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March 7th

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4 - The Lagers = Deportation and Death Camps

Nazi Germany, planned and implemented their plan to rid Europe of those whom they considered sub-humans. Accurate numbers for exactly how many people died as a result of the Nazi plans are simply not available and probably never will be.

The Nazi massive concentration camp system, with well over one thousand camps of various sizes, was designed to imprison mainly innocent people. Every human right was replaced by Nazi laws, rules and arbitrary decisions. Almost every major German city had at least a slave labor camp nearby. The inmates of these camps were forced under the pain of death to work for the German war effort, with no pay, inadequate food and deprived of other necessities to survive. Death camps, constructed for the sole purpose of mass executions by means of poison gas, shootings, starvation, disease, and torture were used by the Nazis to exterminate men, women children and infants, they defined "useless" or "dangerous" to their goals.

Already by the end of 1935, thousands of homosexual men had been rounded up and sent to detention centers and prison camps throughout Germany. Reports of sadistic torture of homosexuals were widespread at the Lichtenberg concentration camp and the Kolumbia-Haus prison beginning in June 1935. The Dachau concentration camp received its first homosexual male internees no later than 1934, and Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald began receiving homosexual men as early as 1936. In 1939, large numbers of homosexual men were deported to the concentration and forced-labor camp of Mauthausen in Austria.

The entrance to the concentration camp of Buchenwald. This was the main camp where Gay prisoners were held in great number. The pleasant frontage hid the horrible reality.

The Nazi camp organization began as a system of repression directed against political opponents of the Nazi state. In the early years of the Third Reich, the Nazis imprisoned primarily Communists and Socialists. Around 1935, the regime also began to imprison those whom it designated as racially or biologically inferior, especially Jews. During World War II, the organization and scale of the Nazi camp system expanded rapidly and the purpose of the camps evolved beyond imprisonment toward forced labor and outright murder.

Throughout German-occupied Europe, the Germans arrested those who resisted their domination and those they judged to be racially inferior or politically unacceptable. People arrested for resisting German rule were mostly sent to forced-labor or concentration camps. The war brought unprecedented growth in both the number of camps and the number of prisoners. Within three years the number of prisoners quadrupled, from about 25,000 before the war to about 100,000 in March 1942. The camp population came to include prisoners from almost every European nation. Prisoners in all the concentration camps were literally worked to death. According to SS reports, there were more than 700,000 prisoners registered in the concentration camps in January 1945.

The Germans deported Jews from all over occupied Europe to extermination camps, where they were systematically killed, and also to concentration camps, where they were drafted for forced labor - "extermination through work." Several hundred thousand Poles, Roma (Gypsies), gay men and Soviet POW were also systematically murdered. Often, at the Camp's gates, there were the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work makes you free)...

Sachsenhausen's main gate. Photo ©: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

Daily life 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. Jews and male homosexuals were the lowest of the prisoners. Gay Jews were the lowest of the low. They were placed in the Level 3 camps:

Auschwitz-Birkenau - Oswiecim-Brzezinka Poland extermination camp - 51 subcamps and external kommandos
Buchenwald Germany 174 subcamps and external kommandos
Dachau Germany 123 subcamps and external kommandos
Flossenburg Germany 94 subcamps and external kommandos
Fühlsbüttel Germany
Gross-Rosen - Rogoznica Poland 77 subcamps and external kommandos
Lichtenburg now Prettin, Germany (a former penitentiary)
Mauthausen Austria 49 subcamps and external kommandos
Natzweiler-Struthof France 70 camps satellites et kommandos
Neuengamme Germany 96 subcamps and external kommandos
Neusustrum Germany
Ravensbrück Germany 31 subcamps and external kommandos
Sachsenhausen Germany 44 subcamps and external kommandos
Sonnenburg/Neumark Germany
Stutthof - Sztutowo Poland 40 subcamps and external kommandos
Vught Holland

Concentration camp internment served a twofold purpose: the labour power of prisoners boosted the national economy significantly, and undesirables could be effectively liquidated by the simple expedient of reducing their food rations to a level slightly below subsistence. One survivor tells of witnessing Project Pink in his camp:

"The homosexuals were grouped into liquidation commandos and placed under triple camp discipline. That meant that they were subjected to harder work, less food, and stricter supervision than the other inmates. If prisoners with a pink triangle became sick, it spelled their doom -- they were not allowed treatment in the clinics, and were left to die or were killed with large injections of morphine."
This was common practice in the Level 3 concentration camps.

Also a few lesbians wore pink triangles in the concentration camps at Butzow and Ravensbruck. In the final months of the war, the German men with pink triangles received brief military training. They were to be sent out as cannon fodder in the last-ditch defense of the fatherland.

Detailed statistical analysis of surviving records indicates that homosexual prisoners were systematically placed in the hardest work commandos (notably the gravel pits at Dachau and the brick works where all of the homosexual inmates of Sachsenhausen worked); that the death rate for homosexuals was 50 percent higher than for political prisoners; that they received more brutal and more frequent extra punishments than the other prisoners; and that they formed the highest percentage of prisoners who were "transported" (the Nazi euphemism for transfer to the gas chambers). One survivor of Dachau reported:

"The inmates with the pink triangles never lived long, they were exterminated by the SS with systematic swiftness."
Precise figures on the number of homosexuals exterminated in Nazi Death Camps have never been established. Estimates range from 10,000 to 15,000. It does not appear that the Nazis ever set it as their goal to completely eradicate all homosexuals. Rather, it seems, the official policy was to either re-educate those homosexuals who were "behaviorally" and only occasionally homosexual and to block those who were "incurable" homosexuals through castration, extreme intimidation, or both. Nor does it appear that their efforts extended beyond Germany itself to the occupied territories.

However, the numerous testimonies by homosexuals who survived the camp experience suggest that the SS had a much less "tolerant" view. Those who wore the pink triangle were brutally treated by camp guards and other categories of inmates, particularly those who wore the green (criminals), red (political criminals) and black (asocials) triangles. Furthermore, homosexuals were at another important disadvantage -- they lacked the group support within the camp to maintain morale. Moreover young gay and straight men were often sexually abused both by other inmated and by the Nazis.

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. As was true with other prisoner categories, some homosexuals were also victims of cruel medical experiments, including castration. At Buchenwald concentration camp, SS physician Dr. Carl Vaernet performed operations designed to convert men to heterosexuals: the surgical insertion of a capsule which released the male hormone testosterone.

Such procedures reflected the desire by Himmler and others to find a medical solution to eradicate homosexuality. The vast majority of homosexual victims were males; lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution.

Gay inmates

Sachsenhausen prisoners, wearing uniforms with pink badges, stand in columns under the supervision of SS guards.
Photo credit: U.S. National Archives.

The death toll for all inmates was 8 million. It is impossible to estimate how many of them were homosexuals. But Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, according to his own estimate, personally supervised the extermination of 2,000,000 Jews, homosexuals, Gipsies, communists, and Russian soldiers: this would imply that he alone could have killed at least 15,000 homosexuals, the figure often cited for the total number of homosexuals killed in the concentration camps.

At the end of the war, concentration camp records were systematically destroyed by the Nazis, and surviving records are sparse and incomplete, so there are no really reliable figures for how many men were dealt with under Hitler's "final solution" to "the homosexual problem". The estimate ranges from 430,000 (which is quite surely too high, unless you count in this figure also the gay prisoners not detained because homosexuals, hence not wearing the "pink triangle") to 10,000 (which is quite surely too low).


Prisoners' camp number tattooed in the concentration camps

"The concentration camp at Auschwitz was the only one to tattoo prisoners for identification. The underlying cause was the high death rate among the prisoners, which sometimes surpassed several hundred in a single day. With such a large number of deaths, there were difficulties in identifying all the corpses. If the clothes with the camp number were removed from the corpse, one could no longer establish what the number of the deceased had been.

At the camp hospital (Haftlingskrankenbau, HKB), where many prisoners died, the staff began to write ill prisoner's camp numbers on their chests with indelible ink. Difficulties in identifying corpses increased in...1941, when the mass extermination of Soviet prisoners-of-war began. It was then that the camp administration decided to adopt tattooing, which was first used with several thousand Soviet prisoners-of-war. They were tattooed with a special metal stamp that held interchangeable numbers composed of needles around 1 cm long. This stamp -- when applied to the upper portion of the left breast -- allowed the entire number to be tattooed at once. Next, ink was rubbed into the bleeding wounds.

The POWs to be tattooed were so weak that they had to be propped up against the wall so they would not fall down while the number was being applied. In March 1942, the staff began to tattoo in a similar fashion emaciated prisoners at KL Birkenau, whose state of health pointed to rapid death. (Only several Poles with numbers tattooed on their chests during this period survived the camp.)

"Since the metal stamp turned out to be impractical, tattooing was later carried out by puncturing the skin on the left forearm with individual needles. The puncture marks would form the individual digits of the camp number. Jewish prisoners began to be tattooed in this fashion at Birkenau as early as 1942. In spring 1943 the camp administration ordered that all prisoners -- both previously-registered prisoners and new arrivals -- be tattooed with camp numbers.

A number of German prisoners and so-called "reformatory prisoners" (Erziehungshaftlinge) received no tatoo. Several categories of prisoners were tattooed with an additional symbol before the number -- e.g., Jews (but not all of them) with a triangular symbol; Gypsies, with the letter "Z" (the first letter of the German word Zigeuner or "Gypsy"); and beginning in May 1944, Jews received an additional letter, "A" or "B", which signified the particular series of numbers being used at the time. For unknown reasons, prisoners from several transports in 1943 were tattooed with camp numbers on the inside of their left shoulder.

"Once they were tattooed, prisoners were identified by the camp number on their forearms. At Birkenau, the corpses of deceased prisoners were laid in front of the housing blocks in such fashion that the prisoner's left hands and tattooed camp numbers were visible."

Homosexual Nazi in charge in the Camps

Some of the guards and administrators responsible for the infamous concentration camp atrocities were closeted homosexuals. But these homosexual guards and administrators did'nt show any sympathy towards the pink triangle inmates... on the contrary...

While any prisoner could be chosen as a Kapo (a slave overseer), none of the other interned groups except homosexuals had counterparts among the Nazi guards and administrators. Examples of the homosexuality of the concentration camp guards can be found in many of the personal accounts of Holocaust survivors. Elie Wiesel, sent to the Buna factory camp in the Auschwitz complex, for example, acknowledges this:

"The head of our tent was a German. An assassin's face, fleshy lips, hands like wolf's paws. He was so fat he could hardly move. Like the leader of the camp he loved children... (Actually this was not a disinterested affection: there was a considerable traffic in young children among homosexuals here, I learned later)."
(Elie Wiesel, Night , pag. 59)

Steiner records the story of another Nazi administrator, taken from interviews with survivors:

"Max Bielas had a harem of little Jewish boys. He liked them young, no older than seventeen. He had a kind of parody of the shepherds of Arcadia, their role was to take care of the camp flock of geese. They were dressed like little princes... Bielas had a little barracks built for them that looked like a doll's house... Bielas sought in Treblinka only the satisfaction of his homosexual instincts."
(Steiner, Treblinka, pag. 117)

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