Forbidden to have hard currency, prisoners of Nazi-imposed concentration camps and ghettos were required to “exchange” their confiscated money for scrip (pieces of paper representing or acknowledging value, such as receipts or credit coupons). In reality, the scrip was worthless, as there was nothing for prisoners to buy inside the camps, and it had no value on the outside.

The currencies of the Holocaust speak of the tragedy, depravity, horror, hope, and salvation of that time. Collectors of this scrip have been asked why they would focus on such items. The answer is that these bits of paper and metal can speak to us of a broad tragedy in an especially personal and understandable way. After all, money has been used virtually everywhere since ancient times. We now know this was true even within sight of the chimneys of Auschwitz.

The exhibit on which this presentation is based was presented courtesy of Holocaust Museum Houston, which is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims, and honoring the survivors’ legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice, and apathy.

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