Brian Mielke, 37, Milwaukee, has donated a Buchenwald concentration camp scrip – or stand-in for currency – to Jewish Museum Milwaukee.
Brian has held the scrip, along with other historic currency and coins from his deceased grandfather’s collection, ever since his grandfather died in 2005. Brian’s grandfather, John Mielke, served as a sergeant during World War II and is believed to have “went through Buchenwald,” Brian said.
“I found it back in January,” Brian said. “It’s literally been sitting in a box … pretty much since he got it.”
John is believed to have served in the U.S. Army supply chain. His daughter’s hand-written note on the back of the Buchenwald scrip says it was obtained on May 4, 1945, at a “German concentration camp.” History tells us that U.S. soldiers first entered the camp three weeks earlier, on April 11.
The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum has a similar artifact. It describes that scrip as a “2 Reichsmark coupon issued at Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.”
Buchenwald opened near Weimar, Germany on July 19, 1937, and issued undated notes in 0.5–, 1–, 2–, and 3–mark denominations, according to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. The simply designed notes were printed on coarse paper. There were two types of coupons: canteen scrip and exchange scrip issued to members of outside labor brigades.
The purpose of Buchenwald was to combat political opponents, persecute Jews, Sinti and Roma, and permanently ostracize “strangers to the community” – among them homosexuals, homeless persons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and ex-convicts – from the “body of the German people,” according to the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation in Germany.
More than 56,000 died there, with causes including torture, medical experiments and consumption. After the U.S. Army entered Buchenwald, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote that nothing had ever shocked him more.
Almost sold it
Brian said he nearly sold his scrip to a local coin shop as part of a pile of old foreign currency that they didn’t carefully look through – they just offered $5. That seemed too little for all that history, so he went through the pile and started thinking about what to do with it. He knew Steve Cohen, a Wisconsin potter, who suggested the donation to Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a project of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
The scrip will be on display at Jewish Museum Milwaukee at some point in the future, according to staff. Brian donated the scrip in November, and it will be part of the museum’s permanent collection.
“I think that it’s in good hands that way,” said Brian, whose family is not Jewish. “I don’t think it’s doing me much good sitting in a box; it’s not about me.”