Concentration Camps and Prisons

The recently acquired Michel Brisebois collections include nearly 2,000 items originating from prisoners held in German concentration camps, internment and transit camps, Gestapo prisons, and POW camps, during and just prior to World War II.  Most of these items consist of letters written or received by prisoners, but also include receipts for parcels and personal effects, paper currency, and realia, including the Star of David badges.

Representative samples on this page include letters written by concentration camp prisoners; camp parcel receipts and currency; a prisoner's journal dealing with the forced German evacuation of Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1945; and other items.






Greeting card illustrated with a bouquet of flowers from Crestan Kozacka in Trzebinsia(?), to Thadeus Stelanko, prisoner, Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 9 October 1944.

Card from Johann Frodl, prisoner in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, to Borka Frodlova in Brunn, 31 December 1939. On the obverse a pencil drawing showing a man walking with a ladder on his shoulder and dated 1940; probably a self-portrait done by the prisoner.

The Czechoslovakian prisoner Frodl was arrested on September 1, 1939 and liberated on April 11, 1945 after more than 5 and one half years in Buchenwald.

Message on a hankerchief.  The message is in Polish and seems to originate from a prison in Berlin.  It mentions the fact that the person is being sent to Buchenwald.  It was probably smuggled out by a friend.

  Letter from Vladystaw Smolen, prisoner, Auschwitz Concentration Camp, to Joseph Smalen in Krakow (Poland), 19 March 1944.

1 parcel receipt with list of contents of the parcel that had been sent to Otto Geissler, prisoner in Mauthausen camp, 1943.  Prisoners in most camps were allowed to receive parcels since food was lacking, especially after 1942 onwards.  A receipt was usually mailed to the person who sent the parcel.

Examples of currency used in Buchenwald and Mittelbau concentration camps.

It is surprising to some that currency was used in concentration camps.  Notes and tokens were given to productive prisoners as rewards.  Money received by prisoners from family through money orders was also converted into camp notes.  These notes were redeemable in the camp canteen and also served to purchase stamps for correspondence.


The Irena Matusiak journal and realia

Irena Matsusiak was a prisoner in Ravensbruck.

Journal is a partial rendering of the evacuation of Ravensbruck as recorded by prisoner Irena Matsuiak. The writing tells of a march on a road led by the Germans, of shelters in the forest, bombings killing prisoners, and the sense that the Germans were trying to force the prisoners towards the advancing Russian army.  This journal was probably written in the field as the events happened.

A white cotton rectangle with the number of the prisoner (7250) in ink and sewed on it, a small red triangle with a large "P" (for Polish).  This was worn by the prisoner on her frock. Large black cloth armband with the letters "R.W." and the smaller letters "G.M.B.H." in yellow tread sewed on it.  These letters stood for the factory where the prisoner worked either in the main camp or in a sub-camp.