Historical story

Where did the black market come from?

Gangsters use it to buy weapons, drugs, works of art, and even human organs. But it wasn't like that before. Before WWII, the black market ... did not exist at all.

Today we are talking about the black market without much thought, but the name was by no means obvious to the inhabitants of occupied Poland. It is difficult to find in the pre-war press or in reptilian magazines published from 1939 to 1945. It does not appear on a larger scale in newspapers until around 1945.

It was first quoted in quotation marks, with appropriate explanations, as if journalists were unsure that the readers would understand what was going on. This did not surprise Tomasz Szarota, who stated that the name was born only during World War II.

The French are trying to describe…

In his opinion, the term "black market" ( marché noir ) was first defined in 1942 in the French encyclopedia Petit Larousse . It translated them as "an illegal market where goods are sold at higher prices than the official ones". The eminent historian, however, was probably not entirely right. The black market has been mentioned before.

Smuggling and Illicit Trade. The basis of wartime existence for thousands of Polish women ...

According to Harry Oliver, author of March Hares and Monkeys' Uncles:Origins of the Words and Phrases We Use Every Day English black market is a direct borrowing from the German language, which was already referred to during World War I as Schwarzmarkt .

If American soldiers had contact with the term, the Poles must have known it even more around 1915. After all, for most of World War I, Polish lands, including Warsaw, were under the control of the German Empire.

The female art of survival in Aleksandra Zaprutko-Janicka's book "Occupation from the kitchen". Click and buy with a discount on empik.com .

Germany is trying to sell

It should only be added that this original German "black market" had a much narrower meaning. This was primarily defined as illicit trade in stolen military equipment.

In the interwar period, the term was almost forgotten, which is why many dictionaries and encyclopedias say that it was not coined until the 1930s. Finally, the black market became famous during World War II, but Poles seem to have started using this term for good only after the end of the conflict.

Street trade in occupied Poland. Illustration from the book "Occupation from the kitchen. The Female Art of Survival. "

Blacks are trying to survive

In an anecdote, it could be added that the earliest confirmed use of the term "black market" not only does not come from World War I, but even - from the last two centuries.

According to the American writer and criminologist Mike Sutton, as early as 1787 a certain George Coleman wrote about the black market in the script of ... an opera entitled Inkle and Yarico . Except that he meant not so much illegal trade at inflated prices, but rather the sale of black slaves. The similarity of these concepts is probably completely coincidental.


The article was based on materials collected by the author while writing the book "Occupation from the kitchen". Click and buy your copy at empik.com with a discount.

"Okupacja od Kuchni" is a moving story about the times when illegal pig slaughtering could lead to Auschwitz, vegetables were grown in the courtyards of tenement houses, and used coffee grounds were traded on the black market. It is also an amazing cookbook:full of original recipes and practical tips from 1939-1945. We recommend!