Lessons from History – Kapo’s Leadership: Exploitative Foreign Rulers Choose Bad Guys to Enforce Their Unjust Agendas


Leaders are essential for any team or organization to reach their full potential, for continued prosperity and well being. However, not all leaders are good. There is also bad leadership, where the people they are leading are deliberately ill-treated and exploited because of wrong intentions of the leaders. These negative forms of leadership are seen in bad situations, especially when you are ruled by people who are hostile to your well being. There are many examples of negative leadership or bad leaders. Here, we will learn about cruel and self-centered Kapos leaders, who blindly followed someone else’s agendas, brutalizing and killing their own people in the process.

This happened during World War II, when Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime governed Germany from 1933 to 1945. Nazi Germany is very infamous for its deliberate and systematic killing of about 60 lakh European Jews. It maintained extermination camps (death camps) in all the territories it controlled.

Environment at extermination camps
Extermination camps were built to systematically kill prisoners. Majority of victims in these camps were Jews imprisoned without any reason or judicial process. Lakhs of Jews were killed in the extermination camps through deliberate mistreatment, starvation, overwork, or were executed as unfit for labor work. Execution was done in a systematic or factory-like manner by poison gas in gas chambers (rooms filled with poisonous gas to kill those inside). Many of them were also killed in mass shootings and hangings. Lakhs of bodies were burned or buried in mass graves.


These extermination camps were managed by SS. The SS (Schutzstaffel), initially a small paramilitary unit grew as one of the largest and powerful organization due to its extreme loyalty to Hitler and its strong commitment to Nazi ideology. It was a sub-organization of regular paramilitary forces. They were chosen to implement the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ on Jews. SS guards were responsible for many crimes against humanity including torture, enslavement and mass killings.

The SS was declared as a criminal organization post World War II unlike the other branches of German military.

Kapos characteristics
These German extermination camps were administered by SS and they used to appoint some inmates to supervise the prisoners. Known as Kapos, these leaders carried out the will of the Nazi camp commandants and SS guards. Though these Kapos were Jewish, they inflicted harsh treatment on their fellow Jewish prisoners.

Kapos were often prisoners convicted on criminal charges, who used to be physically strong men. These criminals enjoyed extra privileges such as better food, housing and clothing. In return, they tyrannized the Jewish prisoners with cruelty equal to that of the SS guards. Kapos used to get motivated by SS guards and in order to impress SS guards, and of course because of their sadistic inclinations, they used to torture their own people.

However, Kapos were usually murdered and replaced with a new batch of prisoners at regular intervals of time. After the war, many of these Kapos were declared as war criminals. They were successfully prosecuted and punished for the offences committed by them.


Selection of Kapo leaders
Nazi camp commandants used to select people who were sadistic, pervert and ready to do anything in order to keep their position as Kapos. They were often as brutal as the Nazi guards. The only difference is that Nazis hated the Jews – Nazi ideology – Nazis believed that Germans represent a superior race and considered everyone else as inferior race including the Jews. Jewish Kapos tyrannized their own people, though they were from a close-knit culture, where people are are loyal to their community and are proud of their community’s values.

Kapo leaders were selected by uncaring foreign rulers. There is no benefit to the people they were leading. A real leader is someone who leads to serve. They are superior and guide their people to better situations making their (people whom they serve) life, better. We will cover this aspect of leadership separately later.

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2 Responses to “Lessons from History – Kapo’s Leadership: Exploitative Foreign Rulers Choose Bad Guys to Enforce Their Unjust Agendas”

  1. T

    I am curious to learn more about the Kapos. Some were political prisoners, criminal prisoners, and some Jews. However, were they truly horrible people, or were they simply trying to survive? According to Elie Weisel’s book, “Night,” when they are transported from Birkenau to Auschwitz, a young Pole is their Kapo and he is quickly replaced with another man for being too nice to the prisoners. He may have been killed. If other Kapos knew this, then perhaps they did what they had to do. Based upon the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971 by University Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo, anyone has the capacity for turning into an abuser when made to follow orders involving “criminals.” The Kapos did receive better living conditions, more food, and more suitable clothing, and if they knew that this meant the difference between life and death, they would have chosen life. If beating a fellow prisoner meant they got to live, then of course they would have done this. I am not excusing their behaviour, only pointing out that the Mammalian brain ceases to function in a person who is under a lot of stress and who has been traumatized, and I believe this is what may have happen to many of those chose to be Kapos. After all, many of them became greater animals than the SS – why? Because the SS used them to keep their hands clean. It is an interesting study in human pshychology. If anyone has first-hand information of who the Kapos were, I would appreciate the feedback.

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  2. Subba Rao

    From some MNC companies, big companies, corporate colleges to politics this type of leaders are common. Many ultra-powerful (power hungry) people actively seek out and appoint such unprincipled, selfish “leaders” who will do what their boss dictates in return for some personal favors i.e. some cash and opportunity to exercise their sadistic tendencies. That way the “leaders” master can get away with anything and blame the “leader’ for all the problems. Only a selfish, unprincipled, thick skinned scoundrel will take this kind of leadership opportunities. Anyone sensible will walkaway from such “opportunities” to be in leadership.

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