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Benedikt Kautsky’s Description of the Concentration Camp Hierarchy (Retrospective Account, 1961)

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Thus, it was understandable that people for whom these values were important strove to acquire such positions. But it was also understandable that political prisoners, who felt that they were up to holding these positions, claimed this power not for themselves but for the prisoners as a whole. If they had not done so, then the life in many camps would have been even less bearable than it was already. Thus, it was definitely in the interests of the prisoners for the politicals to get these positions. However, getting involved in this web of intrigue represented a major threat to one's personal integrity and it required remarkable strength of character not to let oneself be corrupted by either the power or the material advantages. It must be said that a number of Communist functionaries in Buchenwald and a number of Jewish functionaries in Auschwitz-Buna deserve this accolade. However, alongside these shining examples of the triumph which the human spirit could achieve in overcoming the most difficult conditions, there were also manifestations which showed how far people of absolute personal integrity could go astray when they believed it served their cause. [ . . . ]

The same phenomena which occurred in the highest ranks of the top people were also present among the rest of the camp aristocracy and, if less intensively, then more generally. These included the remainder of the Block Leaders as well as most of the Capos, a few important foremen and authoritative functionaries in the offices and workshops, the sick bay etc. Here too there were continual intrigues going on. But, since they had less access to the SS, the place of the SS was taken by the top ranks of the prisoners. That made the intrigues somewhat less tense and dangerous, but, since the group involved was much larger, the number of possible combinations was much higher.

It was by no means unusual for people to fall from the heights of being top people to the deepest depths of the punishment company and punishment details. But it was usually not irrevocable. I saw many fall and rise again, and do so more than once, without the fall being considered dishonorable any more than in the case of the camp punishments. Most of them experienced these ups and downs; there were of course others who remained in the same positions for years so that they were considered part of the furniture, like the watch towers or the bunker. But they were well advised to watch out and not to rely on their ability to hang on—on the contrary. When, on one occasion, such a prisoner responded to his removal from office by referring to his years of service in this function, he was told: “then it's high time that you picked up a shovel and went out on a work detail”.

Right up until the end of the war, the top rank of the top people was almost exclusively German; in Auschwitz the Poles played a major role for a time. The Germans also dominated the remainder of the camp aristocracy, although here a considerable number of nationals from other countries played a part, as towards the end of the war did even Jews in increasing numbers.

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