‘The origin of kapo is unclear,” says Wikipedia.
“Some think it is an
abbreviated form of the word Kameradschaftspolizei (roughly, “comrade police
force”), or comes from the Italian word for “head,” capo.”
At any rate,
“a kapo was a prisoner who worked inside German Nazi concentration camps during
WWII in certain lower administrative positions.
The official Nazi word
“prisoner functionary,” but the Nazis commonly
referred to them as kapos.
“Kapos received more privileges than normal
prisoners, toward whom they were often brutal.
They were often convicts
who were offered this work in exchange for a reduced sentence or
I knew the word, of course. I heard it first from my mother, on
the rare occasions when she talked about her experience in Auschwitz.
me to search for a more precise definition of it was hearing a friend
about a superior at work who behaved in obstructionist and nasty ways
other employees and with whom she had recently had a showdown.
a kapo,” she said.
I commented to this friend, who works in the media,
that she had coincidentally used the term just as I was about to write
phenomenon of Holocaust terminology being used by Jews to describe other
totally other – and by definition, immeasurably more benign –
Didn’t she feel her use of this terminology trivialized the
Shoah? She smiled a bit shamefacedly. “Don’t judge people in their
anger,” she said.
THAT’S just it, though. It is during moments of anger
that we swiftly, instinctively search for an apt word or descriptive
express our outrage against those who have evoked that anger.
But when we
find ourselves reaching for the words and phrases of an epoch which, out
respect for historical accuracy and our dead, we cannot compare to
however maddening – we here in Israel face, we need to clamp our lips
The behavior of my friend’s workplace superior, infuriating as it
undoubtedly was, perhaps even ill-intentioned, cannot be likened to the
worst of those German-appointed prisoner functionaries treated those in
‘IT’S THERE, in our daily discourse – Jews calling other Jews
‘Nazis,’” a thoughtful journalist colleague told me recently.
careful to avoid using the word. But among non-politicians, it comes out
people feel strongly about an issue.
“You hear those on the Left
accusing, for example, Avigdor Lieberman of being “a fascist...
almost say a Nazi”; while on the Right, it’s the forces sent to evacuate
outposts that get compared to ‘Nazis riding horses into town.’ “I’ve
myself doing it,” he confessed, “if only in jest.”
FEW who followed the
disengagement from Gaza in 2005 will forget the heart-rending television
of Jewish settlements being evacuated – the weeping and pleading of
with the IDF soldiers who had come to remove them from their homes; the
disbelief of those who had believed a last-minute miracle would descend
it happening, and didn’t; the impassioned cursing of and yelling at the
generally stoical, often deeply affected Jewish soldiers ordered there
out an unenviable task.
Despite violent confrontation between settlers
and soldiers in a few settlements, the nation’s sympathies were
with those thousands of Jews who had been encouraged by governments of
Right and Left to build their homes in Gush Katif and were then, after
those settlements bloom, forced to leave through no fault of their
But at the same time, there was an unconscionable exploitation of
Holocaust imagery by settlers that should never have been allowed,
Sam Ser in an August 25, 2005 feature article titled “A shocking show of
“It started with the orange Stars of David that Gaza Strip settlers wore
spring to protest the prospect of being evicted from their homes. It
with the announcement by Elei Sinai residents that they would greet
striped concentration camp-style uniforms. Then a group of teens started
protesting restrictions on entry to the Gaza Strip by scrawling their ID
on their forearms with black markers, like the tattoos of Holocaust
“But the final straw came in Atzmona, when a settler couple
paraded their eight children in front of television cameras, hands
wailing, marching from their home. It was an obvious reenactment of the
photograph of Jews being deported – at rifle-point – from the Warsaw
“’Absolutely disgusting,’ said Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal
Center’s Jerusalem bureau chief.”
TODAY, it is haredim from the
extremist, non- Zionist Eda Haredit group who seem bent on noisily
headlines via destructive demonstrations and the hurling of Holocaust
terminology at police.
“Yesterday,” wrote Ben Hartman on June 17,
“hundreds of haredim took to the streets of the predominantly Muslim
neighborhood of Ajami [in Jaffa], throwing rocks and bottles and setting
cans alight to protest a construction project they say will disturb
“The rioters repeatedly yelled ‘Nazis!’ ‘Hitler’ and
‘Eichmann’ at police officers...” five of whom were wounded trying to
Mainstream haredi figures have refrained from such obscene
comparisons – including during last Thursday’s passionate but peaceful
show of haredi support for hassidic parents from Emmanuel jailed for
court following their discriminatory practices at the local Beit Ya’acov
They haven’t followed the lead of Slonim Admor (Grand Rabbi)
Rabbi Shmuel Barazovsky, who lamented to his hassidim a week ago: “To
women, mothers and small children, to [force them to] leave their
be arrested – I think something of the sort hasn’t happened in any
country since the war in Germany ended.”
Whether the Slonim hassidic
parents were discriminating against a group of girls at the school
were Sephardim, or acting out of excessive religious fervor; and whether
court behaved wisely or foolishly in sending those parents to jail is
point. Neither side’s actions can remotely be compared to those of the
WWII, and it was the height of shame for any Jewish leader to do
FORMER Shas chairman Aryeh Deri has been trying to help solve the
Emmanuel crisis. Interviewed on television last Thursday night, he was
Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levy: “Don’t you think the haredim’s calls
and comparisons with Nazi Germany are a bit... exaggerated?” Answered
think a law should be passed making it a crime to call anyone a
I’d guess many viewers agreed with him. And to those claiming such
a law would shackle free speech, I would counter that it would be an
price to pay for helping to prevent trivialization of the Holocaust.
renowned historian Bernard Lewis wrote in Semites and Anti-Semites
the Israelis were no better than the Nazis, then it follows that the
no worse than the Israelis.”
‘I SEE I shall have to weigh my words
carefully when I talk to you,” said my media colleague wryly, after
following her run-in with that nasty superior.
“Nothing wrong with that,”
I retorted. “We all need to.”