Prisoners of the Camps As the Jews were the main targets of Nazi genocide, the victims of the killing centers were overwhelmingly Jewish. In the hundreds of forced-labor and concentration camps not equipped with gassing facilities, however, other individuals from a broad range of backgrounds could also be found. Prisoners were required to wear color-coded triangles on their jackets so that the guards and officers of the camps could easily identify each person's background and pit the different groups against each other. Political prisoners, such as Communists, Socialists, and trade unionists wore red triangles. Common criminals wore green. Roma (Gypsies) and others the Germans considered "asocial" or "shiftless" wore black triangles. Jehovah's Witnesses wore purple ones. And gay men and men imprisoned for homosexuality had to wear pink triangles. Letters indicated nationality: for example, P stood for "Pole," SU for "Soviet POW," F for "Frenchman."

Captured Soviet soldiers worked as forced laborers, and many of these prisoners of war died because they were executed or badly mistreated by the Germans. In all, over three million died at the hands of the Germans.

Of the approximately 23,000 Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) who were inmates of Auschwitz, about 21,000 died or were killed there. Romani men, women, and children were confined together in a separate camp. On the night of August 2, 1944, a large group of Roma was gassed in the destruction of the "Gypsy family camp." Nearly 3,000 Roma were murdered, including most of the women and children. Some of the men were sent to forced-labor camps in Germany where many died. Altogether, hundreds of thousands of Roma from all over German-occupied Europe were murdered in camps and by mobile killing squads.

Political prisoners, Jehovah's Witnesses, and gay men were sent to concentration camps as punishment. Members of these three groups were not targeted, as were Jews and Roma, for systematic murder. Nevertheless, many died in the camps from starvation, disease, exhaustion, and brutal treatment.

Key Dates

JULY 1, 1937
Martin Niemoeller, church dissident leader, arrested

Martin Niemoeller, one of main opponents of Nazi racial ideology in the Lutheran church and one of the founders of the oppositional "Confessional Church," is arrested. He is sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1938 and spends the next seven years in concentration camps. After the war, Niemoeller's condemnation of bystanders to Nazi policies will become a call to early action. His words: "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

June 6, 1941
German High Command orders killing of Soviet commissars

Two weeks before the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the high command of the German armed forces issues orders to screen Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) for Soviet commissars. The commissars are to be handed over to the mobile killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) for immediate execution. Between June 22, 1941 and May 9, 1945, more than three million Soviet prisoners of war die in German custody. Most die from starvation, disease, and exposure, although tens of thousands are shot as Communists, Jews, or "Asiatics."

August 2–3, 1944
Zigeunerlager (“Gypsy camp”) at Auschwitz is liquidated
Approximately 23,000 Roma (Gypsies) were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, most of whom were placed in a separate section of the camp. Conditions there were exceptionally bad. Almost all the Roma in Auschwitz were gassed, worked to death, or victims of disease or starvation. The Nazis define Roma as racially inferior, and their fate closely parallels that of Jews. On August 2–3, 1944, the "Gypsy camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau is liquidated. The remaining Romani men, women, and children are killed in the gas chambers. Between 250,000 and 500,000 Roma are killed in the Holocaust.