Never Forget: These Photos of Badges Worn by Jews, Prisoners Will Haunt You

Under the rule of Adolf Hitler during WWII, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied many European countries, forcing millions of people to live under German control. Throughout this period, ordinary people witnessed the crimes of the Holocaust, inevitably becoming complicit with the Nazi regime by not standing up against them. Indeed, the Nazis even found numerous willing aides who collaborated and took part in said crimes with them.

Beginning in 1938, Jews in the concentration camps were identified by a yellow star sewn onto their prison uniforms, a perversion of the Jewish Star of David symbol. The Nazis required Jews to wear the yellow star not only in the camps but throughout occupied Europe. The categories of prisoners were easily identified by a marking system combining a colored inverted triangle with lettering, with some variation from camp to camp. The badges sewn onto prisoner uniforms enabled SS guards to identify the alleged grounds for incarceration.

Criminals were marked with green inverted triangles, political prisoners with red, “asocials” (including Roma — or “gypsies,” nonconformists, vagrants and other groups) with black or — in the case of Roma in some camps — brown triangles. Homosexuals were identified with pink triangles and Jehovah’s Witnesses with purple triangles. Non-German prisoners were identified by the first letter of the German name for their home countries, which was sewn onto their badge. The two triangles forming the Jewish star badge would both be yellow unless the Jewish prisoner was included in one of the other prisoner categories.

As we learned through the Nazarene Fund at Mercury One, this kind of evil is not dead. But, like the many who provided shelter, resources and escape to those who were targeted in the 1930s and 1940s, these types of kind, compassionate and loving people also still exist. We must always remember and never forget.

How can history help us think about the world we live in today? During the Holocaust Days of Remembrance, many of us remind ourselves of the tragic genocide that occurred during World War II. Even today we still need to remind ourselves that all types of diversity make this world a better place. We should have hope that each of us can stand proud of how we live with no fear.

A chart of prisoner markings used in German concentration camps from 1938-1942 from the Mercury One historical collection. Photo courtesy of Mercury One.
A red triangle representing political prisoners and green representing criminals from the Mercury One historical collection. Photo courtesy of Mercury One.

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