50 cent coupon from Westerbork
Date of Creation15 February 1944 [issued]
GenreCurrency, Medals & Militaria
Place of CreationWesterbork
Description50 cent coupon from Westerbork transit camp. Rectangular note printed with brown and blue ink on white paper. Recto has denomination printed in upper left and lower right corners with image of the camp in centre. Verso has image of camp through a gear wheel with issue date, conditions of use, and signature at bottom.
Measurements5.2 x 10.5 cm
InscriptionsRecto: 50 CENT / LAGER WESTERBORK GUTSCHEIN / 50 CENT [Camp Westerbork Coupon]
Verso: Serie AA No. 1226 / LAGER WESTERBORK, 15 FEBRUAR 1944 / DIESER GUTSCHEIN IST NUR INNERHALB DES LAGERS GÜLTIG [This coupon only valid within the camp] / DES LAGERKOMMANDANT: [signature] / SS OBERSTURMFÜHRER
ProvenanceGifted to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in 2017 by Danny Spungen.
Legal Statuspermanent collection
Credit LineCourtesy of Danny Spungen
NoteIn 1944, Nazi officials wanted Jewish inmates at the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands to work harder. Inmates had intentionally prolonged or worked poorly on jobs that assisted the war effort. Some had also risked their lives by refusing to work at all. To create an incentive for the inmates, the Nazi issued a special set of camp scrip in 1944, such as this 50-cent note.
The toothed wheel on the front of the note is based on the motto “Jewish labour is essential for Germany’s victory,” which was expressed by Westerbork commander SS First Lieutenant Albert Konrad Genmecker. In contrast, survivors say that inmates referred to the wheel as “life’s last turn.” The currency could be used to purchase rations. In practice, however, the rations were so limited that the scrip provided little incentive for the inmates to work.
Westerbork was established by the Dutch government in October 1939 to intern Jewish refugees who had entered the Netherlands illegally. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the camp initially continued to function as before; however, the SS took over Westerbork in 1942 and it became a transit camp for Dutch Jews who were deported to death camps in Poland.
The Nazis initially handed out receipts to Westerbork inmates for their work, but in 1944 they began to issue a special set of camp scrip. Notes were issued in denominations of 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-cents. As Nazi laws did not permit Jews to handle money, the wording on the Westerbork currency notes read “Gutschein,” meaning, “credit coupon”.
The back of the note features a scene from Westerbork. Though the street appears picturesque, camp inmates called it the “Boulevard of Misery” signifying the despair they felt as daily deportations took place. The chimney featured on the front of the note symbolizes productivity and speaks to the Nazis efforts to create an illusion of industry at the camp. In actuality, the chimney released steam from the camp’s laundry.
Adapted from Silent Witness: Civilian Camp Money of World War II by Steve and Ray Feller, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia.