The SS-Totenkopfverbände was the organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps for Nazi Germany. Among others, the annihilation of the Jews and other so called "Enemies of the Reich"
Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the Nazi seizure of power on 30 January 1933. Violence and economic pressure were used by the Nazi regime to encourage Jews to voluntarily leave the country. After the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the extermination of European Jewry began, and the killings continued and accelerated after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. On 31 July 1941, Hermann Göring gave written authorization to Heydrich to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. At the Wannsee Conference, Heydrich emphasised that once the deportation process was complete, the fate of the deportees would become an internal matter under the purview of the SS. A secondary goal was to arrive at a definition of who was Jewish.
At the conclusion of the meeting Heydrich gave Eichmann firm instructions about what was to appear in the minutes. They were not to be verbatim: Eichmann ensured that nothing too explicit appeared in them. He said at his trial: "How shall I put it certain over plain talk and jargon expressions had to be rendered into office language by me".
Eichmann condensed his records into a document outlining the purpose of the meeting and the intentions of the regime moving forward. He stated at his trial that it was personally edited by Heydrich, and thus reflected the message he intended the participants to take away from the meeting. Copies of the minutes (known from the German word for "minutes" as the "Wannsee Protocol") were sent by Eichmann to all the participants after the meeting.
Most of these copies were destroyed at the end of the war as participants and other officials sought to cover their tracks. It was not until 1947 that Luther's copy (number 16 out of 30 copies prepared) was found by Robert Kempner, a U.S. prosecutor in the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, in files that had been seized from the German Foreign Office.
For unknown reasons, Adolf Eichmann included the number of all the registered Jews in the Netherlands, it clearly shows that registration and (possible) deportation went hand-in-hand.
Beginning in 1937, the SS created a system of tagging 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 (in the right bar) as prisoner markings in the Dachau concentration camp. Shape was chosen by analogy with the common triangular road hazard signs in Germany that denote warnings to motorists. Here, a triangle is called inverted because its base is up while one of its angles points down.
Nazi concentration camp badges, primarily triangles, were part of the system of identification in German camps. They were used in the concentration camps in the German-occupied countries to identify the reason the prisoners had been placed there. The triangles were made of fabric and were sewn on jackets and trousers of the prisoners.
These mandatory badges of shame had specific meanings indicated by their colour and shape. Such emblems helped guards assign tasks to the detainees. For example, a guard at a glance could see if someone were a convicted criminal (green patch) and thus likely of a tough temperament suitable for kapo duty.
Someone with an escape suspect mark usually would not be assigned to work squads operating outside the camp fence. Someone wearing an F could be called upon to help translate guards' spoken instructions to a trainload of new arrivals from France. Some historical monuments quote the badge-imagery, with the use of a triangle being a sort of visual shorthand to symbolize all camp victims.
The system of badges varied between the camps and in the later stages of World War II the use of badges dwindled in some camps and became increasingly accidental in others. The following description is based on the badge coding system used before and during the early stages of the war in the Dachau concentration camp, which had one of the more elaborate coding systems.
Red triangle was for "political" prisoners.
From my personal collection
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A big THANK YOU to the United States Army Center of Military History for their help in providing the input for these pages. All pages on this website are constantly being refitted with acurate data and texts and it is an ongoing process.