The atrocities committed by the Schutzstaffel, or SS guards, at Nazi death camps are well documented. Men like Josef Vogel, Gottfried Weise and Herman Wagner, simple German men who worked as house painters and candy makers before they joined the Nazi party and as SS guards were taught depravity, sadism, and cruelty. What is not generally known is that the female SS could be even crueler than the male guards. One such guard, Irma Grese, held the record for depravity. By the age of twenty, she was the most feared Nazi death camp guard among her peers.
A young, blue-eyed blonde, she was the ideal of Hitler’s Aryan race. According to Dr. Gisella Perl, an inmate doctor at Auschwitz, “She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Her body was perfect in every line, her face clear and angelic, and her blue eyes …the most innocent eyes one can imagine. And yet Irma Grese was the most depraved, cruel, imaginative pervert I ever came across.”
Grese was born in 1923 in the Mecklenburg area of Northern Germany. Her parents, Alfred Anton Albert Grese and Bertha Welhelmine Winter-Grese were farmers with five children. Her mother took her own life in 1936, and the children were raised by their father, a devout Christian that often used physical violence to discipline the children. Irma and other German children were exposed to Nazism in school due to the Enabling Act of March 23, 1933, which forced Nazi doctrine on elementary age school children.
Irma was very attracted to the Nazi cause and although her father had forbidden his children to join any Nazi organizations, Irma willingly joined the League of German Girls when she left home at the age of fourteen. Irma’s dream was to become a nurse, and in 1939 she joined the SS convalescent hospital, Hohenlychen, learning from an orthopedic surgeon, Karl Gebhardt who performed unspeakable medical experiments on prisoners. A failure at nursing, she was assigned to work as a machinist until she reached the age of eighteen.
Having reached the legal age, she quickly joined the SS to guard female and child detention centers. The over two thousand women who joined were promised a good paying job with perks such as room and board. After passing a rigorous test and medical exam, Irma was sent to Ravensbrück for her training where she routinely beat inmates often for no reason. She also started on her journey to promiscuity with the male officers of the camp.
In 1943 she received orders to report to Auschwitz -Birkenau where she adopted the habit of wearing heavy boots and carrying a pistol and a whip braided from wire and cellophane. By the next year, she was promoted to the second highest rank a female SS officer could hold and was in charge of a camp holding thirty thousand women. She acquired two large dogs that were trained to kill and purposely kept them hungry to make them mean and eager to attack. She whipped women for being shapelier than her and attended the surgeries required for infections caused by the whippings seemingly enjoying cries of those who were forced to endure the surgeries with no anesthesia. Witnesses claimed if the women didn’t scream enough she would kick them with her boots. It has been said that she got an erotic thrill from watching her victims suffer.
When she marched the prisoners to work detail if anyone lagged behind, she set the dogs on them and watched with glee as they tore the women to pieces. According to survivors, she usually beat at least thirty women to death every day.
Irma was reported to have had an insatiable sexual appetite. She had affairs with male guards, Dr. Josef Mengele and Josef Kramer, the commandant of Birkenau. This entitled her the honor of choosing which prisoners were to be sent for Mengele’s experiments and those who went to the gas chamber. When Mengele discovered she was having sexual relationships with female prisoners, he ended their relationship. When Irma grew weary of a sexual partner, she beat them and ordered them to their deaths. She would also torture and beat any female or male prisoner who refused her advances.
When the Russians surrounded Auschwitz in 1945, she was transferred back to Ravensbrück and then to Bergen-Belsen, the camp where Anne Frank and her sister died, several months later. This only served to increase Irma’s brutality. She forced women to stand outside in the cold and rain for six hours at a time, and if the prisoner was caught leaning or sitting down, she would beat them to death. It was here that she earned the name, “The Beast of Belsen”.
British troops came to liberate the camp in April of 1945 and attempted to arrest Irma. She pulled out her silver revolver and attempted to shoot Brigadier Bob Daniel in the back. Before she was able to pull the trigger, Daniel turned and she ran away.
After her arrest, she was asked why she had participated in the atrocities and replied, “It was our duty to exterminate anti-social elements so that Germany’s future would be assured.” The British interpreted this as a confession and Irma was put on trial for her crimes. She remained staunchly defiant during her trial insisting she had done her duty.
On December 13, 1945, the “Hyena of Auschwitz” was, at the age of twenty-two and the youngest Nazi criminal to be executed, hanged for her crimes. She went to the gallows with a smile on her face.