The different Groups of Prisoners – Europe in Neuengamme

Groups of German Prisoners

During the early days of Neuengamme concentration camp, German prisoners (including Austrians, who were considered inhabitants of the Reich) formed the largest group. Initially, the main purpose of the concentration camps had been to imprison the Nazis’ political adversaries. From 1937, more and more members of other persecuted groups – Jewish people, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, so-called “antisocial elements” and “criminals” – were taken to the camps. The reasons for imprisonment were indicated by triangles in different colours on the prisoners’ uniforms. All in all, around 9,500 German prisoners from the Reich were imprisoned at Neuengamme concentration camp, among them around 400 women in the satellite camps.

A diagram showing the numbers of imprisoned people that belonged to a certain group of prisoners throughout the years from 1938 until 1945. The different prisoner groups shown in the diagram are Men (blue), Women (red), police prisoners (black) and soviet prisoners of war (green).

Non German Groups of Prisoners

From 1941 on, the majority of prisoners in Neuengamme concentration camp came from countries occupied by the Germans. In 1941/42, Polish prisoners formed the largest group in the camp, and from 1942/43 on the majority of prisoners came from the Soviet Union. In total, more than 90 percent of the prisoners in Neuengamme were non-Germans. More than half of them came from Eastern and Central Europe, but there were also large groups of prisoners from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. They had been imprisoned because they had committed acts of resistance against the German occupation, they were slave labourers who were being punished for some offence, or they had been taken hostage as part of “retaliation measures” carried out by the Wehrmacht. Since 1941, Neuengamme concentration camp also held Soviet POWs, but it was not until 1944/45 that a larger number of Jewish prisoners from outside Germany were taken to Neuengamme.

A map of Europe that shows the number of prisoners of each country that were imprisoned at theNeuengamme concentration camp.
Groups of German Prisoners

Germans or “Reichsdeutsche” prisoners initially formed with approximately 9,500 the largest group in Neuengamme concentration camp. Initially, the concentration camps were set up for political opponents. From 1937 onwards, the number of other persecuted persons such as Jews, Sinti, homosexuals, alleged “asocial elements” and “professional criminals” increased. The respective reasons for detention were marked by different colored triangles on the clothing.

Non German Groups of Prisoners

More than 90 percent of the prisoners in Neuengamme were non-Germans. More than half of them came from Eastern and Central Europe, but there were also large groups of prisoners from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. They had been imprisoned because they had committed acts of resistance against the German occupation, they were slave labourers who were being punished for some offence, or they had been taken hostage as part of “retaliation measures” carried out by the Wehrmacht.

Media Library

The complete permanent exhibition "Time Traces" and the other side exhibitions on the grounds of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial are also available digitally in the memorial's media library. Unfortunately, the media library is only available in German.

media library
Contact us at

E-mail: lernwerkstatt@gedenkstaetten.hamburg.de

Phone: +49 40 428 131 551