- Jun 2023
Passa Frenkel, la spia
In developing the concentration camp system in the 1930s, amongst other methods, the SS used prisoner spies to undermine prisoner solidarity, and to uncover resistance and escape plans and other perceived prisoner infringements. The spies would be given increased food rations and other “luxuries” in return for supplying information on prisoners to Kapos or SS guards.
Being a prisoner spy was not without risk. If the occasion arose, prisoners sometimes took the opportunity to rid themselves of a spy.
Alex, il Kapo
For Levi, Alex, the Kapo, was one of the most fearsome individuals in the Monowitz camp, even more so than the SS men. The SS had developed and honed the concentration camp system, starting in 1933 in Dachau. They developed the system to control and eventually break the prisoners. One of the methods used was to introduce camp prisoner functionaries who would have total powers over other prisoners. This had the benefits of reducing SS manpower needed to administer the camps but also of breeding division in the prisoner community.
The Kapo was the most feared of all prisoner camp functionaries. He was responsible for prisoner roll calls, overseeing the prisoner barracks, and supervising the prisoners at work. He literally had power of life and death over the prisoners. The Kapos were originally chosen from the German criminals (‘green triangles’) incarcerated in the concentration camps from the 1930s. They were chosen for their brutality and because they were German, and therefore separate from Jews, gypsies, and foreign political prisoners increasingly incarcerated in the concentration camps from 1941. Later in the war, Kapos were also chosen from the other prisoner communities including Jews, who could be equally as brutal as the German criminal Kapos.
Levi was correct to be afraid of ‘Alex, il Kapo’.