By Noa Gutow-Ellis, Collections and Exhibitions Assistant
Among the many objects and testimonies from the Terezin Ghetto that now reside in the Museum’s collection, such as Martha Klein von Peci’s Book of Remembrances, a scrapbook she filled with poems, drawings, and messages from her fellow prisoners inside Terezin, one type of object is often overlooked: money.
In some ghettos and concentration camps, the Nazis issued unique currency for inmates to use during their confinement. Marisa Natale, a PhD student, researched the Robert Messing (‘59) Holocaust Nusimatic Collection at Clark University. In a piece for the Jewish Virtual Library, she explained, “The monetary system created by the Nazis served as part of a large, complex economic system of theft, deception and genocide.”
Nazi leaders forced inmates to design the currency in line with Nazi standards. This meant, for instance, the imprisoned artist Peter Kien had to acquiesce to Nazi demands when he drew Moses and the Tablets of Stone. Notice that, as Alan York originally researched, the Moses depicted on the Terezin currency has curly hair, a hooked nose, and long fingers that cover up the “Thou shall not kill” commandment. Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich mandated this image of Moses.
The specific bills shown on this page belonged to Rabbi Leo Baeck. Originally from Poland, Rabbi Baeck moved to Berlin, Germany to study and later work. A well-known theologian regarded as an “important symbolic and political leader of German Jewry,” he refused to flee Germany even as antisemitism rose and his congregation was destroyed during Kristallnacht. Eventually, in 1943, the Nazis deported him to the Terezin Ghetto. An intellectual and spiritual leader in the Ghetto, Rabbi Baeck held classes, lectures, and services for other imprisoned Jews. While Rabbi Baeck’s four sisters were killed in Terezin, he survived.
Learning about currency from the Terezin Ghetto is an example of a case study that helps us to better comprehend tactics used by the Nazis to deceive and, ultimately, to carry out their Final Solution.
To learn more about the Terezin Ghetto, watch Terezin Stories, a Museum program that welcomed Yvonne Weisgrab in sharing her extensive knowledge of Terezin, focusing on Jewish inmates who became unlikely heroes in their struggle to maintain life, religion, and hope under the most infernal conditions.