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Prisoner numbers

Prisoner numbers in the system of German Nazi concentration camps


The prisoner numbers have become a synonym of dehumanization that struck the deportees of the concentration camp. These numbers were to serve efficient "management" of camps, performed by the SS teams. Within the whole system of "state concentration camps" of III Reich, there was no a single rule of ascribing the numbers to the prisoners. Usually, there were subsequent numbers issued for the newly arrived prisoners (as it was in KL Auschwitz). In some camps (e.g. in KL Gusen or KL Buchenwald) the numbers of the deceased were ascribed again. In such cases, one number could belong to one or even three persons. Prisoners transported from one camp to another obtained a new number every time. The number was used instead of last names on every day basis, as the spelling was often ambiguous, causing fuss in the documentation. While analyzing the records in the original documentation, one last name could be written in several manners, regarding which language was used by the camp writer, who filled in a particular form. It principally refers to Russian, Polish or Hungarian names, especially difficult for German writers.


Number series of KL Auschwitz prisoners


Numbers ascribed by camp authorities to those deported to KL Auschwitz became their second name during their incarceration. Being awaken in the middle of the night, they needed to be able to provide their number in German. Those who survived were unable to forget them.

The prisoner numbers were issued chronologically to the newly arrived in KL Auschwitz, similarly as in the majority of German Nazi concentration camps. Therefore, the prisoner number allows us to determine a specific date of deportation. However, when the camp functioned, there were several number series applied - separate for women and for men, and also for various prison categories-groups. These series were prepared by camp administration, regarding the needs, as new transports continued to arrive. Jointly, about 400 000 of prisoner numbers were issued in all series.

Below, we would like to present separate number series applied in KL Auschwitz from May 1940, when the first 30 numbers were ascribed to criminals that arrived from KL Sachsenhausen, to January 1945, when the camp was released by the Red Army.

General series of men and women.

Numbers of general series of men and women were issued from the beginning of the camp operation (May 1940) until its evacuation (January 1945). The first 30 numbers were ascribed to criminal prisoners - Germans (BV category - Berufverbrecher), who arrived at the camp on 20 May 1940. The first number for a political prisoner 31 was ascribed to a Pole - Stanisław Ryniak - who was brought with the I transport from Tarnów on 14 June 1940. At least 202 499 numbers were issued totally in the period of five years. The last one - 202 499 - was ascribed on 18 January 1945 to a German criminal prisoner. 

The main female series was started on 26 March 1942, when the first 999 female prisoners came to the camp from Ravensbrueck.  Similarly as it was in case of men, the first transport mostly included criminal and so called asocial prisoners, who afterwards played roles of block supervisors and kapos in the female camp. Until the end of the camp's operation, the women of various nationalities were ascribed with around 90 000 numbers of that series.


"R" series - Soviet POWs

After German invasion on the Soviet Union, the Soviet POWs started to be brought to the Auschwitz camp already at the end of summer 1941. The first POWs of this series were registered around 6/7 November 1941. There were jointly about 12 000 prisoner numbers issued with a letter "R".


EH series of men and women.

 Correctional prisoners (Erziehungshäftlinge) marked with a letter "E", were a separated and a special group in the camp. According to its definition, this category was to serve "upbringing" and "educating" through staying in the camp. Usually, the Poles incarcerated with this category, had violated some regulations of employment and work discipline, which they had been forced to perform by occupational authorities before incarceration. The men and women with this category were theoretically incarcerated for the period of 6 - 8 weeks, but in practice they remained in the camp for an incomparably longer time. Many of the Erziehungshäftlinge were never released from the camp. The "EH" prisoners were registered in the camp since 16 July 1941. There were jointly 9000 numbers for men and 2000 for women issued with "EH" category in the camp.


"Z" series for Sinti and Roma

Beginnings of ascribing "Z" series numbers to Roma are connected with their first transport sent by the Nazis to the Auschwitz camp from Germany on 26 February 1943. In total, there were 20 943 Roma registered, coming from countries occupied by the Germans. Among them there were 10 849 women and girls, and 10 094 men and boys. More than 10 thousand of people registered in the books were children and youth below 15 years old. There were more than 370 Roma children born in the camp - 350 out of them died. The tragic end, so called „Zigeunerfamilienlager Auschwitz“ (of a family camp for the Gypsies) took place on 2 August, where the remaining 3000 Roma were driven into the gas chambers and murdered.

"A" and "B" series for Jewish men and women

The biggest group of those deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau were Jews from more than 20 European countries. Until 1944, both Jewish men and women were ascribed with numbers from general series. In May 1944, the camp authorities decided to distinguish all Jewish prisoners with a separate system of numbered series. An assumption was to start the Jewish women and men series with subsequent letters of the alphabet. In such a system, from May 1944 until the end of the camp's functioning, there were

- 20 000 numbers with a letter "A" - Jewish prisoners

- 15 000 numbers with a letter "B" - Jewish prisoners

- 30 000 numbers with a letter "A" - female prisoners


"PH" – police prisoners

„PH” Polizei-Häftlinge – police prisoners were directed to the camp by Gestapo from Katowice and Mysłowice. They were not official prisoners of the camp. They just waited in KL Auschwitz for court decisions. In practice, majority of them were sentenced by the drumhead-court martial to execution by firing squad. Only Poles were the police prisoners. It is estimated that around 3000 numbers were issued in this series.


The scope of numbers

The number series

1 – 202499

main series - men

1 – 12000

"R" Soviet POWs

1 – 9 000

"EH" – men

1 –     2 000

"EH" - women

1 –   90 000

main series - women

1 –   10 094

"Z" – Sinti and Roma men

1 –   10 888

"Z" - Sinti and Roma women

1 –   20 000

"A" – Jewish men

1 –   15 000

"B" - Jewish men

1 –   30 000

"A" - Jewish women

1 –   3 000

"PH" – police prisoners

404 481

in total