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A chart of prisoner markings used in German concentration camps. Dachau, Germany, ca. 1938-1942.
Beginning in 1937–1938, the SS created a system of marking prisoners in concentration camps. Sewn onto uniforms, the color-coded badges identified the reason for an individual’s incarceration, with some variation among camps. The Nazis used this chart illustrating prisoner markings in the Dachau concentration camp.
Why did the SS have a system of badging and identification within the camps, if everyone was a prisoner?
How do badges and numbers dehumanize individuals?
A German soldier guards Soviet prisoners of war at the Uman camp in the Ukraine. Soviet Union, August 14, 1941.
Germans guard prisoners in the Rovno camp for Soviet prisoners of war. Rovno, Poland, after June 22, 1941.
Second only to the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war were the largest group of victims of Nazi racial policy.
Roll call at an internment camp for Roma (Gypsies). Lackenbach, Austria, 1940–41.
This taffeta and cotton skirt dates from the 1920s. It belonged to a Romani (Gypsy) woman who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and who lived in Germany before the war. She was arrested by the Nazis and interned in the Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Mauthausen, and Bergen-Belsen camps. She died in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, shortly before the camp's liberation. Her husband and two of her six children were also killed in the camps.
Roma (Gypsies) were among the groups singled out on racial grounds for persecution by the Nazi regime. Roma were subjected to internment, deportation, and forced labor, and were sent to killing centers. Einsatzgruppen also killed tens of thousands of Roma in the German-occupied eastern territories. The fate of the Roma closely paralleled that of Jews.
Joseph and his family were Roman Catholics. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, roundups of Poles for forced labor in Germany began. Joseph escaped arrest twice but the third time, in 1941, he was deported to a forced-labor camp in Hannover, Germany. For over four years he was forced to work on the construction of concrete air raid shelters. Upon liberation by US forces in 1945, the forced-labor camp was transformed into a displaced persons camp. Joseph stayed there until he got a visa to enter the United States in 1950.
Julian's Catholic parents had settled in the United States, but his mother returned to Poland. In 1939, Julian was deported to Austria to do farm labor after he was caught for hiding a rifle. On the farm he met the landowner's daughter, Frieda, his future wife. He was arrested in 1941 because relationships between Austrians and Poles were considered illegal and in 1942 he was deported to the Flossenbürg camp in Germany. During a forced march in 1945, he was liberated by US forces. Julian and Freida married after the war.
Karl was born in the small town of Bad Zwishenahn in northern Germany. When he was 2, his family moved to the port of Bremerhaven. His father was a sailor and his mother became a nurse in a local hospital. After his father died, Karl continued to live with his mother. Karl was 20 when he began training as a deacon at his parish church.
1933-39: Karl was 26 when his jealous lover denounced him and he was arrested at his house under paragraph 175 of the criminal code, which defined homosexuality as an "unnatural" act. Though this law had been on the books for years, the Nazis had broadened its scope and used it as grounds to make mass arrests of homosexuals. Karl was imprisoned at Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg where the "175ers" had to wear a pink triangle.
1940-44: Because Karl had some training as a nurse, he was transferred to work at the prisoner hospital at the Wittenberg subcamp. One day, a guard ordered him to decrease the bread ration for the patients who were Polish war prisoners, but Karl refused, telling him that it was inhuman to treat the Poles in this way. As punishment, he was sent to Auschwitz, and this time, rather than being marked as a "175er," he wore the red triangle of a political prisoner. At Auschwitz Karl had a lover who was Polish; his name was Zbigniew.
Karl was liberated in Auschwitz in 1945. After the war he had difficulty because of his record of having been convicted under paragraph 175.
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