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Piece-Work System and Incentive Coupons

 a  “I myself was the manager of the so-called performance-boosting cigarettes. When you stuck a package of cigarettes in a prisoner’s pocket, he was overjoyed. Even Dr. Dürrfeld, when he walked through the plant, handed out several packages of cigarettes, to prisoners as well.”

(Rolf Brüstle, hearing of witness, February 19, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. IG Farben), Vol. II, pp. 271–278R, here p. 276. (Transl. KL))

Despite the use of brutal methods such as beatings and the constant threat of death to incite prisoners to work harder and faster, their job performance fell short of the expectations of I.G. Farben. After the plant management had repeatedly requested the SS to choose only “healthy” inmates who were “fit for work” for I.G. Auschwitz, and thus indirectly condemned many exhausted men to “transfer to Birkenau,” I.G. Farben proposed in mid-1942 that the SS introduce a piece-work system, based on results, for the prisoners. In the camp jargon, this arrangement also was called the FFF-System (Frauen, Fressen, Freiheit; women, chow, freedom).[1] Employees of the company report that they were authorized to distribute small rewards to the prisoners.  a 


In consequence of this “piece-work system,” I.G. Farben introduced so-called prize-coupons, intended to reward prisoners for “above-average” work performance. The prisoners could redeem them for small articles or use them as a means of payment in the camp brothel. Initial plans by I.G. Farben to offer the “prospect of freedom” for prisoners as the highest prize were categorically rejected by the SS. Just one year later, the WVHA granted permission to offer rewards for good work performance. The first incentive coupons were handed out, and along with bread and soup, they soon assumed the character of a currency in the camp. It was almost exclusively the prisoner functionaries, an estimated 15 percent of the inmates, who profited from them, however. The hard-working “ordinary” prisoners went away empty-handed:


“Such a distribution [of prize-coupons] occurs irregularly, with great parsimony and open injustice, so that the greatest number of the coupons end up, either legitimately or through abuse of authority, in the hands of the Kapos and of the Prominents; nevertheless the prize-coupons still circulate on the market in the form of money, and their value changes in strict obedience to the laws of classical economics.”[2]


In exchange for a coupon, a prisoner could “shop” in the camp canteen. The selection of goods available to him there included tobacco, toothpaste, cigarette papers, and the like, but rarely foods with any nutritional value. The merchandise acquired, therefore, frequently was used to engage in further exchanges with civilian workers at the construction site.

(SP; transl. KL)


Rolf Brüstle, hearing of witness, February 19, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. II, pp. 271–278R.



Levi, Primo: Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996 [first published as If This Is a Man].

Setkiewicz, Piotr: “Ausgewählte Probleme aus der Geschichte des IG Werkes Auschwitz.” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 22 (2002), pp. 7–147.

Wagner, Bernd C.: IG Auschwitz. Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung von Häftlingen des Lagers Monowitz 1941–1945. Munich: Saur, 2000.

[1] Piotr Setkiewicz: “Ausgewählte Probleme aus der Geschichte des IG Werkes Auschwitz.” In: Hefte von Auschwitz 22 (2002), pp. 7–147, here p. 86.

[2] Primo Levi: Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity (New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996) [first published as If This Is a Man], p. 80.