Prisoner Categories

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Prisoner Categories

Prisoner Categories: The first victims of the Nazis after they came to power were political opponents (i.e., Social Democrats and Communists) journalists (i.e., Carl Albert Fritz Michael Gerlich) and those who spoke out against the Nazis whilst they where in opposition. These opponents of the regime were either killed in the spot or seized by the party's Brown Shirts (the SA) and the black uniformed SS. and taken to makeshift holding pens (improvised concentration camps) and imprisoned without charge and denied access to lawyers. As the Nazis consolidated their hold on power, other groups were targeted for incarceration (i.e., Jehovah Witnesses, masons and homosexuals). As the concentration camp system evolved and became more efficient and organised, inmates were pigeon-holed into specific categories of prisoner. To make it easier to identify an inmates particular 'offence' they had to wear a coloured inverted triangle on the outside of their prison clothing. The colour told the guard what their crime was just by looking at them, thus making it easier for brutality to be meted out against those deemed worthy of it. 

Concentration camp inmates hadn't just lost their names (they were referred to by their prisoner number) they were now also colour coded

The Use of Triangles

Triangles of various colours were used as an identification marker which indicated which category of crime the wearer was sentenced under. These identification markers were worn on the prisoners clothing. 

Black: Asocial - this category included alcoholics, anarchists, beggars, drug addicts, gypsies ( gypsies were later given a brown triangle), homeless (including beggars), lesbians, those deemed mentally ill, pacifists, prostitutes and those deemed as 'work shy' (arbeitsscheu).

Blue: Emigrants and foreign labourers wore blue triangle

Brown: Gypsies (Gypsies were originally ascribed black triangles).

Green: Green triangles were reserved for professional criminals such as thieves and those convicted of violence. Kapos (capos) were generally chosen from this category of prisoners, especially those known for violence. 

Pink: Pink triangles indicated homosexual men as well as bisexual men. 

Purple: The purple triangle represented Jehovah's Witnesses who were incarcerated because of their refusal to serve within the German armed forces or who refused to give the Nazi salute.

Red: Those designated as political enemies wore a red triangle, such as Communists, Social Democrats, freemasons and trade unionists. 

Inverted red triangle was used to identify deserters, Prisoners of War and spies.

Jewish Categories:

Jews wore two triangles in the shape of the Star of David, and this Star was coloured yellow. However, if the inmate was, for example, a homosexual as well as a Jew, one of the triangles would be coloured yellow whilst the other being pink. The same would apply for a known criminal who was also Jewish (green and yellow) and so on. If a Jew had converted to become a Jehovah's witness, or even a Jehovah's Witness who simply had Jewish ancestors, then one of the triangles would be purple to indicate this whilst the other yellow.  

Repeat Offenders : The Use of Coloured Bars:

As part of the colour coding system, the Nazis introduced another marker to compliment the current markers - if the inmate is a repeat offender, a coloured bar would also appear above the triangle - their previous offence would indicate the colour of bar. For example: if the prisoner is in custody for antisocial behaviour (a black triangle) but has been also been arrested in the past for criminal activities such as burglary or violence, he would wear a green bar above his black triangle.

The Use of Letters:

Another feature of the identification process is the use of letters to indicate the nationality if the prisoner is non-German. These letters would appear on the coloured triangle. For example:

* 'B' would indicate an Belgier (Belgian)

* 'E' would indicate an Engländer (English)

* 'F' would indicate a Franzosen (French)

* 'H' would indicate a Holländer (Dutch)

* 'I' would indicate an Italiener (Italian)

* 'N' would indicate a Norweger (Norwegian)

* 'P' would indicate a Polen (Polish)

* 'S' would indicate a Spanier (Spanish)

* 'T' would indicate a Tscheche (Czech)

* 'U' would indicate a Ungarn (Hungarian)


For gypsies, who would have originally worn a black triangle (Asocial) a 'Z' would be used. 

A Polish emigrant would have originally worn a purple diamond superimposed onto a yellow backing with the letter 'P'.