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Honeylit Cueco

Social Organizations 
 

Prisoners of Auschwitz were comprised of men and women coming from varying European nationalities, diverse social backgrounds and occupations. These differences soon lost their meaning as a new set of criteria beyond the accepted European model was established for social organization within the camp. The basis of social organization dictated the odds for survival for any prisoner at Auschwitz.
     
Auschwitz was the exclusive domain of the SS and a novel and intense form of political influence and economic power was soon established. "The hand of the SS was as the hand of God," (Vashem 155) recalls one prisoner. In the most literal sense, an order from any SS man could move thousands or sentence a prisoner to death. The SS staff in Auschwitz was headed by a camp commandant (Lagerkommandant) in charge of departments such as the clinic, the sub-camps, and the SS units responsible for defense. The Lagerfuhrer, or Prisoner's Commander managed the core of the camp. The Rapportfuhrer, or Office Clerk was next in line in the SS hierarchy while the Blockfuhrer or Block Commanders - a group of SS men accountable for one or more blocks or barracks for prisoners - occupied the lowest rung on the SS staff ladder. Those in charge of the labor battalions were called Kommandofuhrer and SS doctors administered the prisoner and staff hospitals. Members of the Gestapo dominated the camp's political department, or Politische Abteilung.
     
While the SS was responsible for the overall management of the camp, the direct administration of affairs concerning the camp was relegated to appointed prisoners in positions of leadership. An authorized prisoner usually acted as a mediator between the SS and his fellow prisoners. He imposed discipline, supervised labor, etc. The above prisoner is part of the three main groups of prisoners in positions of influence. These three main groups somewhat parallel the hierarchical structure found among the SS staff. The Lageralteste, the camp elder, who affected the degree of brutality within the internal camp society, headed this network. The camp clerk, or Lagerschreiber, was in charge of the number of prisoners at roll-calls, and prisoner movement to and from the camp. A prisoner in charge of labor service, the Arbeitsdient, supplied the manpower for the labor battalions and transferred prisoners from one work station to another. Within the camp itself, the block elders (Blockalteste) controlled barracks containing hundreds of prisoners while the block clerk (Blockschreiber), who checked the exact number of prisoners in the block, was directly under him. Aides called chamber servants (Stubendienste) cleaned, tidied pallets, and distributed food within sections of the block. Prisoner-in-authority were often more brutal than their SS counterparts as they had to take the blame for any mistakes or accidents committed by their fellow prisoners. In fact, they felt they had more to lose, as their position was in itself precarious and subject to the whims of an SS commander.
     
The second group included prisoners accountable for labor battalions. They would lead, escort, and supervise the prisoners into their work-areas. A Capo headed each labor battalion; a large labor battalion held an Oberkapo as well as regular Capos. The third group of prisoners belonged to the class nicknamed "privileged." They were employed in the camp hospitals, offices, kitchens, orchestras, and other special positions that offered shelter and contact with food, clothing, medicines, and other basic necessities. These groups survived longer at Auschwitz than their fellow counterparts.
    
As a result, antagonism between prisoners was prevalent in the camp. Most prisoners in the camp received these favored positions due to their national origins and race. German Aryans (Reichsdeutsche), state criminals who were imprisoned at Auschwitz -various sexual offenders and the like- received the most favor from the staff. Second to the German Aryans were prisoners hailing from Western European countries, then the Poles and the Russians, and finally the Gypsies and the Jews. Jews of any kind occupied the lowest strata and suffered the cruelest punishment and standard of living. Not surprisingly, the German Aryans occupied the most senior positions within the prisoners' hierarchy. For instance, only "Aryan" Germans were able to become Camp Elders.
     
Jewish prisoners in authority were few and far between. In general, Jews suffered the worst discrimination by both camp authorities and prisoners in command alike. They were given the most arduous of tasks and were all sent straight to the punishment battalions, where torture and sever malnutrition (worse than the rest of the camp) dominated. Most of the Jews became muselmann, a term describing a prisoner who showed symptoms of the advanced stages of starvation. These prisoners were merely hollowed-out representatives of their old selves, shadows of humanity. No Jews who arrived with the first transports to Auschwitz survived. In addition, prisoners of non-Jewish decent enjoyed rights not relegated toward the Jews. For example, Jews were banned from writing letters while other prisoners of different ethnicities and nationalities were given this privilege. Furthermore, Jews and Russians were not allowed to receive food parcels, which could have ameliorated the level of stark starvation within the camp, from home. Most horrifying of all was the continued murder of Jewish prisoners in the sickbays when selective murders of prisoners from other nationalities had been ceased.
     
Most of the time, the elderly, the women, and the children were exterminated due to their lack of strength and physical endurance. These prisoners occupied the lowest strata due to their dispensability. To the SS, they were merely more mouths to feed. These prisoners could neither participate in the labor battalions nor stand acute physical assault. As is, they were considered more prone to sickness, etc.
     
While Auschwitz prisoners suffered brutal assault daily, a form of resistance movement was nevertheless established. Mutual aid was the primary concern for fellow members, and practical steps were taken for a planned uprising. Explosives were stolen in small quantities, plans were forged, and contracts planned from other resistance organizations. While these plans were never realized, this action magnified the courage and fervor of the prisoners all the same. Few could have maintained the kind of mental stability after the horrors of Auschwitz.

Bibliography

Gutman and Berenbaum. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Deathcamp. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Pawelczynska, Anna. Values and Violence in Auschwitz. California: University of California Press, 1979.
Vashem, Yad. The Nazi Concentration Camps. Jerusalem, 1984.


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