Economics of a POW Camp

As Clusterflock points out cigarettes often become currency, which is not surprising.  What is surprising is how developed the economic structure of a prison camp can become.  It acts as a microcosm for society at large with people occupying niches, many things are purchased on credit, stores were opened.

The permanent camps in Germany saw the highest level of commercial organization. In addition to the Exchange and Mart notice boards, a shop was organized as a public utility, controlled by representatives of the Senior British Officer, on a no profit basis. People left their surplus clothing, toilet requisites and food there until they were sold at a fixed price in cigarettes. Only sales in cigarettes were accepted – there was no barter – and there was no higgling. For food at least there were standard prices: clothing is less homogeneous and the price was decided around a norm by the seller and the shop manager in agreement; shirts would average say 80, ranging from 60 to 120 according to quality and age. Of food, the shop carried small stocks for convenience; the capital was provided by a loan from the bulk store of Red Cross cigarettes and repaid by a small commission taken on the first transactions. Thus the cigarette attained its fullest currency status, and the market was almost completely unified.

There are price fixing scandals and alternate currencies besides cigarettes, there were middlemen and shortages.  It seems as if this type of prisoner camp portrayal would be infinitely more interesting – the camp as a living, breathing economical organism – than how it is categorically portrayed in the movies.  The prisoner camp is a character in and of itself.

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