil true life stories of many Soviet families, because not all handwritten texts could be censored during wartime. Among the most interesting pieces on view are the postcards addressed to besieged and liberated Leningrad. Many showpieces have been preserved in poor condition because they were indispensible objects for their holders and served them throughout war. Nowadays these items are carefully kept as relics together with wartime death notifications and old newspaper scraps.

ROSPHOTO would like to thank Vladimir Yolkin, who has been studying and systematizing military mail pieces for a long time and who has lent his collection of wartime postcards for the current exhibition.