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

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One can hardly object to this kind of logic. However, who was to judge the ability and above all the worthiness of the people being considered? In reality youth was not a definite advantage, not even in a physical let alone a moral sense. In my experience, people in early middle age with a healthy constitution and firm nerves, with a broad experience of life and strong ties to wife and children had much better chances of coming through than physically strong young men whose nerves were no stronger than their moral views and who had nothing to tie them to normal life outside in freedom.

The point of view expressed in the camp along the lines of: “old boy you've had your day; we young ones want to have something from life after this is all over” sounded much more logical than it was; and if one considers that the selection of the prisoners was based on personal feelings—often on the lowest level—and on materialist motives, one can easily work out how distorted the “selection of the fittest” turned out to be.

This explains how such a variety of people survived the camp—valuable politicals as well as scum and nonentities. Chance and arbitrary factors played the main role in this connection as in every other.

Before the war, the majority of the lower class consisted of Jews and the Germans of inferior status, mainly the Blacks, with the bulk of the heavy and despised jobs being placed on the shoulders of the Jews. They remained the pariahs of the camp during the war as well, while foreigners replaced the lower status Germans, particularly from those nations which had larger numbers of prisoners and who, because of their lack of German, played a less significant role in running the camp. “Vitamin B”, as personal contacts [Beziehungen] were called in Hitler's Germany, was vital in the camp as well and the lack of it was extremely disadvantageous for Russians, Poles and the French. Otherwise, a number of factors determined which nations belonged to the lowest classes in the individual camps.

If one combines the fact that Jews and large groups of foreigners had to do the heaviest work with the fact that they were most exposed to organized theft and that they had to live in the worst accommodation, then one can envisage the gap which existed between them and the top people. In the same period in which the Jews and foreigners were dying within four to six months in the temporary accommodation, the death rate among the upper class was nil and in the middle class not much above the norm for these age groups.

Within a few weeks, hunger, overwork and having to live in impossible conditions produced a discrete group among the lower class, the:

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