Paper Money

Washington University exhibit focuses on World War II notes

The John M. Olin Library at Washington University in St. Louis is presenting a “Stories From World War II” exhibition from June 16 to Dec. 12.

It brings together tales from the war as told through a group of special collections. Personal accounts are presented along with currencies from concentration camps and illustrated calendars that underscore the impact of the war on individuals everywhere.

Parts of the exhibit include contributions from numismatists recognized for their expertise in the World War II era. Steve and Ray Feller are the authors of Silent Witnesses: Civilian Camp Money of World War II, a book considered the standard work on concentration & internment camp money. The Fellers will make a presentation on the subject at Washington University on Friday, Oct. 28 at 5 p.m., in Olin Library. There will also be a lunch event at noon the same day in the library.

Among the items from their extensive collection on display are chits used by German prisoners of war at the internment camp in Algona, Iowa. About 10,000 German POWs were held at this camp, which is one of many similarly not well known installations discussed in The Complete Book of World War II USA POW & Internment Camp Chits by Dave Frank and the late David Seelye.

There is also Dutch concentration camp money, an Amersfoot 25-cent note and a Westerbork 100-cent note. From camps within Germany proper are examples from Buchenwald, Oranienburg, Flossenburg, and Ravensbrück. There is an extensive set of issues from the Theresienstadt and Lodz ghettos, a rare one mark of 1944 from Auschwitz, and an Operation Bernhard counterfeit British £10 note made by prisoners at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Joseph Boling, as well, contributed pieces from his collection. In addition to the most widely held United States security of all time, a $50 U.S. War Bond issued on Sept. 15, 1943, that is uncashed, there is from China a National Salvation Aviation $5 bond of 1941 that was used by China’s air force to purchase military aircraft and promote aviation education in China’s war against Japan; and a 1941 Thrift and Reconstruction Savings $5 bond issued to raise war funds.

Exhibited from Japan are a Wartime Patriotic 5-yen war bond issued in April 1942 that could be redeemed for 5 yen in 1952, and a Greater East Asia War Discounted Treasury 10-yen bond, issued June 3, 1942, that could also be redeemed 10 years later. Both became worthless when Japan lost the war.

Other highlights

Non-numismatic highlights from the university’s holdings include the Walter M. Goldschmidt collection of letters written to his parents during his time serving in Europe and items from the collection of William Miles, a documentary filmmaker who has explored the stories of African American soldiers during the war.

The university website states, “The Walter M. Goldschmidt Papers includes approximately 400 letters written by Goldschmidt to his parents, Herman and Gertie Goldschmidt, during his time in the European Civil Affairs Division, 1943-1946, in England, France, Belgium and Germany. Topics of note include a visit to the Goldschmidt hometown in Biebesheim, Germany, the concentration camp in Flossenbürg, Germany, and finding the parents of Fred Katz in Brussels. (Katz was living with Goldschmidt’s parents in Chicago after fleeing Nazi-occupied Belgium.) The collection also includes digital photographs of a scrapbook assembled by Herman documenting Walter’s service and an interview with Walter discussing his life from leaving Germany until the end of World War II.”

According to the university website, “William Miles was born in Harlem, New York in 1931 and became a documentary filmmaker whose work focused on the cultural experience and achievements of African-Americans. The Film & Media Archive acquired the Miles Collection in 2005. Materials from the collection include interviews, stock footage, manuscripts, correspondence, and a large collection of photographs.”

The website adds, “The subjects of Miles’ films ranged from the unique history of Harlem to the under-reported contributions of African-Americans in the military, the space program, sports, and their role in migration out to the West of the United States.”

His first major film production was Men of Bronze (1977), “the little-known story of the African American soldiers of the 369th combat regiment, from Harlem, who fought with the French army in World War I,” describes the website.

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