Menachem's Writings Follow theKuch on Twitter

Capos, Kapos and Nazi Murder Inc.
Could the Germans have done it on their own?

I have heard from "survivors" that the Nazi Germans, may their memory rot, could not have done it on their own. Had they not found willing partners in the countries they conquered, they could not have done to the Jews what they did -- cold bloodedly murder of so many of our nation.

The Lithuanians started savagely murdering the Jews before the arrival of Hitler's emissaries. From all reports, they compete with the Ukrainians as the most savage and brutal of concentration camp guards, and the Poles, themselves persecuted by the Germans, even managed a pogrom or two in 1945 aimed at returning "Polish" Jews. Ukrainians actively volunteered for the S.S., and after a "special" course, joined their full ranks, wearing the same infamous black uniform. I am told, by first hand sources, that these foreigners were more brutal than the "native Germans".

But perhaps the worst collaboration of all, the evilest of humanity, were Jews who worked and collaborated with the regime. These were the so-called Capos, the "court Jews". Unfortunately this cooperation did not represent a phenomenon new to Jewish history. Take Pablo Christiani, a thirteenth century orthodox Spanish Jew who became a catholic of the dominican order. He comes to us down the road of history as the "christian" who debated Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, the Ramban, Nachmanides, in the famous Disputation of Barcelona. Christiani subsequently convinced the Pope to censor the Talmud, and later, the King of France to force all Jews in the dominion to wear identifying badges. A true slime if ever there was one. He is not unique in Jewish history.

A midrash relates an occurrence during the first visit of the sons of Ya'akov to their (then unknown to them) brother, Yosef, viceroy of Egypt. Joseph "plays a game" with them, testing them. He tells them they should return home, but to leave brother Shimon behind. Now Shimon was the wild son of the family, the wilder chayeh. He knew how to fight when necessary, and to fight to the end. "And who's going to arrest me", he yells as he stomps on the ground so hard that the palace walls shake and sway. Joseph gestures to eight year old Menasseh, his son and personal assistant. Menashe simply walks up to Uncle Simeon, punching him so hard that his teeth fall out, and collapses him into a useless heap of humanity on the floor. The sons of Jacob can only express their disbelief with the words, "this is a strike from our father's house". Yes, the allegory is teaching us, only a fellow Jew, and not a gentile, can do serious damage to the Jewish people!

I want to write about the Kapos amongst us. Those that survived the Holocaust, those who still live amongst us, even to this day.

But first I wanted a "simple" definition of the term Kapo. I've spoken to many survivors and heard many of their histories. I was surprised, however, to not find too much of use on the Web. Some spell it with a 'K' and some spell it with 'C', but a Capo is a Kapo.

Some definitions and references I did find on the Internet I think are a little sanitised.
Here is some of what I found. I decided not to give sources, and mix up different details. (If you're reading this, you have the same access to the web I do.)

Capo A position of authority in concentration and death camps occupied by an inmate. Capos carried out the instructions of their immediate S.S. supervisors. They were most frequently selected from among inmates incarcerated for their criminal activities [and not just for being Jews?]. As their own, frequently limited, albeit life-saving, privileges, depended on the whim of their SS supervisors, they more often than not treated other [Jewish] inmates with extreme harshness and brutality.

A bit softer
The capos were Jews who worked inside the death camps. Their tasks included transporting victims of gassing to the ovens, cleaning the gas chambers of human excrement and blood, removal of gold from the teeth of the victims, shaving the heads of those going to the gas chambers. [In my opinion, quite sanitised. As you will see from the below description from Treblinka, not everyone who had a job in the camps should be a considered a collaborator -- let's leave our term for the real bastards. I don't believe slave labour is collaboration.]

Another attempt
Inside the concentration camps there were Jewish police, prisoners known as "kapos." In return for special privileges, these kapos [brutally] forced other Jews to obey Nazi orders, just as the Jewish police had done in the ghettos. In the concentration camps, however, there were also German (and sometimes Polish and Ukranian) guards always present, ready and willing to beat or shoot anyone who did not obey orders.

In Treblinka, for example
In Treblinka, 700 to 1,000 Jewish prisoners were kept for various "service jobs" in the two parts of the camp. These Jews were divided into two groups: the first was facetiously called the "court Jews" (Hofjuden) and the second was called the "square Jews" (Platzjudend). Most of the "court Jews" were skilled workers or were employed in workshops or in building the camp. Compared to the other inmates, their situation was relatively good. [Again, the situation of slave labourers, both in the camps and at other locations, is separate story.]

The "Jews of the square" were also divided into a number of groups: one group was employed on the railway platform when the transports arrived. Their job was to remove from the cars the bodies of those who had died en route, to remove the packages and to clean the cars. Other groups were positioned in the square where the Jews were ordered to undress; their job was to sort and arrange the clothing and belongings and to ready them for shipment to Germany. In addition, there were the so-called "gold Jews", who sorted gold and other valuables, and a group of barbers who sheared the women's hair before they were sent to the gas chambers. From time to time additional groups of workers were formed for various jobs, including camouflaging the camp fences with branches brought from the nearby forest, construction, paving roads in the camp, and the like.

The Jews kept in the extermination area worked mainly at removing the dead bodies from the gas chambers and transferring them to the pits. When it was decided to cremate the bodies, on a pile of discarded old rails set aside especially for that purpose, they were also put to work at that. Another group of working Jews was called the "dentists"; they extracted gold teeth from the bodies that had been removed from the gas chambers before they were brought to the pits. There were others who worked in the services in the extermination area -- the kitchen, laundry, and the like. The Germans prevented any contact between the Jews in the two parts of the camp. At times Jews were shifted from the first camp to the second, but never back from there. To head the group of Jews, the Germans appointed a "camp elder", or, as he was sometimes called, "head Capo" (Oberkapo). Each of the two parts of the camp had its own "camp elder," and the Germans also appointed a Jewish Capo for each work group. To keep a check on what the Jewish prisoners were thinking and doing, the SS found informers among them, but the prisoners quickly learned to recognize these Kapos and to take precautionary measures.

The gas chambers resembled baths. A group of young and strong Jews, a few dozen, occasionally even a hundred, was usually selected during the unloading of a transport. Most of them were taken to Camp II. They were forced to drag the corpses from the gas chambers and to carry them to the open ditches. Several prisoners were employed in collecting the victims' clothes and belongings and carrying them to the sorting point. Others had to remove from the train those who had died during the transport and to take those unable to walk to the ditches in Camp II. These Jews were organized into work teams with their own Capos. They did this work for a few days or weeks. Each day some of them were killed and replaced by new arrivals. [Being a Kapo did not ensure survival!]

"After the Jews left the undressing hut I had to direct them to the gas chamber. I believe that I eased the way there for the Jews because they must have been convinced by my words or gestures [because I was a fellow Jew] that they really were going to be bathed. "

Recently these "people" (I use the word loosely) have been characterised also as victims. "There was no right and wrong in the Camps . . . there were just survivors and there were those who did not survive." But most Jews, if not almost all, were able to maintain their dignity, their morality and their humanity throughout this blackest period of history.

It has become "fashionable" in recent times to use this horrendous "title" to describe the wicked of our generation. While many of these, Jewish leaders among them, deserve the lowest level of denigration possible, to call them Capos, in my opinion, demeans the slaughtered Holocaust victims, our brethren, whose (often brutal) death was hastened by the concentration camp kapos.

Some of these abhorrent people lived in Sydney, my hometown when I was growing up. And as could be expected, each had a different story. One used to say, "Leave me alone -- if I hadn't done it, another Jew would have -- so what? So what if it happened to be me. It would have been done anyway." Needless to say, he didn't have too many friends . . . surprisingly he did have a wife.

In general people did leave him alone. Literally. I don't know if there were people in our town who actually witnessed his handiwork. But, to give him some credit, he didn't deny his role in the extermination.

Surely every Kapo spends his life in fear of revenge . . . and I would venture, rightly so. A surviving Kapo would want to stay away from a large Jewish community, and stay away from one where eliminating him is easy. Israel is definitely out of the question on both accounts. Too many Jews. Everywhere. Eventually someone who knew her, who remembers her firsthand, would meet her, see her, follow him home. Must stay away from Jews of European origin. My friend who grew up in Israel in the fifties remembers, a number of times, someone suddenly yelling out in a bus, animatedly pointing to another passenger, yelling, "Kapo, Capo!!!! Here is a Capo!"

And too many weapons in Israel -- easy access. Maybe a superior officer at the next regular compulsory military reserve duty, perhaps the grandson of someone whom our Kapo speeded to his death. King David did it to Uriah the Hittite, so perhaps our officer may arrange a "little work accident" or an assignment to some suicidal front line action.

OK. Now now we're living in a small Jewish community, preferably in a big city, with good law and order enforcement. And only a few survivors around. Lowers the probability of recognition. As soon as our man can afford it (remember most of our survivors arrived to the New World close to penniless), he acquires a gun license . . . and of course, a firearm. Legally if possible, but maybe an illegal weapon at first, just to keep under her bed, in case of an unwanted nocturnal visitor.

And don't hang around the synagogue . . . too many former European Jews equals "survivors" there, or again, more precisely, people who may recognise you. Get involved in the local, non-European Jewish establishment -- maybe the Jewish Board of Deputies. Very English. No greeners. Make believe you're coming to meetings in order to provide protection for local Jews, gun at ready in holster . . . in fact you are there to keep your ears close to the ground, always looking over your shoulder.

How long do you need to fear retribution? Forever. Until the day you die, however you meet your demise. The older you get, the slower you are on the trigger; the easier you are to dispose of.

You could live a lie, develop a cover identity. Sure, those who know who you are, they know. But if you have communal standing, maybe you can aside these lunatics, "they lost some marbles in the war, mistaken identity". Surely can't be true. Me?

"I was a war hero."
"The Israeli army calls me for advice." "The Jewish community consults with me on security issues."
"I am a respected member of society."

There's a guy in my hometown who fits the mold, to a T.

And whenever I see him, whenever his name is mentioned in my presence, I shudder. I always have to wonder . . . did this despicable excuse for humanity "help" my grandfather, my uncle, my four year old cousin, or perhaps carry my eighteen month old sister . . . into a gas chamber!

Menachem Kuchar, 2nd April, 2009    

  Follow theKuch on Twitter

  Your name:  
  Your email:
Please enter your comments to Menachem:


Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


Previous posts: