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Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp scrip, 100 kronen note, acquired by a Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 1989.243.61

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    Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp scrip, 100 kronen note, acquired by a Jewish refugee

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    Brief Narrative
    Scrip, valued at 100 kronen, distributed in Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto-labor camp and acquired post-war by Ernst (Ernest) Heppner. Currency was confiscated from inmates and replaced with scrip, which could only be used in the camp. The scrip was part of an elaborate illusion to make the camp seem normal and appear as though workers were being paid for their labor, but the money had no real monetary value. Ernst was living in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), with his parents, Isidor and Hilda, and his half-sister, Else, who was severely handicapped from contracting polio as a young child. He also had an older half-brother, Heinz (Henry), who lived with his wife and young child. Following the Kristallnacht program and Heinz’s subsequent arrest in November 1938, the family began looking at emigration options. Else planned to immigrate to South America with her fiancée. Seventeen-year-old Ernst and his mother secured passage on a ship to Shanghai, China, where they arrived in March 1939. Ernst and Hilda survived the war in Shanghai, and immigrated to the United States with Ernst’s new wife, Illo, in July 1947. Heinz and his family immigrated to England in 1939. However, Isidor and Else were unable to escape Germany. In April 1942, Isidor was deported to Kolomyja ghetto in German-occupied Poland, and likely died that year. Else was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia in April 1943. In October 1944, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, where she was killed.
    issue:  1943 January 01
    use: Theresienstadt (Concentration camp); Terezin (Ustecky kraj, Czech Republic)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ernest G. Heppner
    face, lower right corner, printed, black ink : 100
    reverse, upper left, serial number, printed, red ink : 004882
    reverse, lower right, series letter, printed, red ink : E
    reverse, upper right and lower left corners, printed, brown ink : 100
    reverse, center, printed, black and brown ink : Quittung / über / HUNDERT / KRONEN / THERESIENSTADT, AM 1.JÄNNER 1943 DER ALTESTE DER JUDEN / IN THERESIENSTADT / Jakob Edelstein [RECEIPT OF / HUNDRED CROWNS / [THERESIENSTADT, ON 1. JANUARY 1943, THE ELDER OF THE JEWS IN THERESIENSTADT / Jakob Edelstein]
    Subject: Ernest G. Heppner
    Designer: Peter Kien
    Printer: National Bank of Prague
    Issuer: Der Alteste der Juden in Theresienstadt
    Ernst Günther Heppner (later, Ernest Guenter,1921-2004) was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), to Isidor (1878-c.1942) and Hilda (nee Liffmann, 1884-1982) Heppner. Ernst had two, older, half-siblings, Else (1905-1944) and Heinz (later Henry, 1907-2005). Isidor owned one of the largest matzah factories in Germany, and the family lived a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. The family adhered to very conservative, almost orthodox religious practices. During the summers, Hilda and Else managed their family’s strictly kosher hotel in Altheide, a resort town near the Czechoslovakian border. Hilda traveled often to visit her large family, so Ernst spent much of his time with Else, who had contracted polio as a child and required leg braces and canes.

    At his primary school in Breslau, Ernst was one of only two Jewish children in his class. He frequently experienced antisemitism from both teachers and other students, and got into many fights. Ernst was involved in a Jewish scouting group, which promoted paramilitary training and survival tactics. After completing primary school, Ernst was enrolled in a gymnasium (a college preparatory school). In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor or Germany, and authorities quickly enacted anti-Jewish decrees that restricted every aspect of Jewish life. The family’s bank accounts were frozen. Ernst became ostracized at school, and was prohibited from participating with sports teams and class excursions. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed, mandating the total separation of Jews and non-Jews. Ernst was expelled from school, and his parents were forced to sell their hotel to non-Jews. Ernst began attending trade classes in welding and locksmithing, and became an apprentice at an industrial machinery company owned by a family friend.

    On November 9 and 10, 1938, officials instigated pogroms against Jews and their property throughout Germany, known as Kristallnacht. The local synagogue was set on fire, but since Isidor’s factory was hidden from the street, it was spared. During the pogroms, 30,000 Jewish men were also incarcerated in German concentration camps. Ernst managed to hide from the SS officers who came through their neighborhood, while his father and brother were shielded at the factory. The following day, fearing threats against his wife and baby, Heinz surrendered for arrest, and was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. His wife, Alice, managed to get him released a few weeks later.

    The family began looking at emigration options. Else planned to immigrate to South America with her fiancée. Hilda’s niece, who lived in Washington, D.C., sent an affidavit for the family, but the lengthy quota list made immigration to the United States impossible. The only other place they could immigrate to without visas was Shanghai, China. Hilda secured a cabin for two on the Potsdam, and in early spring 1939, Ernst and Hilda took a train to Genoa, Italy, where they boarded the ship. Isidor needed to remain in Germany until he could sell the factory and their property, and until Else could leave as well.

    Ernst and Hilda disembarked in Shanghai on March 28, 1939. Representatives from one of the Jewish committees met the new arrivals, and took them to a reception center and soup kitchen, where they remained for two weeks. Hilda quickly obtained a job as a caseworker for the Committee for the Assistance of European Refugees in Shanghai (CFA), assisting new refugees. This allowed Ernst and Hilda to rent a furnished room, rather than live in the overcrowded, primitive barracks in Hongkew, the Japanese-occupied district of the International settlement. Ernst soon made several new friends with whom he explored the city. That July, Ernst became ill with pneumonia and pleurisy, and was taken to a makeshift hospital run by the CFA. In August, Hilda received a letter from Heinz and his wife, Alice, who had been able to immigrate to England. They also received letters from various family members, including Isidor and Else, pleading for help.

    Ernst got a job working for a Russian-Jewish family who owned a toy store. He was soon appointed manager of a branch located inside a bookshop. While there, Ernst began learning to read English. In late 1940, Ernst’s branch closed, and he began working for the bookseller, selling English-language books and office supplies. He also joined a British Boy Scout troop called the Thirteenth Rovers, with other older teenagers. As a Rover, Ernst helped organize a two-week camp experience. Ernst also joined the Shanghai Volunteer Corps (SVC) as a driver. The SVC was a militia under the command of British officers that reinforced the International Settlement’s municipal police. Though he had no prior driving experience, Ernst passed his test at the end of 1940.

    In April 1941, Ernst met Illo Koratkowski (1923-2012), while helping to organize a charity ball. Illo had emigrated from Berlin in the spring of 1940, and worked for a rare-book dealer. That summer, Hilda left the CFA to work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). After the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese also bombed the British ships docked in the Shanghai harbor and occupied the city. British and American citizens were incarcerated in POW camps, and Ernst was forced to stop his activities with the SVC and the scouting group. It became illegal for those in the United States to send funds directly to Shanghai, so the support organizations ran out of money, and Hilde lost her job in April 1942. On November 18, Ernst and Hilda received their last letter from Else, which was sent from a Jewish home via the Red Cross.

    On May 18, 1943, prompted by Nazi Germany, the Japanese forced the stateless refugees into a ghetto in Hongkew. Ernst and Hilda already lived within the borders, but couldn’t leave the ghetto without a pass. Ernst was forced to join an auxiliary police group, responsible for the self-protection of the ghetto, and became an assistant fire chief. He also began a new job at a bakery on the border of the ghetto, and received bread daily, as part of his wages. Hilda began operating a makeshift restaurant in their attic room.

    Ernst and Illo married on April 8, 1945. On May 10, they learned of Germany’s surrender to the Allies. On July 15, American planes bombed the wharves near the ghetto. Two days later, military installations inside the ghetto were bombed. The collateral damage killed thousands and destroyed the bakery where Ernst worked. They continued to endure frequent air raids until Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 14. Soon after, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) established offices and began distributing food, clothing, and medical supplies. Ernst and Illo were able to get civilian jobs with the American Army. In 1946, they were transferred to the Joint United States Military Advisory Group stationed in Nanking (now, Nanjing).

    In the spring of 1947, Ernst received a message from his mother that their quota numbers for the United States had been called. On July 14, Ernst, Illo, his mother, and his father-in-law arrived in San Francisco. Ernst, Illo, and Hilda moved to New York City, while Illo’s father settled in Chicago. Illo quickly obtained a job with an import/export company in Manhattan. Ernst Americanized his name to Ernest and began working as a typewriter mechanic. Their daughter was born in July 1948, and the family moved to the Midwest in 1949.

    Ernest did not learn the fates of his family until after the war. In April 1942, Isidor was deported to Kolomyja ghetto in German-occupied Poland, and likely died that year. Else was deported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia in April 1943. In October 1944, she was deported on transport Et to Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, where she was killed. Heinz and his wife settled permanently in England, where he changed his name to Henry. Henry was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man, and released in April 1941. Ernest and Illo accompanied his mother during her move from New York to a retirement home in Basel, Switzerland in 1964. During that trip, Ernest reunited with his brother for the first time. Ernest became involved with the Anti-Defamation League, local survivor and Jewish groups, and civil rights activism. He also wrote an award-winning book documenting his war-time experiences.
    Franz Peter Kien was born January 1, 1919, in Varnsdorf, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), to Leonard and Olga Frankl Kien. His father Leonard was born in 1886, in Varnsdorf, and was a member of the German-speaking Jewish population in the, the Sudetenalnd, which bordered Germany. Leonard was a textile manufacturer with his own factory. Peter’s mother Olga was born in 1898, in Bzenec, Austro-Hungary (Czech Republic), to Jewish parents. After 1929, the Kien family moved to Brno. Peter enrolled at the German Gymnasium, where he excelled at drawing, painting, and writing. In 1936, he graduated and moved to Prague to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. He also attended the Officina Pragensis, a private graphic design school run by a well-known Jewish artist, Hugo Steiner-Prag.

    On September 29, 1938, Germany annexed the Sudetenland. On March 15, 1939, Germany invaded Prague and annexed the Bohemia and Moravia provinces of Czechoslovakia, ruled by a Reich Protector. Jews were banned from participation in government, businesses, and organization, including schools. Peter had to leave the Academy, but continued to study at the Officina Pragensis. He also taught at Vinohrady Synagogue. In September 1940, Peter married Ilse Stranska, who was born on May 9, 1915, in Pilsen, to Jewish parents.

    In late September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, the SS head of RSHA, Reich Main Security Office, became Reich Protector. Soon there were regular deportations of Jews to concentration camps. At the end of November, Theresienstadt concentration and transit camp near Prague got its first shipment of Jewish prisoners. On December 14, Peter was transported to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp. He was assigned to the technical department where he worked as a draftsman and designer alongside other artists, including Bedrich Fritta, Leo Haas, and Jiri Lauscher. On July 16, 1942, Peter’s wife Ilse arrived in the camp. On January 30, 1943, Peter’s parents Leonard and Olga were transported from Bzenec to Terezin. Peter was assigned major projects by the Jewish Council that administered the camp for the Germans, such as the scrip receipts used in place of money in the camp. He secretly documented the inmate’s daily life, creating portraits and other drawings, and wrote plays, poems, and an operatic libretto. On October 16, 1944, Peter’s wife Ilse and his parents Leonard and Olga were selected for deportation. Peter volunteered to go with them. Before leaving, Peter and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Peter survived the selection process, soon fell ill, likely with typhus, and died at age 25 in late October 1944. His wife and parents were killed at Auschwitz. Some of the work that Peter left with other prisoners or hid at Theresienstadt survived and has been exhibited worldwide.

    Physical Details

    German Hebrew
    Exchange Media
    Object Type
    Scrip (aat)
    Physical Description
    Theresienstadt scrip printed on rectangular, off-white paper in light brown and black ink. The paper contains a watermark in the form of a repeating geometric pattern. On the face is a rectangle with geometric patterning and a wide, off-white margin to the right. On the left, within the rectangle, is a vignette with an image of Moses holding 2 stone tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments in Hebrew. To his right, is the denomination centered between lines of German text. In the lower right corner is a Star of David with the denomination below. The reverse has a rectangle with geometric patterning and a wide, off-white margin to the left. Within the rectangle is a medallion, German text above and below a scrollwork line, the denomination on the upper right, and signature on the lower right. In the lower left corner is the denomination below a Star of David in a striped circle. The serial number in the upper left corner and the series letter on the lower right are both in red ink. The scrip has a vertical crease down the center.
    overall: Height: 3.000 inches (7.62 cm) | Width: 5.875 inches (14.923 cm)
    overall : paper, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
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    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The scrip was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989 by Ernest G. Heppner.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 13:46:48
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