Have you ever heard of “Holocaust money” or “concentration camp money”, the currencies that the Nazis forced on Jews and others in concentration camps and ghettos?
The first known use of Holocaust money was in the Lodz ghetto in Poland in 1940. Over the next five years, the Nazis introduced currencies in concentration camps and other ghettos in Germany and German-occupied Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands. Each camp or ghetto had its own currency, with unique denominations and designs. These currencies were valid only inside that particular ghetto or camp.
In concentration camps, Nazi officials and some factory owners paid Jewish slave labourers “bonuses” in the currencies to make them work harder. However due to a general scarcity of food, these tokens and currencies were of no use as there was hardly anything to buy with them.
However, the story of the Theresienstadt camp is interestingly different. Nazis were well aware that the world is watching their treatment of the Jews. As the war progressed and the new “Final solution” was organised, the Nazis would have to explain the sudden disappearance of some celebrated Jewish artists and the old people. Hence, a “model” camp was created at Theresienstadt (Terezin). The special categories of important and famous Jewish personalities were sent to this “paradise camp”.
On the outside, the Terezin camp looked like an ideal town with Jews running their daily chores and trade. It was the model camp that was shown to the press and the Red Cross as “proof” of the humane treatment of the Jews under Nazi control. In reality, it was no different than the rest of the concentration camps and ghettos.
To make this “paradise camp” even more real, banknotes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Kronen, the krone being the currency of Czechoslovakia, were introduced. All these notes of different values had the same design; they only differed in size and colour. Their designs celebrated Judaism: the Star of David and Moses carrying the Tables of Law with the Ten Commandments.
The notes were minutely designed by one of the ghetto’s inmates, Petr Kien and signed by the first Chief Elder, Jakob Edelstein. These notes had no real economic value.
The notes had no value to the camp inmates, but they are of a great historical value. It goes without saying that they are witness to the horrors of a dark period.