The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 3, January 20, 2008, Article 14


[The Tuesday, January 15th, 2008 issue of the MPC GRAM
(#1584) had a great article by on Ronna A. Novello a new
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland exhibit of Holocaust
currency.  It is reprinted below with permission under a
standing agreement with MPC Gram.  -Editor]

Through December 27, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
is displaying a special exhibit, “Questionable Issue: Currency
of the Holocaust,” at its Learning Center and Money Museum.
The exhibit is presented with the support of the Maltz Museum
of Jewish Heritage.

Once they were deported to the ghettos or concentration
camps, Holocaust victims were issued scrip (pieces of
essentially useless pieces of paper) by the Nazis in exchange
for their confiscated valuable currency. Each ghetto and camp
had its own distinct scrip and coins, often with hundreds of
different issues. Compared with the more pressing issues of
life and death during the Holocaust, the existence of scrip
didn’t seem to matter much to historians. Until now.

Steve Feller, a physics professor at Coe College in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, wrote the catalog for the exhibit and co-authored,
with his daughter Ray, the book Silent Witnesses: Civilian Camp
Money of World War II.

Feller was a graduate student at Brown University in the
’70s when he went to a coin show that changed his life. A
collector since he was a kid, he stopped at a dealer’s table
displaying money used at the Theresienstadt (Terezin)
concentration camp. He bought a set of seven notes for $10.
A week later, at a coin shop in Providence, R.I., he learned
even more about this little-known aspect of concentration
camp and ghetto life.

“It represents what happened from a different viewpoint,”
explains themustachioed, silver-haired Brooklyn, N.Y. native.
Feller spoke with the CJN while in town for the exhibit’s
opening. “You can talk about the camps and six million
murdered, but when we see the money they had, it becomes
personal. They speak through that money; they used it everyday.”

The idea for camp scrip developed early in the Third Reich.
In 1933, political prisoners at Oranienberg, a camp near
Berlin, were allowed to receive money from relatives. They
were escorted into town to buy things they needed, then
taken back to camp. Realizing they were losing money with
this arrangement, the Nazis created a camp canteen, with
prisoners forced to exchange the circulating currency of
Germany for scrip from the camp. “The money they gave the
prisoners was virtually worthless, since there was nothing
backing it up,” Feller explains.

As the Reich’s tentacles spread across Europe, ghettos
were established, and the use of scrip burgeoned.
“Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, they all had ration coupons and
scrip money,” Feller notes. “The scrip was designed by
ghetto residents and printed or minted there.”

In the Warsaw Ghetto,, where 500,000 people, mainly Jews,
were imprisoned, a secret underground currency developed,
separate from the Nazi occupation currency used in daily
transactions. Hand-drawn designs in the secret currency
relied heavily on symbolism. Strong Zionist feelings
influenced the designs, thought to be printed from linoleum

When the Nazis used a Star of David on their official
currency and armbands for the Jews, their objective was
to humiliate and dehumanize their victims. But in the
underground, those symbols were a badge of pride, explains
Feller. On the 50 groszny-note in the Warsaw Ghetto
underground, for example, 18 Stars of David stand defiantly
on one side of a barbed wire fence. On the other side, facing
the stars is a flame, enveloping the hated SS symbol.

These secret currencies, created and used only by the
underground, could express the true feelings of the artist,
since the designs didn’t face Nazi scrutiny.

Official ghetto and camp scrip distributed to the Jews
by the Nazis was governed by different rules. The Nazis
applied stringent guidelines to the designs for these

In Theresienstadt, official scrip notes were designed by
Jewish inmate Petr Kien. The notes featured a portrait of
Moses holding the Ten Commandments.

Although the camp commandant approved the initial design,
his superior, the infamous Reinhard Heydrich deemed the
image “too normal.” The image was revised to make the hair
curlier, the nose more hooked, and the fingers gnarled and
twisted, explains Feller. The grotesque visage was more in
line with the Nazi image of the Jews.

“In 1943, the camps had official scrip issues from Berlin,
and regulations still exist about what they were used for,”
Feller continues. Premium notes were given as rewards for
work, as incentives. They were not designed as a circulating
currency. In some cases, they were given as payment for
slave labor and could be bartered for food or other items.

Evidence of the scrip is found in numerous writings.

In Silent Witnesses, Feller quotes a passage from Auschwitz
survivor Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and author of Man’s
Search for Meaning. "Just before Christmas, 1944, I was
presented with a gift of so-called gift premiums issued by
the construction firm, to which we were practically sold
as slaves. The firm paid the camp authorities a fixed price
per day per prisoner. The coupons cost the firm 50 pfennigs
each and could be exchanged for six cigarettes, although
they often lost their validity. I became the proud owner
of 12 cigarettes. But more important, the cigarettes could
be traded for 12 soups, and 12 soups were often a very real
respite from starvation.”

In concentration camps, scrip was used only intermittently,
and examples of those notes are rarer than those from the
ghetto. Following a speech on the exhibit to Federal Reserve
employees, Feller heard a surprising story from one woman.
“She told me she got chills when she saw the Auschwitz money,”
he recalls in a subdued tone. “Her childhood neighbor was a
survivor, and she said as a child, she (and the neighbor’s
child) had played with that money. The neighbor had about
40 notes, which today would be a substantial amount of the
known notes still existing from Auschwitz. Amazing.”

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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