Badges of Difference

Badges of Difference

Everybody knows the symbol of the yellow Star of David that the Nazis made the Jewish people in their territories wear. Fewer people are aware of the more complex badge system that was used in Nazi concentration camps. These badges—primarily inverted triangles—were used to identify the reasons that prisoners had been placed there. These badges were made of fabric and sewn onto prisoners’ uniforms. The badges had specific meanings which were indicated by their appearance, and they could help guards assign tasks to the prisoners.

Badge systems varied between different concentration camps; one of the more complex badge systems was found at the concentration camp in Dachau. The triangle shape was chosen because it was analogous to Germany’s triangular road hazard signs.

Nazi’s concentration camp badge sculptures. (source: WIkipedia).

Single Triangles

Red triangle : used to identify political prisoners—such as social democrats, socialists, trade unionists; Freemasons, communists, and anarchists.

Green triangle : used to identify convicts; these prisoners would often work in the camps as kapos, or someone who supervised forced labor or carried out administrative tasks.

Blue triangle : used to identify foreign forced laborers and emigrants.

Purple triangle :  mainly used to identify Jehovah’s Witnesses. But also a small number of pacifists and members of other religious organizations.

Pink Triangle: used to identify sexual offenders; mainly gay men. But also prisoners like rapists and pedophiles. Nowadays, the pink triangle is used to symbolizes gay rights; this is a response to these camp ID badges.

Black Triangle: black triangles were used to identify those considered as  “antisocial” elements. All of that includes Roma (Gypsies), the mentally ill, alcoholics, vagrants. Also pacifists; lesbians, prostitutes, some anarchists, and drug addicts.

·         Roma (Gypsies) were later being assigned with a brown triangle.

·         Though most of the triangle designs were inverted, an uninverted red triangle was used to indicate enemy POWs, spies, and deserters.

System of classification in German camps. (source:

Double Triangles

To indicate a prisoner’s of that Jewish in origin; the resemblance of the symbols is uncanny. Because it’s depicting the Stars of David.

Two superimposed yellow triangles: indicated a Jew

Red inverted triangle superimposed on yellow triangle: Jewish political prisoner

Green superimposed on yellow: A Jewish “habitual criminal”

Purple superimposed on yellow: a Jehovah’s Witness of Jewish descent

Pink superimposed on yellow: A Jewish “sexual offender”

Black superimposed on yellow: “asocial/work-shy” Jews

Voided black superimposed on yellow: Jew convicted on miscegenation and labeled as a “race defiler”

Yellow superimposed on black: An Aryan woman convicted of miscegenation and labeled as a “race defiler”

Classification of German Nazi camps using tattoo. (source: Quora).

Other Badges

Some groups had to put letters on their triangles to indicate the country of origin: B for Belgians, F for French, H for Dutch (Holland), I for Italians, J for Yugoslavs (Jugoslawen), N for Norwegians, P for Poles, S for Spanish Republicans, T for Czechs (Tschechen), and U for Hungarians (Ungarn).

Repeat offenders would have bars over their stars and triangles- different colors for different crimes.

Many various markings/combinations existed; a prisoner usually had at least two- sometimes up to more than six.

Some camps marked Nacht und Nebel (political) prisoners with a large yellow NN.

Penal battalions and companies existed for those whose punishment was military service; these had their own unique indicators.

Later on in the war, it was more common to see detainees in civilian clothing. These were made into ersatz prisoner uniforms with various methods used to create markings.

Sleeve badges.svg
Sleeves Badges of Nazi imprisonement. (source : Wikipedia).


This article covers the most prominent types of markings in the concentration camp badge system; however, if you want to do further research, there is a rabbit hole of increasing complexities for you to uncover.

I wanted to close this article with an anecdote that will help illustrate the scope of this atrocious system.

It occurred to me when I started to read these classifications. That some of these labels are applicable to me; if I had been alive in Germany during the Nazi era, the following camp labels could have applied to me:

Red triangle – Liberal

Black triangle – Autistic; a bisexual woman (possibly); Pacifist

If I have a triangle in one color, I’ll likely have a bar in another

It would also indicating that asoziale, or anti-social; would be labeled to me too. Indicated by a plain black triangle; that would make me considered to be as a burden, and would therefore likely be executed.

This is the most terrifying aspect of all: I’m just another member of society, an autistic 33-year-old student writer. I’m the same as anyone else. And since I didn’t match the Nazi’s idea of perfection; Untermensch would be more likely to label me, back in those days. Or less than human. Young people nowadays should have been more aware of these aspects in history. No matter how uncomfortable it may be: that if we’re not careful, history might repeat itself and that more of us than we realize could become victims

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