The Middle Class
Beneath the top people there was a fairly broad layer which we can call the middle class. They were the room leaders, the foremen, the workers in the workshops and the lower-level clerks and functionaries in the offices, the nurses, clerks and other functionaries in the sick bay, but one could also add the “junior” capos and block leaders. This group was very numerous. In Buchenwald, even before the great influx of foreigners, it consisted of 2,000–3,000 prisoners out of a total prisoner population of 10,000. Even in Auschwitz-Buna, where there were no significant workshops, there were around 1,000 out of a total of 10,000.
This group had far less power and prestige than the top people but also less responsibility. The material advantages were quite varied—cooks naturally had enough to eat, the prisoners in the clothing store were well clothed, whereas, many foremen only had few advantages compared to the men in their work details. Nevertheless, this group was quite distinct from the mass. This resulted from the type of work they did. Either these prisoners worked in the workshops, i.e. under cover, and were employed in their own trades, or, as foremen, they did not have to do physical work, or they worked in offices or in the sick bay and, therefore, under cover, were seldom supervised and could have long breaks.
In the early years German “Aryans” were given priority. But, after the influx of the foreigners, they too secured numerous positions and, in the final period, as the distinctions began to disappear, even the Jews, although only the specialists and the long-term prisoners. A knowledge of German was not absolutely necessary, whereas in the case of the top people, it was more or less required for all posts.
In view of the general camp conditions, the life of the middle class can be described as comfortable. Even if the post did not of itself—as in the kitchen, the sick bay or office work—provide more food, then working for the SS, contacts with sources of food or with civilians, barter and doing deals on the side, all provided opportunities for acquiring “rations through the back door”. The work was sometimes hard—for example, the nurses often had a hard time and in some workshops there was a lot to do—but that was more than compensated for by the fact that the SS almost never controlled this work and could not control it, so that this group did not have too much mental stress.
The very fact that the SS had fewer possibilities of controlling them prompted many “middle-class people” seriously to neglect their duties. That in turn had an impact on the camp as a whole. Apart from the cases of actual theft from comrades, such as the purloining of food from the kitchen or linen from the clothing store, it was not a matter of indifference for the great mass of ordinary prisoners whether the barrack-room cleaners kept the block clean and used all the available opportunities to acquire fresh linen or shoes or whether the nurses in the sick bay looked after the sick properly; it was also important how many pairs of shoes the colleagues in the shoe workshop repaired each day and whether the laundry met the camp's needs.