The pink triangle for male homosexual inmates was introduced in 1936 at the start of the effort to standardize practices in the Nazi concentration camps. It is unlikely that there were ever more than a couple of dozen homosexuals in German concentration camps at any given time — their mortality rate was high, and the arrest rate was relatively low compared to the much larger prison populations in other categories (political, criminal, Jew, asocial, etc.). By and large, German gay men — the main target of Nazi persecution — were sent to the major camp complexes in Germany (Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg) or Austria (Mauthausen)—most of which had numerous subcamps.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has no pink triangle that can be documented to have been worn by a concentration camp prisoner. Our Museum Collection database lists 3 “pink triangles,” but there is doubt about each of them. While much scientific analysis remains to be done, thus far it has been difficult to differentiate “pink” from a wide range of reds — the color of badge used to mark political prisoners, a far more common category of inmate in the Nazi concentration camps.
Triangles 1 and 2
One collection is of 12 concentration camp badges found by Lieutenant Colonel Charles F. Ottoman of the U.S. Army 83rd Infantry Division at the liberation of the Halberstadt-Zwieberge forced labor camp, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, in April 1945. These badges were found in the camp offices, ready for distribution to new inmates. The collection of badges was used as evidence in Buchenwald Trial case No. 117, “Alleged atrocities at camp Zwieberge Concentration Camp” against lesser SS men who served at Halberstadt-Zwieberge. According to the inventory list, two badges are identified as pink: one with a T to denote Czech nationality (Tschechoslowakei, in German) and one with a B to denote Belgian nationality. The items came to the Museum from the National Archives, Record Group 338—War Crimes Case Files (“Cases Tried”) 1945-1959 Case 000-50-9.
There hasn’t been sufficient research into the National Archives records to fully understand these two badges. The Nazis only rarely put non-German gays into concentration camps; their efforts were to stamp out German homosexuality as a drag on population growth. Part of Czechoslovakia (the Sudentenland) was merged with the Greater Reich in 1938, where German law would have applied; the rest became the German-controlled Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and special provisions about “habitual criminals” — a category that in Nazi practice often included gays — were introduced in 1942. Belgium, which had no law against homosexuality, fell under Nazi occupation in 1940, and the Nazis’ law against homosexuality may have been imposed or adopted (as occurred in the Netherlands). That this small concentration camp would have at the ready prepared pink triangles to badge both Belgian and Czech gays seems more than a little odd.
The third triangle is a long-term loan from the surviving partner of “Josef K,” from Vienna, who was arrested as a violator of German law Section 175 (the anti-homosexuality law) and issued the triangle badge with prisoner number 1876 upon his arrival at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on January 27, 1940. According to the loan documents, after his liberation in April 1945 by the Americans, while he was making his way back home to his parents in Vienna, he exchanged his prison clothing for civilian clothing and removed the badge to keep.
What is problematic with this one — despite documentary proof that Josef was imprisoned under Section 175 — is that the triangle on the badge is clearly red, the marking for a political prisoner. There are numerous documented cases of individuals who managed to get their marking changed to improve their status within the social hierarchy of a concentration camp (gays suffered at the lowest levels with Jews). The short memoir The Men with the Pink Triangle by “Heinz Heger” is, I’m reliably told, Josef K’s story: While the narrator makes no mention of getting a red triangle, it seems clear and not unlikely that his success in surviving Flossenbürg for five years was through enhanced social status.
We continue to hope to find a pink triangle that can be documented to a gay victim, but the chances of such a find are miniscule. The gay survivor generation is probably now gone, and the likelihood that any of them kept and passed on their triangle is slim because the persecution of gays in Germany continued well after the war ended.