Out of the surviving 6,808 arrest files of Duesseldorf, a small city of half a million population, 1,440 were those of Communists alone. They were, however, only one among the 52 types of victims persecuted by the Nazis across the country.

The above is a quote from my 9th grade history textbook. Who else was victimized by the Nazis??

  • 2
    “52” is an approximate number. Pastor Niemöller famously said: “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.” I know there are many different versions of this supposed quotation, but they boil down to much the same thing.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 12:06
  • 18
    The text book seems to be quite inaccurate in general. Calling Düsseldorf "small" is rather weird, given half a million population and that it is the 7th-biggest city in Germany, the regional capital of the largest German province (NRW) and an important business hub in Germany. This is even more true during the the 3rd Reich as NRW was the main industrial region.
    – dirkk
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 18:18
  • 2
    you are my folk hero of the day for looking beyond the (utterly misleading nature of) textbooks
    – n611x007
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 11:15
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    @dirkk: All a matter of perspective. I'd forgive a textbook from India or China for calling a city of half a million "small"... Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 13:39
  • 3
    @MichaelBorgwardt surely Düsseldorf is small by China/India-size standards. However, isn't especially in historic texts, context very important? And I guess this text is about Germany and hence the context should be German or European cities. Otherwise, you could also classify Alexander the Greats army as "small", given that it had ~50.000 soldiers which is nothing compared to army sizes today.
    – dirkk
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 14:43

2 Answers 2


Across the country, meaning only looking at victims in Germany and not the Nazi occupied territories, these were mainly Socialists, Communists, Jews, “gypsies”, certain religious groups, homosexuals, mentally handicapped people, pastors and priests who publicly voiced their resentment of the Nazis, German women who had a relationship with anyone deemed worthless by the Nazis, people in resistance, people who were considered to be antisocial.

The following Nazi graphic shows the markings on concentration camp prisoner's clothing. The markings indicate the main groups into which the Nazis classified the prisoners.

Nazi-category markings on concentration camp prisoner's clothing

The following table displays the translations provided in the comments the same way they appear in the original image for easier visual reference. Title, subtitle, graphics and annotations in the example image are not included.

                |   political   |  professional  |  emigrants  |     Bible students     |  Homosexuals  |  Anti-social
                |               |   criminals    |             |i.e. Jehovah's Witnesses|               |
Basic           |               |                |             |                        |               | 
colours         |               |                |             |                        |               |
Badge for       |               |                |             |                        |               | 
reoffenders     |               |                |             |                        |               |
Inmates of the  |               |                |             |                        |               |
penal company   |               |                |             |                        |               |
Badge for Jews  |               |                |             |                        |               |
Special badges  | Jewish racial | Female racial  |    Danger   |      Inmate Number     |
                |   disgrace    |    disgrace    |   of escape |                        |
                |     Pole      |     Czech      |  Member of  |      Inmate Ia         |
                |               |                |the Wehrmacht|                        |
  • 13
    For the benefit of those who do not read German: The six "basic colours" at the top of the columns are "political", "professional criminals", "emigrants", "Bible scholars" (i.e. Jehovah's Witnesses), "Homosexuals", "Anti-social".
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 12:10
  • 9
    +1 for the original. The above translation by @fdb provides the top row of the graphic. Expanding on your comment, because maybe someone thinks its interesting: On the left-hand side it reads, from top to bottom: "Basic colours", "Badge for relapses" (is that a proper noun?), "Inmates of the penal company", "Badge for Jews" and "Special badges". In the special badges there are "Jewish racial disgrace", "Female racial disgrace", "Suspicious of flight", "Number", "Pole", "Chech", "Member of the Wehrmacht", "Inmate Ia". And right of that is an example pattern. Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 15:00
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    +1 for the graphic (which seems to have "only" 32(?) categories) and the translating comments. Although the graphic seems to indicate that it was possible to be classified as both as a "jew" AND "bibelforscher" ("bible student", i.e. JW).
    – x457812
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 17:51
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    @gerrit, this Word document (link) seems to equate “Häftling Ia” with "Sonderhäftlinge" which according to this Wikipedia page (link) means "special or honorable detention". According to this Wikipedia page, these were prisoners who had political value or former [high] status and were treated uncommonly well.
    – user100487
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 13:58
  • 2
    @x457812, note that the nazis used Jew as an ethnic category, not a religious one.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 16:19

I believe that your textbook used an inappropriate level of precision in the number 52. Even if there were documents with such a classification of their victims, using them would concede that Nazi definitions were an useful guide to their killings and persecutions.

  • In the 1920s and early 1930s, the nazis were engaged in paramilitary violence which might be characterized as a civil war. Once they had control of the government bureaucracy, they used it to persecute their enemies. Communists, Socialists, other non-nationalist groups.
  • After the Machtergreifung, they persecuted all those who did not fit into their concept of a politically homogenous nation. This included Christians who put their God above the Führer, trade unionists who did not want to join the Nazi trade union, parents who did not want to send their children to the Nazi youth organizations, etc.
  • They persecuted ethnic minorities, notably Jews, Sinti and Romani (gypsies). That persecution took several years to take full swing, because the Jews were partially integrated into German life. The Nuremberg laws were introduced in 1935 (not to be confused with the Nuremberg trials after the war).
  • They also persecuted Germans who were, in their view, habitual criminals, hobos, or prostitutes. These catch-all labels could be attached to anyone who displeased a senior official.

While the Nazis retained some trappings of the rule of law, they reserved the right to persecute anyone.

  • 4
    Lets not forget homosexuals, the old, the infirm, the mentally challenged, the physical handicapped. Then I guess one could also add Russian and Polish POWs, and perhaps more or less the general population of the areas designated for German Lebensraum in Poland and parts of the Soviet Union (those that looked "too Slavic"). Could also specifically mention Free Masons. Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 20:38
  • @BaardKopperud, I had subsumed most of those under the first three bullet points. Freemasons were deemed illoyal, Homosexuals didn't fit into their view of the Volksgemeinschaft. OTOH, blind youths were allowed to joint the HJ.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 5:21
  • @BaardKopperud I left the Soviet POWs out, because the question appears to be about pre-war Germany.
    – jjack
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 10:11
  • @o.m. You can not argue that one cannot use the Nazi’s definitions. Your reasoning on this issue is somewhat twisted. Also the Weimar Republic cannot be characterized to have been in a civil war.
    – jjack
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 10:17
  • 1
    @jjack, the nazis used the trappings of administrative process and the rule of law to organize their persecutions, but they were not bound by it themselves. They persecuted their enemies even if they did not fit into neat categories.
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 14:08

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