Camp Currency for “Displaced Persons”
By: MICC Lifetime member #001
With the fall of the Nazis in May, 1945, Europe was in chaos with entire foreign populations residing in Germany and Austria, some wishing to be repatriated, many not. One large group was the Jews, survivors of the camps and, in large part, wishing to emigrate to Palestine, their promised new homeland. Others were refugees from the conquest of their respective countries by the Soviets in 1939-41: Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Poles. Yet others were “foreign workers” brought in by Germany (willingly and unwillingly) to man their factories; actually former slave labourers, many of those from the east were reluctant to return, knowing full well the fate awaiting them – death, incarceration or exile to the gulags of Siberia. Stalin had been quite specific: any of those who had served the fascists in any way, unwillingly or not, were to be considered traitors and treated accordingly.
The problem of what came to be known as the “Displaced Persons” (or “D.P.”s) was to be handled by the United Nations. From 1945 until 1947, the agency was the “United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration” (“UNRRA”) whose various camps for the displaced pending rehabilitation was under specific “teams”. From 1947 onward, UNRRA was replaced by yet another United Nations agency – the International Refugee Organization, or “IRO”.
In general, the displaced persons fell into two categories: the Jews who overwhelmingly wished to emigrate to Palestine and refugees from the Communist Bloc who wished not to be sent back.
The control of the Jewish D.P. camps rested with the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) which, although organized in cooperation with UNRRA, encouraged migration to Palestine. This caused a certain amount of inter-Allied conflict since the British, whose mandate Palestine was, would allow only 1,500 per month to enter. As history shows, there was wholesale “illegal entry” by various means and by 1952, the AJDC had spent some $342-million in the care and rehabilitation of some 250,000 Jews.
Notes issued especially for use in Jewish D.P. camps were used in the American Occupation Zone of Germany, in Austria and Cyprus.
There were two “general” issues in Germany and two more specific to given towns. These were:
- A “50-units” (almost certainly German marks) notes issued by the “A.J.D.C. Central Committee, November 1947, Cheshvan 5708”. It was green with red serial numbers showing the portrait of Theodore Herzl, the father of Political Zionism.
- Notes of the “Employment Board for Jewish Displaced Persons” , dated 1947 and showing the Star of David. They were issued in denominations of 1-, 10-, 50- and 100-“points”.
- Deggendorf, Bavaria. Established Feb. 20, 1945 on the site of a concentration camp, “Deggendorf Jewish Community DP Camp No. 7” issued notes (probably in 1945) that were largely rubber-stamped. They were issued in denominations of 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-cents as well as 1-, 5- and 10-dollars.
- Feldafing. Thirty kilometers southwest of Munich, the Feldafing Jewish D.P. Camp issued notes inscribed “Series of 1946” in denominations of 25- and 50-cents as well as 1-, 5- and 10-dollars.
AUSTRIA had one general issue and one specific:
- Notes inscribed “American Joint Distribution Committee, Works Program, Austrian Operation, J.D. Billow, Chief, Austrian Operations” in denominations of 1-, 5- and 10-“points” (probably Austrian schillings).
- Wegschied, near Linz, issued notes depicting the Star of David in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 20 (units not given).
CYPRUS was the British interment camp for Jews caught trying to run the blockade to Palestine. The AJDC were permitted to enter the camps to provide aid and relief. Three issues of notes were made there.
- Notes of 1-, 2- and 5-shillings printed by the Sinai Printers of Jerusalem in Hebrew and English text, the Hebrew translating “The United American Committee Assistance (Joint) / Good for purchase in the canteens in Cyprus or for exchange for cash in Jerusalem”; the English reads “American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee / Good for purchase in canteens / (denomination) Shillings.
- The British demanded the elimination of the Hebrew text “or for cash in Jersalem” and had it changed to “good for purchase in canteens”, the English text reading “American Joint Distribution Committee, Cyprus”. Denominations were in 1-, 2- and 5-shillings. Serial numbers 1-through-6000.
- The third issue has the Hebrew changed to read “The American Committee for Assistance (Joint) Cyprus” in denominations of 1-, 2- and 5-shillings. Serial numbers 6000-through-12000. When the Cyprus camps were disbanded in March, 1949, the outstanding notes were all redeemed for cash in Israel by the AJDC and all are, accordingly, rare today.
Aside from the Jews, the main users of D.P. camp currency were the Lithuanians. In 1944, as the Soviets advanced west, they drove before them some 70,000 Lithuanians, mostly the “intelligensia” earmarked by Stalin for extermination. At the end of the war, these people were stranded in Germany and Austria, unable to return home – ever. In their case, there was no overall “generic” note issue, just those of specific camps, all under the auspices of UNRRA. Five such camps are thus far known:
- Scheinfeld in Bavaria, between Nuremberg and Wurzburg. The camp for some 1,500 Lithuanian D.P.s was established April 28, 1946 in Schwarzenberg Castle, administered by “UNRRA Team 569, Scheinfeld”. Three denominations were issued: 10- and 50-centu and 1-doleris. The camp was closed in 1949.
- Regensburg apparently housed the same 1,500 people at an earlier date. Only one note is known, a 1-dollar, which is almost identical with the later “1-doleris” of Scheinfeld.
- Bad Wörishofen was located 65 kilometers west of Munich and was administered by UNRRA Team 558. The printer’s imprint in the notes lower margin indicates a date of July, 1946. Notes are known in denominations of 1-, 5- and 20-units.
- Ludwig, in the Dillingen UNRRA district, was administered by Team 308. Two issues of notes were made, one on white paper, one on light violet. Denominations were 1-, 2-, 5-, 10- and 50-units. A 5-unit note of this camp is shown above, the back translating “The falsification and counterfeiting of Camp Marks is a punishable offense”, proving that the “unit” was actually German marks.
- Nordlingen, about 55 kilometers from Dillingen, housed some 500 Latvian and Lithuanian D.P.s. To date, no notes attributable to this camp have surfaced even though UNRRA records and reports indicate that they did exist, having been put in place about June 1946. Presumably, they would greatly resemble the Ludwig notes.
Aside from the main Jewish and Lithuanian groups, there were camps for others in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands known, although only the German camps indicate specific locations, those issues of the other two being general.
There were two German camps for “others”, being:
- Asperg, which issued camp notes in denominations of 50-pfennig as well as 0.5-, 1- and 2-reichsmarks. Typed and rubberstamped, some show an expiration date of either March 3 or March 10, 1947.
- At Luitpold, in the Dillingen district of the UNRRA was a Polish D.P. center administered by the same Team 308 as the Ludwig camp. Not unsurprisingly, their notes are much the same, including the same injunction against counterfeiting in Polish To date, only a 20-unit denomination is known although it’s probable there were others.
AUSTRIA apparently used only “generic” notes. UNRRA itself issued denominations of 1-, 5-, 10- and 20-units (probably schillings) while the later International Refugee Organization (“Austrian Operation”) issued “payment certificates” in denominations of 1-, 5- and 10-units.
THE NETHERLANDS had notes held by displaced persons stamped “Netherlands Liason Office / for displaced persons /(date)” but no additional information is available.
All of the above notes are very scarce to extremely rare, some issues known from a single note. Issued on local authority, they had a circulation only within the camps themselves, being worthless outside. There was no incentive for their being saved and few were. Now and again, another previously unknown issue/denomination shows up – and has for decades. It is highly probable that entire issues and/or denominations are now extinct.
For instance, in the early 1970s, a hoard of Scheinfeld notes – previously unknown – showed up in England. Since all were uncirculated, they were initially believed to be either concoctions or notes never issued. Research in the UNRRA records showed that neither was true; that they had been issued, circulated and redeemed. Only an estimated 15 sets were retained by a UNRRA official as souvenirs, this small number still making the Scheinfeld notes the most common of them all!
Previously printed in the MICC Numismatic Journal Vol-02, Issue-07