Prisoners' Classification at Dachau

The Dachau concentration camp prisoners were classified by nationality and by the type of crime allegedly committed. When the Dachau camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, the largest number of prisoners in the whole Dachau system, including the 123 sub-camps, were classified as political prisoners, who numbered 43,401; the majority of them were Catholic. The political prisoners included Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists, spies, and anti-Fascist resistance fighters from the Nazi occupied countries such as France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Before World War II started in 1939, the number of foreigners in the Dachau main camp was insignificant, as most of the prisoners were German or Austrian, including a few Jews. During the war, the Germans and Austrians were a minority among the Dachau prisoners; the average number of Germans at Dachau during the war was about 3,000, according to The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army, which was based on two days of interviews with the survivors of the camp.

The Official Report states on page 16: "Some two thousand Germans were evacuated and killed in the last big transport a few days before our occupation of Dachau." Other sources say that the German prisoners were released and forced to serve in the German Army.

The largest national group in the main Dachau camp was the Polish prisoners, followed by Russians, French, Yugoslavs, Germans, Jews and Czechs, according to the Official Report.

The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army listed the following statistics for the Dachau main camp after the camp was liberated:

Poles: 9,200; Russians: 3,900; French: 3,700; Yugoslavs: 3,200; Jews: 2,100; Czechoslovaks: 1,500; Germans: 1,000. There was also a combined total of 1,000 Belgians, Hungarians, Italians, Austrians, Greeks, etc.

According to Paul Berben, a former prisoner, who wrote a book called "Dachau: 1933 - 1945: The Official History," there were 67,649 prisoners in Dachau and its 123 sub-camps when the last census was taken on April 26, 1945, three days before the US 7th Army arrived to liberate the camp. There was a total of 22,100 Jews in the Dachau system on April 26, 1945 and most of them were in the subcamps.

Many of the sub-camps, which Berben refers to as "Kommandos," had already been evacuated and the prisoners had been brought to the main camp at Dachau before April 26, 1945. An estimated 7,000 prisoners arrived at the Dachau main camp, from other concentration camps, after the last census was taken.

On April 27, 1945, a train carrying prisoners evacuated from Buchenwald had arrived at the main camp, but less than half the 4,000 mostly Jewish prisoners, who had left Buchenwald, were still alive after the 20-day trip and able to walk into the main camp.

On April 26th, approximately 3,400 Jews had been death-marched out of the main Dachau camp, headed south toward the mountains where it is believed that the Nazis intended to hold them as hostages to use in surrender negotiations with the Allies. Another 1,735 Jews had been evacuated from Dachau by train on April 26th.

The prisoners were also classified by the type of crime that they had allegedly committed, which was designated by the color of a badge that each prisoner had to wear. The two major classifications of badges were red and green: red was for political prisoners and green was for criminals.

The following quote is from The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army:

As far as the prisoners themselves are concerned, the camp was divided sharply only between two groups: the "reds" or political prisoners and the "greens" or criminal prisoners. The SS tried to break down this distinction by an ingenious system of creating a "prisoners' elite," composed of both "reds" and "greens," which assumed power over the internal organization of Dachau, controlled and frequently terrorized the camp in the name of the SS, but formally independent of the SS. [...] However, despite this organization of internal corruption and terror, by which the SS exercised its control indirectly, the mass of political prisoners continued to live in sharp separation from and opposition to the "criminals" and most of the prisoner bosses whom they despised, feared and hated.

There were also 128 German soldiers who had been imprisoned in the bunker at Dachau, and 759 common criminals, according to Paul Berben. Some of the original Dachau common criminals had been previously transferred to Buchenwald and Mauthausen to work in the building of those camps and to assist the Nazis in supervising the other prisoners.

The following quote is from "Dachau: 1933 - 1945: The Official History" by Paul Berben:

The third main category of prisoners was the "criminals." The S.S. distinguished between two groups in their statistical summaries: the P.S.V. and the B.V.; but both wore the same badges. The P.S.V. (Polizeisicherungsverwahrte) were criminals who had served their prison terms, in some cases many years since, but they were considered to be dangerous and were held in the concentration camp as a preventive measure (vorbeugend) . The second group, the B.V. (Befristete Vorbeugungshaft; often wrongly called Berufsverbrecher, professional criminal), was composed of men who were not released on the completion of their prison sentences but sent straight to the camp.

When a prisoner arrived at Dachau, or any other concentration camp in the Nazi system, a Hollerith punch card was made for him. These cards could be searched and sorted by an IBM Hollerith machine; Dachau had four Hollerith machines. One line of the card had a hole punched to indicate the prisoners classification.

According to the book entitled "IBM and the Holocaust," by Edwin Black, the IBM cards had sixteen classifications of prisoners: The number 1 was punched for a political prisoner, 2 for a Jehovah's Witness, 3 for a homosexual, 4 for dishonorable military discharge, 5 for a member of the clergy, 6 for a Communist Spaniard, 7 for a foreign civilian worker, 8 for a Jew, 9 for an asocial, 10 for a habitual criminal, 11 for a major felon, 12 for a Gypsy, 13 for a Prisoner of War, 14 for a spy, 15 for a prisoner sentenced to hard labor, and 16 for a Diplomatic Consul.

The IBM Hollerith cards were also punched for the work skills of each prisoner, so that workers could be found for assignments in the factories.

When a prisoner died in a Nazi concentration camp, his Hollerith card was punched with a code for the type of death: C-3 was for death by natural causes, D-4 was for execution, and E-5 was for suicide.

F-6 was the code for Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) which meant "extermination, either by gas chamber or bullet," according to Edwin Black who wrote "IBM and the Holocaust." This information came from the Public Records Office in Great Britain which has on file the confession of Josef Kramer, commandant of Bergen-Belsen, who was interrogated by the British on May 22, 1945.

Dachau was the camp where Catholic priests, mostly from Poland, were imprisoned. There were 2,579 priests sent to Dachau; most had been arrested as resistance fighters after the invasion of Poland by the Nazis on Sept. 1, 1939. There were also 447 German priests incarcerated at Dachau and at least one of them, Father Leonard Roth, was there because he had been arrested as a pedophile.

Father Roth redeemed himself by volunteering to take care of the sick prisoners in the camp and after the camp was liberated, he stayed on to serve as the priest for the German soldiers who were imprisoned at Dachau. The street that borders the camp on the south side has been named after him.

There were 110 homosexuals, 85 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1,066 anti-socials in Dachau and its sub-camps on April 26, 1945, according to Berben's book. The Jehovah's Witnesses were German citizens who were being held because they had refused to serve in the German army. The Nazis referred to the Jehovah's Witnesses as "volunteer prisoners" because they were free to go anytime they decided to join the Germany Army. They worked as servants in the homes of the SS officers.

There was at least one Dachau prisoner who had African Ancestry: Johnny Voste, a Belgian resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage, was one of the survivors of Dachau.

Johnny Voste is on the right

Dachau was mainly a camp for adult men, but there were a few children there according to Berben who was himself a member of the International Committee at Dachau, which controlled the camp near the end. He wrote the following in his book:

As has already been mentioned, there were times when even children were imprisoned in Dachau. The International Committee saw to it that they were not abandoned. A school was organized for Russian children under a Yugoslavian teacher, and the older ones were placed in Kommandos [subsidiary work camps of Dachau] where they were looked after by prisoners who tried not only to keep them in good health but to teach them the rudiments of a trade as well.

In the early days of the Dachau camp, many Jews were brought there as prisoners, although they were always classified as political prisoners or criminals who had broken the law. For example, on June 12, 1937, a number of Jews accused of "race defilement" were brought to Dachau, according to Martin Gilbert, author of the book "Holocaust," who wrote that there were "some three hundred Jews being held"at Dachau by 1937. Gilbert wrote about how 120 of these 300 Jews were released in the Fall of 1937 after negotiations between the Gestapo and David Glick, a Jewish lawyer in Pittsburgh, who was a representative of the American Joint Distribution Committee.

The following quote is from Gilbert's book "Holocaust":

The Gestapo agreed to release them on condition that the 120 Jews emigrated immediately to a country beyond Europe. At Glick's urging, the British Consul General in Munich, Consul Carvell, agreed to issue Palestine visas on condition that 5,000 British pounds was paid into a bank outside Germany to assist the settlement of the released men in Palestine. The Joint agreed and paid the money. The Jews were released.

According to Paul Berben's account, the prisoners who arrived at Dachau were particularly numerous in 1944, as the inmates in other camps were evacuated from the war zone. He wrote that the last prisoner number at the end of 1943 was 60.869. By the end of 1944, the last prisoner number was 137.244, which indicates that 76,375 new prisoners were probably brought to Dachau in 1944; most of them were sent to the sub-camps to work in the factories. The last prisoner numbers registered at Dachau were around 161.900. It was at this point that life in the Dachau concentration camp began to deteriorate.

In the final desperate days of trying to evacuate prisoners from the camps to prevent them from being released by the Allies, there were around 6,000 prisoners brought to Dachau from Flossenbürg, Buchenwald and Leipzig, who were not registered nor given a number, according to Berben.

The organization of the Dachau concentration camp was based on the system of indirect rule, according to The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army. There were two separate spheres of control: the external control by the SS guards and the internal control by the prisoners themselves.

The key position in the SS control of the camp was the Lager Kommandant or Camp Commandant, who was in charge of the entire camp including the SS Training Camp and Garrison. The second most important position was the Arbeitseinsatzführer, who was in charge of all the labor gangs and the transports in and out of the camp for labor assignments. The third most important position at Dachau was that of the Vernehmungsführer, who was the intelligence officer of the Political Department, which was a branch office of the Gestapo. The Political Department was in charge of camp security, discipline and punishment.

The three top SS officers at Dachau, and at all the other camps in the Nazi system, did not exercise direct control over the prisoners, but rather used the internal organization of the camp which was in the hands of the prisoners themselves.

The prisoners' internal organization was headed by the camp senior or Lagerältester. Reporting to the camp senior were

1. The camp secretary or Lagerschreiber and his staff, who were in charge of camp records.

2. The camp chief of police or Polizeifürher and the camp policemen, called the Lagerpolizei.

3. The chief of the Labor Allocation Office, which was called the Arbeitseinsatz, and his staff members who were in charge of the work performed outside the camp. The Labor Office sent out the work details for the Arbeits Kommandos, of which there were around 160, each headed by a foreman or Kapo.

The camp barracks were called Blocks; each Block was divided into cells or Stüben. Each Block and each Stüben had its Blockältester and its Stübenälster. Each Block and each Stüben had its Blockschreiber and Stübenschreiber. With the prisoners in charge of the camp records, it would have been easy for them to change or destroy records.

According to The Official Report, which was based on information given by the prisoners at Dachau, some of the Dachau records were destroyed by the SS three weeks before they abandoned the camp.

The SS issued general orders and the orders were carried out by the internal organization of the prisoners.

The Camp Senior at Dachau, when the camp was liberated, was Oskar Mueller, who was a German Communist. He was also a member of the International Committee of Dachau, a prisoners group that took over the administration of the camp about six months before it was liberated. The previous Camp Senior was a Red Army officer named Melazarian, who was an Armenian, according to The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army.

According to The Official Report, "Melazarian had so completely sold out to the SS and was so generally hated by all the inmates of the camp that he was almost beaten to death after occupation and finally executed by American troops. The same fate befell the German chief of the camp police, a certain Wernicke."

To guard against sabotage in the factories at Dachau, the SS employed prisoners as spies and informants. These agents of the SS were usually German criminals; sometimes they were disguised as political prisoners with a red badge instead of the green badge of a criminal. When the American liberators arrived, some of these informants were beaten to death by the prisoners.

The prisoners, who were part of the camp administration, and the Kapos enjoyed privileges such as better food, clothing and living conditions. They were allowed to use the swimming pool in the SS camp next to the prison camp.

According to The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army:

There were numerous reports about thefts, beatings, and killings by political Capos in different positions. When this stage was reached where prisoners persecuted fellow prisoners instead of preserving a sense of common solidarity, the success of the SS method of control was, of course, complete. [...] That so many formerly genuine political prisoners succumbed to this pressure and sank to a criminal level of existence was one of the real tragedies in places like Dachau.

Prisoner Badges

Labor Allocation at Dachau

Priests at Dachau

Jews at Dachau

Dachau Life

Commandants at Dachau

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This page was last updated on March 21, 2008