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Kapo (concentration camp)

The armband of an oberkapo (chief kapo)

A kapo was a prisoner who worked inside German Nazi concentration camps during World War II in any of certain lower administrative positions. The official Nazi word was Funktionshäftling, or "prisoner functionary", but the Nazis commonly referred to them as kapos.


[edit] Etymology

The origin of "kapo" is unclear. Some think it is an abbreviated form of the word, Kameradschaftspolizei, (roughly, "comrade police force") or comes from the Italian word for "head", capo. According to the Duden, it is derived from the French word for "Corporal" (fr:Caporal)[1][2][3].

[edit] Reputation for brutality

Kapos received more privileges than normal prisoners, towards whom they were often brutal. They were often convicts[4] who were offered this work in exchange for a reduced sentence or parole.[citation needed]

From Oliver Lustig's Dictionary of the Camp:

Vicenzo and Luigi Pappalettera wrote in their book The Brutes Have the Floor [5] that, every time a new transport of detainees arrived at Mauthausen, Kapo August Adam picked out the professors, lawyers, priests and magistrates and cynically asked them: "Are you a lawyer? A professor? Good! Do you see this green triangle? This means I am a killer. I have five convictions on my record: one for manslaughter and four for robbery. Well, here I am in command. The world has turned upside down, did you get that? Do you need a dolmetscher, an interpreter? Here it is!" And he was pointing to his bat, after which he struck. When he was satisfied, he formed a Scheisskompanie with those selected and sent them to clean the latrines.[6]

[edit] Usage after 1945

This role has been described in many books, among them Primo Levi's If This is a Man and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, the latter treating it from a psychiatrist's standpoint. It is also mentioned in Elie Wiesel's autobiography Night, and in Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus II, and is featured in the Gillo Pontecorvo movie Kapò.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Yizhak Ahren, "Überlebt weil schuldig - schuldig weil überlebt" Review of book about Jewish kapos. Leo Baeck Bookshop, official website. Retrieved May 8, 2010 (German)
  2. ^ Kogon, Eugen (1980). The theory and practice of hell: the German concentration camps and the system behind them. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0-425-16431-4.  (Translated from: Kogon, Eugen (1946). Der SS-Staat: Das System der deutschen Konzentrationslager. München. )
  3. ^ de Jong, L., (1978). Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, deel 8, gevangenen en gedeporteerden, eerste helft. 's-Gravenhage: Staatsuitgeverij,. ISBN 90 12 00829 8. , p. 481
  4. ^ Florian Freund, Harald Greifeneder (Editors), "Audio guide 05: Prisoner functionaries" Mauthausen Memorial, official website. Retrieved May 28, 2010
  5. ^ The author or translator probably refers to the book: Pappalettera, Vincenzo y Luigi. " La parola agli aguzzini: le SS e i Kapò di Mauthausen svelano le leggi del lager.", Milano: Mondadori (1969), Mursia, (1979), also "Los SS tienen la palabra: las leyes del campo de Mauthausen reveladas por las Schutz-Staffeln". Barcelona: Editorial Laia, (1969).
  6. ^ Oliver Lustig, DicÅionar de lagär, Bucharest, Hasefer, 2002 ISBN 973-630-011-0 (English translation)

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