During the NAZI era of 1930-1940 Germany, the World War II era, the government created a state policy where ‘undesirable’ groups within Germany and any of its occupied territories were isolated from the general population. These groups were identified as Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals, political prisoners, and emigrants.
Once identified, they were forced to wear a distinctively designed cloth badge on their clothing to help identify them to the general population as to which persecuted group they belonged. Eventually and systematically, those wearing the cloth badges were moved as groups and imprisoned in outdoor concentration camps.
The Jewish population was one of the largest groups forced into concentration camps. While there, they were routinely decimated through forced labor, starvation, disease, and outright extermination.
The particular symbol chosen to identify the Jewish population as a whole was the Magen David, or Shield of David. This six pointed star-shaped design is actually made by the intertwining of two triangles. It is said that the triangles represent the intertwining of the Jewish people or that one triangle points upward to G-d and the other points down to earth. However, early Jewish text does not specifically identify this symbol as that of the Jewish people. There was some references to its use on synagogues as early as the 17th century, but not how it was chosen to represent the Jewish religion. Still, this symbol was adopted by the late 19th century Zionist movement and eventually incorporated into the national flag of Israel.
This Magen David, the Star of David, was the symbol most used by the Nazi regime to identify its Jewish population. There are many versions of the Magen David used in different regions of Nazi influence. The red star armband above is only one design possibly used in the Eastern Europe concentration camps. However, the newness of the armband suggests that it is a more recent fabrication and not authentic to the period.
Once incarcerated in concentration camps, the triangle seems to have prevailed as a unique symbol for all prisoners, only the color identifying the group the prisoner belonged. The other symbols for the other persecuted groups while in the concentration camps are identified as:
- yellow triangles for Jewish prisoners
- red triangles for political (Communist) prisoners
- purple triangles for Jehovah’s Witness
- pink triangles for homosexuals
- green triangles for criminals
- black triangles for Gypsies
- blue triangles for emigrants
Fake and Forgeries
It is evident and unfortunate that too many of the concentration camp memorabilia offered on online auction sites are not authentic. Many of them are being made from original cloth of the period which can make it hard to know for sure whether it is authentic or not. However, there is one rule of thumb to consider – if it looks too new, it is.
The Black Light Test
The other more sure way to know is to move a black light over the piece and if the thread glows, it is synthetic, a material not available during this period. That’s true of any painted object, too. If it glows under black light, it is of recent origin.
Collecting original concentration camp memorabilia is important as its very existence informs future generations that this shall not happen again.