Holocaust Numismatics

by Joel J. Forman

One of the less explored areas of Holocaust research is numismatics: the separate coins and currency (paper money) issued for internal use in many of the transit camps, concentration camps, and ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe. Coexisting simultaneously alongside the national currencies of Germany (Marks), Italy (lire), the Netherlands (gulden), and others, were special series of coins, bills, and coupons carrying the names of Buchenwald, Cremona, and Westerbork as issuing agencies. This essay will present some of the data known about these camp monetary systems; answer such questions as who issued, printed, designed, and distributed the camp or ghetto money; and explain the purposes camp and ghetto money served. Obviously, despite a growing specialized literature, we do not yet have examples or information about all Holocaust monetary issues that once existed, although it is possible to summarize the broad outlines of the subject at this time.1 This essay attempts to summarize currently available information; it is based on scrip and coins that have survived.

The concept of money issued specifically for Jews began in 1933 with the emergence of "conversion money." Forced to sell their property at extremely low prices, the Jews were paid with this conversion money and not in German marks. This money was good only outside Germany. Those Jews lucky enough to obtain any conversion money could go to a foreign bank and convert it to the host country's currency. However, the rate of exchange was artificially low, in effect making conversion money into an elaborate confiscation scheme. The second major Nazi numismatic program was the creation of a new German monetary system. This coinage showed, on the obverse (front) side, an eagle with its wings spread holding a swastika in its talons. From 1936 to 1940, the lower denominations were made of bronze. After the war began, copper, a component of bronze, became essential for the war; after 1940, coins were made of zinc.

A very special Nazi numismatic program was the creation of concentration camp monetary systems. Before describing these monetary systems in individual camps and ghettos, it is important to specify the purposes this special camp and ghetto money served:

1. This scrip was a security measure making escape from the camp or ghetto more difficult, since real money (i.e.. the normal circulating national currency) was needed in the outside world.

2. The scrip was a method of subsidizing the costs of maintaining the camp, since real money was instantly converted into taxed scrip. The scrip was issued usually after items of value (e.g. cash and personal property) were confiscated upon the inmates' arrival in the transit or concentration camps.

3. The scrip was also a propaganda device, forcing humiliation and isolation on the internees who had no access to "real money," and thereby isolating them from a financial relationship to the outside world.2

It is unclear why some of the early camps (e.g. Oranienburg and Lichtenburg) had such camp-specific monetary systems, while others (e.g. Papenburg, Sonnenburg, Hohenstein, Sachsenburg, and Dachau) did not. Starting in 1933, Oranienburg and Lichtenburg began issuing Lagergeld (camp money). (See Table 1.) The scrip prevented

TABLE 1: Monetary Systems in the Early Nazi Camps, 1933-1934 

Camp 1 2 5 10 50 .50 1 2 3
Name pfg pfg pfg pfg pfg RM RM RM RM
Lichtenburg x x              
Oramenburg (Hausmann)     x x x   x    
Oramenburg (Ernst Heinkel)           x x x x

prisoners from retaining or owning any legal tender. All cash had to be exchanged for camp money. Prisoners, each with their own "bank" account, could purchase food at the camp canteen to supplement their meager food rations. In these camps, 30 percent of all cash was confiscated to cover expenses. In essence, through the use of Lagergeld each prisoner paid for his own imprisonment.

Special Camp Moneys in the Early Camps

Lichtenburg, a former penitentiary, existed from 1933 to 1937. One (1) and two (2) Pfennig paper certificates were printed and distributed in this camp. Specific data is not known about who printed this money. The legend, printed on only one side of the currency, was: "The denominations; Prisoner Camp Money; Lichtenburg Concentration Camp; Valid only in the Concentration Camp." A specimen of the one-Pfennig certificate can be found today in the Museum of German History in East Berlin. The two-Pfennig note is held by the Lichtenburg Memorial Museum. Only after the camp certificates were stamped by the camp commandant were they accepted as money.3

In March 1933, a prominent Berlin banker donated a huge lumberyard to SA unit no. 208. The yard, located close to Berlin, eventually became the core of the Oranienburg concentration camp. By July 1933, specimens of camp money were already in use in Oranienburg. Unlike the Lichtenburg certificates, which were relatively crude, the first Oranienburg currency became the prototype for later camp notes. This money was used, for example, by A. Hausmann Helldunkelmuster Company. Horst-Willi Lippert, prisoner entry number 33 in the camp registry, was a graphic artist who had been ordered to design and print this currency. On the obverse side of the Oranienburg notes, Lippert put his logo "LIT"; this was an acronym consisting of the first, second, and last letters of his surname.

Since Lippert was a staunch anti-Nazi, he also protested against his imprisonment in the design of the currency he was ordered to print. The design and plates of the five (5) Pfennig note showed a guard tower overlooking barbed wire; the one (1) Mark note showed a middle age man doing manual labor. The notes all contain the following imprint: "Denomination Lagergeld; Oranienburg Konzentrationslager." After a trial run of fifty (50) Pfennig notes, Lippert modified the printing plates. In the word "Konzentrationslager," he scratched away the top of the letter "g- and, as the letter opened, the word changed to read "Konzentrationslayer." Lippert thus attempted to inform the world about the Nazi murderous policies with this typographical tampering. Had this defiance been noticed, Lippert would have been severely punished, possibly even killed. In 1981, Lippert, then a resident of West Germany, confirmed this story to German numismatists.4

The second type of Oranienburg camp money was the crude currency used by the Ernst Heinkel Company. The money was printed on only one side. On three lines were the words:

Ernst Heinkel (Ernst Heinkel Aktiengesellschaft Company Werk Oranienburg. Oranienburg Plant)

To the left of these three lines are the letters "KL," equal to the height of the three lines. Near the bottom is the denomination or Wert-Marke [value] RM, with the RM (Reichsmark) and value underlined. About a year after the money went into circulation, Oranienburg was closed. These notes are considered rare because of the short time during which they were printed and used.5

After 1939, the Nazis expanded these camp monetary systems as the transit and concentration camp systems expanded throughout all of occupied Europe. The money was used to reinforce Nazi propaganda and to provide the Red Cross with the illusion that the Jews were being treated humanely and "paid" for their labor. Table 2 shows those camps and ghettos where distinctive monetary systems existed.

It is safe to generalize that if a parent camp had a monetary system, then the affiliated subcamps used the same monetary system as the parent camp. 'It is important to remember that not all camps and ghettos had unique monetary systems. Thus the Lodz ghetto had its own Nazi-created monetary system, whereas Warsaw did not. However, in the spring of 1941, the Jewish postal authorities in Warsaw printed currency to relieve a critical shortage of small change that occurred when ghetto residents purchased postage stamps. These notes were illegal and were crudely printed from hand-cut linoleum or woodplates. The design graphically showed the SS flame guarding Jews imprisoned behind barbed wire. The money was valid only inside the Warsaw ghetto and had no value outside its walls.6 There was only one issue of this money; i.e., the date and denominations never changed regardless of the actual printing date of the money. It is important to remember that each camp or ghetto currency was unique in design and format.

TABLE 2. Known Camp/Ghetto Monetary Systems

Parent Camp Country Type
Amersfoort Netherlands Transit Camp
Auschwitz Poland Concentration Camp
Bielsk Russia Concentration Camp
Bohlen Germany Concentration Camp
Bozen Italy Transit Camp
Brabag Germany Concentration Camp
Buchenwald Germany Concentration Camp
Cremona Italy Transit Camp
Dachau Germany Concentration Camp
Flossenburg Germany Concentration Camp
Grini Norway Transit Camp
Gross-Rosen Germany Concentration Camp
Haselhorst Germany Concentration Camp
Holysov Czechoslovakia Concentration Camp
Lichtenburg Germany Concentration Camp
Lodz Poland Ghetto
Mauthausen Austria Concentration Camp
Mittelbau Germany Concentration Camp
Neuengamme Germany Concentration Camp
Nordhausen Germany Concentration Camp
Orienenburg Germany Concentration Camp
Ravensbrock Germany Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen Germany Concentration Camp
Sokolka Russia Ghetto
Stutthof Germany Concentration Camp
Theresienstadt Czechoslovakia Ghetto & Transit Camp
Westerbork Netherlands Transit Camp
Vught Netherlands Concentration Camp


Scrip was primarily issued in the camps and subcamps that had nearby factories where slave labor contributed to the Nazi war effort. The SS, who ran the camps, provided the industrialists with an end less stream of slave labor. Thus, on 11 August 1944, at the Osram (electric) works, a ruling went into effect that permitted each working prisoner to be paid the free labor rate of 4 RM per day. The inmates never saw the money, since it was immediately taken by the SS. Prisoners were often acutely aware of the relationship between the SS, the Nazi Party, giant corporations, and prison scrip.

Ghetto Currencies

Theresienstadt, a former fortress named for the eighteenth-century Empress Maria Theresa, had the most comprehensive special monetary system. During the latter part of 1942, it was announced that after 1 January 1943, camp money would be available. On 21 April 1943, the so- called Bank of Jewish Autonomy (located in the former Terezin town hall) received 53 million Theresienstadt crowns (Kronen). The first distribution of this money took place on 12 May 1943. Since there was nothing to purchase, the monetary system resulted in artificial bookkeeping, whereby inmates kept worthless passbooks and accounts for payrolls, goods, and imaginary salaries and savings. The only place where the money was actually used or "spent" was the camp library, where the loan of each book required a deposit of 50 Kronen. By 1944, the Theresienstadt library bank account contained 120,000 Kronen on deposit.

The camp money was created and designed by the Prague artist Peter Kien. Initially deported to Theresienstadt on 5 December 1941, Kien eventually perished in Auschwitz.7

All Theresienstadt notes had the same design (see Figure 1). The physical dimensions of the bills increased as the denominations on the scrip rose. On the obverse of each bill, in the center, is the legend "Receipt for" (Quittung Uber). Below the legend, the denomination (Kronen) is spelled out. Beneath this is a warning against counterfeiting. The lower left corner carries the date of issue: "Theresienstadt, 1 January 1943." Opposite, in the lower right, is the signature of Jacob Edelstein, "Chairman of the Council of Elders in Theresienstadt." On the reverse side was a picture of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and this resulted in the common appellation "Moses Crowns" for Theresienstadt scrip. When Kien initially submitted his designs to Reinhard Heydrich, they were rejected. Because Heydrich objected to the fact that Moses looked too Aryan, the notes were modified to show Moses with more strongly stereotyped Semitic features; the design had to conform to the Nazi vision of Jewish appearance. The final design shows Moses with a long hooked nose and curly hair. Heydrich also demanded that the hand of Moses cover the commandment that stated "Thou shalt not kill."

The scrip was printed by the National Bank of Prague. They directed the State Printing Works to proceed quickly to produce the world's first paper money used exclusively by Jews and ordered by a governmental authority whose normal circulating currency included Czech Kronen and German Marks. The printing contract was given to Bedrich Potasek, a graphic designer, and then to Jindra Schmidt, a distinguished engraver of Czech banknotes, postage stamps, and fiscal paper. Table 3 summarizes the currency used at Theresienstadt.

Since the Red Cross made periodic inspections of Theresienstadt, the issue of camp scrip was used to foster the illusion that the inmates were remunerated for their labor and that goods were available for

TABLE 3: Summary of Theresienstadt Currency

Value Size (mm) Color Quantity Printed
1 Kronen 100 x 50 Green 2,242,000
2 Kronen 110 x 55 Rose 1,019,000
5 Kronen 120 x 58 Blue 530,000
10 Kronen 125 x 63 Brown 456,000
20 Kronen 135 x 66 Green 319,000
50 Kronen 140 x 70 Dark green 159,000
100 Kronen 150 x 75 Red-brown 279,000


purchase. In the 1944 film "The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a City," one scene included long lines of elderly Jews with camp money, their savings pass books in hand, standing in front of the "bank" waiting to deposit their savings. Using the Frankfurt bank account of jenny Schafer, we discovered that 10 Theresienstadt Kronen were equal to each German Reichsmark. The Kronen had denominations of 1, 2, 5, and 10 and only one letter series ever appeared (the letter A), followed by a three-digit number. This represented the plate number, with A056 the highest plate number located. There were no serial numbers on these denominations. The denomination values are printed on unwatermarked white paper, although higher values (e.g. 20, 50, and 100 Kronen) were printed on watermarked paper and had serial numbers, but no plate numbers.8

On 11 April 1940, Lodz, located in the Polish territory incorporated into the German Reich, was renamed Litzmannstadt, in honor of General Litzmann, who had been killed there during World War 1. Since the Jews incarcerated in the ghetto were not permitted to use German money, they were forced to use separate ghetto money. Although the earliest notes are dated 15 May 1940, the initial printrun took place two months earlier in March. The denominations printed were: 50 Pfennig, and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 Mark bills.

Both sides of the Lodz note carried print. The obverse had a Star of David in a circle on the upper left, and Quittung uber (receipt for) in the upper right; the center contained the denomination. The lower left of the bill stated: Litzmannstadt 15 May 1940, and the lower right contained the authority for the currency issue: The Elder of the Jews in Litzmannstadt along with the signature of C. Rumkowski. In the right-hand margin was the serial number and a denomination in figures. The reverse had various designs, but also showed the denomination and a menorah; there was a warning that all forgers would be prosecuted, similar in wording to the Theresienstadt Kronen bills. Figure 2 shows some samples of the Lodz scrip.

Figure 1. Theresienstdadt script, from the Feigl Collection. Leo Baeck Institute, New York.

Figure 2. Lodz script, from the Eric Lind Collection. Leo Baeck Instutitute, New York.


TABLE 4: Summary of Lodz Currency

Denomination Availability Watermark
50 Pfennig Common None
1 Mark Common None
2 Marks Rare None
5 Marks Scarce None
10 Marks Scarce Plain and watermarked
20 Marks Common Plain and watermarked
50 Marks Rare Watermarked


Unlike the Theresienstadt notes, the Lodz currency was crude. Many of the notes had various shapes. The 10 and 20 Mark notes were printed on different types of paper, both plain and watermarked; the latter was scarcer. The 5 Mark note had serials in two different colors: orange and red; the orange was less common. The rarest denominations were the 2 and 50 Mark notes.9 Table 4 provides information on the Lodz paper currency.

The currency of the Lodz ghetto was unique, since Lodz was the only ghetto that issued coins. Since no provision had been made for denominations smaller than 50 Pfennig, the ghetto economy had trouble providing smaller change. In 1942, C. Rumkowski requested of Hans Biebow, the ghetto's Nazi administrator, that a Jewish mint to provide coins be created. The initial design of the coins was similar to the German 10 Pfennig piece, containing the number "10" with oak leaves. This pattern was unacceptable to the Germans, since it combined a German and Jewish design. After being redesigned, the coins went into production toward the end of 1942. They were made of magnesium, a flammable metallic element that became a source of heat when ghetto inhabitants burned them instead of the virtually nonexistent fuel. While the 10 Pfennig coins were being designed and produced, temporary 10 Pfennig bills were printed and used during the second half of 1942. These 10 Pfennig bills carried the date 17 April 1942. Alongside the 10 Pfennig coins, there were also 5, 10, and 20 Mark coins minted. The Mark coins were made of either aluminum or a magnesium-alunminum alloy. The magnesium came from the pieces of downed German aircraft shot down on the eastern front. Moreover, there were also counterfeit coins, as in all other societies. These coins were restrikes of genuine 5 and 10 Mark coins. (A restrike is a coin struck from the original dies at a date later than the imprint on the coin's face.) It will probably never be known how many of the coins were restrikes. Table 5 shows the types of coins made in Lodz.10

TABLE 5: Lodz Ghetto Coins

Denomination Year Mintage Metal Design
10 Pfenning 1942 100,000 Brass Obverse: Six-pointed star of David with the date in the center; Der Alteste der Juden in Litzmannstadt imprinted around the rim. Reverse: 10 in center; Quitting uber Pfenning printed around the rim.
5 Mark 1943 600,000 Aluminum The 5, 10 and 20 Mark coins had the same design, except for the values.
5 Mark 1943 restrike Aluminum Magnesium The 5, 10 and 20 Mark coins had the same design, except for the values.
10 Mark 1943 100,000 Aluminum Magnesium The 5, 10 and 20 Mark coins had the same design, except for the values.
10 Mark 1943 restrike Aluminum Magnesium The 5, 10 and 20 Mark coins had the same design, except for the values.
20 Mark 1943 unknown Aluminum The 5, 10 and 20 Mark coins had the same design, except for the values.

Currencies in Other Concentration, Transit, and Labor Camps

Buchenwald opened on 19 July 1937 and issued notes in 0.5, 1, 2, and 3 Mark denominations. The notes were crude and poorly printed on coarse paper. The bills fell into two broad categories: (1) regular canteen scrip, and (2) scrip for Aussenkommandos (outside labor brigades). Table 6 summarizes the Buchenwald currency. The currency was printed in the upper left-hand corner with two lightning bolts (the symbol of the SS) and the words: Standort - Kantine. The lower right-hand corner contained the word: Wertmarke, located above RM, with the denomination indicated to the right. In the center bottom was a stylized six-pointed star. Immediately to the left of the star was the serial number. All notes were undated and had blank reverse sides. The premium notes carried the imprint "Aussenkommando" slanted at a 45 degree angle upward to the right. The auxiliary camp of Rottleberode had scrip rubber- stamped "SS-KO Rottleberode," marked at the same angle as the word "Aussenkommando."

TABLE 6: Summary of Buchenwald Currency

Description Denomination
M in RM bold type .50, 1, 2, and 3 RM (The I RM bill used 2 different typefaces for the arabic number 1).
M in RM spread out type .50, 1, 2, and 3 RM (The I RM note used 2 different typefaces for the arabic number 1).
Slanting "Aussenkommando" .50, 1, and 2 RM
2-line black rubber stampSS-Ko. Rottleberode/A 5 .50, 1, and 2 RM
1-line rubber stamp SS-Ko. Rottleberode (Stamps existed in three colors: black, red, and purple). .50, 1, and 2 RM
I-line rubber stamp SS Arbeitskommando A6 (no color specified; assumed black). 1 RM Other denominations are uncertain.


The use of these premium notes was authorized under the "Service Regulations for Granting Favors to Inmates" issued by the SS on 15 May 1943. These regulations granted favors to some inmates for industriousness, carefulness, good behavior, and "special work."11 Such favors included receiving mail, keeping one's hair, supplementary food rations, and money premiums. Each prisoner could spend up to 10 Marks per week to purchase cigarettes or other items from the canteen, to visit the camp brothel, or to deposit as a credit in a savings account. If the inmate visited the camp brothel, the cost was 2 Marks: the SS kept 1.5 Marks as administrative fees and .5 Marks were used for "expenses."

Mittelbau, also known as Dora, was the contraction for "Mitteldeutsche Baugesellschaft A.G.," the industrial complex that produced VI and V2 rockets. It consisted of three subcamps: Mittelbau 1, the main camp, located near Nordhausen; Mittelbau 2, located near Ellrich; and Mittelbau 3, the smallest subcamp, located near Harzungen.

The Mittelbau camp notes are the most complex of all camp issues, because of the many series that were made. The notes range from .01 RM (which are easy to obtain today) to 10 RM denominations. The other denominations are extremely rare. There is no list of the complete nominal values issued. The notes were printed at the Buchdruckerei Theodore Mueller in Nordhausen, Konugshof. The printing orders for Mittelbau notes were destroyed by the Nazis before the liberation of the camp by the Russian Army in April 1945. Thus no documentary materials pertaining to the issuance of camp money at Mittelbau-Dora are extant.

The legend printed on the reverse side of all the notes reads: "The safekeeping of funds for these vouchers is maintained by the Central Administration of the SS canteens in the Mittelbau area garrison. Counterfeiting will be dealt with in the most severe manner." Below the legend is a stylized six-pointed star and the serial number. The obverse wordings are always the same: "Work Camp Mittelbau. " The notes differ in color, series, and denomination (see Table 7). All notes were printed on watermarked paper as a security device. Since the notes are similar in layout, their designs were probably created locally.12

On 13 March 1938, three weeks after the Austrian Anschluss, the concentration camp of Mauthausen was established near Liuz. The three types of Mauthausen camp money are all on unwatermarked paper. Occasionally, notes are found with the rubber-stamped cachet: "Liobl Tunnel." Extra rations and toiletries could be exchanged for these notes.

TABLE 7: Summary of the Obverse of Mittelbau Currency

Denomination Color Series
.01 RM Charcoal gray N, 0, P
.05 RM Brown L
.10 RM Olive green E, F, H
.25 RM Red-orange A, H
.50 RM Black R, S, T
1 RM Green N, 0, P, Q
2 RM Red J, K, L, M
5 RM Blue E, F, G, H
10 RM Magenta C, D


The first two types of Mauthausen currency are similar. Across the top the words "Konzentrationslager Mauthausen" are underlined. Below that, in bold print, is "Pramienschein." Under this word are eight parallel ruled lines that were used as an anti-counterfeiting device where the prisoners' registration number was to be printed. In the extreme lower left hand corner was: "KL M 1/2 - 4-43." The last two numbers refer to the date of issue, April 1943. The significance of the other numbers is unknown.

The third type of scrip is printed "Pramienschein." uber RM I Konzentrationslager Mauthausen" on a background of many parallel ruled lines. In the center of the note is a 32.5 mm circle with the initials "D.St." (date stamp). At the lower left-hand corner is inscribed: KL/101-8.44/500,000. The KL/101 is probably a Nazi catalogue number, 8.44 is the date of printing (August 1944) and the 500,000 represents the number printed. Table 8 summarizes the currency used at Mauthausen.

Factory owners often used slave labor, including the two Kommandos located at Braunkohle-Benzin A. G. Magdeburg. They were located in Bohlen (near Leipzig), and in Troglitz (near Zeitz). Buchenwald sent 800-1,000 prisoners to each labor Kommando. The Brabag notes were used exclusively in the canteens to purchase food. Only recently have these notes, actually chits, surfaced. They have a serial number with a stylized six- pointed star on the first line. BRABAG is centered on the note, "Wertmarke" with the denomination in the lower right hand corner. All notes are unsigned and have blank reverses. Two denominations are known: .50 RM (green) and 2 RM (white) (see Table 9).14

TABLE 8: Summary of Mauthausen Currency

Denominations Type Date Dimensions (mm) Colors
.50 RM I Undated Unknown Unknown
I RM 2 Apr-43 75 x 54 Brownish paper
I RM 3 Aug-44 Unknown Bluish-gray paper
2 RM 2 Apr-43 75 x 54 Red paper
5 RM 2 Apr-43 75 x 54 Yellowish paper

TABLE 9: Summary of Brabag Currency

Denomination Color
.50 RM Green
2 RM White

The Nazis established a slave labor camp at Holysov, about 20 km southwest of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. This complex was administratively a subcamp of Flossenburg, to produce ammunition to offset the losses caused by the constant Allied bombings of German armaments factories. Most of the camp was destroyed in an Allied raid of 26 April 1945.

Until recently, notes from Holysov were unknown. They resemble theater admission tickets more than currency. All are about the same size: 54 x 30 mm. They are perforated on all four sides; only the obverse has printing in black ink with the denomination and the logo "MWH." MWH stood for the German corporation Metallwerke Holleischen, GmbH. In a light gray underprinted security background, there are eight additional "MWH" symbols (see Table 10).

The currency issued in Sokolka is interesting. The money was printed only on one side, with the following inscription in seven lines: "RM 0.91 (Jewish Money) Good only as a way of payment by Germans for Jewish work within the ghetto of Sokolka, the Treasury of Sokolla, the Mayor." It appears that 91 Pfennig was the daily wage during 1940-41. Therefore, one note could be issued for each day's work.16

Little is known about the notes from Bielsk. There are two known varieties: 10 kopeks and 5 rubles. The obverses are similar, with three printed lines: "Town administration of Bielsk, (either 10 kopeks or 5 rubles) Jewish Money." The reverse is also common: "This form of payment is valid in Jewish stores in Bielsk only. Tobien, the Mayor," printed in five lines. The currency was probably issued after the German invasion.

TABLE 10: Summary of Holysov Currency

Denomination Color
1 Rpf Gray
2 Rpf Light blue
3 Rpf Light gray-green
4 Rpf Buff
5 Rpf Red-orange
6 Rpf Gray
7 Rpf Tan
8 Rpf Gray-green
9 Rpf Dark pink
10 Rpf Yellow
15 Rpf Light pink
20 Rpf Light gray
40 Rpf Cream yellow
50 Rpf Salmon
1 RM Tan
2 RM Gray-blue
5 RM Buff

Other Camps
Many other camps and ghettos had monetary systems, but the history of camp scrips is poor and much of the documentary material was destroyed. The scrip itself, however, survived as an artifact. In the case of Dachau, one of the earliest camps, information on the monetary system is rare. 17

Transit Camp Currency

After the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938, about 30,000 German Jews fled to nearby Holland. Faced with a sudden increase in refugees, the Dutch government opened a refugee internment camp in a forsaken swamp in northeastern Holland, near the border town of Westerbork.

After the occupation of Holland, barbed wire was added and the internment camp became a transit camp. Essentially, the Jews paid for their own imprisonment and the Nazis used 20 percent of funds confiscated from the Jews to pay for the maintenance of the camp.

TABLE 11: Summary of Westerbork Currency

Denomination Dimensions (inches) Color Combinations
10 cents 41/8 x 21/8 Pink and blue
25 cents 41/8 x 21/8 Red and brown
50 cents 41/8 x 21/8 Blue and brown
100 cents 47/8 x 2112 Green and brown


Camp money was created, enabling the Nazis to confiscate the remaining possessions of the inmates (see Table 11). On 15 February 1944, camp scrip of 10, 25, 50, and 100 cents was initially distributed. All notes have the same design. The obverse shows the denominations, in the upper left- and lower right-hand corners, with the words "Lager Westerbork" centered in the upper half of the note between the denominations. Below the word "Westerbork" is the notation "Gutschein," showing that the note was a coupon or scrip. The upper right- and lower left-hand corners are blank. On the reverse is a profile of the camp with a gear, symbolizing work, superimposed on the camp. In the lower left-hand corner is the name of the camp and the date. The lower right-hand corner has the title and signature of the camp commandant, A. K. Gemmeker. In the middle is the series and the note number.

The profile of the camp shows a smoking chimney, representing the hot water boiler used for the camp laundry. The main street was called the Boulevard of Misery. The Nazis claimed that the gear represented redemption via labor. Their motto was 'Jewish labor is needed for the German victory." The prisoners, however, considered the gear to symbolize "the last wheel of life." The money was used to buy rations. 18

There were two other camps in the Netherlands. Amersfoort was used for the internment of political prisoners. Eventually, prominent Jews were also sent there. The camp money had the legend "Political Transit Camp, Amersfoort, Prisoners Cantine Money." Prisoners were allowed to buy toiletries, when they were available. All notes were the same size, 90 x 50 mm, and had a solid red triangle, the German symbol for political prisoners. Notes can be found both on unwatermarked and watermarked (GB) paper. All have the printed signature of "Berg," the camp commandant (see Table 12).19

TABLE 12: Summary of Amersfoort Currency

Denomination First Series Second Series
10 cents A 6-digit serial number, A 6-digit serial number
25 cents preceded by a "No". A followed by a stylized
I Gulden period is directly under six-pointed star and a
21/2 Gulden the letter "o." period following the
5 Gulden   letter "o" in "No."


Currency from Vught is the most difficult to find of that from the Dutch concentration camps. Jewish ex-diamond workers were sent there as labor for Phillips Electric Company. Company personnel tried, however, to protect the Jewish prisoners.

The Vught monetary system is complicated, since there were two types of currency, one Dutch and one German. The Dutch money was subdivided into cents and gulden. The cents had the serial number in the upper right-hand corner with the series number in the upper left-hand corner. Across the bottom is the legend: "Concentration Camp Herzogenbusch." The gulden have the nominal value printed in each corner with the serial number in the upper right-hand corner. The date is found in the lower left-hand corner and "Der Lagerkommandant" in the lower right comer. Both categories of Dutch money had printed on the obverse the legend: "Camp money for the concentration camp of Herzogenbusch in the value of -." All notes are printed on poor quality paper of different sizes and layouts.

The German denominations are printed on thin cardboard. They have the rubber-stamped seal: "Konzentrationslager/Waffen SS/Herzogenbusch," as well as the word "Pramienschein." (scrip). Although they are different colors, they are all uniform in size: 70 x: 60 mm.20 Table 13 summarizes the currency.

Although Italy was Germany's ally, Mussolini was hesitant to create concentration camps on Italian soil. Succumbing to pressure, the fascist state did eventually create transit and internment camps. Compared to the German camps, the Italians treated their inmates reasonably well. Two of the transit camps in Italy are known to have used their own camp currencies: Cremona and Bolzano (Bozen).

Cremona was an internment camp in northern Italy. Since it had Jewish inmates, the Star of David was used as an overprint on the camp currency. Recently, two experts on Italian paper money had differing opinions about the authenticity of camp notes. Dr. Guido Crapanzano believed that Italian transit camp money was genuine, whereas Dr. Gastone Sollner felt that it was fraudulent, because the Cremona notes with star were found in an excellent state of preservation and were printed on considerably heavier paper than those few uncirculated notes without the star.

TABLE 13: Summary of the Vaught/Herzogenbusch Currency

Denominations Dates Color/Size Dimensions Rubber-Stamped Pramienschein
10 cents - All are of different sizes and colors All are 70 X 60 mm and different colors. All are rubber stamped. All were printed"Pramienschein"
25 cents -        
1 Gulden 1-11-43        
2 1/2 Gulden 1-11-43        
10 Gulden 1-11-43        


However, since other camps are known to have had more than one type of note, all authentic and verified, this author believes that the Cremona notes are genuine. The authorities intended to redeem camp money at the end of the war, although this redemption policy did not apply to Jewish internees. The regular Cremona camp notes, without the star, were officially validated with the camp commandant's signature, but only notes with the star were distributed to Jewish prisoners.

The currency was divided into seven denominations, ranging from .50 to 50 lire (see Table 14). Across the top is printed "Campo Concentramento per Internati Civili Cremona." Below this is a line. On the left, centered in a rectangle is the denomination. To the right is "Buno per L." (the value). Below "Cremona" is the serial number. In the extreme lower left hand corner is "Vale solo nello Spaccio del Campo." Below the value is "Il Commandate il Campo," signed by the camp commandant, C. Zucelli. A line parallel to the top line is printed across the bottom. These notes with the star have the star stamped below the word "Concentramento." All notes are undated and unifaced. All denominations below 10 lire have four-figure serial numbers, while the rest are numbered under 1,000.21

A most unusual currency was printed at the Bolzano concentration camp. In the camp, the internal resistance committee needed currency to supply prisoners with special items. The notes were spent in the city of Bolzano by prisoners who could leave the camp since they worked in the city or at the Virgolo tunnel. Only a few prisoners knew of the money and its purpose. Local patriots then helped the prisoners with their shopping.

The notes were printed by Bruno Galmozzi, in the camp press; he was a member of the internal resistance committee. The notes were hidden by the camp leader, Ermanno Pasqualini, who also kept genuine Italian currency. After three months, local shopkeepers refused to accept this money, since they were afraid of being caught, arrested, and taken to the local SS camp. As the war was ending in April 1945, the money was discovered by a guard, who told the SS. Amid the confusion, Galmozzi was questioned extensively about the notes. He did not deny that they existed, but said that the money was used during poker games. No one believed him, although he was not punished. Instead, the SS started spending this money and forced shops in Bolzano to accept it. The owners accepted the Bolzano notes, since refusal might mean arrest and detention in the local camp.

TABLE 14: Summary of the Cremona Currency

Denominations Serial Number
.50 lire Number greater than 1,000
1 lire Number greater than 1,000
2 lire Number greater than 1,000
5 lire Number greater than 1,000
10 lire Number less than 1,000
20 lire Number less than 1,000
50 lire Number less than 1,000


The notes were printed between mid-December 1944 and midJanuary 1945. All bear the date of 1945. All money had the same design. In the upper left- hand comer were two lines: line 1, "Polizeidurchgangslager" (transit camp), and line 2: "Campo concentramento." To the right was the word "Bozen" equal to the height of both lines. There was a line across the note just below this. In the lower left-hand corner, there was a rectangle with "lire" and the denomination spelled out. In the box was a series. To the right of the rectangle was the denomination in numerals. Across the top of the rectangle were two legends, one in German on the left and one in Italian on the right, that stated the monetary value "Good for." The date was in the lower right- hand corner with one line above and one line below the date (see Table 15).22

Other Camps

In addition to the aforementioned camps and ghettos where information on money issues is known to some degree, there are numerous other camps that issued currency, although no information exists about the currency. Other camps that had money issues included: Auschwitz, Bohlen, Dachau, Flossenburg, Grini, Gross-Rosen, Haselhorst, Neuengamme, Ravensbruck, Sachsenhausen, and Stutthof. In the spring of 1945, as the Allies drew closer, the Nazis began to destroy records of their crimes, including papers relating to the development of camp monetary systems. The result was that few bills and even fewer documents survived, in effect creating numismatic rarities. Although this does not preclude the possibility that information might surface in the future, it is probable that our knowledge will grow slowly, if at all.

TABLE 15: Summary of the Bolzano Currency

Denomination Color of Paper Color of Ink Dimensions (mm)
2 lire Gray Black and sky blue 66.3 x 43.5
5 lire Light green Black and green 66.5 x 41.5
10 lire Dark brown Black and red 80.5 x 52.5
50 lire Straw Black and red 80.5 x 52.5
500 lire Straw Black and green 101 x 58.5


Table 16 summarizes the main camps and ghettos in the Netherlands known to have issued money; Table 17 summarizes for camps in other European countries. All camps and ghettos are listed in the countries where they were located during World War 11. In the case of Vught/Herzogenbusch, one set of money was in German denominations and the other in the language of the Netherlands. Finally, Table 18 provides an overall summary of the camps and ghettos that used the Pfennig and Mark system of currency.

As Nazi rule expanded across Europe, occupation money surfaced. It would be impossible to list all the currencies of occupied Europe. It is clear that the Nazis did not care about the economic chaos they caused. This is exemplified by the situation in Greece. The Nazis ran the printing presses to maximum capacity, deliberately flooding the country with huge amounts of money. This resulted in the destruction of the economy, and the Greek inflationary spiral under Nazi occupation was much greater and more prolonged than the German inflation of 1922-1923. For example, a British gold sovereign cost 1,200 Greek drachma in January 1941, whereas it cost 205 trillion drachma in November 1944. In 46 months, inflation increased 520 million-fold.

Apart from camp and occupation currencies, the Nazis also tried their hand at counterfeiting. After the failure of the Battle of Britain, the Nazis set up an elaborate counterfeiting project in Barracks 19 at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Oranienburg under the direction of SS Major Walter Bernhard Kruger. Kruger. assembled a group of Jewish artists, engravers, printers, and other technicians. He also located a professional counterfeiter, a Russian Jew named Solomon Smolianoff. The goal was to produce foolproof counterfeit 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 pound notes. Despite the adverse conditions of the war for obtaining proper inks and papers, this group became the most successful counterfeiting enterprise of all time. In all, more than $600 million of pound notes were produced, the vast majority consisting of bills below 100 pounds. The Nazis planned to flood the English countryside with bogus bills and thereby destroy the British economy. By April 1943, the Bank of England was aware of "Operation Bernhard." Many of the bogus bills were of superior quality to the notes that the English themselves produced. Eventually, the majority of the counterfeit bills were destroyed, but a few survived, and some even surfaced after the war.

TABLE 16: Currency in the Camps of the Occupied Netherlands (Guilders)

Camp 10 CentS 25 Cents 50 Cents 100 Cents 1G 2 1/2G 5G 10G Issue date on money
Amersfort* x x     x x x   I Jan. 1944
Westerbork* x x x x         15 Feb. 1944
Herzogenbusch x x     x x   x I Nov. 1943**

*This represents payment for Nazi incurred expenses and work performed in prison camps starting with 15 May 1943.
**The date does not appear on the money, but reflects the date that money was initially issued based on documentation.

TABLE 17: Currency in Camps in Other European Countries

Camp Country Units 0.50 1 2 5 10 20 50 100 500 Issue date
Grini Norway Very rare, none known to survive                    
Bielsk* Russia Ruble x None                
Bolzano** Italy Lire     x x x   x   x 1945
Theresienstadt Czechoslovakia Kronen   x x x x x x x   I Jan. 1943
Cremona Italy Lire x x x x x x x     None
Bielsk* Russia Kopeks         x         None

*Same camp or ghetto with two different units of money.
**This represented payment for Nazi incurred expenses and work performed in prison camps after 15 May 1943.

TABLE 18: Camps/Ghettos That Used Pfennig/Mark System

Camp/Ghetto Country 1 5 10 50 0.01 0.05 0.1 0.5 0.91 1 2 3 5 6 10 20 50 Issue Date on Money
Oranienburg (Ad. Hausmann Hel Idunkel muster) Germany   x x x           x               None
Lichtenburg Germany x x                               None
Lodz* Poland       x           x x   x   x x x 15 May 1940
Sokolka Poland                 x                 None
Auschwitz** Poland       x       x   x   x           August 1944
Bohlen** Germany               x     x             None
Buchenwald" Germany               x   x x x           None
Dachau** Germany               x   x x x           October 1944
Flossenburg** Germany               x   x               None
Gross-Rosen** Germany               x   x               None
Haselhorst** Germany               x   x               None
Mauthausen** Austria               x   x x   x         April 1943, August 1944
Neuengamme** Germany               x   x               June 1943, October 1943
Nordhausen** Germany       x     x x   x x   x   x     None
Ravensbruck** Germany               x   x x     x       None
Sachsenhausen** Germany               x   x               June 1943, July 1944
Stutthof** Germany               x   x               March 1944, August 1944
Oranienburg** Germany (Ernst Heinkel, A.G.)               x   x x x           None
Holysov Czech. 1-10 inclusive,15, 20, 40, 50                   x x   x         None
Mittelbau Germany         x x x x   x x   x   x     None
Brabag Germany               x     x             None

*The Lodz ghetto issued money shortly after the Nazi occupation began. This chart only shows the currency issued.
**This represents payment for work performed (Nazi incurred expenses) in the prison camps starting with May 15, 1943.


All of the major parent camps (approximately two dozen) are known to have had their own monetary systems. Some form of numismatic material probably existed in virtually every camp and ghetto: currency, scrip, chits, tokens, coins, ID cards and passes with fees stamped on their face, meal tickets, fines, work orders and salary cards, and receipts for inmate possessions. All reflect numismatic information to varying degrees.

It is important to remember that a Holocaust numismatist is essentially a detective. Only recently was the two Pfennig note from Oranienburg discovered. The Holysov currency, long rumored to exist, surfaced in the 1970s. It is to be hoped that the story of currencies in the camps and ghettos will someday include two other areas of research: (1) an explanation of why some camps and ghettos had monetary systems, while others did not; and (2) why each monetary system was unique rather than part of the centrally directed concentration camp system. It is remotely possible that future research might be able to analyze the role of currency in the black market economy of the camps. Numismatics is thus a new area of research that provides valuable data about the Holocaust.23


1. The recent literature includes: Steven Feller and Barbara Feller, "Ghetto Money of the Nazi Holocaust," The Numismatist (Apr. 1981): 875-81; Steven Feller, "Concentration Camp Money of the Nazi Holocaust," The Numismatist (Apr. 1982): 897-905; Henry Fenigstein, "More on World War 11 Ghetto Money," ibid., pp. 933-35; Albert Pick and Carl Siemsen, Das Lagergeld der Konzentrations- und DP-Lager 1933-1945 (Munich, 1976); Frederick Schwan and Joseph Boling, World War II Military Currency (Camden, S. C., 1980); Chester Krause and Clifford Mishler, World Coins (Iola, Wisc., 1979); American Israel Numismatic Association, Inc. The Shekel (Tamarac, Fla., 1982), Sept.-Oct. 1982 and ibid. (Tamarac, Fla., 1983), Mar.-Apr. 1983. The author of this essay commissioned the American Israel Numismatic Association (AINA) headquartered in Tamarac, Florida, to research Holocaust numismatics in September 1980. Information thus obtained was published in special issues of The Shekel, 15, no. 5 (Sept.Oct. 1982) and 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983).

2. Although pensions and health insurance benefits paid to concentration camp inmates were recorded as real money (i.e. German Marks) in their camp records, they were permitted to use only Lagergeld as currency inside the camp.

3. The Shekel 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983): 17.

4. Alan York, "The Hidden Story of the Oranienburg Paper Money Issues," The Shekel 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983): 22.

5. Ibid., p. 19.

6. Steven and Barbara Feller, "Ghetto Money of the Nazi Holocaust," The Numismatist 94, no. 4 (Apr. 1981): 878-79.

7. "Peter Kien: He Created the Moses Kronen," The Shekel 15, no. 5 (Sept.Oct. 1982): 34. See also Janet Blatter and Sybil Milton, Art of the Holocaust (New York, 1981), and Council of Jewish Communities in the Czech Lands, Terezin (Prague, 1965).

8. The Shekel 15, no. 5 (Sept. -Oct. 1982): 13 and 27; and ibid., 16, no. 2 (Mar. Apr. 1983): 23, 27, and 33. See also The Numismatist 94, no. 4 (Apr. 1981): 878.

9. The Shekel 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983):34 and ibid. 15, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 10. See also The Numismatist 94, no. 4 (Apr. 1981): 876.

10. World Coins 5 (1979): 1356. Ghetto currency and postage stamps are mentioned in Lucjan Dobroszycki, ed., The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944 (New Haven, 1984), p. 4, n. 7 and p. 464, n. 8.

11. The Shekel 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983): 40.

12. Ibid., 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983): 52. 176 Joel J. Forman

13. Ibid., 15, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 47.

14. Ibid., 15, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 23.

15. Ibid., 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983): 35.

16. The Numismatist 95, no. 4 (Apr. 1982): 933.

17. Ibid.

18. The Shekel 15, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 24; ibid. 16, no. 2 (Mar.-Apr. 1983): 45; and The Numismatist 95, no. 4 (Apr. 1982): 903.

19. The Shekel 15, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 24.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., p. 20; and The Numismatist 94, no. 4 (Apr. 1981): 881.

22. The Shekel 15, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1982): 17.

23. Ibid. 16, no. 2 (Mar.- Apr. 1983): 62.

In This Section

Buy Tickets Contact Us

Become a Member Volunteer Calendar

Sign up for E-News


Do you have confidence in the strength of democratic institutions in this country?