A Day in the Life of a Concentration Camp Prisoner
A Day in the Life of a Concentration Camp Prisoner

A Day in the Life of a Concentration Camp Prisoner

Larry Holzwarth - September 27, 2019

A Day in the Life of a Concentration Camp Prisoner
Prisoners at Dachau in 1938 could not receive packages in the mail, a situation changed by Himmler in 1942. Wikimedia

24. By 1942, the prisoners could receive packages from the outside world

In October 1942, Himmler realized the numbers of deaths of prisoners in the labor camp system was problematic. It was making the labor camp system inefficient and costly for the Reich. Rather than increase the costs of feeding the prisoners by purchasing additional food, he ordered that prisoners be allowed to receive packages in the mail. But, in some camps, food could be sent to prisoners either by relatives or organizations. One such organization was the International Red Cross. Red Cross packages were frequently intercepted by the SS or the Kapos. They ransacked the packages for whatever they contained. A Kapo could be shot for it.

Nonetheless, in some camps, the reception of packages meant the difference between survival and death. It also led to the development of black markets within the confines of the camps. Food and other items sent in, such as cigarettes, traded briskly among the prisoners. Such trading could only take place at night, during the brief time between returning to the barracks at the end of evening roll call and lights out. After lights out, anyone not in their assigned bunk or sleeping place was liable for immediate discipline by the guards.

A Day in the Life of a Concentration Camp Prisoner
Prisoners at Sachsenhausen in 1938 display both their serial numbers and identification patches sewn onto their uniforms. Wikimedia

25. The prisoners had “money” and the Germans provided means to spend it

Prisoners arriving at the concentration camps had all their valuables confiscated by the SS, including their money. At most camps they were distributed an allowance in the form prison currency. A class system developed in the camps based on the status of the prisoners. Some were VIPs, usually those held for political purposes. Their future value was considered by the SS when they granted them greater privileges. Others were functionaries of the camp itself. Others were the Kapos who assisted the SS in maintaining and operating the camps. The amount of camp currency received by each prisoner was dependent on where they found themselves within the camp’s hierarchy.

The SS provided the means of spending the currency earned within the camp. Although in most camps Jews were excluded from using their earnings. Who could use various facilities, and to what level, depended on one thing. The color of the triangular badges worn by all prisoners determined their priority. Jews wore two yellow triangles which formed the Star of David. Homosexuals wore pink triangles, which allowed them to use the Lagerbordell, a camp brothel established by the Germans at nearly all camps. The women who staffed them were mostly prisoners from Ravensbruck (Auschwitz selected them from its own prisoners). Himmler encouraged homosexuals be allowed to use the brothels in the belief it might “cure” them from the deviancy which had caused their imprisonment.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“Transportation to camps”. Entry, The Holocaust Explained. Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide. Online

“German resistance report on prisoner arrivals at Esterwegen, 1936”. Display, Daily Life. The Nazi Concentration Camps. Online

“A Jew Who Beat Jews in a Nazi Camp is Stripped of His Citizenship”. Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times. February 5, 1988

“Enemies of the State”. Entry, The Holocaust Encyclopedia. US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Online

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“Dora-Mittelbrau/Nordhausen”. Article, Holocaust Education & Research Team. Online

“The Prisoner Dionys Lenard on Early Mornings in Majdanek”. Display, Daily Life. The Nazi Concentration Camps. Online

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“The Survivor Wladyslaw Kuraszkiewicz on the “Muselmanner”. Display, Daily Life, The Nazi Concentration Camps. Online

“Daily Routines”. Article, The Holocaust Explained. Wiener Library. Online

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