Auschwitz was maybe the largest of the Nazi camps, about 150.000prisoners were crammed only in Auschwitz2-Birkenau, a real small town that was organised according to a hierarchical organization, even among the prisoners themselves.
They belonged to work teams, called “Arbeitskommando” whichwere led by so-called “Kapo”; the larger teams also had multiple levels of command.
The Kapo, were nicknamed “Binderträger”, ” those who wear the sash”, since they were identified by the sash on the left arm. They were tasked with ensuring that their blockade was in order, they were relieved of their obligation to work, and after some time, they acquired a position of total power over their subjects.
Their position of “forced command” led them to repress their own emotions, the Nazis did not allow piety and love for the comrades, they had to learn to be cold and emotionless, they had to use violence on their fellow inmates, sometimes even to kill them, if they wanted to save their life and keep their privileges.
Yes, because “those who were the sash” had privileges that a simple internee would not even dare dream. They enjoyed food, lodging, and clothing in a preferred size. To convert a docile instrument in the hands of the SS into a Kapo it was enough to threaten them they would lose the sash with all its privileges. In this way, a ruthless hierarchy was created among the same prisoners, which in fact acted as long Manus of the Lager leadership, spreading further terror throughout the camps, also because the divisions and the hostilities between the prisoners made it easier to control the camps and the large communities that were imprisoned in them.
However, not all the prisoners were able to assume this controversial command position, so, how were the Kapo identified and chosen? From the beginning, German “common and professional delinquents” were transported to the concentration camps and identified by the green triangle on their jacket. It was precisely among them that Nazis chose those who were sufficiently brutal to assume the functions of command, and its privileges, without any difficulty.
But the “special functions” assigned to the prisoners were also others. In fact, the men that Primo Levi called the “black ravens of the crematorium” were in the gas chambers, waiting for the prisoners: the sonderkommandos, a special unit of Jews established to collaborated with the SS, in exchange for preferential treatment. Their task was to lead the victims into the ovens and to recover clothes and gold teeth.
Moreover, some of the prisoners were chosen- according to their capacity and profession– to assume specific rules of labour: so Jozef Paczynski became Rudolph Höss’ personal barber, and Lale Sokulov was “nominated” official tattoo artist of Auschwitz.
However, in the end, no matter how competent, strong, scholarly,rich they were, the prisoners were no longer worth anything, and fatally they became puppets ready to fight with the others to climb a few steps of hierarchical pyramid imposed by the Nazis.