Many other Jewish prisoners recall brutal Jewish kapos and block elders in Auschwitz-Birkenau:
The commander of our barracks was a Jewish woman from Czechoslovakia; she wasn’t much older than I—in her early twenties, I would guess—but she was hardened and cruel, and it pleased her to demean us. Radomske [radomska] kurwa—Radomer whore—she called each of us. That’s the greeting she used the very first time she came into our barracks, and she called us whores routinely afterward. … When winter came and the cold tore at us, digging its fingers deep into our chests, when we were maybe just a little slow to get outside to stand for our endless appels, she would come into our barracks and beat us with her stick, curse us as whores, and make us move faster.
Such gratuitous cruelty. And from a Jew. … She was cruel in an almost casual way, as if her malice were a habit and not something that arose only in outbursts, in sudden response to some infraction, real or perceived. Her viciousness was her essence. …
One might think that women guards would be kinder than men, gentler in their treatment of other human beings. But in my experience, this wasn’t true. The women guards, Jews as well as the SS. Were no less sadistic.831
The saddest part of all this, and something I can never forget, is the way the Blockälteste [block elder] and her helpers treated us. Though they were Jewish women, they acted more like wild beasts from the forests, beating us and kicking us all the time, and showing us no pity at all. They, themselves, lacked nothing, though. They were mostly veteran inmates …832
I was brought with the group into Birkenau … This is how we were processed: I was pushed in front of a table. I had to stretch my arm out and have a camp number tattoed on it. A Kapo, a French Jew, stood on the table and made sure everyone kept order. When the needle was stuck in, I jumped from pain, and the Kapo kicked me right in the mouth so hard, a tooth flew out and blood ran all over my chin. And the Kapo screamed with laughter like an animal at the way I doubled over.
Birkenau was like hell. … Every Älteste [elder] beat us. We were whipped for the smallest “sin.” They beat me day and night. Our lives became cheap—which was what the killers wanted.833
A Jewish survivor who lived through Birkenau recalled her first block elder, a 15-year-old Jewish girl named Cilli, but known as the “Little Devil”. Cilli was too weak to beat the prisoners, but at least she slapped their faces left and right.834 Historian N. Glicksman writes: “In Auschwitz the kapo of the night shift in the ‘Union’ factory, the Czech Jew Weiss, treated his group very brutally. … The kapo B.A., on his way to the United States, confessed his sinister deeds in Birkenau. A Hungarian woman, the daughter of a rabbi, was notorious for her disgraceful attitude towards the Jewish women under her command.”835 (One of the Jewish kapos from Birkenau, Eliezer Gruenbaum, wrote a memoir that is to be published in English translation.)
Thomas Buergenthal, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau as a child, vividly recalled the Jewish kapos he encountered there:
After we had been tattooed, we were assigned to our barracks. Ours was a wooden structure like all the others in the Gypsy camp, with a mud floor that divided two long rows of wide, three-level wooden bunks. Once in the barrack, we were greeted by a burly prisoner with a cane. This, I was to learn right away, was the Blockältester, or barrack boss. He kept pointing to the bunks and yelling in Polish and Yiddish, “Ten men to each level!” Whoever did not move fast enough for him was hit or kicked. My father and I found a bunk, picked the middle level and were soon joined by eight other inmates. Then we were ordered to lie on our stomachs with our heads pointing towards the middle of the barrack. I can’t tell whether we were given blankets, but I am sure that we had no mattresses.
Although we were not given anything to eat that evening, the very thought of food was forced out of my mind by what happened that night. Into the barrack strutted two or three well-fed inmates with canes and clubs. They wore armbands that identified them as Kapo. Kapos were inmates who, together with the barrack bosses, ran the camp for the SS and terrorized their fellow inmates, day in and day out. Right after the Kapos had greeted our barrack boss, one of them yelled in German, “Spiegel, you son of a bitch. Get down. We want to talk to you!” As soon as Spiegel stood before them, the men surrounded him and started to hit him with their fists and clubs: on his face, his head, his legs, his arms. The more Spiegel begged for mercy and screamed, the more the Kapos beat him. From what I could make out as the Kapos yelled while beating him, Spiegel had apparently denounced one of them to the Gestapo in Kielce, with the result that the denounced man had been sent to Auschwitz some two years earlier.
Spiegel was soon on his knees and then flat on the ground, begging to be allowed to die. He was covered with blood and no longer really trying to protect himself against the blows that continued to rain down on him. The Kapos then picked up Spiegel and began to push and pull him out of the barrack. We did not see what happened next. Later we heard that the Kapos had dragged Spoegel to the fence and that he died on the fence. Our camp, like the others in Birkenau, was enclosed by a highly electrified fence that emitted a perennial buzz. … Spiegel must have died by being thrown against the fence or by crawling into it. Gradually, I came to realize that it was not uncommon for inmates to commit suicide by what was known as “walking into the fence.”
It is difficult not to wonder whether it ever occurred to these Kapos that they were no different from Spiegel. He denounced fellow Jews to the Gestapo because he believed that he was thereby prolonging his own life, whereas the Kapos allowed themselves to become the surrogates of the SS by beating their fellow inmates, forcing them to work to total exhaustion, and depriving them of their rations, knowing full well that by these actions they hastened the deaths of the prisoners. And all that in order to improve the Kapos’ own chances of survival. Thus, besides testing the morality of those who became neither informers nor Kapos, the concentration camps were laboratories for the survival of the brutish. Both Spiegel and the Kapo he had denounced had been friends of my parents. Both had been with us in Katowice. At that time they had been my “uncles.” I seem to recall that the Kapo whom Spiegel had denounced had been a dental technician or a dentist in his prior life; I never knew what Spiegel’s profession had been. Had they not ended up in the camps, they probably would have remained decent human beings. What is it in the human character that gives some individuals the moral strength not to sacrifice their decency and dignity, regardless of the costs to themselves, whereas others become murderously ruthless in the hope of ensuring their own survival?
… In those early days, I was also introduced to the Auschwitz feeding system. We would be awakened early in the morning and made to line up in front of a big kettle from which an inmate with a ladle would pour out a liquid that looked like black coffee. Next to him stood the barrack boss, cutting slices of black bread. The bread was frequently moldy and the slices rather small. I soon noticed that not everyone got the same amount of bread. Those the barrack boss did not like would get a smaller piece or no bread at all, while his friends and he himself would keep whole loaves. Complaints would invite a beating. In the evening, we would be served the day’s only other meal. It consisted, as a rule, of some tasteless, watery turnip soup. Since we got no bread in the evening, I would try to save a little piece of my morning bread for later in the day, hiding it very carefully so that it would not be stolen.836
Sometimes the victims of choice of Jewish kapos and block elders were Christian Poles. Avraham Harshalom (Friedberg) recalls:
The head of the interrogation block [Block 11] was the Jewish prisoner Jakob Kozolczik—a mountain of a man, all muscle. Before the war, Kozolczik had made a name for himself as ‘Schimschon Eisen’ (‘Samson the Mighty’), displaying his feats of strength the length and breadth of Poland. … he endeavored to be lenient towards Jews, while tightening the screw principally upon the Poles, whom he heartily detested …837
Shavti Perelmuter contrasts a Polish block commander favourably with the Jewish kapos he encountered as a prisoner at Auschwitz:
I became sick with typhus and I lay in a terrible condition … it is only thanks to my block commander, the Pole, Ludwig [Ludwik], that I was able to stay alive. … he had been thrown into Auschwitz as a political prisoner. I have no idea what it was that I did, or for what reason he showed me so much sympathy …
My medical crisis lasted for 12 days, there was one occasion when Ludwig didn’t allow me to go to work, but he hid me under some straw in the barracks so that I wouldn’t be discovered in an inspection. …
In Auschwitz camp I had the opportunity to be exposed to see and to really hear and know the behavior of the block commanders and their helpers. The commander of Block 27 was a certain Greenboim, and he was from Warsaw. He distinguished himself with his brutality towards Jews. There was another one from Warsaw, Yosela and Laibeshel from Radom.838
Polish inmates of Auschwitz also recall the cruelty and corruption of many of the Jewish functionaries and ordinary prisoners:
After two days journey, late evening we arrived to Auschwitz. We stopped at the side track, seeing surrounding us wires (fences.) Approached directly by Jews (probably members of “Sonderkommando”), ordering men to line-up separately from women. They warned us, to get rid of money—gold and foreign exchange. The latter to be punished by death. We were then led by Jews and SS-men to the camp. On the way there I saw a huge ditch on fire, and Jews started shouting that Germans prepared it for us. I could see on a distance group of people surrounding the fire, I heard terrible screams and I think I have seen a SS-man pushing people into that fire. Behind the wires stand our men, seasoned Häftlings (prisoners) who reassured us, that the fire was not for us—they were burning Jews.
We were led to a barn at the Brzezinka [Birkenau]. … Morning time, we were ordered into a column of rows of 5, and to the bath. … We were led to bath, started registration, and we had to leave our jewellery, cash, and our belongings. We could keep part of our food supplies, groats, sugar, butter. We, my 11-years old sister me and our mother, hold together. Jews at the bath were worst in tormenting us; they pushed us, grasped our belongings taking just anything they liked. From me, for example, they took a pretty painted wrap (handkerchief) and just on my eyes one Jewish (woman) wrapped it into her pocket. We got other, civilian cloths with a “Streifen” (Vertical, red strap, painted on with oil paint over shoulders of a dress), dirty and with lice. We got no shoes. Later on, gathered behind the bath in column of rows in 5 and then our Aufseher approached. When she left us soon after, just to fetch list of our names, the seasoned Polish prisoners neared us. Men gave us their bread, coffee, especially for mothers with children and for small children. Women enquired on their relatives, friends, sometime recognising between us their sisters or some more removed relatives. Crying was heard all over, tears and welcome. The Aufseher returned shouting on us as we were scattered all over—some women were slapped in faces, which gave me a shocking impression. We were led then by Aufsehers and SS-man to camp “B”. There we were spread to different blocks, me with my mother and sister to block 26.839
During arrival of the Jewish transports “Lagersperr” (camp barrier) was established. Huge ditches covered with spruce padding were already prepared. Young Jewish were separated for labour, older send to gas chambers while children thrown directly into fire. It took place just 2–3 km from the camp. Children were just thrown into those ditches and burned. Once a Polish transport arrived—80 persons—Jewish guard (capo) wanted to send all those to the gas chamber as well, but SS-man showed up and took the whole group to the camp, and threw the Jew into fire.840
In our station (Revir of the sick-bay), we were constantly submitted selections. I was selected (to extermination?) three times, but bribed myself through block guard, Jewish-Slovak, with my rations. She wrote in other numbers on the list of selected From our block of 300 persons, half of us were sorted out (for extermination). Selections were carried on 2 to 3 times a week.841
A group of Jews from Płońsk was charged with the job of bringing the clothes of prisoners put to death in Birkenau for disinfection at the sauna. This allowed them to obtain money and valuables, which they then used to buy food in the camp as well as to help other members of the block. In 1943, the group decided to fight the Germans and take revenge on the kapo who abused the Jews. Moshe Aharon Pszewoznik deposed:
At the end of 1943, a Jew from Lodz [Łódź] (known as Moshele Hassid) ordered me, my brother, Elazar Miller, Mendel Frankenstein and Shimon Pas (the latter being the one whose wife and five children were cremated, and whose valuables he recognized among the objects the victims left behind) to go and kill the murderous “Romanian” Unterscharfuehrer. We were about to carry out the order when a Jewish kapo … told the Germans that a revolt had been planned. As a result, 900 Jews were killed. About six months later, the revolt took place.842
Some of the kapos had already acquired a history of abusing their fellow Jews before arriving at Auschwitz, and they continued in this path after being transferred to other camps afterwards. Henoch (Henryk, Chaim) Klajman (Klajnman) was one of more than 40 Jews who served in the Jewish police force in the ghetto of his home town of Płońsk. Believed to be a confidant of the German authorities, Klajman not only mistreated Jews, but also divulged their hiding places and appropriated his victims’ goods and money. The Płońsk ghetto police were notorious for their abuse of power and brutality, even killing fellow Jews. In one case, when the Płońsk Jews discovered that the commander of the Jewish police in nearby Pomiechówek, Mejłoch Hopenblum, was stealing packages addressed to Jews in Płońsk, they reportedly “popped out his eyes” and “spat in his face” before killing him. The Płońsk Jewish council was equally corrupt. Its members took bribes from exemptions from the lists of workers for labour assignments and assigned their friends to easy jobs. They often feasted well at the expense of others. From 1942 to 1945, Klajman was a kapo in Auschwitz and then Stutthof, where he mistreated his fellow prisoners by beating them. He had been so brutal to his fellow inmates in Auschwitz that he had earned the nickname “Chamek kapo.”843
Stanisław Taubenschlag (Townsend) faced the unwanted sexual attention of a Jewish kapo in Auschwitz who was a homosexual. Later, towards the end of the war, when Taubenschlag was in the process of being transported to Nordhausen, he had to deal with Siegfried, a vile Jewish kapo who had deduced Taubenschlag’s Jewishness and persecuted him.844 Roman Frister tells of having been raped by a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz who “liked young boys.” He tells of losing his forage cap, a capital crime, and stealing another prisoner’s cap. He witnesses the innocent victim of his misdeed being shot.845 Jewish women prisoners who pretended to be skilled labourers to survive in Auschwitz had to guard their secret from fellow Jews: “One lies more convincingly than another; they are afraid to tell the truth because there are many spies around. The worst are the German Jewish girls.”846
The Germans brought a group of 60 young Jews from Stoczek near Węgrów to Treblinka, where they served as auxiliaries in policing the camp. Armed with sticks, they shoved, jostled and struck the prisoners. They also seized money and other valuables from new arrivals.847 Jews imprisoned in Treblinka recalled their mistreatment at the hands of fellow Jews:
Everyone was ordered to undress. Next to those undressing themselves stood so-called kapos with sticks. (They had yellow armbands on their forearms with “Kapo” written in black letters.) In exchange for gold and cigarettes they helped individual persons get through to those set aside for work detail. The kapos hit us when the SS were there or when someone did not undress himself fast enough.848
Another amazing characteristic of the Germans is their ability to discover, among other peoples, hundreds of depraved types like themselves, and to use them for their own ends. In camps for Jews, there is a need for Jewish executioners, spies, stool pigeons. The Germans managed to find them, to find such vile creatures as Moshko from the vicinity of Slonim [Słonim], Itzig Kobyla from Warsaw, Chaskel the thief, and Kuba, a thief and a pimp, both Warsaw born and bred.849
One of the workers was a young Warsaw Jew whose nickname was ‘the Gypsy.’ … His job was to ransack the victims’ suitcases and collect delicacies … Once, when the Gypsy spotted a worker secreting a piece of candy in his clothes, he jumped down from the cart and demanded that he put it back. The worker, a newcomer in Treblinka, saw no reason to obey the orders of another Jew, even one who held an official position. The Gypsy began hitting him with his riding whip but the worker, undeterred, pushed the Gypsy … At this, the Gypsy, the murderers’ lackey, struck and killed the helpless Jew.850
One of the many Jewish informers denounced the “very humane” camp elder Rakowski, who was planning to stage a revolt of the Jewish prisoners. Blau was a particularly dangerous kapo who
had many people on his conscience. He and his wife had reached Treblinka from their place of residence, Kielce, where he had collaborated with the Gestapo. … Blau enjoyed certain privileges: he was first appointed Oberkapo and then kitchen commandant. He surrounded himself with a gang of criminals of the worst kind, who kept him informed of everything in the huts—prisoners’ discussions, plans, and so on. Blau handed out double portions of the best kinds of food to his cronies, at the expense of the rest of us …851
Other prisoners provide equally damning testimony about Jewish camp officials who behaved cruelly toward their fellow Jewish prisoners, both in the hard labour camp, which also held Polish prisoners, and in the death camp for Jews.
But the conduct of the Jewish block or barrack heads was truly beneath contempt. They were worse than the guards, and infinitely worse than the Polish heads.852
The place [Transport Square] is packed with people. On one side are women with small children; on the opposite side, men, forced to kneel. In the middle there are SS men, Ukrainians with weapons in their hands, as well as a group of about 40 men with red armbands. These are Jews, the detachment of “Reds.” In Treblinka slang, they are called the “Hevra Kadisha” [Burial Society].
Kapo Jurek, the leader of the “Reds,” had been a Warsaw rickshaw driver so corrupt and debauched, no deed was too foul for him. This brute would not hesitate to take aside a girl, already naked, on her march to the “bath.” Promising to save her life, he would do the worst, and then push her back into the line. He is dressed elegantly, as that sort of person could easily afford to be in Treblinka. He works his whip on Jewish heads frequently and with gusto. As foul and corrupt as he was, his language was even worse. … Most of the “Reds” were recruited from the Warsaw underworld and did not fall short of their Kapo.853
The slightest suspicion was enough to put away prisoners singly and in groups. It became a field day for the worst elements—the informers, the administrative helper Chaskiel, and block elder Kuba were at the fore. Not only the prisoners, but even the Kapos and some Germans were afraid of Chaskiel, a sleazy, vile creature from the Warsaw underworld, a stupid and conceited youth. All day he would run around in the square and in the workshops like a wild animal in search of prey, peering into every corner. He even searched bread-bags and pockets. Woe to anyone who he caught with something not “kosher,’ or cooking or napping on the job! (We dreaded him more than we did the Germans.) Nothing would help—neither tears, nor the intervention of his own “comrades.” … The matter was sure to be brought to the attention of the administration. … Chaskiel enjoyed the complete confidence of the administration. He was the custodian of the keys to the storehouses and gorged himself on the best of everything. He claimed that the Germans had even promised to take him along to Berlin after the war. …
The other extremely active informer was block elder Kuba, an “intellectual” from Lodz [Łódź]. He would constantly run around in an attempt to please and serve the Germans at the expense of single prisoners as well as groups; he was never satisfied that he had done enough. Here’s an example: When there were no more transports, and the goods had all been sorted and sent off, the groups of “Reds,” “Blues” and others were transferred to work inside the ghetto. A group of “Reds” was assigned to do the resurfacing of our square yard. As the first shovelfuls of earth were lifted, the usual Treblinka garbage pit was uncovered. Among the garbage and shit are piles of photographs and documents, treasures in gold and jewelry, as well as human corpses. We beg the workers: “cover it up and keep quiet, let’s try to preserve at least these remains of the slaughtered Jewish people.” Kapo Jurek, another “fine” man, finally relents, but Kuba would not stand for it. He runs around searching until he finds the Oberscharführer. A detachment of garbage-sorters is set up. Each photo and document is carefully exhumed and burned. Money, gold and valuables are cleaned and set aside in strongboxes. …
Kuba also excelled in the fight against “speculation.” It became virtually impossible to get money out and to bring food in. Workers were searched upon leaving the camp and returning. …
Kuba, Chaskiel and their agents had everyone under surveillance. They would constantly search around and under the bunks and in the bread-bags, and were often successful. The traitor Kuba also organized a special guard around our wire fence, through which some guards used to trade and hand over parcels to their Jews. Nevertheless, despite all these difficulties, the trade did not stop.
In time, three levels of society were established—similar to life outside. The upper class, the aristocracy, was composed of the commandants, the Kapos, the warehouse supervisors and the doctors. They lived in luxury, indulged in wild parties, got drunk, and sank ever deeper into debauchery. There were about 30 women in Treblinka. Most of them were employed in the German, Ukrainian and Jewish laundries. Some sewed underwear; one was a dentist; another was a doctor; and yet another was a nurse in the Ukrainian infirmary. A few of the women were employed at various handicrafts such as knitting of crocheting. The women did not work hard; they dressed luxuriously and behaved disgracefully.
Five of the women had husbands in the camp and their behavior was irreproachable. The rest, without exception, the young ones as well as the old ones, had “admirers” selected from the Treblinka aristocracy. These rich admirers supplied them with the best of everything. The women went to the parties, got drunk, and enjoyed themselves to the utmost. Not only did they behave in a despicable manner, but they also used the most lewd and obscene language. They, our Treblinka women, were not squeamish even about Germans or Ukrainians! They were not subject to any physical punishment. Generally, they were punished with housework; they were forced to remain in their barracks during their free time. They were not allowed to meet with their lovers or to attend the wild parties. Indeed, this punishment was very hard to bear! …