Identification of the prisoners in the concentration camps

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Dutch Jews, Marked with a Yellow Star and N, on the Roll Call Square in Buchenwald Concentration Camp (February 1941)

The identification of prisoners in the concentration camps was introduced in 1936 and was used to group and identify the prisoners in the concentration camps under the control of National Socialist Germany . It was used by the guards to identify the grouping of concentration camp inmates used by the SS by country, “race” , previous convictions, etc. (cf. National Socialist Racial Hygiene ). The prisoner number replaced the names of the prisoners in the camp.

Brief description

The marking was done with the help of colored fabric triangles, the tips of which pointed downwards or highlighted upwards. The badges, also called "angles", were sewn onto the striped concentration camp inmate clothing ( jackets and shirts ) so that the guards could identify the reason for their imprisonment.

Further differentiations were made according to nationalities and the tasks as prisoner functionaries (for example Kapos , room elder or block or barrack elder). In the first years of the concentration camp and in some cases later, the prisoner numbers were also put on clothing.

Display board: "Identifiers for prisoners in protection in the concentration camps"; Teaching material for SS guards

The embossing was chosen according to the danger signs in Germany. In addition to color coding, groups of inmates were put in letters in the triangle to indicate their country of origin. For example, a red triangle with an “F” indicated a political prisoner from France .

The most common "angles" were:

Double triangles:

  • two yellow angles that were placed on top of each other and thus formed the Jewish star (see Holocaust )
  • a red triangle on a yellow one - a Jew who was incarcerated as a political prisoner

The various markings were worn by one inmate at the same time, sometimes even more than six: so the first letters of the country of origin:

Politically Criminal emigrant
Bible Students Gay Antisocial
Simple angles Red triangle.svg Green triangle.svg Blue triangle.svg Purple triangle.svg Pink triangle.svg Black triangle.svg
Repeated inmates Red triangle repeater.svg Green triangle repeater.svg Blue triangle repeater.svg Purple triangle repeater.svg Pink triangle repeater.svg Black triangle repeater.svg
Members of a penal company Red triangle penal.svg Green triangle penal.svg Blue triangle penal.svg Purple triangle penal.svg Pink triangle penal.svg Black triangle penal.svg
Markings for Jews Red triangle jew.svg Green triangle each Blue triangle jew.svg Purple triangle jew.svg Pink triangle jew.svg Black triangle jew.svg
Special markings Male race defiler.svg
“Jew. Racial abuse "
Female race defiler.svg
"Racial abuse"
Escape suspect.svg
Escape risk
Inmate number.svg
Inmate number
Sleeve badges.svg

The applicable markings were carried in the following order: inmate number, stripe for repeated inmates, angle or star, member of a criminal company, suspect of escape
Red triangle Pole.svg
Pole: “P” on a red corner
Red triangle Czech.svg
Czech: "T" on a red triangle
Armed forces red triangle.svg
Wehrmacht member : Upside down red triangle
Special inmate.svg
Special inmate: brown bracelet
The shape and color of the markings on camp inmates in the concentration camps

Inmate numbers

Every prisoner received a registration number (prisoner number) when they were admitted to a main camp. From now on he no longer had a name in the camp, but was called with this number and had to report to each of his superiors with this number (with the cap off and in a careful attitude).

Alex Deutsch , former concentration camp inmate, shows his tattooed concentration camp number (2006)
Tattooed number of an Auschwitz prisoner

Usually the prisoner numbers were attached to the clothing. Only in the Auschwitz concentration camp were prisoners also tattooed . On the one hand to avoid confusion of undressed corpses and on the other hand to identify escaped prisoners more easily. Usually the inmate number was tattooed on the left forearm. Exceptions were children who were born in the camp. Since there was not enough space on their forearms for a tattoo, they were tattooed on other places (e.g. thighs) instead.

In Auschwitz there were also other classifications. For example the "Z-Series". These numbers were used for the gypsy camp from February 26, 1943 . Russian prisoners of war got the "R-series" from October 7, 1941. There was also the "A-series" for men from May to August 1944 and then the "B-series" until November. In addition, the “A and B series” were introduced from May 1944 for so-called “transport Jews”.


The numbers of the inmates recorded in this way were recorded in an accounting system in each camp and read out during the two daily roll calls on the roll call square . Before and after moving out to work details, changes (death, transfer to the precinct, dismissals) were checked using these numbers. They were also used to bill the prisoners' work to the companies, small businesses or authorities involved.

Using the numbers in the various camp accounts, it was sometimes possible to track individual transports of prisoners between the concentration camps in the post-war period even if the prisoners were later killed or were considered missing. Especially when transporting prisoners from the occupied countries of Europe, this was often the only way to determine the place of death and the probable time of death.

Some of the series of numbers of individual concentration camps contained additions for individual groups of victims. When moving to a different main camp, new numbers were sometimes assigned.


  • Eugen Kogon : The SS State - The System of the German Concentration Camps. (= Heyne books 19 = Heyne non-fiction book 9). Approved, unabridged paperback edition, 43rd edition. Heyne, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-453-02978-X .
  • Christa Schikorra: Continuities of Exclusion. “Asocial” prisoners in the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp (= Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin. Series of documents, texts, materials. Vol. 41). Metropol, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-932482-60-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: concentration camp prisoner number  - explanations of meanings, word origin, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: KZ number  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. on the subject of lesbian women who were allegedly marked with a black triangle, see Homosexuals during the National Socialist era
  2. Gelsenkirchen center - Portal for Urban and Contemporary History