Unique Croatian collective passport from February 1941

Unique Croatian collective passport from February 1941

Zbyšek Šustek, Slovak Numismatic Society at Slovak Academy of Sciences

Recently I have enriched my collection with a collective passport issued on 1 February 1941 to the Croatian ice hockey team for its trip to Slovakia. The collective passports were earlier used for organized groups of travelers, the religious pilgrims, sports teams or official delegations. In Central and East European countries they were often used from the late 1940s to 1970s when extremely severe restrictions of traveling abroad were applied in these countries. Issuing of the collective passports economized relatively expensive passport booklets in cases when it was clear that they would be used just once. But their completing was not significantly simpler than completing individual passports. They had even an unpleasant disadvantage – after making a mistake; the work was to be started anew. Other problems could arise if some members of the travelers’ group had to cancel their travel from various motives. From the viewpoint of the security authorities of socialist states, probably the main effect of the collective passports was that they forced members of the travelers’ group to stay together, along with the group leader and supervisor. If somebody separated from the group, he remained without any document. In this way, the control of the group was easier and attempts at illegal emigration were prevented.

In some cases, the travel organizers provided their clients with special documents with a photograph, name of the holder and number of the collective passport (Fig. 1 – 2). However, they served rather as an allowance to enter eating rooms on steamers, restaurant wagons and for other prepaid services, then a real identity card. It is to be noted that from the late 1970-s, issuing of collective passports was abandoned even in the former socialist countries. At present no state uses them. So they remain just exciting and rare witnesses of life conditions in some countries in the 20th century.

Fig. 1. Identity card of a tourist from 1962 issued to a Czechoslovak collective passport

Fig. 2. Identity card of an official delegation member from 1969 issued to a Hungarian collective passport

Unlike most usual collective passports that had an official set form (Fig. 3-5)., the passport of the Croatian ice hockey team is remarkable from three aspects. Of course, for any student of passports, it is interesting first of all due to its form. But it would be a too narrow view. It also fairly reflects an approach to the sport in those times that completely differs from the over-sophisticated and dehumanized industry of the present days and perfectly characterizes the complex and contradictive political situation, in which it was issued and used.

Fig. 3. Cover of the Hungarian collective passport from the early 1970s

Fig. 4. The first side of the Czechoslovak collective passport from 21 April 1969

Fig. 5. Cover of the Yugoslavian collective passport from 1965

The passport itself maintains all external features known in ordinary collective passports issued by other countries in prefabricated blanks. However, it was manufactured in an improvised way. Its internal pages consist of four sheets of yellowish low-quality wooden paper with blue fibers. It had the outmoded “Kanzleiformat” (201 x 233mm), an ancestor of the present day A4. Three pages are unused. The “cover” is made of sheets of a better white paper of the same size. The sheets are bound with a red-white-blue tricolor that is secured on the back side cover by a wax seal (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Cover of the improvised Croatian collective passport from February 1941

The lines dividing the rubrics were simply drawn by a pencil. All headlines, texts, names of the players and their domicile, profession and birth year were typewritten. Finally, the photographs were claimed and stamped and all sheets and cover were bound together (Fig. 7). The passport included originally 16 players, but the photograph of one of them was removed before the leaving (Fig. 8). The absence of the photograph was simply noted by a cross mark during the border control. Two team leaders, mentioned in the validity clause of the collective passport were provided by the ordinary Yugoslav passports.

Fig. 7. Details of arrangement of the internal rubrics.

Fig. 8a. General view on the personal pages

Fig. 8b. General view on the inner pages

The passport was issued by authorities of the “Hrvatska banovina” (Croatian banovina), a highly autonomous administrative formation established on 26 August 1939, as a compromise solution of the strong tensions between the Serbs and Croats in the between war Yugoslavia. It also represented an attempt on how to maintain the integrity of Yugoslavia in the serious threat of war. The banovina´s territory was not defined on the ethnic or historical base, as its name suggests, but on the confessional one. Thus it included all territories with the predominantly Roman Catholic population. Thus it also included historical territories of Bosnia and Hercegovina and parts of Vojvodina, but excluded territories inhabited by the Croats accepting Muslim religion living in Bosnia (Fig. 9). All texts inclusively of the validity clause (Fig. 10) are only in Croatian.

Fig. 9. The territory of the Hrvatska banovina from 1939 in the between-war Yugoslavia and its relation to the banovinas established in 1929

Fig. 10. The Croatian validity clause of the passport.

English translation:
Basing on approval of the Ban´s Administration of the Croatian Banovina of 30 January 1941 No. 12309-I-3-1941 this Collective Travel Document is issued to the Croatian skater Union, namely to the persons given in this list under the ordinal numerals from one to sixteen. The validity of this Collective Travel Document expires on 15 February 1941 after return from Germany and Slovakia. The travel’s leader is Dr. Krasoje Kamenarović who is provided with travel document issued by this Directory under Pas.(sport) number 4/38.-41., valid until 14 February 1941 for Germany and Slovakia, and Vladimir Šuput, who also has the travel document issued by this Directory on 3 February 1941 with validity until 14 February pas. number 12/152-41 for Germany and back. Administration Directory at Zagreb, Zagreb, on 1 February 1941, on behalf administration´s directory, administration commissioner.

Correspondingly to the political situation and the administrative organization of the then Yugoslavia, the revenue was paid already by stamps with typical Croatian ornaments but still denominated in Yugoslav dinars (Fig. 11). The separate Croatian currency “banica” within Yugoslavia was still in the stage of coins projects, but not introduced. The trip organizers obtained the German vise in the consulate in Zagreb (Fig. 12), but they had to travel to Beograd to Slovak embassy to ask the vise (Fig. 13). Also the money they had to change still in a Yugoslav cooperative bank (Fig. 14). All these were to be managed within three days.

Fig. 11. Revenue mark of the Hrvatska banovina overprinted on the revenue mark of the
Savska banovina representing a major part of historical Croatia.

Fig. 12. German visa obtained in Zagreb

Fig. 13. Slovak visa obtained in Beograd with the Slovak border control stamps
from Devínska Nová Ves, now a suburb of Bratislava

Fig. 14. Notice about the legal exchange of 160 marks: English translation: Sold 160 RM in coins, Zagreb 3 February 1941,
General Yugoslavian banking cooperative a. s, Value cash

The group left on 4 February to Austria incorporated in March 1938 into Germany. Perhaps the German consulate at Zagreb gave, by mistake, the transit visa for a too short period. Maybe that shortly before leaving or even on the way the team got information that it had to stay in Slovakia longer than presupposed. From this reason, the players had to break the travel in Klagenfurt to ask the Police direction for prolongation of the transit visa to 16 February (Fig. 15). On February 8 on 3.15 PM they passed the Slovak border at the German-Slovak railway checkpoint Marchegg / Devínska Nová Ves. In Bratislava, they were accommodated in the very modern, still existing, hotel Tatra, in the very center of the town.

Fig. 15. Prolongation of the stay in Germany given by the Police director at Klagenfurt

The Croatian players officially absolved one match in the newly opened winter hall with Slovak representative team and an unofficial one with an amateur team, and next day in Žilina, 200 km north of Bratislava, still one unofficial match. All three matches they lost.

The social structure of the team was diversified. The players were 19-33 year old, originated from nine towns, even out of Croatia. The team consisted mainly of a gymnasium and university students, but also of qualified workers, officials of municipal administrations and agronomy engineers. So it was a purely amateur team of enthusiastic fonds of ice hockey.

Unlike of the then situation, when the Yugoslav and German citizens could obtain the currency of other countries only indirectly, basing on the German-Yugoslav touristic clearing, after entering other countries,  the team left from Yugoslavia provided with 360 Reichsmark in coins. This money was sold by a filial of the General Yugoslav banking cooperative in Zagreb. Apart from it, one of the leaders had with him still 3,500 Yugoslav dinars. Their transfer was confirmed in the collective passports (Fig. 16), in spite of the fact that he had his own passport and was not listed in the collective passport.

Fig. 16. Registration of legal transfer of 3500 Yugoslav dinars. Transliteration from the outmoded Kurent-writing:
Grenzbescheinigung dem Reiseleiter ausgestellt auf 3500 dinars, Rosenbach 4.2.1941

Probably the Slovak part financially supported the Croatian team, paying them 350 Reichsmark through the Slovak Railway exchange office Želka (Fig. 17). This sum was about twice higher than the equivalent of 3500 dinars that might be exchanged. According to the official clearing exchange rate, the Slovak part had to pay for 350 Reichsmark 4,343 Slovak crowns. It was a considerable amount of money, representing about four-month salaries of a better-situated employer or about eight average salaries of a worker. Perhaps it was a courtesy satisfaction for three lost matches.

Fig. 17. Confirmation of paying of RM 150 to the team by the Želka exchange office in
Bratislava on 11 February 1941 and its exporting on the same day

The visit took place still in the last “idyllically” weeks before the German attack on Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941. The Croatian troops of the Yugoslav Army capitulated immediately, while the Serbian troops on 17 April 1941. The Independent Croatian state was established under Italian and German control on 10 April 1941, already during few days of the fights on a major part of the territory of historical Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina. The border territories of the former Yugoslavia were annexed by the neighbors. The major part of Serbia was subjected to an occupation regime under Nazis Germany control, but with Serbian administration.

The visit of the Croatian ice hockey team in Slovakia also had a wider political and social context. The political representation of the wartime Slovak Republic (declared and also called as Slovak State) was not primarily the initiator of the declaration of independence on 14 March 1939. It was rather a result of synergism of the Slovak autonomic movement within the Czechoslovak Republic, that goes back to the 1920s and of the opportune pragmatism under the pressure of dictated circumstances, offered/enforced by A. Hitler, to choose among the threat of liquidation of any form of national and administrative autonomy, being divided among Poland, Hungary and Germany, and a promise of surviving in conditions of a formally independent state, controlled by the Nazi Germany, but externally respected by this powerful neighbor. Under such circumstances, the second alternative was a risky, but logical choice, in spite of all possible moral objections that can be (and are) raised in our days. The position of the newly declared state was considerably limited by the interests of Nazis Germany, which were clearly formulated in the Protection Agreement signed in Berlin on 23 March 1939 and its Confidential Annexes. However, the formal independence offered to Slovakia certain space to develop relations with other partners.

Under such conditions, the then Slovak political representation developed enormous effort to stabilize and strengthen its political and economic position and to develop relations with other states apart of Germany. Any success in this field also increased its legitimacy in relation to the own population, which had a diversified attitude to the new reality.

From this perspective, Croatia (still as a part of Yugoslavia or later as “independent” state) was almost an ideal partner. The considerable similarity of the Slovak and Croatian languages allows easy communication without any special study of the other language. Croatia was near. Croats represented, in southwestern Slovakia, a well-known and fully integrated minority. Even some streets in the center of Bratislava bore (and bear) names of Croatian and Serbian personalities like Ivan Gundulić, Josip Jelačić, Ljudevit Gaj, Svetozar Miletić, and Vuk Karadžić. The relations were not loaded by any negative reminiscences from the past. The position of Croatia within Yugoslavia and its way to formal independence in April 1941 were very similar to the destiny of Slovakia. After establishing of the Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (Independent Croatian State) in April 1941, the relative independence of both state formations offered not only favorable conditions for the development of social, cultural and economic relationships than the immediate neighbors of Slovakia did, but it was, as matter of fact, the only possibility.

Unlike Croatia, the relationships with Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were loaded by historical reminiscences from the between-war Czechoslovakia. Apart from it, any tendency to develop relationships between both parts of former Czechoslovakia would provoke disaccord of Germany. In the General Government in Poland, the severe occupation regime did not give any chance for the development of culture, education or sports relations. Relations with Hungary were heavily stressed by reminiscences on the severe Magyarization before World War I and on the Vienna Arbitrage from late 1938. Bulgaria, as a Slavonic country, was too remote, while Romania or Italy represented a language barrier for most Slovaks.

Under such circumstances, Slovakia developed its multilateral relations also with Independent Croatian State in spite of the fact that even the Slovak diplomats referred negatively about the style of governing of the Ante Pavelić regime, whose excesses provoked even protests of the Italian and German protectors. Thus the Croatian delegations came frequently to Slovakia during the war-time. The ice hockey team was just one of them.

Dear Zbysek, thank you very much for your efforts on this article and sharing this great collectible with us!


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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.

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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.

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