The SS and I.G. Farben used a camp administration and work administration made up of prisoners to supervise and organize the thousands of inmates in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp and at the I.G. Auschwitz construction site. Positions in the camp administration were based on a strict hierarchy. The prisoners used in this way were known as Funktionshäftlinge (prisoner functionaries), and in the camp language they sometimes were also called Prominente (VIPs).
Prisoner functionaries were primarily inmates who were classified as “asocials” (black triangle) and “criminals” (green triangle). Many of the “green triangles” came from the Auschwitz main camp for construction of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. But political prisoners (red triangle), too, held roles in the camp administration and in the infirmary. A relatively large number of German and Austrian political prisoners from Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, who came to the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp as early as October 1942, succeeded in occupying several influential positions. As the camp grew, Poles were added to the ranks of the German prisoner functionaries. From time to time, Jewish prisoners were “Aryanized” and henceforth considered political prisoners, so that they could take up positions in the prisoner administration
At first the staffing of functionary positions was handled by the SS, later by the camp VIPs. Friends or members of resistance groups could be protected as a result. Especially in the administrative office and the infirmary, Jewish inmates also were used as prisoner functionaries, because special training or linguistic skills—which the “green triangles” usually lacked—were in demand there. With the increasing number of different prisoner nationalities and languages, the administration of the camp became more and more complex. The prisoner clerks’ scope of influence over the survival chances of other inmates expanded as a result. This entailed a high risk, because even a slight suspicion on the part of the SS could prove fatal.
The prisoners at all times were under a dual obligation: to their superiors in the prisoner hierarchy and to every SS man. The SS enmeshed the prisoner functionaries in the system of governance it had installed in the concentration camps, which was based on the arbitrary exercise of force by those who were higher-ranking and on the absence of reliable standards that could have given the ordinary inmates a sense of security in their daily performance. The prisoner functionaries in the camp and the Kapos at the construction site were used to discipline the prisoners and push them to work harder, and thus spare the SS the expense of guards. Survivors report that in the early days of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp, many prisoner functionaries, including the camp elder Josef Windeck, behaved quite brutally.
Formally, the prisoner functionaries, like all other concentration camp inmates, were without rights, but in practice they had a far-reaching power of control over the other prisoners. A Kapo could mistreat or even kill an ordinary prisoner with impunity; the SS tolerated and even encouraged this use of force. Only if a prisoner functionary, wittingly or unwittingly, came into conflict with the interests of the SS during the “punishment” of inmates did he run the risk of being suddenly called to account for his use of force. There were also instances in which prisoners themselves called especially brutal bullies or SS informers to account. Many Kapos mistreated prisoners, but at the same time they were not the originators of the system in which they operated. The differing reports of survivors of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp show the extent to which specific dealings with the individual prisoners depended on the personality of a prisoner functionary—he might be brutal, capricious, or helpful. But a few brutal prisoner functionaries were sufficient to heighten the climate of fear that permeated daily life in the concentration camp.
Their position yielded numerous advantages for the prisoner functionaries; they lived immeasurably better than the bulk of the prisoners. They were housed either in separate rooms of the block or in their own blocks with much lower occupancy than the prisoner barracks. Their position in the prisoner hierarchy also enabled them to create a network of socially dependent relationships that could serve to procure better clothing from “Canada” or good food, or even to blackmail young inmates into providing sexual services. The majority of the prisoner functionaries doubtless used their position primarily to ensure their own survival. But many also caused other inmates to suffer in order to protect their own position with respect to the SS, whereas others tried to enable even ordinary prisoners to survive.
(MN; transl. KL)