Approximately 11 million people were killed because of Nazi genocidal policy. It was the explicit aim of Hitler's regime to create a European world both dominated and populated by the "Aryan" race. The Nazi machinery was dedicated to eradicating millions of people it deemed undesirable. Some people were undesirable by Nazi standards because of who they were,their genetic or cultural origins, or health conditions. These included Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, and people with physical or mental disabilities. Others were Nazi victims because of what they did. These victims of the Nazi regime included Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, the dissenting clergy, Communists, Socialists, asocials, and other political enemies.

Those believed by Hitler and the Nazis to be enemies of the state were banished to camps. Inside the concentration camps, prisoners were forced to wear various colored triangles, each color denoting a different group. The letters on the triangular badges below designate the prisoners' countries of origin.

This photo shows a chart of the prison badges used in concentration camps.


Antisemitism was a familiar part of European political life in the 1800s. Political antisemitism was preceded by centuries of religious persecution of Europe's Jews. There is evidence as early as 1919 that Hitler had a strong hatred of Jews. As Chancellor and later ReichsfŸhrer, Hitler translated these intense feelings into a series of policies and statutes which progressively eroded the rights of German Jews from 1933-1939.

At first, the Nazis boycotted Jewish businesses for one day in April 1933. Then legislation excluded Jews from certain professions. The Nuremberg Laws created very detailed Nazi definitions of who was Jewish. Many people who never considered themselves Jewish suddenly became targets of Nazi persecution.

The world accessible to German Jews narrowed. Jews were no longer allowed to enter cinemas, theaters, swimming pools, and resorts. The publishing of Jewish newspapers was suspended. Jews were required to carry identification cards and to wear Star of David badges. On one night, Nazis burned synagogues and vandalized Jewish businesses. The arrests and murders that followed intensified the fear Jews felt. Next, Jewish children were barred from schools. Curfews restricted Jews' time of travel and Jews were banned from public places. Germany began to expel Jews from within its borders.

Germany's invasion of Poland in late 1939 radicalized the Nazi regime's policy toward Jews. Hitler turned to wholesale death of the European Jewish population. He swept Jewish populations into ghettos in eastern Europe. Simultaneously, mobile squads killed millions. The next step was to send Jews to squalid concentration and death camps. Approximately six million died for one reason: they were Jewish.

More information about Jewish victims of the Holocaust, with links to other Web sites and documentary materials.

Roma (Gypsies)

The Roma, a nomadic people believed to have come originally from northwest India, consisted of several tribes or nations. Most of the Roma who had settled in Germany belonged to the Sinti nation. The Sinti and Roma had been persecuted for centuries. The Nazi regime continued the persecution, viewing the Roma both as asocial and as racially inferior to Germans.

Although the Nuremberg Laws did not specifically mention them, Roma were included in the implementation of the statutes. Like Jews, they were deprived of their civil rights. In June 1936, a Central Office to "Combat the Gypsy Nuisance" opened in Munich. By 1938, Sinti and Roma were being deported to concentration camps.

The fate of the Romani peoples paralleled that of the Jews after the beginning of World War II: systematic deportation and murder. First, western European Roma were resettled in ghettos. Then they were sent to concentration and extermination camps. Many Roma in the east--Russia, Poland, and the Balkans--were shot by the Einsatzgruppen. In total, hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma were killed during the Holocaust.

Further information about the Sinti and Roma, a photo, and links to other Web sites.

Poles and Other Slavs

It is often forgotten that Christian Poles and other Slavs, notably Ukrainians and Byelorussians, were also primary targets of Nazi Germany hatred during World War II. To the Nazis, the Slavs were considered Untermenschen,or subhumans, and nothing more than obstacles to gaining territory necessary for the superior German race. This philosophy is apparent in Hitler's statement, "The destruction of Poland is our primary task. The aim is not the arrival at a certain line but the annihilation of living forces...."

The combination of a Nazi genocidal policy and the Nazis' thirst for more living space resulted in disaster for Polish, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian populations. Millions of Slavs were deported to Germany for forced labor. Intelligentsia, consisting of teachers, physicians, clergy, business owners, attorneys, engineers, landowners, and writers, were imprisoned in concentration camps or publicly executed. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians were executed by mobile killing squads, or Einsatzgruppen.

Those who were sent to camps had to wear badges, of course. There was not one badge designation for Poles and other Slavs. Rather, a Polish or Slavic person was categorized as a criminal, asocial, political prisoner, and so on.

Millions upon millions of non-Jews were slaughtered in the Slavic countries.

Further information about the Nazi treatment of the Polish people.

Political Dissidents and Dissenting Clergy

The remnants of the Communist and Socialist parties and members of the trade unions resisted the Nazi regime. Especially in the early years of the Third Reich, political prisoners were a significant portion of the concentration camp inmates. At the end of July 1933, about 27,000 political prisoners were being held in concentration camps in "protective custody." During its twelve year existence, Dachau was always a camp for political prisoners.

In 1933, the Roman Catholic Church signed a concordat or agreement with the new Nazi government, recognizing the legitimacy of the Third Reich. The Protestant Church was united into a single Reich Church under one bishop. In September 1933, Martin Niemöller, a pastor of a fashionable church in Berlin, set up a Pastors' Emergency League which led to the formation of the anti-Nazi Confessional Church. This church wrote a memorandum to Hitler attacking the government's anti-Christian campaign, policies of antisemitism, and terrorizing tactics. Hitler responded with a crackdown on members of the Confessional Church. Hundreds of dissenting clergy were arrested, many were imprisoned, and also executed.

Further information about the Nazi treatment of political prisoners and dissenting clergy.

Persons with Physical or Mental Disabilities

These people never were assigned a badge because they were rarely sent to concentration camps. Persons with physical or mental disabilities threatened the Nazi plan for human "perfection."

In 1934, forced sterilization programs sterilized 300,000 - 400,000 people, mainly those in mental hospitals and other institutions. Propaganda was distributed which helped build public support for these government policies. Persons who were mentally ill or physically disabled were stigmatized, while the costs of care were emphasized in propaganda campaigns.

In 1939, a Nazi "euthanasia program" began. This term is used as a euphemism for the Nazi plan to murder those with physical or mental defects. Unlike the sterilization program, the "euthanasia" program was conducted in secrecy. "Operation T4" was the code term used to designate this killing project.

As word leaked out about the "euthanasia" program, some church leaders, parents of victims, physicians, and judges protested the killings. Hitler ordered the end of Operation T4 in August 1941. However, the murders continued in a decentralized manner. Doctors were encouraged to kill patients with disabilities by starvation, poisoning, or injection.

Further information about the Nazi treatment of persons with physical or mental disabilities.

Jehovah's Witnesses

In 1933, the Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany totaled about twenty thousand. Although their religious meetings were outlawed after the Nazi rise to power, many continued to practice their religion. In 1934, Jehovah's Witnesses attempted to fend off Nazi attacks by having congregations send letters to the government explaining their beliefs and political neutrality.

The Nazis did not tolerate the Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal, which was based on religious principles, to salute flags, to raise their arms to "Heil Hitler,"or to serve in the German army. The group was banned by national law in April 1935. Those Witnesses who defied the ban on their activities were arrested and sent to prisons and concentration camps.

Marked with purple triangular badges, the Witnesses were a relatively small group of prisoners in the concentration camps, numbering several hundred per camp. If Jehovah's Witnesses within the camps signed documents renouncing their religious beliefs, they would be freed. Very few, even in the face of torture, signed the declarations. In all, about 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps. Of these, approximately 2,500 to 5,000 died in Dachau, Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and other camps.

Further information about the Nazi treatment of the Jehovah's Witnesses.


A state policy of persecution of homosexuals began in Germany in 1933. Publications by and about homosexuals were prohibited and burned. In 1934, a special Gestapo division on homosexuals was set up. A criminal code relating to homosexuality was amended and made harsher. German police raided gay clubs and bars and made arrests.

Some homosexuals spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps. Even within the confines of the camps, homosexuals were mistreated and tormented by other inmates.

The Nazi regime claimed its concern about homosexuality related to keeping the Aryan birthrate high. German and Austrian gays were subject to arrest and imprisonment, but in German-occupied countries, Nazis did not deport homosexuals and send them to camps.

Memorial photographs, Web links, and a bibliography related to homosexual victims of the Third Reich.

Other Victims

When the Nazis came to power there were hundreds of African-German children living in the Rhineland. They were the offspring of German mothers and African soldiers brought in during the French occupation. In Mein Kampf,Hitler claimed these children were part of a Jewish plot to begin "bastardizing the European continent at its core." Under the Nazi regime, African-German children were labeled "Rhineland Bastards" and forcibly sterilized.

Asocials were another category of people that Nazis deemed undesirable, and necessary for eradication. Nazis targeted numerous vagrants, prostitutes, alcoholics, and others who were considered unfit for society.

Interactive quiz on victims.

Lesson plans, discussion questions, term paper topics, reproducible handouts, and other resources for teaching about victims are available here.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.
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