The man behind the pseudonym Marten Tjaden

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He studied in Moscow; his political career began in the 1930s when he became a party official, a position for which he was jailed. He fled to the Netherlands and returned to Berlin with a Dutch passport in 1935 by the pseudonym Marten Tjaden. Arrested by the Gestapo in December 1935 and interned until 1937. The verdict – 10 years jail. During an air ride in 1945, he escaped prison and hid in a female prison guard apartment. After a few days, she persuaded him to report, and the guard then covered up his escape. After the liberation of the prisons by advancing Soviet troops on April 27, 1945, he remained in Berlin. In 1946, he co-founded a youth organization, which he also chaired. The beginning of his political career after the war, which will bring him on top of a party and a country in the upcoming years.

pseudonym Marten Tjaden
Dutch passport 1935 under his pseudonym Marten Tjaden (Inlay: Bundesarchiv, BArch DS 1-F/12)

He served as General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and Chairman of the National Defense Council until succeeding the Chairman of the State Council in 1976. He had tight links to the Soviet Union, which had a large army stationed in East Germany when he was the country’s leader. By now, you might know who I am talking about – Erich Honecker.

pseudonym Marten Tjaden
Erich Honecker, Diplomatic passport No. D00004

The general public doesn’t know about these details, and as I found a picture of his Dutch passport, I thought it’s an interesting story to tell. Here is Honecker’s biography if you want to know more.

pseudonym Marten Tjaden
Extract from the original arrest warrant against former GDR Council of State Chairman Erich Honecker and SED politburo members Erich Mielke, Willi Stoph, and Heinz Kessler, dated October 19, 1992, was photographed at the House of History of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn on Monday (09.07.01). In the afternoon, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will open the new permanent exhibition. Photo: Georg Hilgemann/ ddp *** Local Caption *** 00082340 Today, the original document is on display at the House of History in Bonn – the arrest warrant dated October 19, 1992, was directed against former GDR Council of State Chairman Erich Honecker and SED Politburo members Erich Mielke, Willi Stoph and Heinz Kessler.


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?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

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 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

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...