From the very beginning one suggestion was accepted by all, with no exception, as being essential to the success of our venture—to eliminate the “Oberkapo” Berliner. Besides, being a habitual stool pigeon, Berliner was very sharp and suspicious. If he only imagined anything was being plotted, we would be irretrievably lost.
Unfortunately it had to be so, and we were sorry for that, because he was also a Jew. However, he had let himself be led by the Nazi technique, and had finally become one of its apologists. He thought he would save himself by acting like that and, to reach his egotistical aim, he did not measure consequences and he was always flattering the henchmen. He had been responsible for the death of many innocent people and, had he survived, he would have been one of the most prominent figures among the criminals who were judged in Nuremburg.
As we considered him our number one enemy it would be better to erase him from the list of the living than risk total failure in our venture. With his death, many Jews would be still saved from that infernal maze.
Everyone of us became conscious of his participation in this first and daring coup in the general fight plan. However, there still was the urgent need for total control over our emotions so that nothing would hinder the next steps in the operation. All was coldly planned and we only waited for the proper occasion to carry it out.
The first days of October were already passing very quickly when luck smiled on us. Wagner as well as the Commander-in-Chief “Trottel” had gone to Germany on a visit. With “Trottel”’s absence, another bandit Deputy Commander Niemann, had taken over the general command of Sobibor. However, Karl Frenzel and the other SS officers were still in their posts.
We agreed that, on a certain night, after we had come back from work and the general call had been done, we would be free to carry out the plan. We would then go to the Kapo’s lodgings and we would try to catch Berliner by surprise, in case there were any need for that.
And thus it was done. When the day came and the hour got closer, we started to move towards his shed. This movement was very careful although seemingly careless. Four of us were in charge of doing it, while some other companions would stand nearby to deceive the other “Kapos” and prevent their entering the lodgings. In the attack group there were Mundek, Bunio, Pozycki and myself.
As we entered, we saw Berliner all alone. We went in and without the waste of a single minute, got hold of him, immediately covering his mouth to prevent his shouting. Totally unable to move, the traitor could not even thrash about or cry for help.
Our plan consisted of beating him in such a way as not to leave any haematomas on his face, arms or any other visible parts of his body. Based on that, we only hit him below the belt so as to reach his entrails and produce severe internal ruptures. Our intention was to destroy him only on the inside, and we were very careful not to hit him externally.
When the man was in a state when it would be impossible for him to survive or even babble a few words, we stopped the operation and calmly left for our lodgings, although our wish was to finish the killing. We slept peacefully that night as if nothing had happened. On the next day, we reported to duty at the usual time. The first call was done and, as it was only natural, Berliner was not there. Then Pozycki informed the Nazi Frenzel that the “Kapo” Commander was sick. No one ever doubted that, not even the other “kapos” who lived in Berliner’s lodgings.
At noon, straight after lunch the Commander of Camp 1 came again for the usual counting, at the time we came back from work. As Berliner was still absent, again Pozycki took a step forward and said the Chief-Kapo was still sick in bed. Again all of us kept quiet, since those who did not know what had happened could not suspect anything.
The beating we had given Berliner had been so violent that no one could really be able to perceive that something strange had happened. Certainly his companions who slept in the same shed, must have thought he was sick and asleep, since, after the severe beating, we had put him in his bunk, and covered him up to his head with a blanket.
We had not killed him immediately because we did not want to raise the German’s suspicions. However, we did not fear anything since Berliner would never be able to recover enough to talk and denounce what had happened to him. He had been left totally inert. He could not move or say anything. There was no doubt that our act had been vile and our aggression cowardly.
But there was a vital need for this prophylactic measure. However, the first stage of our operations was not complete yet. We still had to give Berliner the “coup de grace” and for that we drew a Machiavellian plan. It consisted of using the old aversion that Karl Frenzel felt against him and of which the Nazi made no secret. We settled everything and started to carry out the second stage of our manoeuvre.
It was already late in the afternoon when the presumptuous Nazi officer came to the tailor shop, with his peculiar elegance, to try on his new clothes. Mundek used the opportunity to hurt his vanity.
The tailor told Frenzel that Berliner usually said in front of everybody, that he enjoyed complete autonomy in Sobibor. He even used to say that he only respected Wagner, since he did not attribute any importance to the other SS officers.
As he was not yet satisfied with his story, Mundek added that I too knew everything and that I had heard Berliner say that many times. Finally, to impress the truth of his words, Mundek called me to the shop so that I, in person and in the presence of the Germans, could testify to what he said.
I went there and my accomplice immediately asked me if was not true that “Kapo” – Oberkapo Berliner was always saying that, inside Sobibor, he would only obey Wagner’s orders. I did not even wait for Mundek to finish his question and promptly answered that it was true, that what he was saying was the whole truth. However, in order to make that well-rehearsed plot act as a bomb, I decided to add that Berliner affirmed he was a German Jew, much superior to us, and that he thought he was as important as a Scharfuhrer. Besides, all that, he still said that Karl Frenzel was a real fool.
On hearing these last words, the Nazi had his natural colour changed. Astonished at the pseudo-revelation he became purple with anger and, seeing his pride deadly hurt, he told us—“ All right—You will see how this piece of shit will end”. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. When our work was done, the usual roll call was performed and all of us went back to our sheds. The next task was up to the nurse, the Czech Jew Kurt. At this time of day he used to make his rounds. After he had gone through all the sheds, he headed towards the one where Berliner was. While he pretended to be examining him, he gave him some drug which would make him sleep to eternity.
As Kurt had some knowledge of his profession and knew how to put an end to Berliner—he had administered to the patient something which was really lethal. As a matter of fact he had just performed euthanasia, since the “Kapo” would actually never recover. Our plan had been carried out to perfection and we had gotten rid of the dangerous Jew. May God be merciful to him.
On the following morning, the roll call was taken once more and as it had to be, Berliner did not answer it. For the last time Pozycki went to Frenzel and told him the “Kapo” – Commander was still in bed. With a hard face, the German officer replied—“Is that so? All right. Get this piece of shit and take him to Camp 3” Not wasting a second, two of our men left the shed and went straight to the place where the corpse was. They wrapped him in a blanket and carried him away. A new “Kapo” – Commander (Oberkapo) was immediately appointed. He was a Dutch Jew.815
There are numerous testimonies regarding brutality of Jewish kapos at the Auschwitz concentration camp and its subcamp, Birkenau, the death camp where most of the Jews were murdered. One prisoner in each work detail or prisoner block or barrack was appointed as a Kapo (“head” or “overseer” or “supervisor” or “elder” or “leader”). The mass murder of Jews in Birkenau could not have been accomplished without the help of Jewish prisoners from the Sonderkommandos. Sonderkommandos were work units of death camp prisoners, composed almost entirely of Jews. About 120 SS personnel were assigned to the gas chambers and lived on site at the crematoria. Several SS personnel oversaw the killings at each gas chamber, while the bulk of the work was done by the mostly Jewish prisoners known as Sonderkommando (special squad). Sonderkommando responsibilities included guiding victims to the gas chambers and removing, looting, and cremating the corpses. On average four SS-men and 100 Jews from the Sonderkommando were needed to operate a crematorium.816 The Sonderkommando numbered around 860 prisoners at any given time, peaking at 1,000 men when the Hungarian Jews were killed in 1944. In total, almost 2,000 Jews were placed in these units and almost none survived.
Konrad Charmatz describes the dreaded Jewish kapos he encountered from the moment he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau:
Soon after that the head Kapo, the notorious “Pinkus,” delivered a speech to us, each word striking us like a hammer blow. Pinkus was a Polish Jew who had lived in France. When he spotted Dr. Suchodolsky … he scorned and insulted him, telling him that not only was he going up the chimney, but he was going to torture him slowly first. …
Then we were assigned to blocks at Birkenau … He [another house elder] made sure the “animals are properly settled in their stalls.” Those who did not please him or who complained about their crowded bunks, he pulled down on a long bench. There he beat and kicked them to death. Later his victims were tossed out of the barracks like old rags. In the morning a cart collected all the dead and took them to be incinerated. …
I could not forget the crooked, ugly face of Pinkus, the elder of the “Zonder Block,” who led the gang that received and sorted out the new arrivals. To this task brutes were assigned, men without feelings. Pinkus (if I am not mistaken, his last name was Chmelnitsky) was the most notorious of all the block elders. He had come to the camp with a French transport and was a true sadist who enjoyed brutalizing his victims and drawing their blood. … His helper, a certain Ziduna, a Jew from Lodz [Łódź], also excelled in cruelty. …
The camp commander, an SS storm trooper named Schilinger, stood and watched how hard his Jewish servants were working. Pinkus strutted through the crowds of new arrivals, always looking for another victim to beat with his truncheon, all the while looking up at his patron to see if he was pleased.817
David Faber recalls another Jewish kapo he met in Birkenau:
A barrack leader, a Kapo, stamped in and stood just inside the door.
“Listen!” he shouted. “My name is Potok, and I’ll make you wish you’d never come here. You’ll wish you’d never met me.” …
He walked along the bunks, grabbed the foot of a man on the middle row right under me, and yanked him onto the floor. No one spoke as the man lay sprawled on his stomach.
The Kapo bent over, his face close to the prisoner’s.
“You look like you hid something,” he said. “I’ll bet you’ve got a fortune in your body. Give it to me!”
The man rolled onto his back, his hands held out palms up.
“No, sir.” I could scarcely hear him. “I don’t have anything, sir.”
The man spoke louder. “No. Nothing, sir! Nothing!”
Potok smiled. “I’ll find out.”
He took a long, thin knife from a scabbard on his belt. “Give it to me, or I’ll cut you open.”
“Please don’t!” The man tried to get up, but Potok pushed him down with his foot.
“Turn over!” he yelled and kicked the man in the head.
Crying, the prisoner turned to lie face down on the floor. Potok cut open the man’s pants, the jabbed the knife into his anus and cut away pieces of flesh.
Screams rang through my head, and I covered my ears.
The screams stopped, and the Kapo laughed. “You know,” he said, “he didn’t have anything.”
He pulled other people from the bunks, made them lie on their backs, and crushed their windpipes with his heavy boot. Then he’d turn them over and butcher them the way he had the first man.
The rest of us lay in our bunks, some watching, some with eyes closed.818
Joe Rosenblum recalls a cruel German Jewish kapo:
We spotted Hans Eisenstein. Hans was a golden angel, a Jewish Kapo. …
Aside from Mengele, the biggest threat to my personal safety was Hans, a German Jew. Hans was in charge of the 140 ramp workers on the night shift. … He liked beating us with the standard-issue cane, about an inch in diameter and three feet long. Hans enjoyed making people suffer and wanted to prove his loyalty to the Third Reich. By this time, Germany was so obviously losing the war most other Kapos had stopped beating us. Not Hans. … Sometimes, when we would return from work, Hans would make us run double-time. … But if Hans caught anybody, he would pound him repeatedly with his cane. He didn’t need any excuses to beat us. He also ran through groups, assaulting whoever was in his way.
What Hans and many of the other Kapos did to us was beneath human behavior, especially what they did to their own people. … They treated us all as if we were animals, they tried to turn us into animals, and they acted as if they were animals themselves.819
Peter Kleinmann, from Transcarpathia, recalls one of the many Jewish kapos he encountered in Auschwitz:
When we entered the barrack a Kapo, an SS, and a Wehrmacht man stood at the entrance and counted us as we filed past. Neither the Wehrmacht not the SS entered the barracks but stood directly outside. We did not speak—we still believed that we would be going to work. The screeches of the Kapos penetrated every corner of the barrack. In my barrack there were mainly Hungarian Jews. Everybody understood the Kapo’s instructions, which were given in Yiddish.820
Konstanty Piekarski, a Polish prisoner of Auschwitz, recalls a Jewish prisoner, a strongman by the name of Schmelling,
who succeeded in impressing the Germans with his tremendous physical strength. Some kapos had tried to match their strength with his, but were no competition for the big man. Consequently, Schmelling became a privileged prisoner within the penal block. As a Jew he could not leave the block, but he received as much food as he could eat. In return the SS men required demonstrations of his muscular power—in particular, to prove that he could kill a man with one blow. Other Jewish prisoners were supplied as the subjects, and the SS men eagerly bet on either Schmelling or his victims.821
Avraham-Berl Sokol of Wysokie Mazowieckie, who arrived at Auschwitz on January 17, 1943, recalled:
They brought us to Block 20, beating us continually. After some time they took our clothes and we were ordered to stay outside in the biting frost (January 18th, 1943) for several hours. Many froze to death in the deep cold. Then they brought us to the bathroom and tattooed a number on the left hand. My number was 88966. For them I was not a human being but a number. When they yelled at me to get beaten, they were not calling my name but my number. The Jewish “Capo”—Merva of Makov (?) – trying to please the Germans, ordered me to “bend down” and with a thick stick he beat me very hard. This is the way we lived—hunger, fear, cold and beatings were our daily treats. Many signed up to Block 7 at their will, the block of death. This was the block they used to take people to the gas chambers, this is how we were shaking (?) in the claws of death and we were hoping.822
Rosa Katz describes her confrontation with Jewish kapos on her arrival at Auschwitz:
Then we had to leave all our clothes in a big pile, and they gave us those horrible Auschwitz uniforms with the stripes. … We were pushed around again, marched off again to the barracks. … In the morning we were rushed out, the Kapos you know, they make horrible shriek voices, and those were Jewish people … And if somebody cried, they were hit, you know, the Kapos was hitting them, and not only the people who cried but the people next to them …823
Judith Strick Dribben describes the conduct of Jewish women kapos when she was taken to a shower room in Auschwitz along with a group of Polish women:
A plump girl entered. She wore good clothes, a sweater with a red yellow Star of David, and an armband embroidered “Sauna Kapo.”
She demanded in German, “Who is ready for the next room?”
The women started crowding around the door. Suddenly the girl produced a big belt. She began beating the naked bodies and heads, leaving red welts.
“Keep in line,” the girl yelled. …
Not far from us stood a tall, white-haired Italian woman. For some reason, she had attracted the attention of the Sauna Kapo, who hit her with the belt on the face, neck, and breasts. The woman became furious.
“Disgraziata putana (‘disgraceful whore’),” she shouted.
Before we could grasp what had happened, the kapo, helped by two other well-dressed girls, dragged her down and kicked her until she lay bloody and silent on the floor.824
Irene Shapiro recollects her experiences with Jewish overseers at Auschwitz-Birkenau:
We promptly line up in front of two barracks overlooking the railway ramp where we left our train just a while ago. We are about to get the first taste of crazy Sally, our Block Aelteste (barrack elder), and her adjutant, the Stubendienst (barrack orderly) Mela.
Sally is a toothless Polish-Jewish blonde who screams at us in garbled German and who kicks and hits us more often than she screams. With each reprimand, she points to the distant smokestacks and foretells that we will all go there if we don’t change the nonchalant way in which we obey the rules of the camp. …
Cruelty of punishment is in evidence everywhere and at all times. … Every Capo (Camp Policewoman) feels free to kick and punch her subservients, and so does every block-Elder or other camp official in a striped uniform. Since many of these officials in the women’s camp happen to be Hungarian [Jews], we soon learn some of the Hungarian orders that are barked at us, such as “Nem lekhet (it isn’t allowed),’ “Kifele (get out)” and “Diorshan (hurry up).” All these Hungarian phrases will remain with us for a long time.825
Sara Plager Zyskind attests to the cruelty of the Jewish kapos in Auschwitz, especially one from Slovakia:
After a large group of girls had been gathered together, our Kapo began arranging us into rows of five abreast. She was now joined by several other guards, stout like herself, their hair short and stubbed as if it, too, had been cropped not long ago. These women’s dresses were so short that they barely covered their hefty thighs. …
… All three Kapos ran wildly about, wielding their truncheons and striking blows on the heads of anyone near them. The red-head flailed her victims with almost ecstatic fury. …
During the day, I had heard it whispered that these women were Jews … This made their cruelty all the worse. …
“If you’re Jewish, why do you help the Germans torture us? Why do you beat your own sisters? Haven’t you any feeling of pity? …”
The Kapo didn’t move. Leaning on her truncheon, she seemed to be listening patiently to every word I said. When I stopped talking, she said in heavily accented Polish, “Finished?”
“Yes, I replied.
“Turn around,” she commanded. I did and immediately found myself in a pitch black world with stars twirling about my head. … Suddenly I felt water on my face. I opened my eye and realized that I was lying on the floor, with the enormous Kapo standing over me and dousing me with a strong jet of water from a hose. …
“Get up!” she commanded. I got to my feet wearily. … “Climb onto the oven and get down on your knees!”
The Kapo took four large bricks, placed two in each of my hands, and ordered me to raise the bricks above my head. I couldn’t do it—they were too heavy. Blows fell on my back until, with a stupendous effort, I managed to raise my arms. I felt as if every bone in my body was broken. I don’t know how long I was kept there holding the bricks above my head. …
I dragged myself back and either passed out or fell into a deep sleep. …
Like a pack of hounds after their game, a large number of Kapos stormed into our midst, stepped all over us, and brought down their cubs with full force upon our heads. …
It was a horrible spectacle watched with demonic glee by the German officers, while the Kapos, who seemed to have been waiting for this opportunity, assaulted us again furiously under the pretext of restoring order.826
Ester Löwi described the cruel treatment meted out to Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz by Jewish kapos from Slovakia: “From 2 o’clock in the morning there was a roll call. It lasted until 7 o’clock. They would have to stand for 5 hours. Jewish women from Slovakia, block elders, oversaw this, and would beat people.”827 A Polish Jew also speaks scathingly of block elders from Slovakia:
The most terrible and most eager executioners of German orders, often in most extreme form, were block-/dormitory leaders from Slovakia. Forgetting that they could share the lot of humiliated comrades, they motivated Lagerälteste to punishments. They were merciless at the line-ups where weak women fainted from the exhaustion in the hot sunshine. It happened to me several times. I fell down at the line-up—block leader revived me by beating and forced me then to stand up.828
Orna Birnbach (Blauner), from Slovakia, recalls: “We walked to (what I now know was) block 4 in Birkenau. A Jewish Polish capo girl came over. These girls were queens. They hated the Hungarians, they told us we were still dancing while they had already built the camp.”829 Mala Liss Brandsdorfer describes her experiences with Jewish kapo helpers in Birkenau:
My first work group was called the 105th Kommando. We were about 150 women divided into three groups of 50. Each group had a Vorarbeiter, or Kapo. They were our work leaders. Many of the Kapos were criminals. They were known by the black triangles on their clothing. Ours was a German prostitute. She was in charge of our work details. A lot of the Kapos were street women from Germany.
Each Kapo had one or two Jewish helpers, and over each Kapo was an SS man. When we were working the SS man usually stayed in a hut nearby. We were watched over by the Kapos and their helpers. …
The Kapos would often leave us in the care of their helpers. A few of the helpers were no better than the Kapos, but most of them would help us if they could. Most of the Kapo’s helpers were Jewish girls, and they would help by watching for the Kapos and the SS.
We stayed in Ravensbruck [Ravensbrück] for about 2 weeks. … I ran into a girl named Hadasa. Even though she was Jewish she had had a privileged position in Auschwitz. She was an assistant to a Kapo from the 103rd Kommando. But here in Ravensbruck she was in the same position as the rest of us.
In Auschwitz I had received many beatings from Hadasa. Not just me but all of us in the kommando. Once she caught me in the toilet. She beat me until I was black and blue. It was because she had seen me switch groups during work so I could do some trading.830