This green service passport (German: Dienstpass) was issued to Dr. Richard Burmester, Commercial Attache at the German Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I spotted the document on eBay and put it on my watchlist. The auction ended, and I was surprised to see a final result of $548. This made me curious, and I took a closer look at the document. German Service Passport Attache
The service passport is in excellent condition and was issued on 24 July 1936, valid for five years, at the German Embassy in Buenos Aires, passport number 1306/36. This indicates that until this date, 1306 passports have been issued at the embassy in 1936. A service passport is issued to lower-ranking officials. The wording DIENST-PASS (service passport) appears on the cover only, not on the title page or elsewhere. Dr. Burmester, age 37, lived at that time in Buenos Aires. Page six has a handwritten entry that he is traveling on official business for the German government. Page seven has a Brazilian visa and stamp from the Brazilian police that he is traveling on the “Graf Zeppelin,” 5 August 1936. We are talking about the famous Airship LZ127 – GRAF ZEPPELIN! Page eight has an “L.S. Graf Zeppelin” money exchange stamp, which is evidence that he was aboard the airship, exchanging RM200. L.S. stands for Luftschiff (airship). German Service Passport Attache
Page nine shows another police exit-stamp stating another travel with the airship on 13 Sep 1936! This is amazing, and now it is clear why the passport fetched this price. Was it an airship collector who bought the document? But wait, there is more…
According to the seller’s item description, Dr. Burmester was killed (shot) in Argentina. But is it true? German Service Passport Attache
In 1962, during a trial of falsification of documents, the defendant, Heinrich Jürgens, published in the Kölnische Rundschau the allegation that members of the NSDAP national group in Argentina had murdered the commercial attaché Richard Burmeister (the correct name should be Burmester) in 1944 … When asked to substantiate his claims, he had to pass. Jürgens worked for the GDR government in East Berlin in the early 1950s. Source: The ‘Nazi Menace’ in Argentina, 1931-1947 (Book, Ronald C. Newton 1992). However, records show that Burmester indeed died in 1944 in Argentina, but I couldn’t find evidence of the above made claim.
The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin operational history shows operating five years of regular passenger and mail flights from Germany to Brazil. Brazil built a hangar for airships at Bartolomeu de Gusmão Airport, near Rio de Janeiro, at the cost of $1 million (equivalent to $18 million in 2018 and charged the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei $2000 ($37,000) per landing and had agreed that German airships would land there 20 times per year, to pay off the cost. The hangar was constructed in Germany, and the parts were transported and assembled on site. It was finished in late 1936 and was used four times by Graf Zeppelin and five by Hindenburg. It now houses units of the Brazilian Air Force. Graf Zeppelin made 64 round trips to Brazil on the first regular intercontinental commercial air passenger service, and it continued until the loss of the Hindenburg in May 1937. German Service Passport Attache
A glimpse of travel history on the airship
Born Grace Marguerite Lethbridge, she was the widow of a British diplomat, Sir Robert Hay Drummond-Hay. As a journalist for the Hearst press organization, Drummond-Hay made her first zeppelin flight in October 1928, when she was chosen to accompany five other reporters — including her companion and Hearst colleague Karl von Wiegand — on the first transatlantic flight of the Graf Zeppelin from Germany to America. As the only woman on the flight, Drummond-Hay received a great deal of attention in the world’s press.
In March of 1929, Lady Drummond Hay and von Wiegand were once again aboard Graf Zeppelin, for the ship’s “Orient Flight” to Palestine. Later in 1929, the Hearst organization co-sponsored Graf Zeppelin’s historic Round-the-World flight and their reporter Lady Drummond-Hay was once again a passenger. She was the only woman among the 60 male passengers and crew, which again included her companion von Wiegand. Drummond-Hay’s presence on the flight and her reporting as the ship circled the globe, garnered tremendous attention in the press.
Lady Drummond Hay’s experience on the Graf Zeppelin’s Round-the-World flight, and her romance with fellow journalist Karl von Wiegand, is the subject of the film Farewell by Dutch filmmaker Ditteke Mensink. Several elements of the film are fictional, as discussed in more detail on the blog.
Lady Drummond-Hay was also onboard the Hindenburg’s maiden flight from Germany to the United States in May 1936, along with aviation enthusiast Clara Adams. During the flight, Lady Drummond-Hay wrote and posted a letter to her friend Adams, looking forward to meeting again “as companions in adventure when the next Zeppelin is completed.” The letter is dated May 8, 1936; the age of the passenger zeppelin ended just a year later, with the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937.
My dear Clara:
I cannot tell you how happy I was to find you on board the Hindenburg as one of the passengers on her first flight from Germany to America. I hope we will meet again as “companions in adventure” when the next Zeppelin is completed, and that once more we will pioneer a path through the air together.
Kindest thoughts always, your sincere friend, Grace M Hay Drummond Hay
Lady Drummond-Hay and her partner Karl von Wiegand were in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded the islands in 1942, and both were interned in a Japanese camp. Although Drummond-Hay survived the war and returned to New York, she died of coronary thrombosis in early 1946 as a result of the extremely harsh conditions she had suffered at the hands of the Japanese.
FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?
The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...
2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?
Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...
3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?
"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...
4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?
Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...
5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?
Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.
6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?
7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?
During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...
8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?
Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.
9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?
Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.
10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?
A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉
11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?
First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...
Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.
Question? Contact me...