Money in German prisoner-of-war camps and ghettos in Poland

Today we should look at the money used in the German prisoner camps in Poland, as well as the yet-undiscussed money of the ghettoes established in Poland. The Polish numismatist Zbigniew Nestorowicz, in his book Pieniądz czasów wojny i okupacji w Polsce 1939–1945 [Money in Poland during the war and occupation, 1939–1945], wrote about the money used in the camps holding prisoners of war. Little is known about them to the general Lithuanian audience and not a lot of research has been done. Therefore, it would be useful to present the observations and insights of this author.

The first camp we will talk about today is the Dobegniew (Woldenberg) prisoner-of-war camp Oflag II-C, which operated from the beginning of 1940 to 25 January 1945, when it was occupied by the Soviet army. About 6,000 Polish officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers were held there. In this closed community, various types of camp money, called vouchers, circulated. It is not known exactly when the first vouchers appeared in this camp, but since mid-1942, the 7 B Barrack commission vouchers with denominations of 3, 5 and 10 pfennigs were introduced. The following year, on 22 January, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the January Uprising, a commemorative voucher of l, 20, 25 and 50 pfennigs was issued. The obverse of the voucher was made via a wood carving technique, and the reverse has a stamp and two signatures. The vouchers issued by the self-help fund were more accessible, with nominal values of 10 and 50 pfennigs (undated) and l, 2, 5 and 10-denomination (date of issue: 30 October 1944). These vouchers were designed by Lieutenant Eugeniusz Pichell and were made by wood and linen carving. 

A bank that issued vouchers operated at another prisoner-of-war camp, D Gross Born. They were introduced on 16 October 1944 and issued 10 and 5 grosz and 1 piast denomination vouchers. At that time, a piast consisted of 100 groszy, which was equal to 50 German pfennigs. One side of the vouchers was made with a wood carving technique and imprinted with three signatures of the Board of Directors of the Gross-Born camp.

The third camp in which the vouchers were issued was Oflag VII-A in Murnau. It operated from 25 September 1939 until 29 April 1945, when the American army liberated the prisoners. Around 6,000 Polish officers were held there, and more than 800 Polish prisoners were brought after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising. The Settlement Commission, on the basis of the Chief Trustee's Order of 2 November 1944, issued bills of exchange with the denominations 1, 10, and 50 pfennig and 1, 2 and 5 marks. The bills of exchange were created by Second Lieutenant Tadeusz Kuźniak, and they were made by wood carving technique. In 1944, the credit union operating in the camp also issued coupons with the denominations of 1 and 5 marks. In addition, the Murnau Commandant’s Office issued 5 pfennig vouchers and service vouchers for shaving and haircuts. They were leaf shaped.

For a very short time, the Germans also introduced premium vouchers (Pramienschein) in concentration camps. We now know of the vouchers issued at the Auschwitz concentration camp . In June 1943, the Auschwitz financial division (Häftlings-Geldverwaltung) issued a 1 Reichsmark nominal voucher bearing the incremental signature of the SS-Obersturmführer. In August 1944, two more denominations were issued: 0.5 and 1 Reichsmarks. Obersturmführer L. Mogli “gave” them to prisoners so they could get some food in the camp canteens. Vouchers from the Stutthof concentration camp were also known, and they could be obtained for five cigarettes. Information is available on vouchers in circulation at the Majdanek concentration camp. Another form of substitute money was the Winterhilfswerk (W H W). They were issued in 1941–1942 and in the winter of 1943–1944 in 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 zloty denominations. Another example is Sonderausgabe, published in early 1944. All these vouchers could be used as payment in dedicated stores for specific goods and services. 

Ghetto money was issued in the city of Sokulka, where the ghetto operated between 1941 and 1944. Currently, a particularly unusual nominal value – 91 pfennig coupon – is stored in the private collection of Janusz Lucowa. 

There are also well-known catalogues and several Warsaw ghetto voucher collections showing that there were 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 50 groszy denominations. However, the circumstances in which that money was introduced and distributed have not been confirmed by historical sources and should therefore be considered to have been issued later, more for collectors’ purposes.

This article allows us to learn more about history, about the period of war and occupation in Poland, i.e., around 1939–1945. In general, articles on the money in ghettos and prisoner-of-war camps allow us to better understand the reality of World War II.

Nestorowicz, Z. Pieniądz czasów wojny i okupacji w Polsce 1939-1945. Lublin: 2009.