Who Was Interned in Nazi Concentration Camps Before the Holocaust?

Who Was Interned in Nazi Concentration Camps Before the Holocaust?

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Concentration camps are today the most potent symbol of the Holocaust and Hitler’s attempts to wipe out all Jews within reach. But the Nazis’ very first concentration camps were actually established for a different purpose.

The first camps

After becoming chancellor of Germany in January 1933, Hitler wasted little time in laying the foundations for a brutal authoritarian regime. The Nazis immediately launched sweeping arrests, particularly targeting Communists and others deemed to be political opponents.

By the end of the year, more than 200,000 political opponents had been arrested. Whilst many were sent to typical prisons, many others were held outside the law in makeshift detention centres that became known as concentration camps.

The first of these camps opened just two months after Hitler became chancellor in an old munitions factory in Dachau, north-west of Munich. The Nazis’ foremost security agency, the SS, then went on to establish similar camps across Germany.

Himmler inspects Dachau in May 1936. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 152-11-12 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

In 1934, SS leader Heinrich Himmler centralised control of these camps and their prisoners under an agency called the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps.

By the start of World War Two, there were six concentration camps in operation in what was then known as the Greater German Reich: Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen and Ravensbrück.

The Nazis’ targets

The majority of the camps’ early prisoners were political opponents and included everyone from Social Democrats and Communists to liberals, the clergy and anyone else considered to be holding anti-Nazi beliefs. In 1933, approximately five per cent of prisoners were Jews.

Increasingly, however, the camps were used to detain non-political prisoners too.

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From the mid-1930s, the so-called Criminal Police Detective agencies began issuing preventative arrest orders to people whose behaviour was regarded as criminal – or potentially criminal – but not political. But the Nazis’ notion of “criminal” was very broad and highly subjective, and included anyone deemed to be a danger to German society and the German “race” in any way.

This meant that anyone who did not fit with the Nazi ideal of a German was at risk of being arrested. Often those detained were either homosexual, considered to be “asocial”, or a member of an ethnic minority group. Even those acquitted of criminal wrongdoing or who had been released from standard prisons were often still liable to be detained.

How many people were detained in the camps?

It is estimated that between 1933 and 1934 there were approximately 100,000 people being held in the Nazis’ makeshift camps.

However, a year after the camps were first established, most of the political opponents being held in them were referred to the state penal system. As a result, by October 1934, there were only around 2,400 prisoners in concentration camps.

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But this number began to go up again as the Nazis broadened the scope of who they were detaining. By November 1936 there were 4,700 people being held in concentration camps. In March 1937, around 2,000 ex-convicts were sent to the camps and by the end of the year the makeshift centres were holding around 7,700 prisoners.

Then, in 1938, the Nazis intensified their anti-Semitic racial policies. On 9 November, the SA and some German citizens carried out the pogrom against Jews known as “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) after the windows of Jewish business and other properties that were smashed. During the attack, approximately 26,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

By September 1939, it is estimated that around 21,000 people were being held in the camps.

What happened to the first prisoners?

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Hans Beimler, a Communist politician, was taken to Dachau in April 1933. After escaping to the USSR in May 1933, he published one of the first eyewitness accounts of the concentration camps, including some of the words spoken to him by a guard named Hans Steinbrenner:

“So, Beimler, how much longer do you propose to burden the human race with your existence? I’ve made it clear to you before that in today’s society, in Nazi Germany, you are superfluous. I’ll not stand idly by for much longer.”

Beimler’s account alludes to the horrific treatment that prisoners faced. Verbal and physical abuse was common, including beatings by guard and gruelling forced labour. Some guards even forced prisoners to commit suicide or murdered prisoners themselves, passing their deaths off as suicides to prevent investigations.

What is a Concentration Camp?

‘Concentration camps’ are difficult to define. Even the survivors of the most notorious and universally recognised camps in history discovered this problem in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Jewish children arrested in the 1942 Vélodrome d'Hiver Roundup in Paris. Many of them were taken to Drancy before being moved to Auschwitz.

W hen US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez prompted a public debate in June by using the words ‘concentration camps’ to describe detention centres at the southern US border, historians were quick to jump into the fray. Whether or not they agreed with Ocasio-Cortez hinged primarily on what definition they gave to the term. Those who conceptualised concentration camps simply as civilian mass detention facilities agreed readily with her characterisation. Others hesitated, citing the absence of certain forms of brutality or the lack of clear intent on the part of the Trump administration to create vast territorial zones of extra-legality and isolation.

‘Concentration camps’ are difficult to define in general terms. Even the survivors of the most notorious and universally recognised concentration camps in history, those of Nazi Germany, discovered this problem in the aftermath of the Second World War. The occasion was an extraordinary effort on their part to condemn the continued existence of inhumane detention systems around the world. In 1949 the French Buchenwald survivor David Rousset founded the International Commission against the Concentration Camp Regime, an organisation composed of men and women who had been interned in the Nazi camps for acts of wartime resistance. Over the course of the 1950s, this group of predominantly non-Jewish, Western European survivors carried out pioneering investigations of internment conditions in the Soviet Union, Spain, Greece, China and French Tunisia and Algeria, in order to determine whether concentration camps persisted.

Before it undertook these inquiries, however, the commission needed a cut-and-dry set of criteria – a checklist, as it were – for ascertaining whether various internment systems deserved the name ‘concentration camp’. In theory, the task should not have been difficult for this group. Every member possessed a wealth of hard-earned knowledge about the topic at hand several had written moving memoirs of Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück and other such sites where – in the words of one participant – ‘evil became virtue and good became undefinable’. Memoirs, though, could draw on metaphor, analogy and other forms of figurative speech. Producing a universal definition that clearly distinguished concentration camps from all other carceral institutions proved a different sort of task altogether.

Rousset and his followers, in contrast to many participants in this summer’s furore over Ocasio-Cortez, were not tempted to define concentration camps solely in relation to the Holocaust. Europeans around 1950 still associated the German Konzentrationslager first and foremost with the detention of resisters and other anti-Nazi ‘politicals’ rather than the mass murder of Europe’s Jewish population. (That murder was largely carried out at other sites, including dedicated death camps such as Treblinka in Poland.) Thus some commission participants initially backed a definition of concentration camps focused exclusively on civilian internment without judicial sanction others – recalling their own ordeal – urged that slave labour be the deciding criterion.

Still others rejected both of these proposals. The Belgian priest Damien Reumont, a survivor of Esterwegen in Germany, insisted that conditions similar to those of concentration camps could prevail at a detention site even if inmates had been legally arrested and duly sentenced. As for forced labour, he pointed out, not all Nazi camp detainees were compelled to work – while many inmates of ‘normal’ prisons were. Ultimately, he felt, the only meaningful criterion for identifying a concentration camp was its extreme inhumanity. At this assertion, the French ethnographer and Ravensbrück survivor Germaine Tillion revolted. ‘It is in the nature of all systems of detention’, she asserted, ‘to torment, offend, [and] wound the humanity of their victims.’ No objective line could possibly be drawn between more and less dehumanising arrangements. Thus, according to Tillion, the issue had to be set aside entirely in favour of structural features such as forced labour.

As Reumont and Tillion’s debate wore on, some commission members threw up their hands at the entire attempt at definition. ‘We bear the terms of the definition in our flesh, in our blood, in our soul’, declared Léon Mazeaud, a French Buchenwald survivor. ‘We know too well the odour of man rotting – that, there, is the concentration camp. How could we pass by it without being nauseated? We are sure we will not be mistaken.’ Most participants agreed – and yet official criteria were still deemed necessary. After more than a year of discussion, the survivors compromised on a definition that included inhumane conditions, arbitrary internment and ‘massive forced labor for the profit of the State.’ All three characteristics needed to be present for a guilty verdict. Thus the group’s effort to reconcile Reumont’s position with Tillion’s inadvertently set a very high bar – one that would not have been cleared, for instance, by the original turn-of-the-century concentration and reconcentración camps in British South Africa and Spanish Cuba. Those sites were fetid, cruel and murderous, but they did not systematically extract inmates’ labour.

Nor, of course, do immigrant detention centres in the US today. If the survivors’ commission were still in existence, would it therefore reject Ocasio-Cortez’s charge? Matters are not so simple. In fact, once the commission began its work in earnest, members overwhelmingly ignored their own criteria. From China to Algeria, they judged various global detention systems via an intuitive sense of how true concentration camps looked, sounded, felt and smelled. The official markers proved irrelevant what mattered was the nausea that rose in their throats when they inhaled ‘the odour of man rotting’.

Even when it came to retrospective assessment of their own past experiences, as the 1950s went on formal definitions proved less compelling than did the survivors’ moral instincts. One story illustrates this point in terms unnervingly germane to today’s controversy. The commission possessed a full-time legal counsellor, a French lawyer named Théo Bernard. Bernard had survived the war in Drancy, an internment and transit camp for Jews just outside Paris, and was thus only an adviser to the commission, not a member: Drancy did not qualify as a concentration camp, since no large-scale forced labour occurred there. This meant Bernard did not count as a concentration camp survivor. The young lawyer accepted this – most of the time. But whenever he wrote or spoke about the camp’s numerous unaccompanied children, he slipped. Remembering the ‘six-year-old heads of household’ who had haunted Drancy’s grounds, dragging dirty blankets, struggling to protect younger siblings, he simply could not refrain from calling the place a concentration camp. ‘I do not believe that anything worse ever existed’, he observed. And what was the phrase ‘concentration camp’ good for if not to signify this judgment?

Most historians today do deem Drancy a concentration camp. Definitions have changed. Such mutability does not mean that efforts to pin down hard-and-fast criteria – efforts like that of the International Commission in 1950 or of American scholars this past June – are futile or quixotic. We need words to possess specific meanings if they are to help us describe reality. But perhaps it is also worth admitting that, in a post-1945 world, the epithet ‘concentration camp’ possesses a rhetorical power, a moral force, that, in the end, simply exceeds definition. We do not only use it, after all, as an impartial analytical tool. Rather, we reach for it in an effort to express our disgust or dismay. We utter it in hopes of sounding the alarm that a sickeningly familiar odour, a smell reminiscent of decaying human decency, hangs heavy in the air.

Emma Kuby is the author of Political Survivors: The Resistance, the Cold War, and the Fight against Concentration Camps after 1945 (Cornell, 2019).


Pithiviers internment camp was the first concentration camp in Vichy France designed to imprison Jews during the Holocaust. (Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened on March 22, 1933 in Germany.)

Initially an abandoned train station, the prison camp was created at the start of World War II with the purpose of holding French prisoners of war. (Joseph Darnand, founder and leader of the French Militia, taken prisoner of war on June 19, 1940, was interned at the Pithiviers camp before escaping in August 1940.)

Following the Law on the status of Jews (law of October 3, 1940) which enabled the internment of Jews, the purpose of the Pithiviers internment camp expanded to include Jewish refugees [3] , then German prisoners of war. Jews detained in Pithiviers were mostly Polish expatriates living in the Paris Prefecture. Children were separated there from their parents the adults were processed and deported to concentration camps farther away. Inmates were guarded by Vichy officials acting under Nazi supervision and housed across 19 barracks. Pithiviers also held various administrative buildings, including an infirmary and canteen, and a large vegetable garden. Prisoners were forced to work both inside the camp, namely in its workshops and garden, and in outside farms and plants found in the surrounding villages. [4]

The Pithiviers camp was evacuated at the end of September 1942 and transformed into a detention camp for political prisoners until August 1944.

In 2018, France’s national rail company, SNCF, announced the allocation $2.3 million toward construction of a new museum expected to open in 2020 at the one-time camp site. With SNCF’s logistical support, some 16,000 Jews were sent to be murdered in death camps from Pithiviers station and the neighboring camp of Beaune-la-Rolande in eight transports between 1941 and 1943. SNCF made plans to work in conjunction with CRIF [5] , an umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, to restore the dilapidated Pithiviers rail station to its wartime appearance. Educational materials, including an exhibition center detailing the internment of Europe’s Jews and study rooms for visitors and school children, will be housed within the station-turned-museum. [6] (No information on the status of this museum is found at this time)

A "Memorial of the deportation of the Pithivier and Beaune la Rolande camps" is located at Square Max Jacob, 45300 Pithiviers, France.

Deportation of Jews Edit

From September 1940, under German orders, French authorities identified and maintained lists of Jews and violently plundered their belongings. Shortly thereafter, the Vichy regime publicly proclaimed the Law on the status of Jews (law of October 3, 1940) which enforced the internment of Jews. Theodor Dannecker, representative of Adolf Eichmann in Paris from September 1940 to August 1942, and Carltheo Zeitschel worked together to accelerate the exclusion of Jews by removing them from society. On April 22, 1941, Theodor Dannecker informed the regional prefect Jean-Pierre Ingrand (1905-1992), representative of the Ministry of the Interior in the occupied zone, of the transformation of the Pithiviers prison camp into an internment camp, with transfer of its management to the French authorities.

The Vichy government thus transformed the prisoner of war camp into an internment camp for the Jews arrested during the roundups. Specifically the Green Ticket Roundup (also known as the Greenback Scoop) on May 14, 1941, and then the Vel d'Hiv roundups of July 16 and 17, 1942.

When the Pithiviers internment camp was full, the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp was identified to allow for a total capacity of 5000 Jews. [7] Six convoys set out from Pithiviers on June 25, July 17 (6th convoy), July 31, August 3 and September 21, 1942, transporting 6,079 Jews to Auschwitz. There were only 115 survivors of Pithiviers internment camp, or 1.8% of the deportees.

Arrested on July 13, 1942, the novelist Irène Némirovsky, author of the unfinished novel Suite française, was transported there on July 15, 1942 before being deported on July 17 to Auschwitz by the 6th convoy. She died there a month later of the flu (according to the camp certificate), more likely of typhus.

Convoys Edit

The following convoys left from the Pithiviers internment camp to deliver Jews to Auschwitz:

  • Convoy 4 of June 25, 1942 (999 prisoners)
  • Convoy 6 of July 17 1942 (928 prisoners)
  • Convoy 13 of July 31, 1942 (1049 prisoners)
  • Convoy 14 of August 3, 1942 (1034 prisoners)
  • Convoy 16 of August 7, 1942 (1069 prisoners)
  • Convoy 35 of September 21, 1942 (1000 prisoners)
  1. ^ Nathalie Grenon, Orléans, 18 mars 2010, citée in Alexandra Derveaux, La valorisation des lieux de mémoires de la Shoah en France, entre mémoire et patrimoine culturel. [archive], p. 32, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, septembre 2010.
  2. ^ « Sur les traces de l'ancien camp de Pithiviers [archive] », Cercil, Orléans, 2008.
  3. ^"Antisemitic laws – The Holocaust Explained: Designed for schools" . Retrieved 2021-06-08 .
  4. ^
  5. Solly, Meilan. "Museum to Be Built at Site of Nazi-Occupied France's First Concentration Camp". Smithsonian Magazine . Retrieved 2021-06-08 .
  6. ^
  7. JTA. "France to build Holocaust museum at train station used in transports". www.timesofisrael.com . Retrieved 2021-06-08 .
  8. ^
  9. Solly, Meilan. "Museum to Be Built at Site of Nazi-Occupied France's First Concentration Camp". Smithsonian Magazine . Retrieved 2021-06-08 .
  10. ^
  11. Marcot, François (2003). "Denis Peschanski, La France des camps. L'internement, 1938-1946, Paris, Gallimard, 2002, 555 p". Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine. 50–4 (4): 220. doi:10.3917/rhmc.504.0220. ISSN0048-8003.

Content in this edit is translated from the existing French Wikipedia article Pithiviers internment camp see its history for attribution.

Concentration camp

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Concentration camp, internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order. Persons are placed in such camps often on the basis of identification with a particular ethnic or political group rather than as individuals and without benefit either of indictment or fair trial. Concentration camps are to be distinguished from prisons interning persons lawfully convicted of civil crimes and from prisoner-of-war camps in which captured military personnel are held under the laws of war. They are also to be distinguished from refugee camps or detention and relocation centres for the temporary accommodation of large numbers of displaced persons.

During war, civilians have been concentrated in camps to prevent them from engaging in guerrilla warfare or providing aid to enemy forces or simply as a means of terrorizing the populace into submission. During the South African War (1899–1902) the British confined noncombatants of the republics of Transvaal and Cape Colony in concentration camps. Another instance of interning noncombatant civilians occurred shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and the United States (December 7, 1941), when more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were taken into custody and placed in camps in the interior.

Political concentration camps instituted primarily to reinforce the state’s control have been established in various forms under many totalitarian regimes—most extensively in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. To a considerable extent, the camps served as the special prisons of the secret police. Nazi concentration camps were under the administration of the SS forced-labour camps of the Soviet Union were operated by a succession of organizations beginning in 1917 with the Cheka and ending in the early 1990s with the KGB.

The first German concentration camps were established in 1933 for the confinement of opponents of the Nazi Party—Communists and Social Democrats. Political opposition soon was enlarged to include minority groups, chiefly Jews, but by the end of World War II many Roma, homosexuals, and anti-Nazi civilians from the occupied territories had also been liquidated. After the outbreak of World War II the camp inmates were used as a supplementary labour supply, and such camps mushroomed throughout Europe. Inmates were required to work for their wages in food those unable to work usually died of starvation, and those who did not starve often died of overwork. The most shocking extension of this system was the establishment after 1940 of extermination centres, or “death camps.” They were located primarily in Poland, which Adolf Hitler had selected as the setting for his “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” The most notorious were Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka. (See extermination camp.) At some camps, notably Buchenwald, medical experimentation was conducted. New toxins and antitoxins were tried out, new surgical techniques devised, and studies made of the effects of artificially induced diseases, all by experimenting on living human beings.

In the Soviet Union by 1922 there were 23 concentration camps for the incarceration of persons accused of political offenses as well as criminal offenses. Many corrective labour camps were established in northern Russia and Siberia, especially during the First Five-Year Plan, 1928–32, when millions of rich peasants were driven from their farms under the collectivization program. The Stalinist purges of 1936–38 brought additional millions into the camps—said to be essentially institutions of slavery.

The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939 and the absorption of the Baltic states in 1940 led to the incarceration of large numbers of non-Soviet citizens. Following the outbreak of war with Germany in 1941, the camps received Axis prisoners of war and Soviet nationals accused of collaboration with the enemy. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, many prisoners were released and the number of camps was drastically reduced.See alsoGulag.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.

Dachau Concentration Camp: History & Overview

Established in March 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first regular concentration camp established by the Nazis in Germany. The camp was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, which is located in southern Germany. Heinrich Himmler, in his capacity as police president of Munich, officially described the camp as &ldquothe first concentration camp for political prisoners.&rdquo

Dachau served as a prototype and model for other Nazi concentration camps that followed. Its basic organization, camp layout as well as the plan for the buildings were developed by Kommandant Theodor Eicke and were applied to all later camps. He had a separate secure camp near the command center, which consisted of living quarters, administration, and army camps. Eicke himself became the chief inspector for all concentration camps, responsible for molding the others according to his model.

During the first year, the camp held about 4,800 prisoners and by 1937 the number had risen to 13,260. Initially the internees consisted primarily of German Communists, Social Democrats, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. Over time, other groups were also interned at Dachau such as Jehovah&rsquos Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), and homosexuals, as well as &ldquoasocials&rdquo and repeat criminals. During the early years relatively few Jews were interned in Dachau and usually because they belonged to one of the above groups or had completed prison sentences after being convicted for violating the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.

The main gate leading to the Dachau concentration camp

In early 1937, the SS, using prisoner labor, initiated construction of a large complex of buildings on the grounds of the original camp. Prisoners were forced to do this work, starting with the destruction of the old munitions factory, under terrible conditions. The construction was officially completed in mid-August 1938 and the camp remained essentially unchanged until 1945. Dachau thus remained in operation for the entire period of the Third Reich. The area in Dachau included other SS facilities beside the concentration camp&mdasha leader school of the economic and civil service, the medical school of the SS, etc. The KZ (Konzentrationslager) at that time was called a &ldquoprotective custody camp,&rdquo and occupied less than half of the area of the entire complex.

The number of Jewish prisoners at Dachau rose with the increased persecution of Jews and on November 10-11, 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, more than 10,000 Jewish men were interned there. (Most of men in this group were released after incarceration of a few weeks to a few months.)

The Dachau camp was a training center for SS concentration camp guards, and the camp&rsquos organization and routine became the model for all Nazi concentration camps. The camp was divided into two sections &mdash the camp area and the crematoria area. The camp area consisted of 32 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one reserved for medical experiments. The camp administration was located in the gatehouse at the main entrance. The camp area had a group of support buildings, containing the kitchen, laundry, showers, and workshops, as well as a prison block (Bunker). The courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for the summary execution of prisoners. An electrified barbed-wire fence, a ditch, and a wall with seven guard towers surrounded the camp.

In 1942, the crematorium area was constructed next to the main camp. It included the old crematorium and the new crematorium (Barrack X) with a gas chamber. There is no credible evidence that the gas chamber in Barrack X was used to murder human beings. Instead, prisoners underwent &ldquoselection&rdquo those who were judged too sick or weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim &ldquoeuthanasia&rdquo killing center near Linz, Austria. Several thousand Dachau prisoners were murdered at Hartheim. Further, the SS used the firing range and the gallows in the crematoria area as killing sites for prisoners.

In Dachau, as in other Nazi camps, German physicians performed medical experiments on prisoners, including high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber, malaria and tuberculosis experiments, hypothermia experiments, and experiments testing new medications. Prisoners were also forced to test methods of making seawater potable and of halting excessive bleeding. Hundreds of prisoners died or were permanently crippled as a result of these experiments.

Prisoners were tortured in other ways as well. For exaample, prisoners would be hung on a tree with their arms strung up behind them to maximize the pain. As in other camps, prisoners were forced to stand for long periods while a roll call was conducted. The camp orchestra would play and the SS sometimes made the prisoners sing.

Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers. At first, they were employed in the operation of the camp, in various construction projects, and in small handicraft industries established in the camp. Prisoners built roads, worked in gravel pits, and drained marshes. During the war, forced labor utilizing concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important to German armaments production.

Dachau also served as the central camp for Christian religious prisoners. According to records of the Roman Catholic Church, at least 3,000 religious, deacons, priests, and bishops were imprisoned there.

In August 1944 a women&rsquos camp opened inside Dachau. Its first shipment of women came from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 19 women guards served at Dachau, most of them until liberation.

The prisoner's barracks at Dachau in 1945

In the last months of the war, the conditions at Dachau became even worse. As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to move prisoners in concentration camps near the front to more centrally located camps. They hoped to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau. After days of travel with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, often near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem as a result of overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, insufficient provisions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.

Owing to continual new transportations from the front, the camp was constantly overcrowded and the hygiene conditions were beneath human dignity. Starting from the end of 1944 up to the day of liberation, 15,000 people died, about half of all victims in KZ Dachau. Five hundred Soviet POWs were executed by firing squad.

In the summer and fall of 1944, to increase war production, satellite camps under the administration of Dachau were established near armaments factories throughout southern Germany. Dachau alone had more than 30 large subcamps in which over 30,000 prisoners worked almost exclusively on armaments. Thousands of prisoners were worked to death.

Commanders of Dachau

  • SS-Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle (03/22/1933 - 06/26/1933)
  • SS-Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke (06/26/1933 - 04/07/1934)
  • SS-Oberführer Alexander Reiner (04/07/1934 - 10/22/1934)
  • SS-Brigadeführer Berthold Maack (10/22/1934 - 01/12/1934)
  • SS-Oberführer Heinrich Deubel (01/12/1934 - 03/31/1936)
  • SS-Oberführer Hans Loritz (03/31/1936 - 01/07/1939)
  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Alex Piorkowski (01/07/1939 - 01/02/1942)
  • SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiss (01/03/1942 - 09/30/1943)
  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Weiter (09/30/1943 - 04/26/1945)
  • SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiss (04/26/1945 - 04/28/1945)
  • SS-Untersturmführer Johannes Otto (04/28/1945 - 04/28/1945)
  • SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker (04/28/1945 - 04/29/1945)

The Liberation of Dachau

As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to more prisoners from concentration camps near the front to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of conditions. After days of travel, with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.

On April 26, 1945, as American forces approached, there were 67,665 registered prisoners in Dachau and its subcamps. Of these, 43,350 were categorized as political prisoners, while 22,100 were Jews, with the remainder falling into various other categories. Starting that day, the Germans forced more than 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee far to the south. During the death march, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue many also died of hunger, cold, or exhaustion.

On April 29, 1945, KZ Dachau was surrendered to the American Army by SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker. A vivid description of the surrender appears in Brig. Gen. Henning Linden&rsquos official &ldquoReport on Surrender of Dachau Concentration Camp&rdquo:

As we moved down along the west side of the concentration camp and approached the southwest corner, three people approached down the road under a flag of truce. We met these people about 75 yards north of the southwest entrance to the camp. These three people were a Swiss Red Cross representative and two SS troopers who said they were the camp commander and assistant camp commander and that they had come into the camp on the night of the 28th to take over from the regular camp personnel for the purpose of turning the camp over to the advancing Americans. The Swiss Red Cross representative acted as interpreter and stated that there were about 100 SS guards in the camp who had their arms stacked except for the people in the tower. He said he had given instructions that there would be no shots fired and it would take about 50 men to relieve the guards, as there were 42,000 half-crazed prisoners of war in the camp, many of them typhus infected. He asked if I were an officer of the American army, to which I replied, &ldquoYes, I am Assistant Division Commander of the 42d Division and will accept the surrender of the camp in the name of the Rainbow Division for the American army.&rdquo

Liberated Dachau camp prisoners cheer U.S. troops

As they neared the camp, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition. In early May 1945, American forces liberated the prisoners who had been sent on the death march.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a communique over the capture of Dachau concentration camp: &ldquoOur forces liberated and mopped up the infamous concentration camp at Dachau. Approximately 32,000 prisoners were liberated 300 SS camp guards were quickly neutralized.&rdquo

A tablet at the camp commemorates the liberation of Dachau by the 42nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army on 29 April 1945. Others claim that the first forces to enter the main camp were a battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division commanded by Felix L. Sparks. There is an on-going disagreement as to which division, the 42nd or the 45th, actually liberated Dachau because they seem to have approached by different routes and by the American Army&rsquos definition, anyone arriving at such a camp within 48 hours was a liberator. General Patton visited the Buchenwald camp after it was liberated, but not Dachau.

The Americans found approximately 32,000 prisoners, crammed 1,600 to each of 20 barracks, which had been designed to house 250 people each.

The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000. The number of prisoners who died in the camp and the subcamps between January 1940 and May 1945 was at least 28,000, to which must be added those who perished there between 1933 and the end of 1939. It is unlikely that the total number of victims who died in Dachau will ever be known.

On November 2, 2014 the heavy metal gate bearing the slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work sets you free) was stolen from the Dachau memorial site under cover of darkness. Security officials who supposedly keep a 24 hour watch on the memorial site believe that the heist was well orchestrated and planned out, and took place between the hours of midnight and 5:30am on Sunday November 2. Estimates place the weight of the gate at at least 250 lbs, so officials believe that multiple people took part in the theft.

Sources: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
&ldquoDachau concentration camp,&rdquo Wikipedia
David Chrisinger, &ldquoA Secret Diary Chronicled the &lsquoSatanic World&rsquo That Was Dachau,&rdquo New York Times, (September 4, 2020).

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Triangles and Tribulations: The Politics of Nazi Symbols

Author retains copyrights 1996, All Rights Reserved. Please do not use without the expressed written permission of the author.

R. Amy Elman is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kalamazoo College where she teaches on the Holocaust and other European issues from a feminist perspective.

The author wishes to thank Katinka Strom, Marigene Arnold, Peter L. Corrigan, Gail Griffin, and Donna Hughes for encouraging her work in this area.

Correspondence may be addressed: Department of Political Science, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, MI 49006. Or, [email protected]

ABSTRACT: This article explores the politics of “reclamation.” Its focus is on pink and black triangles, currently used as symbols for gay and lesbian pride and liberation. Previously, these same identifiers were worn by those destined for annihilation during the Holocaust. I suggest that, in [re]claiming these markers, activists, however well intentioned, run a path dangerously close to historical denial.

I stood before a t-shirt shop in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. There, hanging in the window was a white t- shirt emblazoned with a tree. Within the tree a pink triangle dangled like a leaf from a branch. Beneath the graphic, the designer inscribed: “The family tree stops here.” This specific attempt to embrace comically an alternative to conventional heterosexuality struck me as tragic as the ever-homophobic Nazi Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the SS, who exclaimed, “We must exterminate these people root and branch. . . . the homosexual must be eliminated” (Plant, 1986, p. 99). Apparently unaware that gay men (and lesbians) can procreate through the sexually uncomplicated procedure of intercourse, Himmler depicted the homosexual man as a “traitor to his own people” who must be “rooted out” for his failure to reproduce. Consciousness of the Holocaust fades. Amnesia cloaks the distasteful irony of contemporary jest.

First adopted by American gay men in the early 1970s after the Stonewall riots of 1969, the pink triangle is now promoted by many as an international symbol of gay and lesbian pride and liberation. (1) This article explores the history associated with this symbol and argues against its use as an affirmation of gay identity more generally and lesbian identity in particular. Because the pink, down-turned triangle served as a distinctive emblem of Nazi heterosexism which signified and even hastened the destruction of gay men, I argue that it should be abandoned as a positive symbol for the movement. Like all Nazi symbols, the pink triangle is unregenerate. Moreover, the lesbian adoption of pink triangles conceals the specific struggles associated with being lesbian by conflating the experiences of lesbians with those of gay men.

As Julia Penelope notes: “Our invisibility, even to ourselves, is at least partially due to the fact that our identity is subsumed by two groups: women and gaymen” (1992, p. 48). Consequently, the truths of lesbian history and present being often dissipate because lesbianism itself, autonomously, is rendered socially unthinkable (Frye, 1983 Hoagland, 1988 Raymond, 1986, 1989 Robson, 1992). This condition is exacerbated by the gender-neutrality of the “queer melting pot” (Miriam, 1993). Lesbians have lost their autonomy (i.e., their “lesbian nation”) and, not coincidentally, their distinctive symbol of pride. The lavender two women symbol is nearly extinct.

It is unseemly that girls and women long taunted by forced pink, feminine identifiers are now, as lesbians, to believe that a pink triangle signifies gendered rebellion. Failure to critically assess this situation contributes to an ever-increasing inability to distinguish between those strategies and associations that enhance visible integrity with those that seek to destroy it.


The Third Reich utilized a myriad of colored triangles to classify the various groups of peoples they interned in concentration camps. (2) The colors of the triangles were as follows: red for political dissidents, green for criminals, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, blue for emigrants, brown for Gypsies, black for lesbians and other “anti-socials,” and pink for homosexual men. The pink triangles symbolized the femaleness of this group of detainees whose masculinity was diminished within the context of Nazi heterosexism. Additionally, the pink triangles were generally larger than other triangles because the Nazis wished gay men to be especially visible (Rector, 1981). Jews, by contrast, were marked by six-pointed, yellow Stars of David within which the word “Jew” was inscribed.(3)

Pink triangles identified the thousands of gay men who were sent to concentration camps as �ers.” (4) The number 175 refers to the paragraph within the penal code, adopted in 1871, that criminalized male homosexuality. The law was later broadened by the Nazis in 1935 to include any form of “lewdness” between two men. This meant that “as little as a mere kiss or an embrace, or even fiction with homoerotic content” was a crime for which the “criminal” was to serve six months (Fernbach, 1980, p. 11). After 1936, homosexual men were deported to concentration camps, and while at no time were they sent en masse, as gay men, to the extermination camps of Auschwitz, few survived the concentration camps. (5) Still, the persecution of gay men was never “wholesale or systematic” (Oosterhuis, 1991, p. 248). Unlike Jews, whose religious affiliation was routinely noted on birth certificates, or leftists, whose political sympathies were determined by party lists, gay men were not as readily identifiable. More importantly, “homosexuals were the only group . . . not singled out for immediate extermination in countries conquered by Nazis . . .” (Plant, 1986, p. 100). This was because Himmler believed that “homosexuality among subject peoples would hasten their . . . demise” (Plant, 1986, p. 99). Consequently, non-German homosexuals were often not punished as were their German counterparts. Indeed, during the Olympic Games of 1936, some Berlin gay bars were permitted to reopen and police were ordered not to bother foreign gay visitors (Plant, 1986, p. 110 Rector, 1981).

The regime’s reaction to male homosexuality was not uncomplicated. Although male homosexuality was vigorously denounced and out(ed) gay men usually paid the penalty with their lives, homoeroticism was a central component of “male bonding” within the Reich’s all-male paramilitary organizations (e.g., the brown-shirted SA, Sturmabteilung [storm troops], Hitler Youth, and even the elite black-uniformed SS, Schutzstaffel [defence echelon]). (6) When complaints of blatant homosexual behavior within the SA reached Hitler, he stated that the private lives of officers “cannot be an object of scrutiny unless it conflicts with basic principles of National Socialist ideology” (Plant, 1986, p. 61). It was only when the SA proved unruly that Hitler demanded the killing of his gay SA chief Ernst Rohm and the immediate expulsion of other gay men from the SA and the Nazi party. Nonetheless, homoeroticism continued to characterize the nationalist propaganda that fueled the movement (Theweleit, 1987). “Some homosexual artists even enjoyed the protection of Nazi functionaries” (Oosterhuis, 1991, p. 248). Moreover, even the interactions that Hitler had with his immediate subordinates were tinged with an element of the homoerotic. Hermann Göring once said of Hitler, “Every time I face him, my heart falls into my trousers” (Leidholdt, 1983, p. 21). Throughout the reign of the Third Reich, many distinguished gay men lived undisturbed in Germany while thousands of others perished in concentration camps.

The Nazis did not unanimously regard male homosexuals as biological degenerates. Many believed that homosexuality was a contagious, though curable, social disease. Indeed, barely 2 percent of those found guilty of being gay were considered “incorrigible.” “Re-education” provided a possible cure for the majority of others (Oosterhuis, 1991, p. 249). Heinz Heger, who was interned first at Sachsenhausen and later in Flossenberg, explains it was thought that “those of us in the pink triangle category [could] be ‘cured’ of our homosexual disposition by compulsory regular visits to the brothel” (1980, p. 96). There the Nazis forced Jewish and Gypsy women into sexual slavery and watched to determine if the �ers” had been sufficiently cured. Castrations and injections of testosterone were also used to “convert” gay men to heterosexuality (Heger, 1980 Plant, 1986).


The fact that the pink triangle is regarded as a symbol of gay and lesbian liberation is disturbing because pink triangles were exclusively worn by those men the Nazis had identified as gay. (7) By contrast, “The average lesbian enjoyed a kind of legal immunity” (Plant, 1986, p. 27). This was not the result of a greater acceptance of lesbianism. Rather, love between women was so intolerable that lesbian existence had been vociferously denied. Later, in 1910, measures to criminalize lesbians were considered but then promptly abandoned. Feminist opposition proved politically effective (Faderman & Eriksson, 1990, p. xv Steakley, 1975, p. 42). (8) Consequently, paragraph 175 never extended to lesbians. Yet, as we will note below, male-dominated society would find “more suitable ways to suppress any kind of female independence” (Fernbach, 1980, p. 10 [my emphasis]). (9)

The most effective way to render lesbians powerless was to sever their connection(s) to other women. With the rise of Nazism, lesbian meeting places and private homes were raided and their visibility was concealed (Faderman & Eriksson, 1990, p. xx). (10) “Lesbians,” writes Irene Reti, “were among those women imprisoned as asocials considered a threat to German society before 1939” (1993, p. 95). (11) All asocials were identified through black down-turned triangles. These detainees “were considered stupid, unable to communicate, lacking the courage to stand up for a brother [sic]” (Plant, 1986, p. 160). The SS “despised” them because “the color of their triangles was an insult to their own black uniforms” (Plant, 1986, p. 160).

It is politically significant that the asocial category was not exclusively lesbian it was a diverse grouping that included prostitutes, vagrants, murderers, thieves, and those who violated laws prohibiting sexual intercourse between Aryans and Jews. Precisely because the asocial group was so heterogeneous, lesbians were not as readily identifiable as were gay men whose pink marking exclusively signified their homosexuality. Universalizing the pink triangle today renders lesbians almost as invisible as the black triangles did in the past. Failure to appreciate this obscures some vital aspects of fascist history.

Even within the newly established Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. one is unable to find any accurate information on lesbians. (12) The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust is accessible via the museum’s computer center. Search commands involving the word “lesbian” execute the release of information that focuses exclusively on male homosexuals. The pink triangle and paragraph 175 appear on screen as if one could assume that both the triangle and the law extended to lesbians. At a time when Holocaust deniers readily prey on any errors and use them to explode the credibility of scholarship concerning the Holocaust, one must be exceedingly careful with the facts.

In an attempt at historical accuracy, some lesbians wear black triangles. It is understandable why a lesbian, possessing a desire for historical precision, might wish to regard herself as the descendant of black-triangled women as distinguished from pink- triangled men. Yet, this is an unsatisfactory solution because the issue of historical accuracy is inextricably linked to an ethical question that is too rarely asked and impossible to answer definitively. Still, that question, put simply, is this: Is it not unethical to suggest that a symbol whose horrific use has denoted the destruction of a group of people be claimed as a symbol of liberation? And, what might it be like for survivors to witness the sight of what to them is so brutal a symbol?

While young gay men and lesbians have the luxury to put on and take off the symbol of hatred that the pink and black triangles represent to many of us, those who have survived the camps cannot erase the tattooed numbers from their skins. They are as permanent and painful as the memories that cannot be extinguished.


The Jewish community does not wear yellow stars. That is not because anti-semitism is dead. (13) Rather, the Jewish community rightfully rejects for itself anti-semitic emblems and labels. The community is very much aware of the politics of symbolism. In the first stages of anti-semitic policy, the Nazis insisted on undoing assimilation. The Zionists, by contrast, insisted that Jews combat anti-semitism by displaying “their Jewishness with pride” (Dawidowicz, 1986, p. 176).

In response to the first organized ban on Jewish businesses on Boycott Day, April 1, 1933, Zionists insisted that Jews wear the yellow star and “Wear it With Pride.” (14) This statement, issued by Robert Weltsch, editor of a Jewish newspaper, was one of the most popular slogans issued at the time — “more than six years before the Nazis actually forced the Jews to wear the badge” (Arendt, 1977, p. 59). The slogan was specifically directed against the assimilationists, whom the Zionists blamed for betraying the Jewish community. (15)

In hindsight, Weltsch later stated that “he would never have issued his slogan if he had been able to foresee the developments” (Arendt, 1977, p. 59). Ironically, the star facilitated the enforcement of residence and movement restrictions for Jews. It was an additional control measure that permitted police to detain any Jew, anywhere, at any time. More importantly, “identification had a paralyzing effect” on the Jewish community. Constantly identifiable and scrutinized, Jews became more docile and responsive to Nazi orders than ever before. This, the Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg suggests, was the most devastating function served by the yellow star (1961, p. 121).


It is incongruous that those pursuing liberation can reflect upon the past and insist, as Robert Weltsch could not, that any Nazi symbol can be utilized with pride for the purpose of liberation. With the exception of gay men, no other group that has survived the camps has proudly claimed the identifier that denoted their demise. Yet, unlike any other persecuted group, the requests of gay men to be commemorated as the victims of Nazism has gone largely ignored (Heger, 1980, pp. 114-115 Rector, 1981, pp. 139-141). This is not because historians dispute their victimization “but because most seem not to care” (Rector, 1981, p. 123). While the refusal to acknowledge Nazi tyranny against gay men is inexcusable, embracing the symbols of such persecution is likely to offer affirmation only among those ignorant of or careless with the past. Indeed, the adoption of such symbols might have the unintended consequence of concealing rather than promoting consciousness of the Holocaust. (16)

The feminist philosopher and Holocaust scholar, Joan Ringelheim, asks: “Can we so blithely reclaim and make right what has caused so much oppression without some careful scrutiny of our motives and politics?” She considers the use of words like “kike” and “faggot” to suggest that attempts at “reclamation” cannot be accomplished “without retaining some of the negativity that infests and infects the oppressor’s use of the words” (Ringelheim, 1993, p. 386). Similarly, I claim that the “transformed” pink (or black) triangle cannot be altered through “reclamation.” The down-turned triangles never really belonged to those marked by them in the way that “reclaiming” would suggest. Furthermore, in utilizing them as a symbol of pride one is implicitly promoting a denial of their horrific dimension. Consequently, wearing Nazi triangles may even be interpreted as a form of revisionism.

Why not, instead, adopt the symbols of life and love rather than sadism and destruction? Why has the rebellious color become pink and not lavender? Why not two male symbols or two women’s symbols? The answer, in part, may be historical ignorance. It may also be internalized heterosexism the willingness to embrace the very symbols of one’s destruction reflects an incredible degree of hatred and self-contempt. In an age of AIDS and historical revisionism, it is frighteningly coincidental that the current identifiers are symbols from a period of death and totalitarianism. The triangles cannot be extricated from their use in concentration camps where, to quote one survivor, “love became corrupt excitement for the slaves and sadistic entertainment for the overseers” (Lengyel, 1993, p. 129).

One cannot effectively eliminate oppression by mimicking the language, actions, and symbols of the oppressor. To best avoid the “valorization of the oppressor” (Ringelheim, 1993), we need our own spaces, language, and symbols if we are ever to claim a future that is markedly different from the past. In “repackaging” the cruel symbols of Nazism, we do not transcend the parameters established by them rather we delude ourselves into thinking we have control– we become complacent and perhaps complicitous in our own undoing.

1. In a political culture that Americanizes history, sexualizes dominance and is undeniably imperialistic, this should come as no surprise. For a thoughtful examination of the Americanization of the Holocaust, read Paul Gourevitch’s (1993) article on the National Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has several significant insights, including the resemblance of particular exhibits to peep-shows.

2. For Hebrews, the triangle was a symbol of truth (Cirlot, 1962, p. 223). Within cosmic, geometric symbolism, triangles symbolize connection between heaven and earth (Cirlot, 1962, p. 16). In the Greek sacred alphabet, triangles represented the vulva of the “Mother Delta” (Walker, 1983, p. 1016). It is understandable, given the Nazi’s contempt for truth, Jews, and all that is female, that the Third Reich utilized the triangle, down-turned, to denigrate those whom they forced to wear them.

3. Jewish gay men were forced to wear a yellow triangle beneath the pink one. From this combination, the six-pointed Jewish star of David was formed. Additionally, Jewish communists wore the yellow triangle beneath the red and so on (Rector, 1981, pp. 131-132).

4. Harry Oosterhuis notes that German researchers estimate that between 5,000 to 15,000 gay men died in these camps (1991, p. 248). This figure does not include those who were interned and later released.

5. For one of the few primary accounts, read Heger’s The Men with the Pink Triangle (1980).

6. The SA was Hitler’s mass paramilitary organization that proved particularly important before his seizure of power. It was organized to protect Nazi meetings, oppose rival political parties (often through street brawls), and distribute propaganda. The SS was relatively elitist. It was a fighting force that also ran the concentration camps.

7. The Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Los Angeles reports: “One of the major problems of the Nazis’ treatment of the homosexuals is the lack of authentically documented material on the subject” (in Rector, 1981, p. 108). As little documentation as there is on male homosexuals in the camps, there is even less on lesbians. While Heinz Heger provides an invaluable memoir of gay survival (1980), we have no lesbian account. And because gay men were formally criminalized and conspicuously categorized by pink triangles, they were visible. Consequently, there are some references to their treatment within the camps. By contrast, lesbians were “hidden behind a double veil of hypocrisy and silence” (Laska, 1993, p. 264). This section explores this concealment.

8. For example, the League for the Protection of Maternity and Sexual Reform adopted a resolution in 1911 that termed the proposal to criminalize lesbians a “grave error” that would merely “double injustice” (Steakley, 1975, p. 42).

9. Gay men were, and are, conceived as singularly synonymous with “homosexual” and publicly persecuted as such via criminal proceedings contempt for lesbians, then as now, was expressed through concealment and a “repudiation of women who organize in their own behalf to achieve public presence, significance, power, [and] visible integrity” (Dworkin, 1993, p. 28).

10. Prior to this, there were approximately 60 meeting places for lesbians in Berlin as well as an exclusively lesbian paper, The Girlfriend: Weekly for the Ideal Friendship (Faderman & Eriksson, 1990, p. xxi).

11. Thereafter, the war against them abated as almost all efforts focused on the extermination of European Jewry.

12. Andrea Dworkin writes: “In the museum, the story of women is missing” (1994, p. 54).

13. For a comprehensive survey of antisemitism in the United States from colonialism to the present, read Dinnerstein (1994).

14. It is interesting to note that the yellow badge originated as a symbol of official protection during the Middle Ages when it was occasionally extended to Jews within Muslim lands. The badge served as a reminder to Muslims that it was forbidden to attack Jews (Biale, 1987, p. 67). The badge, thus, simultaneously distinguished and protected Jews. This history is likely to have, in part, inspired the Zionists to adopt this particular symbol.

15. In turn, assimilationists blamed Zionists for their persecution. They asserted that Zionists, who insisted on their distinctiveness as Jews, were an obstacle to peaceful co- existence. Moreover, assimilationists insisted that Jews remain faithful to the “German spirit” (Dawidowicz, 1986, p. 174). Both Zionists and assimilationists failed to note that the grave error they had committed was not in their conduct (to assimilate and be German or be Jewish with pride), but to have been born Jews (Elman, 1989). With the privilege of hindsight, one may note, as did Sartre, that “the true opponent of assimilation is not the Jew but the anti-Semite…” (Sartre, 1969, p. 143).

16. Over the last few years I have often asked those wearing pink triangles to explain their meaning. Rarely have I received an accurate answer. Most reply only that the triangle symbolizes gay and lesbian pride. Moreover, with the exception of Holocaust survivors who I have heard object to its being worn, those outside of the gay and lesbian communities are even less familiar with the historical associations of the triangle. I strongly suspect that one of the appeals of this symbol is precisely its obscurity. That is, the pink triangle is a “discreet” signifier.

Sachsenhausen (German pronunciation: [zaksənˈhaʊzən]) is a district of the town Oranienburg, 35 kilometres north of Berlin. The district’s name means ‘Houses of the Saxons’. It was notorious as the site of the Nazi concentration camp also called Sachsenhausen which ran from 1936 to 1945.

Canada and the United States have classified the internment camps as genocide….

Xinjiang internment camps
Location Xinjiang, China
Built by Chinese Communist Party Government of China
Operated by Xinjiang government and Party committee
Operational Since 2017

Terezin Concentration Camp: History & Overview

As Hitler transported tens of thousands of communal objects to Prague, their owners were rounded up and shipped first to a city built northwest of Prague in 1780 by Joseph II. Ironically, this city served as a fortress to protect Prague from invaders to the north. Joseph II named this village after his mother, Maria Teresia, calling it Terezin.

Hitler, the world was to be told, had built a city for the Jews, to protect them from the vagaries and stresses of the war. A film was made to show this mythic, idyllic city to which his henchmen were taking the Jews from the Czech Lands and eight other countries. Notable musicians, writers, artists, and leaders were sent there for &ldquosafer&rdquo keeping than was to be afforded elsewhere in Hitler&rsquos quest to stave off any uprisings or objections around the so-called civilized world. This ruse worked for a very long time, to the great detriment of the nearly two hundred thousand men, women and children who passed through its gates as a way station to the east and probable death.

The Red Cross was allowed to visit Terezin once. The village of Terezin was spruced up for the occasion. Certain inmates were dressed up and told to stand at strategic places along the specially designated route through Terezin. Shop windows along that carefully guarded path were filled with goods for the day. One young mother remembers seeing the bakery window and shelves suddenly filled with baked goods the inmates had never seen during their time at Terezin. Even the candy shop window overflowed with bon bons creating a fantastic illusion she would never forget.

When the Red Cross representative appeared before this young mother, she remembers being asked how it was to live in Terezin during those days. Her reply implored the questioner to look around. Be sure and look around, as she herself rolled her own widely opened eyes around in an exaggerated manner. The Red Cross reported dryly that while war time conditions made all life difficult, life at Terezin was acceptable given all of the pressures. The Red Cross concluded that the Jews were being treated all right.

There were so many musicians in Terezin, there could have been two full symphony orchestras performing simultaneously daily. In addition, there were a number of chamber orchestras playing at various times. A number of distinguished composers created works at Terezin including Brundibar or the Bumble Bee, a children&rsquos operetta and a number of chamber compositions which only now are being resurrected and played in Europe and the United States.

Terezin developed a deep feeling of family according to many of the survivors. As larger numbers of people were crammed into smaller spaces, a sense of community deepened. In the town of Terezin, the population had normally been around 5,000 people before the war. At the height of the war, the Ghetto/Concentration Camp Terezin held over 55,000 Jews. As a consequence, starvation and disease proved rampant. Thousands died of malnutrition and exposure. Their bodies were cremated at the small crematorium with its four gas ovens.

This was not a death camp, by the usual definition. There is no way to compare Terezin to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Treblinka or any of the other death camps where hundreds of thousands were gassed or murdered in other ways each year. Terezin, by comparison was a place to which people would apply so as to avoid a worse fate.

The elderly and families were brought in large numbers to Terezin. Then, in large groups, they were transported to the east, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, when it was fully operational in late 1942. There, the elderly were sent immediately to the gas chambers while the younger inmates who still could work, were temporarily spared. Terezin families were, in some instances, kept together at Birkenau, in family barracks, until their fate was met.

The Little Fortress at Terezin, a star-shaped thick-walled fortress, had long served as a prison. Few people were incarcerated here from the time it was opened in 1780 to Hitler, the one exception being the assassins of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in 1914. The Nazis brought political prisoners and others to this hellish place never to emerge again. It was here that the Jewish artists were sent after having been caught stealing paper and other supplies with which they produced writings that recorded daily life in Terezin. It was their work which allowed the outside world to know dramatically about life in Terezin.

These artists also stole materials so the children could surreptitiously create their works of art. Six thousand drawings were hidden and later successfully retrieved to be displayed telling their poignant stories to thousands of viewers in Prague, Israel and at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Between October 16, 1941, and liberation on May 8, 1945, more than 155,000 Jews passed through Theresienstadt. Roughly 80 percent of them died &ndash 35,440 perished in the ghetto and 88,000 were deported to be murdered. Fewer than 3,100 of these deportees are known to have survived. More than 2,400 either escaped or were released by the Germans in 1945. When Soviet troops entered Theresienstadt on May 9, 1945, they found 16,832 Jews. After liberation, more than 1,500 died. Altogether, approximately 263,000 Czech Jews perished during the war, including 15,000 children. Only 132 children were known to have survived. Today, the names of the victims are displayed on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue.

In June 2018, a new monument was unveiled at the site of the camp to honor the victims of the Holocaust.

Sources: Copyright © Project Judaica Foundation
&ldquoAt Unveiling of New Terezin Monument, European Jewish Leader Warns &lsquoLessons of Holocaust Have Been Forgotten,&rsquo&rdquo Algemeiner, (June 4, 2018).

Homosexuals & the Holocaust: Homosexuals & the Third Reich

&ldquoAfter 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!' We stood on the desolate, broad square, and from somewhere a warm summer breeze carried the sweet fragrance of resin and wood from the regions of freedom but we couldn't taste it, because our throats were hot and dry from fear. Then the guardhouse door of the command tower opened, and an SS officer and some of his lackeys strode toward us. Our detail commander barked: 'Three hundred criminal deviants, present as ordered!&rdquo We were registered, and then it was revealed to us that in accordance with an order from the Reichsfuhrung SS, our category was to be isolated in an intensified-penalty company, and we would be transferred as a unit to the Klinker Brickworks the next morning. The Klinker factory! We shuddered, for the human death mill was more than feared.&rdquo

Appallingly little information is available on the situation of homosexuals in Nazi Germany. Many historians have hinted darkly at the &ldquounspeakable practices&rdquo of a Nazi elite supposedly overrun with &ldquosexual perverts,&rdquo but this charge is both unsubstantiated and insidious. Upon closer examination, it turns out to be no more than the standard use of anti­gay prejudice to defame any given individual or group ­­ a practice, incidentally, of which the Nazis were the supreme masters. The Nazis were guilty of very real offences, but their unspeakable practices were crimes against mankind.

That homosexuals were major victims of these crimes is mentioned in only a few of the standard histories of the period. And those historians who do mention the facts seem reluctant to dwell on the subject and turn quickly to the fate of other minorities in Nazi Germany. Yet tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of homosexuals were interned in Nazi concentration camps. They were consigned to the lowest position in the camp hierarchy, and subjected to abuse by both guards and fellow prisoners most of them perished.

The words at the beginning of this article were written by one concentration camp survivor, LD Classen von Neudegg, who published some of his recollections in a German homophile magazine in the Fifties. Here are a few more excerpts from his account of the treatment of homosexuals in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen:

&ldquoWe had been here for almost two months, but it seemed like endless years to us. When we were 'transferred' here, we had numbered around three hundred men. Whips were used more frequently each morning, when we were forced down into the clay pits under the wailing of the camp sirens. 'Only fifty are sill alive,' whispered the man next to me. 'Stay in the middle -then you won't get hit so much.'

&ldquo. (The escapees) had been brought back. 'Homo' was scrawled scornfully across their clothing for their last walk through the camp. To increase their thirst, they were forced to eat oversalted food, and then they were placed on the block and whipped. Afterwards, drums were hung around their necks, which they had to beat while shouting, 'Hurrah, we're back!' The three men were hanged.

&ldquo. Summer, 1944. One morning there was an eruption of restlessness among the patients of the hospital barracks where I worked. Fear and uncertainty had arisen from rumours about new measures on the part of the SS hospital administration. At the administrator's order, the courier of the political division had requisitioned certain medical records, and now he arrived at the camp for delivery. Fever charts shot up the sick were seized with a gnawing fear. After a few days, the awful mystery of the records was solved. Experiments had been ordered involving living subjects and phosphorus: methods of treating phosphorus burns were to be developed and tested. I must be silent about the effects of this series of experiments, which proceeded with unspeakable pain, fear, blood and tears: for it is impossible to put the misery into words.&rdquo

Dr. Neudegg's recollections are confirmed in many details by the memoirs of Rudolf Hoss, adjunct and commander of the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and, later, Auschwitz. Neudegg's account is something of a rarity: the few homosexuals who managed to survive internment have tended to hide the fact, largely because homosexuality continued to be a crime in postwar West Germany. This is also the reason why homosexuals have been denied any compensation by the otherwise munificent West German government.

The number of homosexuals who died in Nazi concentration camps is unknown and likely to remain so. Although statistics are available on the number of men brought to trial on charges of &ldquolewd and unnatural behaviour,&rdquo many more were sent to camps without the benefit of a trial. Moreover, many homosexuals were summarily executed by firing squads this was particularly the case with gays in the military ­­ which encompassed nearly every able-bodied man during the final years of the war. Finally, many concentration camps systematically destroyed all their records when it became apparent that German defeat was imminent.

* * *

The beginning of the Nazi terror against homosexuals was marked by the murder of Ernst Rohm on June 30, 1934: "the Night of the Long Knives. "Rohm was the man who, in 1919, first made Hitler aware of his own political potential, and the two were close friends for fifteen years. During that time, Rohm rose to SA Chief of Staff, transforming the Brownshirt militia from a handful of hardened goons and embittered ex-soldiers into an effective fighting force five hundred thousand strong ­­ the instrument of Nazi terror. Hitler needed Rohm's military skill and could rely on his personal loyalty, but he was ultimately a pragmatist. As part of a compromise with the Reichwehr (regular army) leadership, whose support he needed to become Fuhrer, Hitler allowed Goering and Himmler to murder Rohm along with dozens of Rohm's loyal officers.

For public relations purposes, and especially to quell the outrage felt throughout the ranks of the SA, Hitler justified his blatant power play by pointing to Rohm's homosexuality. Hitler, of course, had known of Rohm's homosexuality since 1919, and it became public knowledge in 1925, when Rohm appeared in court to charge a hustler with theft. All this while the Nazi Party had a virulently anti­gay policy, and many Nazis protested that Rohm was discrediting the entire Party and should be purged. Hitler, however, was quite willing to cover up for him for years ­­ until he stood in the way of larger plans.

* * *

The Nazi Party came to power in 1933, and a year later Rohm was dead. While Rohm and his men were being rounded up for the massacre (offered a gun and the opportunity to shoot himself, Rohm retorted angrily: &ldquoLet Hitler do his own dirty work&rdquo), the new Chief of Staff received his first order from the Fuhrer: &ldquoI expect all SA leaders to help preserve and strengthen the SA in its capacity as a pure and cleanly institution. In particular, I should like every mother to be able to allow her son to join the SA, Party, and Hitler Youth without fear that he may become morally corrupted in their ranks. I therefore request all SA commanders to take the utmost pains to ensure that offences under Paragraph 175 are met by immediate expulsion of the culprit from the SA and the Party.&rdquo

Hitler had good reason to be concerned about the reputation of Nazi organizations, most of which were based on strict segregation of the sexes. Hitler Youth, for example, was disparagingly referred to as Homo Youth throughout the Third Reich, a characterization which the Nazi leadership vainly struggled to eliminate. Indeed, most of the handful of publications on homosexuality which appeared during the Fascist regime were devoted to new and rather bizarre methods of &ldquodetection&rdquo and &ldquoprevention.&rdquo

Rudolf Diels, the founder of the Gestapo, recorded some of Hitler&rsquos personal thoughts on the subject: &ldquoHe lectured me on the role of homosexuality in history and politics. It had destroyed ancient Greece, he said. Once rife, it extended its contagious effects like an ineluctable law of nature to the best and most manly of characters, eliminating from the reproductive process precisely those men on whose offspring a nation depended. The immediate result of the vice was, however, that unnatural passion swiftly became dominant in public affairs if it were allowed to spread unchecked.&rdquo

* * *

The tone had been set by the Rohm putsch, and on its first anniversary-June 28, 1935, the campaign against homosexuality was escalated by the introduction of the &ldquoLaw for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour.&rdquo Until 1935, the only punishable offence had been anal intercourse under the new Paragraph 175a, ten possible &ldquoacts&rdquo were punishable, including a kiss, an embrace, even homosexual fantasies! One man, for instance, was successfully prosecuted on the grounds that he had observed a couple making love in a park and watched only the man.

Under the Nazi system, criminal acts were less important in determining guilt than criminal intent. The &ldquophenomenological&rdquo theory of justice claimed to evaluate a person's character rather than his deeds. The &ldquohealthy sensibility of the people&rdquo (gesundes Volksempfinden) was elevated to the highest normative legal concept, and the Nazis were in a position to prosecute an individual solely on the grounds of his sexual orientation. (After World War II, incidentally, this law was immediately struck from the books in East Germany as a product of Fascist thinking, while it remained on the books in West Germany.)

Once Paragraph 175a was in effect, the annual number of convictions on charges of homosexuality leaped to about ten times the number in the pre-Nazi period. The law was so loosely formulated that it could be ­­ and was ­­ applied against heterosexuals whom the Nazis wanted to eliminate. The most notorious example of an individual convicted on trumped-up charges was General Werner von Fritsch, Army Chief of Staff and the law was also used repeatedly against members of the Catholic clergy. But the law was undoubtedly used primarily against gay people, and the court system was aided in the witch-hunt by the entire German populace, which was encouraged to scrutinize the behaviour of neighbours and to denounce suspects to the Gestapo. The number of men convicted of homosexuality during the Nazi period totaled around fifty thousand:

1933 &mdash 853

1934 &mdash 948

1935 &mdash 2,106

1936 &mdash 5,320

1937 &mdash 8,271

1938 &mdash 8,562

1939 &mdash 7,614

1940 &mdash 3,773

1941 &mdash 3,735

1942 &mdash 3,963

1943 (first quarter) &mdash 966

1944-45 &mdash ?

The Gestapo was the agent of the next escalation of the campaign against homosexuality. Ex-chicken farmer Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer SS and head of the Gestapo, richly deserves a reputation as the most fanatically homophobic member of the Nazi leadership. In 1936, he gave a speech on the subject of homosexuality and described the murder of Ernst Rohm (which he had engineered) in these terms: &ldquoTwo years ago. when it became necessary, we did not scruple to strike this plague with death, even within our own ranks.&rdquo Himmler closed with these words: &ldquoJust as we today have gone back to the ancient Germanic view on the question of marriage mixing different races, so too in our judgment of homosexuality ­­ a symptom of degeneracy which could destroy our race ­­ we must return to the guiding Nordic principle: extermination of degenerates.&rdquo

* * *

A few months earlier, Himmler had prepared for action by reorganizing the entire state police into three divisions. The political executive, Division II, was directly responsible for the control of &ldquoillegal parties and organizations, leagues and economic groups, reactionaries and the Church, freemasonry, and homosexuality.&rdquo

Himmler personally favoured the immediate &ldquoextermination of degenerates,&rdquo but he was empowered to order the summary execution only of homosexuals discovered within his own bureaucratic domain. Civilian offenders were merely required to serve out their prison sentences (although second offenders were subject to castration).

In 1936, Himmler found a way around this obstacle. Following release from prison, all &ldquoenemies of the state&rdquo-including homosexuals-were to be taken into protective custody and detained indefinitely. &ldquoProtective custody&rdquo (Schutzhaft) was an euphemism for concentration camp internment. Himmler gave special orders that homosexuals be placed in Level Three camps-the human death mills described by Neudegg. These camps were reserved for Jews and homosexuals.

The official SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps, announced in 1937 that there were two million German homosexuals and called for their death. The extent to which Himmler succeeded in this undertaking is unknown, but the number of homosexuals sent to camps was far in excess of the fifty thousand who served jail sentences. The Gestapo dispatched thousands to camps without a trial. Moreover, &ldquoprotective custody&rdquo was enforced retroactively, so that any gay who had ever come to the attention of the police prior to the Third Reich was subject to immediate arrest. (The Berlin police alone had an index of more than twenty thousand homosexuals prior to the Nazi takeover.) And starting in 1939, gays from Nazi-occupied countries were also interned in German camps.

The chances for survival in a Level Three camp were low indeed. Homosexuals were distinguished from other prisoners by a pink triangle, worn on the left side of the jacket and on the right pant leg. There was no possibility of &ldquopassing&rdquo for straight, and the presence of &ldquomarked men&rdquo in the all-male camp population evoked the same reaction as in contemporary prisons: gays were brutally assaulted and sexually abused.

* * *

&ldquoDuring the first weeks of my imprisonment,&rdquo wrote one survivor, &ldquoI often thought I was the only available target on whom everyone was free to vent his aggressions. Things improved when I was assigned to a labour detail that worked outside the camp at Metz, because everything took place in public view. I was made clerk of the labour detail, which meant that I worked all day and then looked after the records at the guardhouse between midnight and 2 am. Because of this 'overtime' I was allowed seconds at lunch ­­ if any food was left over. This is the fact to which I probably owe my survival. I saw quite a number of pink triangles. I don't know how they were eventually killed. One day they were simply gone.&rdquo

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 &ldquoProject Pink&rdquo in his camp: &ldquoThe homosexuals were grouped into liquidation commandos and placed under triple camp discipline. That meant less food, more work, stricter supervision. If a prisoner with a pink triangle became sick, it spelled his doom. Admission to the clinic was forbidden.&rdquo

This was the practice in the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, Natzweler, Fuhlsbuttel, Neusustrum, Sonnenburg, Dachau, Lichtenberg, Mauthausen, Ravensbruck, Neuengamme, Grossrosen, Buchenwald, Vught, Flossenburg, Stutthof, Auschwitz, and Struthof as well, lesbians wore pink triangles in the concentration camps at Butzow and Ravensbruck. In the final months of the war, the 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.

But the death of other pink triangles came much more swiftly. A survivor gives this account: &ldquoHe was a young and healthy man. The first evening roll call after he was added to our penal company was his last. When he arrived, he was seized and ridiculed, then beaten and kicked, and finally spat upon. He suffered alone and in silence. Then they put him under a cold shower. It was a frosty winter evening, and he stood outside the barracks all through that long, bitterly cold night. When morning came, his breathing had become an audible rattle. Bronchial pneumonia was later given as the cause of his death. But before things had come to that, he was again beaten and kicked. Then he was tied to a post and placed under an arc lamp until he began to sweat, again put under a cold shower, and so on. He died toward evening.&rdquo

Another survivor: &ldquoOne should not forget that these men were honourable citizens, very often highly intelligent, and some had once held high positions in civil and social life. During his seven­year imprisonment, this writer became acquainted with a Prussian prince, famous athletes, professors, teachers, engineers, artisans, trade workers and, of course, hustlers. Not all of them were what one might term &ldquorespectable&rdquo people, to be sure, but the majority of them were helpless and completely lost in the world of the concentration camps. They lived in total isolation in whatever little bit of freedom they could find. I witnessed the tragedy of a highly cultured attache of a foreign embassy, who simply couldn't grasp the reality of the tragedies taking place all around him. Finally, in a state of deep desperation and hopelessness, he simply fell over dead for no apparent reason. I saw a rather effeminate young man who was repeatedly forced to dance in front of SS men, who would then put him on the rack-chained hand and foot to a crossbeam in the guardhouse barracks ­­ and beat him in the most awful way. Even today I find it impossible to think back on all my comrades, all the barbarities, all the tortures, without falling into the deepest depression. I hope you will understand.&rdquo

The ruthlessness of the Nazis culminated in actions so perversely vindictive as to be almost incomprehensible. Six youths arrested for stealing coal at a railroad station were taken into protective custody and duly placed in a concentration camp. Shocked that such innocent boys were forced to sleep in a barracks also occupied by pink triangles, the SS guards chose what to them must have seemed the lesser of two evils: they took the youths aside and gave them fatal injections of morphine. Morality was saved.

The self-righteousness that prompted this type of action cuts through the entire ideology glorifying racial purity and extermination of degenerates to reveal stark fear of homosexuality. Something of this fear is echoed in the statement by Hitler cited above, which is quite different in tone from the propagandistic cant of Himmler&rsquosexhortations. Himmler saw homosexuals as congenital cowards and weaklings. Probably as a result of his friendship with Rohm, Hitler could at least imagine &ldquothe best and most manly of characters&rdquo being homosexual.

Hitler ordered all the gay bars in Berlin closed as soon as he came to power. But when the Olympics were held in that city in 1936, he temporarily rescinded the order and allowed several bars to reopen: foreign guests were not to receive the impression that Berlin was a &ldquosad city.&rdquo

Despite, and perhaps because of, their relentless emphasis upon strength, purity, cleanliness and masculinity, the all-male Nazi groups surely contained a strong element of deeply repressed homoeroticism. The degree of repression was evidenced by the Nazi reaction to those who were openly gay. In the Bible, the scapegoat was the sacrificial animal on whose head the inchoate guilt of the entire community was placed. Homosexuals served precisely this function in the Third Reich.

The ideological rationale for the mass murder of homosexuals during the Third Reich was quite another matter. According to the doctrine of Social Darwinism, only the fittest are meant to survive, and the law of the jungle is the final arbiter of human history. If the Germans were destined to become the master race by virtue of their inherent biological superiority, the breeding stock could only be improved by the removal of degenerates. Retarded, deformed and homosexual individuals could be eliminated with the dispassionate conscientiousness of a gardener pulling weeds. (Indeed, it is the very vehemence and passion with which homosexuals were persecuted that compels us to look beyond the pseudo­scientific rationale for a deeper, psychological dynamic.)

* * *

The institutionalized homophobia of the Third Reich must also be seen in terms of the sexual revolution that had taken place in Germany during the preceding decades. The German gay movement had existed for thirty­six years before it (and all other progressive forces) was smashed. The Nazis carried out a &ldquoconservative revolution&rdquo which restored law and order together with nineteenth-century sexism. A system of ranking women according to the number of their offspring was devised by Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick, who demanded that homosexuals &ldquobe hunted down mercilessly, for their vice can only lead to the demise of the German people.&rdquo

Ironically, the biologistic arguments against gay people could be supported by the theories advanced by the early gay movement itself. Magnus Hirschfeld and the members of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had made &ldquothe Third Sex&rdquo a household term in Germany but the rigidly heterosexual society of the Third Reich had no patience with &ldquointersexual variants&rdquo and turned a deaf ear to pleas for tolerance. The prominent Nazi jurist Dr. Rudolf Klare wrote: &ldquoSince the Masonic notion of humanitarianism arose from the ecclesiastical/Christian feeling of charity, it is sharply opposed to our National Socialist worldview and is eliminated a priori as a justification for not penalizing homosexuality.&rdquo

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