Function prisoner

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A prisoner functionary was a prisoner in the concentration camp system who was used by the SS guards during the National Socialist era as a supervisor in work or for other control, order and administrative tasks towards fellow prisoners. Functional prisoners were mainly used by the camp SS in concentration and labor camps . As long as they did their jobs to the satisfaction of the guards, they were spared assaults and hard physical labor, and they also received perks that increased the chances of survival in the concentration camp.

System of prison functionaries

In addition to the organizational structure of the SS camp crew, a second camp hierarchy was created with the “prisoner functionaries”, which made the large number of prisoners more controllable and manageable. The prisoner group instrumentalized in this way saved SS personnel and costs. Up to ten percent of the prisoners belonged to the group of prisoner functionaries. Compared to today's prisons, the Nazi regime was able to keep the number of SS personnel who had direct contact with the prisoners very low. Without the prisoner functionaries, the SS camp management would not have been able to ensure the smooth running of everyday camp life.

On the other hand, the SS delegated a small part of their power to the prisoner functionaries. She made them appear as hated henchmen. This de-solidarized the prisoner groups among themselves, which led to their further division. Tensions arose among the various nationalities as well as between the many groups of inmates (see identification of inmates in the concentration camps ). The brutality of the "criminal kapos ", the functionaries from the group of " professional criminals ", who were also called "greens" from the group of convicted prisoners because of their identification, is a topos . Some of the prison functionaries were just as brutal as the SS thugs, others tried to protect fellow prisoners.

As a “central instrument of rule” in the concentration camps, “prisoner self-administration”, as the contemporary euphemistic SS term was used, emerged.

Himmler's concentration camp inspection was able to realize the low personnel requirement for SS guards by introducing compulsory posts as early as 1933. This was an instruction to the SS camp guards to immediately shoot mutinous or fleeing prisoners "without a call". Himmler forbade in writing to warn prisoners in advance or to attempt physical defense through physical violence.

The punishment of entire groups for the behavior of an individual prisoner, for example standing on the roll call square , contributed to the relatively low need for SS personnel.

There was a perpetuation of the perpetrator-victim chain (victims became perpetrators, perpetrators became victims) within this highlighted group of inmates. The constant surveillance and permanent threat of punishment gave rise to both omnipresent distrust and egoism as a survival strategy .

The constant denial of human dignity also affected the prisoners' coexistence.

Individual functions

In the camp itself, important officials were camp elders , block elders and room elders . The highest position an inmate could achieve was that of the camp elder . He was directly subordinate to the protective custody camp leader, had to implement his orders, ensure that everyday life in the camp ran smoothly and comply with higher-level regulations. The camp elder had a de facto right of nomination when filling functional positions. With the privileges that were important for his survival, such as special meals or his own room and civilian clothing, he was constantly dependent on the goodwill of the SS.

Blockdlteste (female. Blockdlteste also in Polish. Form as Blokowa called) had compliance in Block sure.

Room seniors were responsible for about hygiene and order in the respective office of Barack block, for example for the Lauskontrolle . Functional prisoners worked in the administration of the camp, in the office and work statistics, as canteen men , in the supply facilities such as the kitchen, laundry and storage facilities or in the infirmary as nurses and inmate doctors. In the last years of the war, prisoners in the "camp protection" were used as camp police.

Armband of a senior kapo

During work assignments outside the camp, prison functionaries were used as foremen , kapos or senior kapos . When these brutally urged the exhausted prisoners on, victims became perpetrators. Sometimes they misused their power to sadistic attacks and committed crimes in which fellow inmates were killed.

Functional prisoners were often able to send fellow inmates to cheaper apartment blocks, help them to do easier work, exceptionally remove them from transport lists or even conceal their identities in order to protect them from being stalked. Often, however, they limited such assistance to those belonging to their “own” prisoner group: as Poles, French, etc. The prisoner functionaries were in a difficult position in the hierarchy between the SS and the inmates. This was intentional, as can be seen from a speech by Himmler:

“The moment he is Kapo, he no longer sleeps with them. He is responsible that the job is achieved, that they are clean, that the beds are well built. [...] So he has to push his men on. The moment we are dissatisfied with him, he is no longer a Kapo, he sleeps with his men again. He knows that he will be beaten to death by them on the first night. "

An eager prison functionary was able to pursue a “camp career” as an SS favorite and rise from Kapo to Senior Kapo and finally to camp elder. But he could also be “put on the gas” because of (alleged) disregard of orders.


The historian Karin Orth judged: "Hardly any measure of the SS was more perfidious than their attempt to delegate the execution of terror and violence to the victims."

Source-critical considerations take into account that most prisoner reports come from political prisoners and do not adequately reflect the perceptions and experiences of the majority. The bitter struggle for influential positions occupied by "professional criminals" plays a major role in the memories of German political prisoners. The main enemy is often not the SS, but the “green” Kapo.

The widespread assumption that the SS used "professional criminals" in a targeted manner and primarily in functional positions cannot be verified by the local investigations that have been completed so far. A negative role is predominantly ascribed to the "BV function prisoners"; but closer examination makes such a generalization appear unjustified.

Another study shows that the prisoner deployment in the Buchenwald concentration camp was controlled by the political prisoners in functional units. The return of a prisoner who was assigned to a transport to a deadly labor camp such as Mittelbau-Dora meant his rescue. At the same time, however, this “exchange of sacrifices” remains morally vulnerable because the rescued person was always a member of his own group.

Concentration camp survivor Eugen Kogon reported:

“The camp system owed its stability not least to an auxiliary troop of Kapos, who kept the day-to-day operations going and relieved the SS personnel. This made absolute power ubiquitous. Without the delegation of power, the system of discipline and surveillance would have dissolved immediately. The rivalry for supervisory, administrative and supply posts was just a welcome opportunity for the SS to play off the prisoners' faction against each other and to keep them dependent. The normal prisoner, however, was at the mercy of two authorities, the SS, who often hardly appeared in the camp, and the prisoner functionaries who were always there. "

Demarcation: Selected Reich German "criminal" concentration camp prisoners were transferred to the SS special formation Dirlewanger from October 1944 . As part of the troops, they are no longer included under the term prisoner functionary .


  • Guido Knopp : The SS. A warning from history. Bertelsmann, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-570-00621-2 .
  • Eugen Kogon : The SS state . The system of the German concentration camps. Alber, Munich 1946 (numerous new editions, including: Heyne, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-453-02978-X ).
  • Revital Ludewig-Kedmi: victim and perpetrator at the same time? Moral dilemmas of Jewish prison functionaries in the Shoah (= Psyche and Society series. ). Psychosozial-Verlag, Giessen 2001, ISBN 3-89806-104-3 (At the same time: Berlin, Techn. Univ., Diss., 2000: Moraldilemmataischer Jewish Functional Prisoners. ), (Review by Yizhak Ahren: Survived because guilty - guilty because survived. ( Memento of October 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Jüdische Allgemeine , 2003).
  • Lutz Niethammer (Ed.): The 'cleaned' anti-fascism. The SED and the red kapos from Buchenwald . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1994.
  • Karin Orth : Was there a warehouse company? “Criminals” and political prisoners in the concentration camp. In: Norbert Frei : Exploitation, Destruction, Public. New studies on National Socialist camp policy (= representations and sources on the history of Auschwitz. Vol. 4). Saur, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-598-24033-3 , pp. 109-133.
  • Marc Schemmel : prisoner functionaries in Neuengamme concentration camp. Between cooperation and resistance. VDM - Müller, Saarbrücken 2007, ISBN 978-3-8364-1718-1 .
  • Jens-Christian Wagner: Again: work and destruction. Prisoner deployment in KL Mittelbau-Dora 1943–1945. In: Norbert Frei: Exploitation, Destruction, Public. New studies on National Socialist camp policy (= representations and sources on the history of Auschwitz. Vol. 4). Saur, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-598-24033-3 , pp. 11-41.
  • Stanislav Zámečník : That was Dachau. Foundation Comité International de Dachau, Luxembourg 2002, ISBN 2-87996-948-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Marc Schemmel: prisoner functionaries in the Neuengamme concentration camp. 2007, p. 4.
  2. See subsection “Functional prisoners”. In: Stanislav Zámečník: That was Dachau. 2002, pp. 151-159.
  3. Jens-Christian Wagner : Once again: work and destruction. Prisoner deployment in KL Mittelbau-Dora 1943–1945. 2000, p. 27.
  4. Karin Orth: Was there a warehouse company? 2000, p. 111.
  5. Guido Knopp: The SS. A warning of history. 2002, p. 209.
  6. a b Karin Orth: Was there a warehouse company? 2000, p. 110.
  7. ^ Stanislav Zámečník: That was Dachau. 2002, p. 154.
  8. Himmler's speech of June 21, 1944, quoted from: Karin Orth: Was there a camp company? 2000, p. 110 note 7.
  9. a b Karin Orth: Was there a warehouse company? 2000, p. 131.
  10. ^ Marc Schemmel: prisoner functionaries in the Neuengamme concentration camp. 2007, pp. 54, 96ff.
  11. Jens-Christian Wagner: Once again: work and destruction. Prisoner deployment in KL Mittelbau-Dora 1943–1945. 2000, p. 26.
  12. From: Guido Knopp: The SS. A warning of history. 2002, p. 210.
  13. Karin Orth: Was there a warehouse company? 2000, p. 127.