Social welfare paper ephemera reminder of Germany’s WWII homefront realities

Collecting Paper: 1930s relief program to prevent starvation becomes high pressure exercise in intolerance
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 10/10/16
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In addition to more traditional things that I collect, like obsolete bank notes and scrip and Confederate notes, I have a couple of unusual pursuits.

For example, I collect World War II era lottery tickets and ephemera related to the German social welfare program known as Winterhilfswerk (known by its initials WHW and translated roughly as the “Winter Fund” or “Winter Help Work”). This program was begun in 1931 by the German government, but Adolf Hitler scaled it up in a massive manner in 1933, overseen by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization). Germany had not escaped the worldwide depression, and the program’s slogan “None shall starve or freeze” certainly sounded laudable enough during the dark days of the Great Depression. 

But the program soon became a high-pressure giving exercise that makes any modern day public participation program look like a Sunday school collection. Meticulous records of participation and giving were kept and nonparticipation simply was not tolerated.

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Assistance for the needy was provided in the form of “relief notes” that were denominated in values of 50 reichspfennig, as well as 1-, 5-, and 10-reichsmark issues. The local WHW office would issue relief notes to approved recipients after stamping them as issued. 

The recipients, after filling in their names and addresses on the notes, could then buy from a relatively small list of allowed items at any participating merchant (undoubtedly, not participating was also an ill-advised decision). When the note was redeemed, the merchant stamped his merchant information and certified what had been purchased. 

The merchant then turned in the notes to his local bank or other financial institution so that his account would be credited. After the notes were redeemed, one corner was clipped off, making the notes invalid for any further circulation. As a result, these notes were not transferable nor were they normally used for more than a single transaction. 

Today, the notes are still available and are usually found in nice condition. Notes that are fully filled out with clear stamped information and all four corners intact generally command a premium, and higher denomination notes, particularly 10-reichsmark notes, tend to be a bit scarcer. 

Notes were issued in five different series between the winters of 1939 to 1940 and 1943 to 1944. Fewer than 40 notes comprise a complete type/variety set. 

Most do not have vignettes (the note pictured is an exception) but are, nonetheless, interesting reminders of what was going on in the Third Reich on the home front during World War II.

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