Some information on often overshadowed victims of Nazi aggression, and what their suffering tells us about the nature of totalitarianism.
I've been thinking about an often overlooked aspect of Nazi society and its campaigns of terror. Specifically I was thinking of how much of what we think about when we think of Hitler and the Nazi regime is still dominated by the myths they created for themselves. As a result a lot falls through the cracks so I'd like to try redress some of this by sharing what I've learned about the Black Triangle.
Its not much I'm afraid, most of the information on the issue in English I've found has been dominated by the controversy about how appropriate it is or is not as a symbol of Lesbian oppression1 in the Third Reich, and about the current usage of the symbol by disabled campaigners in the UK2 . I was able to find out that in 1938 mass arrests of anti-social individuals accounted for 10,000 people 2,000 of which were sent to Buchenwald, and that other camps such as Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Dachau had black triangle populations3
The Black Triangle badge was for prisoners who were deemed to be Antisocial, the official name was Arbeitsscheu which literally translates as work-shy. But long term unemployment wasn't the only criteria for imprisonment, you could also be declared Arbeitsscheu for refusing or being found unfit for compulsory labour such as digging trenches for the Autobahns or working in armaments factories. You could also be branded with the triangle if you were suspected of being of poor moral character, common targets for the anti-social category included the homeless, alcoholics, drug users and sex workers.
Victims also included the Roma4 and people with behavioural abnormalities and disabilities that were deemed not serious enough to warrant euthanasia were also rounded up, hence the current associations with the struggles against Department for Work and Pensions. In Ravensbruck there were four women given the Black Triangle who specifically noted as suspected lesbians, and there were cases of people being categorised as Arbeitsscheu for having relations outside of their "race".
You could also be black triangle for having a criminal record even if you had not committed a crime recently, which would have moved you into the Green Triangle category instead.
Hitler in Table Talk actually argues that all citizen with a serious offence on their records should either be executed or condemned for life in the Concentration camp system.
"After ten years of imprisonment with hard labor an individual is lost for community life anyhow. Who is going to give him any work? Such a fellow should be put into a concentration camp for life or he should be killed. In our days the latter is more important and serves as a warning. It should be an example for all followers!"
The part I've bolded is I think the key factor that unites all the various victims of the Work-shy label and the violent repression that came with it. Its the one thing the estimated 12.658  Anti-social prisoners have in common. They all in one way or another were deemed unworthy of taking part in the new German national community.
Volksgemeinschafft was a key pillar of the National Socialist society, there were dozens of government and party organisations dedicated to its promotion and ensuring that all German citizens took an active part within it. Deviation from this community in any form wasn't tolerated and we see that through the Black Triangle category it carried the ultimate penalty for those who couldn't measure up to it. An estimated 6,000 Anti-social prisoners would die in the camps.
One of the largest and most powerful organisations was the Strength Through Joy (KDF) organisation.
The KDF worked for the German Workers Front the umbrella organisation that replaced the now illegal trade unions and mutual aid societies. It was also under the supervision of Goebbels propaganda ministry and collaborated with other arms of the Nazi regime. The KDF is sometimes depicted as a largely benevolent organisation, apologists are quick to emphasis cheap package holidays and trips to the cinema etc. But the truth is that it was a tool for the control of the ordinary German in their leisure time.
The aim of the KDF was to extend Nazi party regimentation to the German workers free time, it even an Office for After Work Activity (Amt Feierabend) and Office for Popular Education (Amt Volksbildungswerk). The KDF's sole function was making sure German workers took part in approved leisure activities, the cinema trips were to propaganda films, the leisure activities were strictly partisan, even the uniforms for sports clubs were all party endorsed.
Even the package holidays were politically motivated, after the union with Austria the KDF sent thousands of Austrian workers in order to encourage loyalty to the new regime
Two weeks after the Anschluss, when SS-Gruppenführer Josef Bürckel became Reichskommissar für die Wiedervereinigung as well as Gauleiter, the first five trains with some 2,000 Austrian workers left for Passau, where they were ceremonially welcomed. While Bürckel announced that he did not expect all KdF travelers to return as National Socialists, he did expect them to look him in the eyes and say, "I tried hard to understand you."
This is why the treatment of the "work shy" was so severe, not only were they not contributing to the German economy fully but they weren't able to take part in the German community project either, which rendered them suspect in the eyes of the regime.
Die Gemeinschaftsunfähigen (Those unfit for community life) by H.W Kranz and S. Koller, Giessen 1941
Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heinrich Kranz and his colleagues in the Institute for Hereditary Health and Racial Hygiene with the university of Giessen directed their focus in work on the attempt to demonstrate the hereditability of criminal and "asocial" behavior. After his habilitation paper "Lebensschicksale krimineller Zwillinge" (1936), his main work consisting of two volumes, "Die Gemeinschaftsunfähigen", was published in 1941; Kranz had edited this work together with his colleague Siegfried Koller. Kranz and Koller identified "all those'unfit for community life' or'asocial'..., who show very often significant tendencies opposing community life and who repeatedly show their incapacity or hostility concerning community life." The authors described those who were unable or who did not want to fit into the dominant Nazi condition s, crimal and non criminal individuals, "unfit for community life" as "clinkers and excretory products of human society and civilization", and recommended forced sterilization, forced labor and deprivation of national civil rights for the protection of national unity.
In 1941, the medical statistician Siegfried Koller (born in 1908) became head of the new bio-statistical institute in Berlin. In 1956, after having spent the years 1945-1952 in confinement, Koller was appointed honorary professor and head of the Institute for medical statistics in Mainz. From 1953 to 1962 he was head of the Department for Demographic and Cultural Statistics with the Federal Office for Statistics. In his function of nestor of medical statistics, Koller obtained the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Distinguished Service Medal) in 1982.
Essentially in the new German order you could potentially be condemned to a forced labour camp for the crime of not liking folk dancing.In essence the Black Triangle category of prisoner was the Nazi regime at its most Totalitarian. The new Germania would be regimented and free time abolished, and anyone unable to play by the new rules was threatened with extreme punishment.
- 4In Birkenau concentration camp the Roma population wore black triangles before the introduction of a Brown triangle badge unique to Roma prisoners http://auschwitz.org/en/history/prisoner-classification/system-of-triangles
- 5Table Talk p. 271
- 6 Idib.