On the meaning of "kapo"

Discussion thread for usage of the term “kapo” , linked to the Acronyms and Glossary topic


I agree that the term as defined in the glossary shouldn’t be used in the way its defined or intended to be used.

Mostly because people could never understand what Holocaust victims went through and what they were forced to do to survive.

I may have explained that wrong but hopefully you understand.
This article is interesting, terrifying, and further shows none of us can possibly understand what Holocaust victims went through so maybe find other words to use as put downs.



I think that some people might confuse “kapo” with “capo” (which is like a lieutenant in the mafia).

It should be noted that “kapo” with a “k” means something very different than “capo” with a “c.”


To be clear, we are not talking about Primo Levi’s "grey zone"cases of survival under duress. In contrast to the members of the Judenrats (a mixed bag) or those inmates who were forced into the role of sonderkommando, the kapos were selected by the Nazis (or sometimes volunteered) on the basis of their willingness to victimise and brutalise their own on behalf of their oppressors.

The time to identify the kapos and their broader mindset is before the camps are set up. Rather than trivialising the gravity of the Holocaust, we honour the victims of the Shoah by doing all we can to ensure the watchwords of “never again”.

I have no qualms about using this term to describe people like Glenn Greenwald and Ben Shapiro.


Meme Reaction GIF by Robert E Blackmon


Thanks for all your contributions.

@gracchus, I hear you. I still am deeply uncomfortable with the utilisation of the word outside of the historical context.

Trying to explain, also trying to verbalise my feelings on the matter in writing for the first time and trying to structure the thoughts as a coherent argumentation. Please bear with me.

I assume the list will be used not only as a tool to translate something someone saw on the BBS and did not immediately understand, but also as a vocabulary trainer. Personal experience tells me as much. I remember a much younger self reading their first list like this on the FidoNet. I vaguely remember even printing it out and pinning it next to my CRT for frequent usage.
YMMV on that.

If fellow mutants use the list it that way, I doubt that they deeply reflect on all or any of the terms on the list before they use it. Been there, done that. YMMV, of course, but I can’t help generalising my own behaviour in this case and assuming it to be very widespread.

I believe that I, personally, have no way of understanding what people in the Konzentrationslagern went through, and how their lives felt under a Kapo. In this case, I also feel that it is very unlikely someone on the BBS can.

In conclusion of those thoughts, I argue that because I could have used the term as a derogatory moniker myself while not being able to understand it’s deep and terribly meaning for the victims of the Shoa, it should not be included on the list.

I understand why you want to draw attention to people who you think are Steigbügelhalter () for neofascists. But I am always doubtful using direct analogy and verbiage from the period of the third Reich.

Maybe an example further can illustrate my feelings and my argument.
If someone posts “as the Kapo Andy Ngo wrote in is infamous piece on $something,” then I would probably call out and ask the poster not to trivialise the holocaust. If they would post "the piece by Ngo shows that he would have been a Kapo ", I would probably blink, but would quite possibly not engage.

I could go on exploring my feelings and thoughts, but this is long enough. Wrapping it up for the moment, I just want to add that I have related feelings about calling people Nazis, comparing anything to concentration camps, and so on. I sometimes have changed my position on reacting to this, but I still think about it every time I encounter something in that line.


I hear you as well. I would only add that I and other use these words not to diminish the gravity and memory of the original event but to emphasise --specifically by referring to something so grave and infamous – that a genocidal fascist regime (and, more specifically, the elements that created and formed it) was not unique to that time and place.

For example, I also often use the word “putsch” to describe the 6 January insurrection and to deliberately call up the memory of the Nazi “beer hall putsch”. I do this not lazily but because there was and is a real danger that the perpetrators and ringleaders of the current event may be coddled or excused as those in 1923 were, to disastrous effect.

I and others here regularly reference the Nazi attacks on Magnus Hirschfeld and his institute (including the well-known book burning), not gratuitously but to point out that an eliminationist programme against LGBTQ+ people is not unique to American right wing but finds antecedents in the Nazi regime.

We are, once again, fighting fascists and their enablers. We also have a terrible and well-known historical example (and associated terminology) of how and what happens when those fascists gain power. I am willing to use appropriate references to the latter to help the former effort.

I myself am very careful about using those terms, too. Nazism is a very specific ideology, so I need to hear someone espousing direct admiration for the German regime or one of its leaders before I call them Nazis – “fascist” usually serves just as well, with more accuracy.

As for concentration and death camps, that is a potential worst-case outcome of allowing these right-wing populists to gain power; I hope I never have to make that reference in the same way I can currently point out that (e.g.) Ben Shapiro or Glenn Greenwald are kapos who willingly and for personal benefit choose to align themselves with right-wing movements or regimes that are anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+.


The matter is rather complicated by the fact that, although there were Jewish kapo, a lot of kapo were common criminals or political prisoners who were sent to the same camps for other reasons. There were also Jewish prisoners who had essential skills and so received better treatment, but did not have any authority over other prisoners.

I personally would not use the term for Ben Shapiro. He wilfully chooses fascism, rather than embracing it while literally starving.


Far more the former than the latter. When the Nazis looked for collaborators (or sometimes volunteers) who were willing to victimise their fellow inmates, career criminals and thugs were natural choices. Political prisoners, many of them being liberals or socialists or pacifists, were rarely as suited to the role.

More to the point, they did not victimise the other prisoners like the kapos did. To the contrary, they often shared what they could of extra rations and clothing with less privileged prisoners.

Again, becoming a kapo was not a “grey zone” choice. Unlike prisoners with special skills, they were identified by and given special privileges by the SS because of their established willingness to victimise others in their communities.

Shapiro is a demonstrable intellectual thug and bad actor who willingly aligns himself with anti-Semites and who regularly attacks other Jews on their behalf. That makes him worthy of the epithet “kapo” as far as I’m concerned.


This is entirely correct and using that word for petty name-calling is abhorrent.

Phrases like “But when I say it I mean…” are lazy excuses for poor and offensive word usage. Stop it. If it takes 500 words to explain why you think you can use it then you shouldn’t be using it at all.


Two things about the term still bother me.

  1. The term as it is used assumes Jews participating in Nazi atrocities when it was often non-Jews who were just pieces of shit.

  2. The Jews who were kapo were still destined for the gas chamber, even if they thought that they had a chance to save themselves.

It is like “Uncle Tom,” only these were real people in extreme situations.

At the very least, I think that the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish kapo (and the different treatment the two groups received) is something that should be understood whenever the term is used.


Which is why I also apply it to Greenwald. I’m not sure whether he’s Jewish or not, but he certainly carries water for a regime that persecutes other gay men domestically and that actively encourages their persecution abroad. That not all kapos were Jewish makes the current use as a general epithet more applicable.

That goes to the inherent foolishness of accepting or embracing the role of kapo . Whether one survives or dies, it never ends well.

From what I’ve seen, that’s a term that’s fallen out of favour over the years amongst Black writers and pundits. Unlike those of the kapos, the fictional character’s behaviours and motivations really weren’t remotely related to the attitudes the insult was trying to convey.

I do want to add that I appreciate @LutherBlisset and @NukeML giving us the opportunity to explore the use of this fraught insult in a thoughtful way without any accusations of tone policing on either side. There is a fact-based case to be made for using the insult; there is also good reason for others to be uncomfortable with its use.


Thanks for that example, that right there helps explain why I avoid using “kapo” in the sense being defended here. I also wouldn’t describe other types of Black people as say, Aunt Jemimas or “house n*****s.” From what I gather, indigenous people in the US often still refer to themselves as Indians, but I no longer do that.

And that’s all because I’m not Jewish, Black, or Indigenous. And so, I don’t feel I have a basic right to use those terms. They’re not only not mine, they’re loaded in ways I’ll never fully understand.

Along with that, I think I have nothing legitimate at all to say about whether and how members of historically (and currently) victimized groups use such terms.


In my case, I believe I even have the obligation to do so concerning Nazi vocabulary. My ancestors were involved in one way or the other in the last war, and I have no doubt they were Nazis.

The singularity and enormity of the Shoa is something which I think is incomprehensible. But trying to comprehend it, I realised that I owe it to the victims to try to honour their memories.

This makes me very uneasy if Nazi vocabulary is used by anyone. I sometimes am viscerally opposed to it being used, and nearly always want to remind everyone of the original context. Maybe, remembrance can help the world to prevent another cultural break like the Shoa.

Sometimes, I overshoot, e.g. because I doubt someone who uses it understands the enormity of the historical context of the vocabulary. I should ask myself, especially in case of a person from any victimised group, who am I to tell them which language they use? But I sometimes don’t ask that question to myself, and judge before understanding.

However, I still rather would accept being wrong later than to let it slip. I rather apologise later, if I can see my error. (Note that I sometimes am unable or just to damn stupid to see my errors… :persevere:)

In this particular case, I still would fear that including the term Kapo in the list promotes it’s lazy usage.

However, the BBS has quite a number of fellow mutants who would very probably take note and engage (or, in cases of trolling, flag). This discussion here proves as much.

@all, thank you for discussing this. It feels good.


My reaction to the term is that kapos were themselves prisoners, and subject to enormous pressures, no matter how despicably they may have acted individually.

Greenwald and Shapiro, on the other hand, are not members of a persecuted minority, but are public figures with more influence than the average person. They are free to choose their political positions without fear of consequences.

They are worse than kapos, and better described by another word originating from the same war—quisling.


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