German prisoners

The longer the camps lasted, the more diverse their inmate population became. Before the war, Germans still made up the vast majority of prisoners. But they increasingly came from a wide range of backgrounds. The following report, based on testimonies by political prisoners and compiled by the Social Democratic Party (in exile in Prague), gives a snapshot of Dachau in spring 1937. At this time, the different groups were still marked by coloured strips, soon to be replaced by triangles. The report also points to tensions between inmates. Also notable is the SS language, which referred to prisoner groups as “companies” (this later changed), one of many examples of the SS borrowing from military traditions.

051 – Resistance report on the different Dachau prisoner groups in 1937

In Dachau there are 9 [prisoner] blocks or companies. They are accommodated in various huts. We now present a description of these blocks:

I Company: This accommodates the so-called “second-time-rounders”, i.e. all political protective custody prisoners who had been in Dachau once before and who, because of some offence, or often just because of suspicion, have been brought in for a second time. The second-time-rounders’ company is one of the saddest chapters in Dachau. It was only set up in the third year after Hitler’s seizure of power and has by today become the core of the camp. The point is that the second-time-rounders are in a concentration camp within the concentration camp. According to fairly accurate estimates they number 190 to 200 men. They are entirely cut off from the other prisoners. No camp inmate is permitted to have contact with them. Their hut in the camp is surrounded by a solid fence. […] One only sees these prisoners when they are marched to their place of work. They are assigned to the worst and hardest work. […] The second-time-rounders’ company is regarded in the camp as hell. The prisoners, who are mostly kept in their hut, look very ill. Their faces are marked by their strict detention. They are almost exclusively former political functionaries. They are accused of not having given up their activities against the regime in spite of the promises they have had to make during their first stay in Dachau. The mood of these prisoners is more depressed than in the rest of the camp. They are greatly pitied by the rest of the Dachau prisoners.

II Company: This is where the asocial elements are. Mostly people who have shirked their social obligations: beggars, drunkards, etc. […] The asocials also include numerous criminals with previous convictions. […]

III Company: This consists of political protective custody prisoners exclusively. The company numbers 270 men.[…]

IV Company: This too consists of political prisoners exclusively, but mostly of those who have been in Dachau for a long time. This company also includes all the prominent personalities […].

V Company: Likewise political prisoners.

VI Company: Jewish company. It contains about 100 men, all of them Jews. Now it is intended to move all the Jews in protective custody in the Reich to Dachau. Transports already arrived in February and March. The Jews are treated very badly. They are exposed to great chicanery. They are being constantly shown that they are despised and regarded as lower creatures. […] Among the prisoners, too, there are many who despise the Jews. […]

VII Company: This consists of 3 corporalships or rooms of political prisoners; the fourth room contains the Aryan émigrés, the fifth contains those detained for offences against § 175 [homosexuals]. The so-called one-hundred-and-seventy-fivers are only used for gravel work along with the Jews.

VIII Company: The first two corporalships contain political prisoners. This is the so-called reception company. Every person arriving in Dachau is first assigned to this company. Here he remains until he is assigned to one of the other companies […]. The third corporalship contains former judicial prisoners, for the most part repeatedly convicted criminals, who have been sentenced to security confinement. The fourth and fifth corporalship also contains people sentenced to security confinement, but they are mixed here with asocial inmates who would really belong to II Company but are accommodated here because II Company is usually overfull.

The last company, which is not really regarded as a full company, contains the disabled and the sick. […] The disabled are used for lighter work, such as help in the library, darning socks, kitchen service, etc., provided they are not in the infirmary and incapable of any work.

Marking of prisoners: All prisoners are marked by coloured strips of material on their clothes according to the section they belong to. The strips are 5 to 8 cm wide. They are sewn to the trousers below the knee, two on the arms below the elbow and one on the back. […]

Source: Deutschland-Berichte der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands (Sopade), vol. 3 (Frankfurt a. M., 1980), pp. 683–4, 686–9 (emphasis in the original)

Translation: Ewald Osers