Holocaust Tattoos

The title is Holocaust Tattoos, but it was only in Auschwitz that the new arrivals selected for work received a tattoo. As a rule, they were tattooed on their left forearm, displaying in dark blue or black ink the camp serial number assigned to them.

Prisoners sent directly to the gas chambers were not registered or tattooed. More than 400,000 serial numbers were assigned at Auschwitz.

In the spring of 1942, the SS began systematically tattooing all incoming Jewish prisoners. This form of identification was applied to very ill prisoners, predominantly Poles that had transferred from the camp hospital at Auschwitz I to the newly constructed camp at Birkenau (Auschwitz II). In early 1943, the practice of tattooing prisoners at the Auschwitz camp complex expanded. Following the escape of a female Polish prisoner in February, the Camp Commandant’s Office decided that all incoming prisoners would henceforth be tattooed on the lower left arm. Prisoners who had already been registered in the camp complex also were tattooed.

Despite the perception that all Holocaust prisoners were given tattoos, it was only the prisoners of Auschwitz who were branded this way. The misconception is that Auschwitz inmates were often sent to other camps and liberated from there. They would show a number, but it came from their time at Auschwitz. Metal stamps turned out to be impractical, and later numbers were tattooed with a single needle on the left forearm.

The first series of prisoner numbers were introduced in May 1940, well before the practice of tattooing began. This first series was given to male prisoners and remained in use until January 1945, ending with the number 202,499. Until mid-May 1944, male Jewish prisoners were given numbers from this series.

Rene Guttmann- 169061

Rene, his twin sister, Renate, and their German-Jewish parents lived in Prague. Shortly before the twins were born, Rene’s parents had fled Dresden, Germany, to escape the Nazi government’s policies against Jews. Before leaving Germany to live in Czechoslovakia, Rene’s father, Herbert, had worked in the import-export business. His mother, Ita, was an accountant.

1933-39: Rene’s family lived in a six-story apartment building along the #22 trolley line in Prague. A long, steep flight of stairs led up to their apartment, where Rene and his sister, Renate, shared a crib in their parent’s bedroom; a terrace overlooked the yard outside. Rene and Renate wore matching outfits and were always well-dressed. Their days were often spent playing in a nearby park. In March 1939 the German army occupied Prague.

1940-45: Just before Rene turned 6, his family was deported to Auschwitz from the Theresienstadt ghetto. His arm was tattooed with the number 169061. There, he was separated from his sister and mother and put into a barracks with older boys–many seemed to be twins. Rene didn’t understand what was going on. Sometimes he was taken to a hospital, even though he wasn’t sick, and was measured everywhere and X-rayed. Once, Rene and other boys watched when Soviet and Polish soldiers were shot into a pit outside.

Rene and his sister survived and were reunited in America in 1950. They learned that as one pair of the Mengele Twins, they had been used for medical experiments.

Szlamach Radoszynski 128232

Szlamach was one of six children born to Yiddish-speaking, religious Jewish parents. Szlamach’s father was a peddler, and the Radoszynski family lived in a modest apartment in Warsaw’s Praga section on the east bank of the Vistula River. After completing his schooling at the age of 16, Szlamach apprenticed to become a furrier.

1933-39: During the 1930s Szlamach owned a fur business. Despite the Depression, he was hoping the economy would turn around so that he could make enough money to move into his apartment and start a family. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. One week later, his city was surrounded by the Germans. After a terrible siege, Warsaw surrendered.

1940-44: In November 1940 the Nazis established a ghetto. By April 1943 Szlamach’s entire family had either died in the ghetto or had been deported to the Treblinka killing centre. After the ghetto uprising, he was deported to Auschwitz. Day after day his job there was to shovel dirt over discarded, still-smouldering ashes of cremated victims. He kept wondering whether he, too, would end up the same. But Szlamach was sustained by the fact that the number tattooed on his arm—#128232—added up to 18, the Jewish mystical symbol for life.

In January 1945 Szlamach was deported to Dachau, where he was liberated during a forced march on 1 May 1945, by U.S. soldiers. In July 1949 he immigrated to the United States.

Yevgeny Kovalyov 149563

The 77 years since Yevgeny Kovalev was a teenage prisoner in Auschwitz have been marked by tormented memories and a wonder that he’s still alive.

“Remembering all that is always like torture for me, can you imagine that? I’m even wondering how I could survive those times. We lived for minutes. We didn’t hope that we would survive. They put me on a bench, tied up my feet and body and scourged me with whipping sticks. My shirt was wet through with blood.”

Sam Rosenzweig 140603

The indelible imprint of 140603 was made on Rosenzweig’s arm in 1943 in Auschwitz. Before the camp was liberated on 27 Jan. 1945, he was one of the thousands of Jews forced on a six-week death march to Buchenwald. He weighed less than 90 pounds with little food and clothing in freezing weather.

After being freed, he emigrated to the United States in 1947, eventually settling in San Antonio, where for more than 20 years he visited schools to talk about his experiences, showing them the 140603 tattooed into his flesh.

The memories passed on to his young listeners were stark and brutal, including the smell of burning human flesh, and the sound of gunfire, torture and beatings.

Asked why he put himself through the reliving of this pain, Rosenzweig answered, “I’m scared that in years when the survivors won’t be around, the Holocaust will be forgotten.”

Rosenzweig died in 2008 at 87.

These tattooed numbers all belonged to human beings.









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