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Report by Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, two Escapees from Auschwitz (Late April 1944)

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2. Description of the Auschwitz camp.

Auschwitz is actually a reception center for political prisoners, for those "in protective custody." In April 1942, at the time of my assignment there, there were about 15,000 prisoners, mostly Poles, German nationals, and Russian civilians. A few of the inmates were criminals or hoboes.

The Birkenau labor camp, as well as the agricultural settlement at Harmansee, are subordinate to the Auschwitz camp command. All prisoners come first to Auschwitz, where they are provided with appropriate numbers; they are either kept there or are sent to Birkenau; only a few go to Harmansee. Prisoners are allotted numbers in the order of their admittance. Numbers are used only once, so that the last number shows the total number of prisoners admitted up to that date. At the time of our escape from Birkenau, at the beginning of April 1944, this [highest] number was about 180,000. Numbers were at first tattooed on the left breast, but later, as these numbers became illegible, on the left arm above the wrist.

All categories of prisoners receive the same treatment, regardless of nationality. But for ease of control they are distinguished by different-colored triangles located on the left side of the upper garment, under the prison number. The nationality of the prisoner is indicated by initial letters (i.e., P for Pole, etc.) placed inside the triangle. The colors of the triangles indicating the various categories are:

red — political protective custody
green — incorrigible criminal
black — work derelict (mostly Russians)
pink — Homosexuals
purple — member of the sect of Bible Researchers

The markings of Jewish prisoners differ from the insignia described above only in that the triangle, which is red in most cases, is converted into a Star of David by the addition of a small yellow triangle.

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