Tuesday, September 22, 2015


The top row of triangles on this chart shows all the colors of the badges worn by the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.
  • Red was for Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists and other "enemies of the state". 
  • Green was for German criminals who had committed two or more crimes.
  • Blue was for foreign forced laborers. 
  • Brown was for the Sinti and Gypsies (Roma).
  • Pink was for homosexuals. 
  • Purple was for Jehovah's Witnesses (Bibelforscher).
  • Black was for asocials, a catch-all term for vagrants, bums, prostitutes, hobos, perverts, alcoholics who were living on the streets, or anyone who didn't have a permanent address. The "work-shy," or those who were arrested because they refused to work, wore a black badge.
Prior to 1942, Gypsy men wore a black triangle. They were arrested and imprisoned for being asocial ... meaning they didn't have a permanent address ... or for being "work-shy" because they were not employed. Every male citizen in Nazi Germany, who was capable of working, was required to take a job and they were not allowed to quit their job without permission. Gypsy women were arrested under the asocial category if they were prostitutes. In 1942, Gypsy families were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz where they were kept separately in a "family camp." After the Gypsy camp was closed, some of the prisoners were sent to Buchenwald. Others were murdered in the gas chamber.

The second row shows the same colors with a matching bar over the triangle. The bar designated a "second-timer", or a prisoner who had been released and was then arrested again for a second offense. These prisoners were isolated from the general camp population and were not allowed privileges. Their work assignments were much more difficult. Many of the prisoners, including some Jews in the early days at Dachau, were released after they had been "rehabilitated."

The black circles under the badges in the third row designate prisoners who were assigned to the penal colony. They were given the most difficult work assignments, usually in a rock quarry or gravel pit. Many of the camp locations were chosen because they were near a quarry which could furnish building materials for the new buildings Hitler was planning for Berlin and Linz, Austria, his former home town. Dachau had a gravel pit which was located where the Carmelite convent now stands.

The fourth row shows yellow triangles with each of the regular triangle colors placed on the top, forming a six-pointed star. These badges were worn by Jews and showed their classification as political prisoners, criminals, foreign forced laborers, homosexuals or asocials:

Jewish political prisoners wore a yellow triangle with a red triangle on top. Jews who wore a white triangle over a yellow one were called Jüdisher Rassenschänder. A black triangle designated an a-social (Asozialer). A Jewish a-social was a Jüdisher Asozialer who wore a black triangle over a yellow one. A green triangle meant a criminal who was a repeat offender; Jewish criminals wore a green triangle over a yellow one and were called Jüdisher Befristeter Vorbeugeshäftlinge or Jewish prisoners in limited preventive custody.

A red triangle pointing downward designated a non-Jewish political prisoner. A letter within the triangle indicated the prisoner's origin ... Poland or France for example. If the red triangle was pointing upward, it designated a German political prisoner.

No Jews were sent to a concentration camp just for being Jewish until November 1938 when 30,000 German Jews were arrested and approximately 10,000 were sent to each of the major camps: Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. Most of them were released within a few weeks, but only if they agreed to leave Germany within six months. Many of them ended up going to Shanghai because they could not get visas to any country and, during the war, they were interned by the Japanese.

Beginning in February 1942, all of the Jews in Germany and the Nazi occupied countries were systematically rounded up and sent to the death camps in what is now Poland.

The fifth row shows a yellow triangle with another yellow triangle (bordered in black) on top of it. This badge designated a Jew who was arrested for race defilement, which meant having sex with a non-Jew in violation of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.

All prisoners at the Nazi concentration camps were assigned an identification number and at roll call, they had to answer when their number was called. The number was written on a white rectangle which each prisoner had to wear on his uniform.

A prison uniform is shown on the chart above with the placement of the badge on either the shirt or the pants. Prisoners were not required to wear a striped uniform. Photographs displayed in the Dachau museum, taken in 1938, show most of the prisoners wearing a regular shirt and striped pants with their prison number worn on their pant's leg.


Armbands were used within the camps to identify kapos, camp "police" (detainees assigned to keep order among their fellow detainees), and certain work crew leaders. Armbands were also in use among detainees sent to perform forced labor in factories outside the camps.

Identification Numbers

The common belief is that all concentration camps tattooed identification numbers on prisoners ... not true. The Auschwitz concentration camp (including Auschwiz I, Auschwitz/Birgenau and Monowitz) was the only location in which prisoners were systematically tattooed. The misconception came about because Auschwitz inmates were often sent to other camps. 

As thousands of Soviet POWs arrived at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941, camp authorities began to tattoo prisoners for identification purposes. In the spring of 1943, the authorities adopted the practice of tattooing almost all previously registered and newly arrived prisoners, including female prisoners. Exceptions to this practice were prisoners of German nationality and “reeducation prisoners,” who were held in a separate compound. “Reeducation prisoners,” or “labor-education prisoners,” were non-Jewish persons of virtually all European nationalities (but at Auschwitz primarily Germans, Czechs, Poles and Soviet civilians) who had run afoul of the harsh labor discipline imposed on civilian laborers in areas under German control.

Originally, a special metal stamp, holding interchangeable numbers made up of needles approx. one centimeter long was used. The number was punched onto the prisoner's upper chest and rubbed with ink. When metal stamps became impractical, a single-needle device was introduced, which pierced the outlines of the identification number onto the skin.

Note: The women of Convoi des 31000 were sent to Auschwitz.

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