The Interzonal postcard

What happens when something major happens in your family? You reach for the phone or e mail or as a last resort grab a pen and paper and send a letter. During the 2nd world war life was very different, especially for those who lived in France.

 One of the major difficulties was communications between families who were separated; perhaps one relation lived in the city of Paris which was under German occupation whilst the other members of the family lived in the middle and southern areas of the country which were controlled by the French Vichy government. The German forces did not allow any regular mail to cross the demarcation line until the German forces themselves crossed it in 1943.

In order to ensure that there was communication between friends and family an Interzonal postcard was introduced to allow families a minimum of communication and it really was a minimum, thirteen lines to be exact! You could not write what you wanted; you were given a typed card and were allowed to cross out the words that did not apply. Spaces were left on the card so that you could write in the name of the family member or limited relevant information. Enterprising French citizens, who tried to alter the cards to send a more personal message, quickly found that the card did not reach its destination. In these circumstances it was likely that the card was destroyed and your relatives would have had a nasty visit from the French police who were as intent on keeping the German laws as much as the German soldiers.

What on earth could you write on the card?


---------------------In good health--------------------------tired----------------------slightly,

Seriously, sick, wounded-------------------------killed--------------------------prisoner

-------------------Died--------------------------no news of----------------------------------

The-------------------------family is well -------------------------------needs food

-------------------------Needs money --------------------------news, luggage

--------------------------------is returning to ------------------------------------------------------

-----------------------Is working ------------------------------is returning to school

At----------------------has passed examination----------------------going to


                                                                        Fondest thoughts. Love and kisses

                                                                        Signed --------------------------------------


Obviously this card has been translated into English, but what a choice, how could you pass on the news of the family? The death of a loved one conveyed in thirteen lines which are pre filled, just delete as appropriate.  The descriptors cover the health of the sender’s family from the extremes of “good health” to “death”, and then try to bring in a touch of normality by mentioning success at examinations and progress at school.  I find this so bizarre that death and destruction are mentioned in the same thirteen lines as school examinations!

It is fair to say that the French population did not like these cards either, had they known that the cards were printed on a contract by a firm owned by Laval, a leading Vichy statesman; they would have been even less impressed. Laval was executed after the war following his collaboration with the German Nazi rulers. It is petty actions such as disallowing communications which ensured that the French populace turn towards the Allies for comfort and more and more people started to listen to the BBC broadcasts.