A statement from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust's Chief Executive, Olivia Marks-Woldman:
‘When Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet chose to use the term ‘Kapo’ to refer to Jews who had said Kaddish for Palestinians killed on the Gaza border recently, he misused a sensitive term from the Holocaust.
As the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, I condemn the use of the term ‘Kapo’ in this way.
‘Kapos’ were prisoners in concentration camps, appointed by members of the SS to administer groups of other prisoners. Largely drawn initially from among prisoners who were violent criminals, later kapos were often political prisoners, some were Jewish.
It was a system designed to pit prisoner against prisoner and to reduce the need for SS personnel. Kapos received some benefits but were usually despised by other prisoners. Whilst some thrived in this violent and sadistic role, some perceived it as an invidious position, seen as Nazi ‘henchmen’.
The role of ‘Kapos’ in concentration and extermination camps remains an historical and moral challenge for us all to reflect on – not to abuse and misuse to prove our own points today. As part of our ongoing efforts not only to learn about what happened during the Holocaust but to try and prevent atrocities and genocide today, we should all think more deeply about our past.
Using this terminology against Jewish people today borders on antisemitic. If non-Jews described a Jew as a ‘kapo’ it is highly likely it would be interpreted as antisemitic.
Using the term ‘kapo’ today risks trivialising the Holocaust and minimising the experiences of those caught in unimaginable situations beyond their control.
As such, we consider Rabbi Schochet’s use of the word ‘kapo’ at best highly inappropriate, and at worst, downright offensive.
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust provides a range of resources and information to help people of all ages learn more about the Holocaust and the genocides which followed. The Life Stories section of our website – hmd.org.uk – contains personal testimony from survivors of the Holocaust who faced the worst of humanity.
We owe it to them, and to the memory of those who were murdered by the Nazis, to learn from their experiences and strive to treat each other with respect, dignity and kindness today.’