Holocaust victims and the camps

Topics: The Holocaust, Nazi Germany, Nazi concentration camps Pages: 9 (2146 words) Published: May 29, 2014

Tutorial Paper

How did the hierarchy and structure of the camps determine survival?

Word Count: 2030

How did the hierarchy and structure of the camps determine survival?

During the events of World War II the Nazi party began the systematic destruction of minority groups, in particular the Jewish people, in what became known as the holocaust. This genocide has since become the blue print of all other genocides and even prompted the coining of the word itself. To aid in the systematic killing of the Jewish people, the Nazi regime setup death camps which became notorious for their dehumanisation and efficiency in exterminating innocent people. Within these camps the Nazi regime would institute a social structure or hierarchy among the camp prisoners which Primo Levi describes as a sinister ritual which promotes moral collapse1. This structure was used to both aid in the administration of the camp but also as a method to bring those oppressed closer to the perpetrators through degradation and guilt. Glicksman divides this structure into five groups of ‘organisers’, the highest being those closest to the SS with the greatest benefits, known as the notables and the lowest being the majority of the camp2. The top administrators of the camp, with the highest benefits, were those known as the ‘Kapos’, they would often be common criminals sometimes drawn from prisons and were put in place to reduce the workload on the SS. Many people were selected to ‘organise’ for the SS due to a distinct skill set that they possessed such as nurses or intellectuals and others managed to maintain a role as a small ‘organiser’ through various ways within the camps. Although many people were selected for certain roles due to the skill set they possessed, some were also selected for horrific roles such as that of the Sonderkommando, those bestowed with the task of running the gas chambers.

Although taking on a role within the hierarchy or becoming a ‘notable’ would often delay death for a period time this was only delaying the inevitable. Those among what Primo Levi describes as the ‘grey zone’, the space between the victims and the perpetrators, would inevitable come to their death and luck was usually the only factor which determined who lived.

Glicksman’s clear separation of five distinct groups within the hierarchy of the camps aids in determining how these various groups of ‘organisers’ were able to manipulate their survival through the role in which they had be given. The five groups of ‘organisers’ that Glicksman identifies are (1) Organisers of gold, silver and currency (part of the notables and associated with SS), (2) Organisers of merchandise, (3) Petty organisers (with the sole purpose to secure more food), (4) Brokers and Porters (Work for the top hierarchy of organisers through smuggling or other minor roles) and (5) Majority of camp, of which to ‘organise’ meant to beg for extra rations.3 The top organisers of this hierarchy were those put into a position of authority by the SS, such as the notorious kapos, and were therefore allowed to live in higher standards and had some role in determining their fate while under the strict instruction of the SS. This top group within the camp social structure were able to secure there life and relatively good living conditions through horrific brutality towards the camp masses and by following the instruction of the SS. Those in the next three groups of ‘organisers’ often worked for the top hierarchy to various degrees, this was done through the accumulation and smuggling of goods into the camps. Although this was strictly forbidden by the SS, and being caught meant certain punishment, the SS were the top ‘organisers’ above the hierarchy and would benefit through the exploitation of the prisoners. Those at the top of the hierarchy, the notables, would often be overlooked during searches by...
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