There were other thugs such as Dafner and Heinak. For spilling a little coffee they beat me so, that I was swollen for two weeks. They could have taught the SS officers a thing or two about how to perform beatings. There was a man from Crakow [Kraków], Gershon Lesman; he and his two brothers had a lot of money, so they lived well. For five hundred zlotys [złotys] he became a policeman.
When I worked at passing turf over the wire fence, I once opened the gate for the people of my group to come into the camp. Lesman punished me for that by kicking me with the tip of his boot, inflicting excruciating pain in my back. I suffered another attack. Lesman is still alive and became very rich after the war. …
So strong was the antagonism that the “veteran” inmates informed on the newcomers, refused to work with us, and so on. They used to talk of seven people and twenty newcomers having died on any given day. However, there was such a discrepancy between the death rate of the old timers and the later arrivals that soon the antagonism petered out. Every day forty people died. Of our group, which had numbered eighty, only seven remained at the end.
When the Germans realized that the mortality rate was threatening the numbers for work, they doubled our bread ration. …
Dr. Zaks, a native of Crakow [Kraków] whom we had the misfortune of knowing in the Skarzisker Workshop A, followed us to this new camp [in Sulejów near Piotrków, where the Jews obtained food from the Polish inmates until the Germans put a stop to it] and also here he applied the same methods as he had in the workshop. He declared all the sick, the elderly and the weak as being fit for work, thereby contributing to their death, for, as they could not carry out the work satisfactorily, the Ukrainians and Germans wore them out and beat them to death. …
[Later, when he was transported to Buchenwald:] There was a policeman in our wagon by the name of Korn, who had already harassed us in Silev [Sulejów] and continued to beat us with his spurs here in the train. I resented his behavior deeply and interfered in the fight for which, of course, I got my share of blows. That fellow, who had tormented us so, received his due in Buchenwald.887
Morris Kirsch stated that the Jewish kapos in Skarżysko-Kamienna were often cruel, administering beatings and taking away the prisoners’ daily rations of food as punishment, sometimes for doing nothing at all. When the inmates were transferred to another labour camp in Częstochowa, the kapos became even worse as they stole more and more food from the prisoners.888 For this reason, many of the prisoners starved to death. Harry Haft was taken to Jaworzno where there was a working coal mine that served as a slave labour camp. German soldiers and Jewish kapos would march the workers to the job site and back.
On his first day of work, as Harry was being shackled, he looked into the face of the Jewish cop locking him to the chain, and he knew the man’s face. It was Mischa, a hoodlum from Belchatow [Bełchatów]. He was the type of guy who would profess to be your friend and then steal from you. Their eyes locked. …
Mischa spotted the disruption and ran toward Harry. With the guards watching, he planted himself directly next to Harry’s face and screamed: “Left, right …” in his ears. He kicked Harry and hit him hard in the back with a baton. …
From that day on, Mischa took a personal interest in Harry. With the guards’ permission, he would beat Harry daily on the way to the mineshaft. Those first days of work in the Jaworzno coal mine began with a beating from his Jewish neighbor.
There were days when Harry would beg Mischa to leave him alone. Mischa seemed to enjoy showing the guards how he kicked and struck Harry with his stick.889
Conditions in other labour camps were equally as bad, as the following testimony from Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki near Warsaw illustrates.
As a result of the humiliating and degrading conditions, the demoralization planned by the Germans set in among certain elements of the Jewish community, and the Germans knew well how to use local Jewish trash for their devilish schemes. The lowest characters and scum of the Jewish underworld could hardly resist the nomination conferred upon them by the Gestapo henchmen. They became the leaders and policemen. Thus, in the camp Pomyekhov [Pomiechowo], a Jewish degenerate named Maylekhel played the role of the leading oppressor. He helped put an end to the harrowed Jewish inmates. But Meylekhel’s sway did not last. Jews of Plonsk [Płońsk], who together with the Jews of Novy-Dvor experienced his brutal rule, did away with him.890
Survivors from Strzyżów near Rzeszów recall the cruelty of the Jewish foremen (“kapos”):
After the great expulsion from the ghetto in Rzeszow [Rzeszów], which took place on November 15, 1942 only four thousand people remained in the ghetto. One day upon returning from work outside the ghetto, we noticed an excited crow that was milling around one area of the ghetto. This part of the ghetto was called “Drukerruvka” [Drukerówka]. The Kapos were extorting contributions from everyone. When I came closer I was hit in the face by a Kapo's whip. The Kapo was a local Jew from Rzeszow—Mr. Kleinmintz. There were not many local Jewish Kapos anymore. Most Kapos were from Lodz [Łódź] and Kalisz. Not realizing what I was doing, I hit him back and he fell. I quickly ran home but mistakenly entered another house where I encountered a few more Jewish policemen, including the sadly infamous “Itchele” from Kolbuszowa. I hit him too and he fell down the stairs.
I was finally overpowered by a few policemen and taken to the German command post which was located in the same building as the Judenrat.
The entire ghetto was in uproar. It seemed like a revolt. Luckily there were no Germans in the ghetto when I was brought there. While I was led by the policemen, we encountered Mr. Lubasz, a well-known and beloved Jew in the Rzeszow ghetto. The man knew me from before the war. He calmed down the placement and he followed us until we reached the Judenrat. Meanwhile, as I found out later, other policemen caught my younger brother Samuel who was only fifteen years old and they took revenge on him by beating him savagely. When we came into the Judenrat, Abraham Brav and Sheingal, the two remaining members of the Judenrat in Strzyzow [Strzyżów] and also members of the Rzeszow Judenrat, happened to be there. They saved my life by taking me out of the hands of the placement because by then, German policemen had arrived in the ghetto. Brav and Sheingal locked me up in the office of Dr. Kleinman, the chairman of the Judenrat, and kept me there for an hour until the arrival of Dr. Kleinman. Faking anger, Dr. Kleinman scolded me. I denied and showed a receipt proving that my contribution had been paid. And that is how the matter ended. My brother and I realized that our lives had been saved by a miracle.
My second encounter with a Kapo occurred in Huta Komarowska [Komorowska] camp. This camp was under the command of the German commander—Shubke—who was not a bad man. … However, there was one commandant in the Huta Komarowska camp—the infamous Schmidt (whose trial is taking place right now in a German court). He was helped in his cruelty by the Jewish Kapos—the brothers Rybner, Mr. Straucher, Elimelech Kirschenbaum and others. We worked very hard cutting timber and during the work we were brutally tortured by this commandant and his helpers, the Kapos. Once we complained to commandant Shubke and he called in the Kapos and reprimanded them for their bad treatment. The next day the Kapos were mad at us and took revenge. They ordered that every second day would be penalty day, which meant working without food and without our shirts at a time when the mosquitoes were sucking our last drop of blood. If someone attempted to straighten his back or stopped working for one second, he was beaten with a truncheon over his back. The worst of them all was Elimelech Kirschenbaum. He was later shot by the Russians. Once, when he came near my brother Samuel and raised his truncheon, I jumped close to him with the axe in my hand and said to him: “Elimelech—if you touch my brother your end will be right here”. My anger affected him. He let go of my brother but he threatened that he would settle with me when we returned to the camp.891
Even children were enlisted as tormentors of fellow Jewish prisoners:
I learned that this place was Huta Komorowska, a hard-labor work camp from which few were known to come out alive. … It was not long after I was let out of the truck that two Jewish policemen took me away and searched me from top to bottom. …
The foreman of our group, Cheskel Rybner, was a Jew and a sadist. He called us criminals, accused us of not wanting to work and beat us with a wooden stick. …
Three of the trucks from Huta Komorowska, including the one I was on, had traveled to Mielec. … It was about ten o’clock at night when we arrived in Mielec. We were unloaded from the trucks by Jewish police. …
Brutal punishments were a way of life in Mielec.
One of the members of the Jewish police, David Rosenwasser, had a habit of repeating, “Do you know who I am? I am David Rosenwasser, O.D. (Officer in Charge). He would then look at everyone meanly.
David Rosenwasser got a devilish pleasure out of tormemting people. One day he walked quietly into my barracks and started yelling, “Get up, Get up.”
Then he closed the door and left. Five minutes later, he was back in the barracks swinging a rubber truncheon and shouting. Anyone who was still in bed—whether ill or injured—was beaten until he was unconscious. Rosenwasser had a habit of walking by the barracks at night to listen to anything we were saying. Unlucky was the person who said anything, for he was pulled out of bed and beaten unmercifully. …
At the camp in Wielicka [Wieliczka near Kraków] was a small nine-year-old Jewish boy. The Germans had dressed him in an SS uniform and instructed him in the beating of Jews. Each day he appeared in the yard and hit every Jew who came his way with a stick. When someone told him that he himself was a Jew, he would say there was nothing he could do about it.892
A Jewish female inmate of the labour camp in Gliwice-Steigern recalled the brutality of Sonia Baumgarten, a block elder from Będzin, her equally brutal assistant, Mala Winer from Sosnowiec, and Bela Grylak, a denouncer from Łódź.893 One of the most shocking testimonies concerns a camp in Skałat near Tarnopol, in southeastern Poland.
The Skalat [Skałat] Camp was opened on 11 November 1942. Within a month it held over three hundred inmates, including about fifty lonely women, most of whom were from outside Skalat …
Several workshops were set up, all laboring exclusively for the Germans. The Obersturmbannfuhrer [Obersturmbannführer] had assigned a certain Jew, Heniek Zukerman, formerly the Kommandant of the Kamionka Camp, to organize the Skalat installation. …
The actual work during the twelve-hour day was not as awful and unbearable as the “camp discipline” and the attitudes of the officials. … Although the camp was directed by Jews themselves, all went in a similar fashion as in other concentration camps: conducted with the precision and savagery prevalent in concentration camps.
One specific case at a typical roll-call will serve to show the cruelty with which the camp leaders treated their own brothers. One day the camp leader, Zukerman, chose some of the stronger inmates for the heavy labor at the quarry. Among them was Saul Friedman, the shoemaker, a man of about 56. He asked to be excused because of his age and weakness, begging to be assigned, instead, to the ‘Shit Brigade.’ “What audacity!” Zukerman shouted in Polish, the official language of the camp, and began to hit the man mercilessly until he fell to the ground in a pool of blood. After the beating, Shol-the-cobbler was truly incapable of heavy labor and was detailed, as a cripple, to peeling potatoes in the kitchen.
Zukerman soon chose as his assistant Bumek Rus, a former law student, and previously a member of the Grzimalow [Grzymałów] Judenrat, whose behavior filled with terror all the Jews who came into contact with him. A month after Zukerman had successfully established the camp, he was ordered by the central camp authorities in Kamionka to organize a similar labor camp in Podwoloczyska [Podwołoczyska], and Rus took over command of the Skalat Camp. Obersturmbannfuhrer Rebel, or his aide, Sharfuhrer Maler, would come by every few days to make sure that all was in order. … The Germans would shout insults and curse wildly, while issuing commands which the Jewish Kommandants would accept servilely, intoning the obedient compliance: “Befehl Herr Obersturmbannfuhrer!”
Camp visits by Germans were usually the occasion for a lavish reception where pastries and beverages were served and where eggnog and wine flowed like water. The Skalat Schupo rarely ever missed these celebrations. Often they would go on until late at night, ending with female entertainment provided by the camp management. The Germans would leave, carrying expensive gifts, cheered in spirit and with favorable opinions of their loyal servants. …
Life in the Skalat Camp was moving towards extermination. As in all concentration camps, after several weeks people were hardly recognizable: spiritually broken and physically exhausted, with no will or reason to live. The fetid camp atmosphere eroded one’s humanity and people’s behavior at times was wild, almost beastly. … To avoid a beating was to experience a miracle. …
In the camps, the population was separated into two groups: the oppressors and the oppressed. The first included the camp leaders, the brigade leaders and other oppressors. In other camps, membership in that ‘upper stratum’ was the privilege of the Gentiles: either of the SS-men or of Gentile inmates. In the case of the Skalat Camp, the conditions were different. All of the authorities here were Jewish. The SS-men, as indicated, only came to check up every few days. That was sufficient, however, to last until the next visit.
The authorities of the Skalat Camp earned their infamy by the brutality toward their own brothers. Here, most of the people in the upper stratum came from the corrupt Judenrat, which the German machine had converted into an institution of demoralization and betrayal. Within the framework of a locked labor camp, they had a fruitful ground for their vile and beastly acts. They became appropriate tools in the hands of the Germans for the execution of their plans and wishes. Robbery, extortion and womanizing made up their days. Usually drunk, or exhausted by their carousing, as well as tense, unruly and violent, they brandished whips over the heads and backs of fellow Jews, while berating and cursing them. The clothing of the camp official gave him the appearance of an underworld dandy or pimp: grey-green riding breeches, shiny black new-looking boots, a brown leather jacket with a stiff collar, like that of a boulevardier, smelling of eau de cologne, with a cigarette between his lips. The camp people trembled in fear before such ‘big shots.’ In their after-hours, they ate and drank the best available. They would stay up to all hours, often until dawn, playing cards and drinking. Money had lost all value to them. They used bank notes to light their cigarettes and the amounts they wagered were staggering. They obtained sexual favors from the women and girls in the camp, who were terrorized into acceding to the slightest whim of these rulers. All the authorities lived in the camp building, together with the inmates, and it was under the same roof that the orgies and festivities took place.
The administrators and oppressors of the camp were a specific type of person. If everything was lost, then one should savor that which life yet had to offer. Trapped in a diabolic snare, one could live befitting the devil; beyond the corpses, beyond the abyss of sin and crime, beyond filth and self-loathing. They eked out the last bit of life, even at the cost of other lives. “A few Jews will have the right to remain alive under Hitler and I intend to be one of them,” Kommandant Rus would say – and he did survive.
After the “Sobbing Graves” ‘action,’ the entire Judenrat fell apart. The main leaders, Nirler, Zimmer, Lempert and Schoenberg, had managed to escape along with their families. All of them were now in the camp, from which they continued to direct the lives of the last remnants of the hopeless Jews who still wandered among the ruins of the ghetto. This handful of Jews knew quite well that the end was near and inevitable. It seemed to them that now the danger of death would be less in the camp, therefore everyone strived to get into the camp. This privilege came at a high price. The camp management explained that the money was needed to bribe the Gestapo. Actually, most of the money disappeared into the deep pockets of the camp officials. The corrupt life of the camp gentry grew ever more expensive. Those Jews who had no money were not accepted into the camp. It was ironic that while previously people had to pay to be saved from the camp, now they had to pay to be admitted.
In this way, the camp population grew by a few dozen, including women and children. These dealings for places in the ‘Life Saving Skalat Camp’ went on until the final liquidation of the ghetto. With the liquidation of the ghetto, there was no longer a Judenrat.
Nirler, having lost his kingdom now became the ‘prime minister’ to the camp-leader, Rus. Now it was Nirler who, every morning at 5:00, would call the roll of the inmates. He too, like his superior, was dressed in pajamas and carried a riding crop. In so brief a time, he managed to create around himself an aura of fear and ‘respect.’ All who entered the camp office had to stand and take off their caps. If some newcomer failed to follow this custom, even if out of ignorance, he was brutally beaten and confined for several days. Other former leaders of the ghetto (Zimmer, Lempert, Schoenberg, Dr. Brif, etc.) gained infamy by their evil acts. They took charge of the work details and, following the German example, lorded over everyone. Decency and justice simply did not exist for them, even with reference to former friends and acquaintances. The Jewish ghetto police, which had been transferred to the service of the camp authorities, also wrote a bloody page in the painful history of the Skalat Camp.894
An inmate of a camp for Jewish prisoners of war located at 7 Lipowa Street in Lublin recalls:
Here was the camp of Polish army prisoners—all Jews. At the time there were 7,000 of them, headed by a man named Fisher. (Today he resides with his wife Tsesha in Tel-Aviv). The prisoners hated the Jews of Lublin …
The 7,000 inmates of the prison camp worked as a detail of the sanitation unit. They cleaned the houses vacated by the Jewish deportees, street by street. The pounded on the walls, tore up floor tiles, looking for—and finding—treasures which the luckless Jews his before leaving, in the hope of returning. These prisoners garnered millions. They dressed like princes. Their stores, shops and markets carried every kind of delicacy: ham and bacon, honey cookies, pastries, fine sausages, whiskey, beer, oranges. The penniless prisoners hung about the wealthy ones, hoping to find bones in the garbage. The wealthy ones ate better than the Poles.895
Jewish inmates from the Lipowa Street camp were utilized for a raid on the Lublin ghetto ordered by Odilo Globocnik the night of December 11–12, 1941: 320 Jews were rounded up, and 150 were sent to the Majdanek concentration camp. The inmates also seized clothes from the homes of Jews in the ghetto.896 Two German Jews who acted as kapos in Majdanek were particularly known for their cruelty.897
Jewish OD (order police) men and kapos in Płaszów were known for treating the inmates with cruelty, extorting valuables, dutifully enforcing harsh measures, and betraying planned escapes.898 Memoirs recorded shortly after the war were, it seems, more open about such incidents. Donald Niewyk’s anthology, Fresh Wounds,899 contains frequent references to betrayals by fellow Jews and mistreatment, sometimes quite savage, at the hands of Jewish kapos (capos) and block seniors in Nazi camps. Indeed, as one Jewish scholar points out, “the cruelty of many Jewish kapos in the concentration camps is well attested by countless survivors.”900 Many additional examples are mentioned later. One can also find examples of Christian Poles suffering mistreatment and betrayal at the hands of Jewish kapos and inmates in Nazi camps.901
As among other nationalities, Jewish collaborators ran the entire gamut and included men and women who maintained friendly, sometimes intimate, relations with the SS and Gestapo, with whom they even partied. Partying was not uncommon in the ghettos among those well-placed. In the town of Skalbmierz, in the home of Lejzor Kac,
The entire Judenrat, along with the Ordnunsdienst [Jewish police], were eating, drinking, carrying on, men and women together, like a wedding celebration.902
Some Jewish women worked as prostitutes and strippers for the Germans,903 and a number of them became lovers or mistresses to German officers and soldiers.904 A number of Jewish woman were simply selected to serve as prostitutes or “volunteered” to do so under extreme circumstances.905 (This phenomenon was by no means unique to Jews. Such behaviour was far more widespread among the French, Norwegians, and others.906) Jewish community leaders in Brześć on the River Bug “decided to send some expensive ‘gifts’ to Major Rade. Four beautiful girls who had some idea of the importance of their mission delivered these gifts. They spent the whole night with the Germans and when they appeared on the streets the next day, every Jew looked upon them as Biblical heroines, who sacrificed themselves for the greater good of the community of Israel.”907 Sometimes Jews succeeded in joining the local German “high life,” as was the case in Złoczów:
The liaison between the Judenrat in Zloczow [Złoczów] and [Hauptsturmführer] Warzok was an individual named Zwerdling. … Every few days he presented the Judenrat with new demands, allegedly from Warzok. Nobody in the Judenrat dared to question these demands. Aside from the devestating draft of new workers, he insisted on and received expensive gifts which were supposed to lower the quota of humans. A lavishly furnished apartment was set up for Herr Hauptsturmführer where he entertained his women drawn mostly from the secretarial pool in the Kreishauptmannschaft and also partly supplied by the Judenrat. The finest wines and liquors, as well as the best food, was provided, as the price for leaving us alone. Diamonds and precious jewelry were delivered, much of it remaining in Zwerdling’s pockets. He soon started to behave like a German. His wife and daughters strutted around in new outfits and high boots, aping the style of the German women. Zwerdling became the most feared Jew in Zloczow, feared almost as much as Warzok himself.908
Cooperation sometimes simply entailed performing tasks for the German overlords with model diligence and reporting back to them in a servile manner. According to Emanuel Ringelblum, Jewish prisoners-of-war earned the respect of the Germans precisely for their servility.909 Another contoversial passtime was the holding of gala concerts in the ghettos, attended by large audiences dressed in their best attire including tuxedos and ball dresses.910 Moreover, in spite of the apparent incongruity, in the early years of the German occupation Jews often had better contacts and interaction with local German authorities than the Poles did. Fraternization was not unusual, especially in the early years of the occupation, when the opportunity arose. As Jews from Krosno recall: