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Kapos

 

The Kapo

In every camp one could find kapos. These were fellow prisoners who were chosen by the SS to supervise their fellow inmates whilst they were in the barracks or within work parties. For their service, they received better food rations and clothes, they also were given their own room within the barrack block and could take on a servant, this usually was young boy known as a 'pipel', who would receive special favours from the kapo in exchange for doing his bidding, which included sexual favours. 

If a kapo failed to supervise and discipline their charges properly, they would simply be replaced. To keep their lofty position, many kapos abused their fellow inmates, sometimes worse than the SS, and because of this abuse, they were generally despised by the other prisoners. The SS would generally choose a kapo from the criminal elements, especially if they were murderers or have a history violence.

Lagerältester: The most powerful kapo within the camps were known as the Lagerältester (camp leader or camp senior). They were answerable to the camp commandant and had to ensure that everything was running smoothly within the camp.  

Blockältester: This was followed by Blockältester (Barrack room leader) who ensured that the rules and discipline were maintained within their barracks.  

Stubenälteste: Also within the barracks, there was a Stubenälteste who was directly responsible for ensuring that the barrack room was kept as clean and tidy, which was difficult because of barracks were generally infested with lice which carried typhus. 

Blockschreiber/Rapportschreiber: These kept records of all the prisoners within each barracks which was used during roll calls.  

Oberkapo/Kapo/Vorarbeiter: Work parties were generally supervised by the Oberkapo (senior kapo), or lower kapos as well as the Vorarbeiter (foreman). Their primary responsibilities were to ensure that their work details arrived at their designated workplaces on time, to ensure each work prisoner is doing what is expected of them, to maintain discipline within the detail and to escort the prisoners back to the barracks after each day's toil. Prisoners would be beaten regularly by the kapos, and sometimes even killed. 

Prisoners who fell out with a kapo could have their life expectancy cut short, but if they were liked by the kapo they could be helped into a better and safer work detail.  

Corruption was extremely rife within the kapo system and this corruption could also act as a lifeline for some prisoners, who could barter with them for some special privileges, thus prolonging their chances of survival.