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March 7th
2004

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3 - Nazi Classification of "Undesired People"

Among the first victims of persecution in Nazi Germany were political opponents -- primarily Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists. Jehovah's Witnesses refused to serve in the German army or take an oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler and consequently were also targeted. The Nazis harassed German male homosexuals, whose sexual orientation was considered a hindrance to the expansion of the German population. "Habitual" homosexuals were incarcerated in prisons; many were later send again to concentration camps after the completion of their sentences.

The Nazis persecuted those they considered to be racially inferior. Nazi racial ideology primarily vilified Jews, but also propagated hatred for Roma (Gypsies) and blacks. The Nazis viewed Jews as racial enemies and subjected them to arbitrary arrest, internment, and murder. Roma were also singled out on racial grounds for persecution. The Nazis viewed Poles and other Slavs as inferior, and slated them for subjugation, forced labor, and sometimes death. Jewish prisoners received the most brutal treatment in Nazi concentration camps.

From 1938, Jews in the camps were identified by a yellow star sewn onto their prison uniforms, a perversion of the Jewish Star of David symbol. After 1939 and with some variation from camp to camp, the categories of prisoners were easily identified by a marking system combining a colored inverted triangle with lettering. The badges sewn onto prisoner uniforms enabled SS guards to identify the alleged grounds for incarceration.

Criminals were marked with green inverted triangles, political prisoners with red, "asocials" (including Roma, non-conformists, vagrants, and other groups) with black or --in the case of Roma in some camps-- brown triangles. Homosexuals were identified with pink triangles and Jehovah's Witnesses with purple ones. Non-German prisoners were identified by the first letter of the German name for their home country, which was sewn onto their badge. The two triangles forming the Jewish star badge would both be yellow unless the Jewish prisoner was included in one of the other prisoner categories. A Jewish political prisoner, for example, would be identified with a yellow triangle beneath a red triangle.

chart badge 1
badge 1
badge 1
The pink triangle (second column from right) was the designated camp badge for male homosexual prisoners, as shown on this undated chart titled "Distinguishing Marks for Protective Custody Prisoners." In addition to the basic badge (top), variations marked repeat offenders, prisoners in punishment battalions, and homosexual Jews. Other colors identified political prisoners, previously convicted criminals, emigrants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and so-called asocials.
Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #098

The marks of various colors and shapes allowed guards and camp functionaries to identify them by category. Conditions in the camps were generally harsh for all inmates, many of whom died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, exposure to the cold, and brutal treatment. Many survivors have testified that men with pink triangles were often treated particularly severely by guards and inmates alike because of widespread biases against homosexuals. Next to Jews and Soviet POWs, gays belonged to the lowest group in the inmates' hierarchy - the top of which was above all taken up by German political prisoners. The discrimination of homosexuals in society continued among the concentration camp prisoners who mostly despised and avoided gays.

The "Asocial" category was, perhaps, the most diverse, including prostitutes, vagrants, murderers, thieves, lesbians, and those who violated laws prohibiting sexual intercourse between Aryans and Jews. In addition, while the brown triangle was used for gypsies under certain circumstances, they were more often forced to wear the black triangle categorizing them as "asocials."

Some patches included letters on the triangles to further distinguish among the various groups in the camps. Most commonly, the letter indicated nationality, e.g., "F" for franzosisch (French), "P" for polnisch (Polish), "T" for tschechisch (Czech), etc., but it could also denote special sub-categories of prisoners. For example, the white letter "A" on a black triangle signified a labor disciplinary prisoner (Arbeitserziehungshaftling), while a black "S" on a green triangle identified a strafthaft, or penal prisoner. In addition, the word Blod on a black triangle marked mentally retarded inmates, and a red and white target symbol set apart those who had tried to escape.

For Jewish offenders, triangles of two different colors were combined to create a six-pointed star, one triangle yellow to denote a Jew, the second triangle another color to denote the added offense. For example, a Jewish criminal would wear a yellow triangle overlayed by a green one; Jewish homosexuals wore pink triangles over yellow.

Outside the camps, the occupying Nazi forces ordered Jews to wear patches or armbands marked with the star of David, though the specific characteristics of the badge (size, shape, color) varied by region. For example, some yellow stars were marked with a large "J" in the center, while elsewhere the patches had "Jude" (or "Jood," "Juif," etc.) stitched in the middle. Those who failed to wear the star were subject to arrest and deportation, a fate that frightened most Jews into compliance even though the patch subjected them to restrictions, harrassment, and isolation. The Nazis required Jews to wear the yellow Star of David not only in the camps but throughout most of occupied Europe.

An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933 - 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.

How many of these 5,000 to 15,000 "175ers" perished in the concentration camps will probably never be known. Most of them perished. Historical research to date has been very limited. One leading scholar, Ruediger Lautmann, believes that the death rate for "175ers" in the camps may have been as high as 60 %.

All prisoners of the camps wore marks of various colors and shapes, which allowed guards and camp functionaries to identify them by category. The uniforms of those sentenced as homosexuals in a first time bore various identifying marks, including a large black dot and a large "175" drawn on the back of the jacket. Later a pink triangular patch (rosa Winkel) appeared. The pink triangle, was two-and-three-quarter inches high, and was worn on the left side of the jacket and on the right leg of the trousers.

pink triangle

In the words of a non-gay survivor:

"I saw quite a number of pink triangles. I don't know how they were eventually killed. ... One day they were simply gone."
The daily agony of their lives is recalled by Dr L.D. Claassen von Neudegg, a gay survivor of the Sachsenhausen camp:
After roll call on the evening of June 20, 1942, an order was suddenly given: "All prisoners with the pink triangle will remain standing at attention!" Our detail commander barked: "Three hundred criminal deviants, present as ordered!" We were registered, and then it was revealed to us that in accordance with an order from the Reichsfuehring SS, our category was to be isolated in an intensified-penalty company, and we would be transferred as a unit to the Klinker Brickwords the next morning. The Klinker factory! We shuddered, for the human death mill was more than feared. ... Forced to drag along twenty corpses, the rest of us encrusted with blood, we entered the Klinker works. ... We had been here for almost two months, but it seemed like endless years to us. When we were "transferred" here, we had numbered around 300 men. Whips were used more frequently each morning, when we were forced down into the clay pits under the wailing camp sirens. "Only 50 are still alive," whispered the man next to me. "Stay in the middle - then you won't get hit so much."

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