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Thomas Wictor

Karma, baby

Karma, baby

The U.S. Postal Service is swirling the drain. I can’t bring myself to feel badly about it. Why? Because karma. I’ve had too many priceless postcards, photos, and cartes de visite stolen. A theft ring of postal workers operates in New York. With total, absolute, complete impunity. Every American collector of military postcards knows about it. Mail from Germany and Austria is stolen so regularly that collectors have to come up with elaborate methods of fooling the thieves.

This irreplaceable portrait was stolen.


It shows a young German flamethrower pioneer wearing full parade uniform, and it cost me hundreds of dollars. Over my strenuous objections, the German seller sent it to me by registered airmail, and it was stolen. Registered airmail from Germany is a red flag to the thieves. They steal these cards and photos and sell them to unscrupulous buyers.

The way the system works, postal inspectors from the nation where the mail originated are the ones who do the investigation. American postal inspectors won’t lift a finger. This was a demand negotiated by the American union of postal workers. Is it reasonable to expect that Germany or Austria will send an inspector to the U.S. to try and locate one piece of mail? Of course not. The Germans and Austrians do exactly what I can do, which is use the computer to track the mail to New York, where it disappears. Then the Germans and Austrians send you a form letter that says, “We’re sorry, but your mail is lost.”

In the case of the stolen portrait, I called New York and spoke to a bored woman, asking her why she couldn’t just take a peek at who signed for the mail. Postal workers have told me with much vehemence that registered mail can’t be lost, because it’s signed for every step of the way.

True. It isn’t lost. It’s deliberately stolen and sold to dishonest bastards. The union of postal workers demanded and was granted a way of stealing mail without being caught.

The New York postal employee just repeated over and over, “The investigation into lost mail must be carried out by the postal inspectors of the country from which the mail was sent, sir.” She was utterly indifferent. No sense of shame, no desire to help, no empathy. Nothing. She was a soulless machine.

Once I bought the death card of a sapper from the Austrian flamethrower battalion. Death cards commemorate a soldier who’s died. Here’s part of one that arrived here safely. It marks the death of Sapper Josef Dengg, Flamethrower Detachment, 1st Tirolean Kaiserjäger Regiment, who was killed in action on July 16, 1916, at the age of twenty-five.


These documents represent a life. They need to be treated with respect. The death card of the sapper from the Austrian flamethrower battalion—Special Sapper Battalion No. 61—was so rare that I’ll never see one again. After I went through the fruitless investigation, I got a form letter from the U.S. Postal Service telling me the card was lost. I called the number on the bottom and spoke to a bored man.

“The investigation has been completed, sir,” he said. “There’s nothing more I can do.”

“You didn’t actually do anything,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother you that you’re protecting people who are victimizing us, your customers? Don’t you have a conscience?”

“You’re not the only person whose mail gets lost, sir. I can’t spend any more time on the phone with you. I’m extremely busy. Have a good day.” Click.

I’ve developed a foolproof system for getting my cards. The only problem is that it requires the cooperation of the seller. German and Austrian postcard sellers tend to be dolts who have absolutely no interest in the historical value of their wares and don’t care whether or not you receive your purchase. The vast majority of dealers will simply send it to you by registered airmail, making it hugely vulnerable to theft.

Here’s a card I really wanted. More Austrians. The seller ignored my instructions, sent it by registered mail, and it got stolen. Such a shame. Images of Austrian shock troops and their equipment are very hard to find and command top dollar.


I didn’t think my name was on some sort of watch list, but after the revelations of the NSA spying programs and the IRS partisan-hijinks scandal, now I’m not so sure. I used to buy lots and lots of postcards. It isn’t far-fetched to imagine that I’m on a list of people whose mail is generally quite valuable. And the only cards that go missing are the true once-in-a-lifetime discoveries. Whoever steals them knows what he or she is doing.

At my post office, most of the employees are morbidly obese and mean spirited. The most repulsive worker actually smiled when she told me that registered mail can’t be lost, so I must be doing something wrong in trying to track it down. She thought the whole thing was funny. A couple of years ago she retired to Hawaii. I don’t think she’ll be able to enjoy the beaches and pulled pork for very long, because she was at least two hundred pounds overweight.

There are now three automated mailing machines at my post office. Every time I go there, the postal workers bitch to me about layoffs, loss of benefits, closed post offices, and their fear of the future. As I listen, their complaints are overlaid in my head with the smug, uncaring voices of the two workers I spoke to by phone. They enjoyed my helplessness and impotence. My plight made them happy.

Ninety years ago, pilots of the U.S. Postal Service died trying to deliver airmail with biplanes. Getting over the Rocky Mountains in the winter was a total crapshoot. The Hope Diamond was sent by mail. Now, the postal service protects thieves who steal from people like me. Collecting postcards was one of my few remaining pleasures. Everything else was gone. A postcard meant far more to me than it does to the average able-bodied collector.

Screwing someone is dangerous because your screwage can be unimaginably destructive. It’s just a photo and money to you and your buyers, but for me it was one of the things that kept me from pulling the plug when I thought there was no point in continuing. You’re lucky that I achieved clarity and moved on to other avenues. There could easily have been one theft too many for me to endure, since I’d lost everything else.

I still collect a little, but I let others get the big fish now. I have enough. These days it doesn’t upset me when my cards are stolen. Though I mourn the lost history I wasn’t able to preserve, I don’t take it personally. This card was confirmed “lost” yesterday. It shows a German officer training his men in the use of a double portable flamethrower. Quite rare because a small lance is being used in place of the usual large. That’s new information. I really hoped the card would arrive. As so often happens, the seller refused to help me out.


(He put the little yellow strip of paper in the scan because he was terrified that someone would “steal” his image from the auction site, but he didn’t care if the actual card was stolen from me.)

As for you in the Postal Service, your short-term thinking will cost you far more than your thefts cost me. By protecting thieves and being indifferent, you’ve ruined your reputation. Nobody really wants to save you now. You disgraced the memory of those brave pilots who died trying to get the mail through. And the innocent will suffer along with the guilty. Where were the whistle blowers? Why didn’t anybody expose what we all know is going on? By keeping silent, now you get to share in the coming collapse.

You know the most tragic phrase of all?

“Too late.”