An estimated 5,000 to 15,000 homosexual men were imprisoned in concentration camps during the Nazi era. Under the practice of "protective custody" (Schutzhaft), ostensibly designed to shield individuals from the "indignation of society," the Gestapo seized suspected homosexual men without warrants and confined them in camps along with political opponents and others—particularly Jews after 1938—who "offended" the Volk.

The first concentration camps were improvised in local prisons, military barracks, even abandoned factories. Beginning in 1934, SS chief Heinrich Himmler oversaw the regularization of the camp system under SS control. The main camps—Sachsenhausen for the north, Buchenwald for the center, and Dachau for the south—were ostensibly to "re–educate" inmates through discipline and hard work.

The pink triangle (second column from right) was the designated camp badge for male homosexual prisoners, as shown on this undated chart titled "Distinguishing Marks for Protective Custody Prisoners." In addition to the basic badge (top), variations marked repeat offenders, prisoners in punishment battalions, and homosexual Jews. Other colors identified political prisoners, previously convicted criminals, emigrants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and so-called asocials.

Prisoners during a roll call at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Their uniforms bear classifying triangular badges and identification numbers. Buchenwald, Germany, 1938-1941.

Easily identified by their pink triangle badges, homosexual detainees—the "175ers"—were subject to physical and even sexual abuse by SS camp guards. Fearing guilt–by–association, most fellow prisoners shunned the homosexuals, leaving them isolated and powerless within the prisoner hierarchy.

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