World War I POW Camp Money, 20 Heller Note

Date: 1916 - 1918
Aschach, Austria

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Item Description:

These paper notes date back to World War I, and were printed exclusively for use in the Aschach prisoner of war camp in Austria-Hungary. Each side has the same design, which shows the denomination of the note printed in large Gothic lettering ("Zwanzig Heller," or 20 Heller). The word "Lagergeld" is printed below, which translates to "camp money."

Prisoner of war camps and other internment camps issued their own forms of money in order to prevent escapes. By creating a currency that could only be used in the camp, the guards would have no incentive to take bribes from the prisoners. Additionally, if a prisoner did manage to escape, all of their money would be useless in the outside world.

A funeral for 14 Serbian prisoners of war who reportedly died of starvation at the Aschach camp

A funeral for 14 Serbian prisoners of war who reportedly died of starvation at the Aschach camp.

Austria-Hungary operated about fifty POW camps during World War I to house an estimated 2 million captured individuals. The majority of the prisoners were Russian, Italian, Serbian, and Romanian, with those from other Allied nations like the US, UK, and France accounting for smaller minorities.

The conditions in these camps were harsh. Soldiers and captured civilians alike faced food shortages, lack of shelter, and poor medical care. Notably, the international laws on the treatment of captured civilians had not yet been defined by the First World War, and the actions taken against civilians in these camps would later be defined as war crimes.

Today most of these camps are no longer standing, and these notes serve as some of the only physical reminders with which to honor this tragic part of the Great War.

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