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Irma Ida Ilse Grese (7 October 1923 – 13 December 1945) was an SS guard at the Nazi concentration camps of Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, and served as warden of the women's section of Bergen-Belsen.[1]

Irma Grese
Irma Grese.jpg
Grese in August 1945, while awaiting trial
Nickname(s)The Beautiful Beast
Die Hyäne von Auschwitz
("The Hyena of Auschwitz")
Born7 October 1923
Wrechen, Free State of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Weimar Republic
Died13 December 1945(1945-12-13) (aged 22)
Hamelin, Allied-occupied Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branchFlag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Years of service1942–1945
RankSS-Helferin
Unit

Grese was convicted for crimes involving the ill-treatment and murder of prisoners committed at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, and sentenced to death at the Belsen trial. Executed at 22 years of age, Grese was the youngest woman to die judicially under British law in the 20th century. Auschwitz inmates nicknamed her the "Hyena of Auschwitz" (German: die Hyäne von Auschwitz).[2][3][4][5]

Contents

Early life and familyEdit

Irma Ilse Ida Grese was born to Berta Grese and Alfred Grese, a dairy worker, on 7 October 1923. Irma was the third of five children (three girls and two boys).[6] In 1936, her mother committed suicide by drinking hydrochloric acid after discovering that Alfred had had an affair with a local pub owner's daughter.[7]

Historian Peter Vronsky speculated that Alfred Grese joined the Nazi Party in 1937[8][9] and remarried in 1939.[7]

Irma's sister, Helene Grese, noted at Irma's trial that in primary school, when "girls were quarreling and fighting, [Irma] never had the courage to fight, but… ran away."[10]

She left school in 1938 at age 15 and then worked as an assistant nurse in the sanatorium of the SS.

Concentration camp guardEdit

By the time she was a teen she became part of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls.[11]

By the time she was 18, she had moved to the SS Female Helpers’ training base, which was located near Ravensbrück, the all-female concentration camp.[10] After her training she volunteered to work at Ravensbrück.[citation needed]

She was soon promoted to a guard position at Auschwitz-Birkenau. From mid-1942 she was an Aufseherin (guard) at Ravensbrück, and in March 1943 she transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the second half of 1944 she was promoted to Rapportführerin, the second-highest rank open to female KZ-wardens.[citation needed]

Grese participated in prisoner selections for the gas chambers at Auschwitz.[12]:219

In early 1945, Grese accompanied a prisoner evacuation transport from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück. In March 1945, she went to Bergen-Belsen along with a large number of prisoners from Ravensbrück.[12]:219 Grese was captured by the British Army on 17 April 1945, together with other SS personnel who did not flee.[13]

War crimes trialEdit

 
Irma Grese and Josef Kramer in prison in Celle in August 1945

Grese was among the 45 people accused of war crimes at the Belsen Trial. She was tried over the first period of the trials (17 September – 17 November 1945) and was represented by Major L. Cranfield. The trials were conducted under British military law in Lüneburg, based on charges derived from the Geneva Convention of 1929 regarding the treatment of prisoners. The accusations against her centered on her ill-treatment and murder of those imprisoned at the camps.[6]

Survivors provided detailed testimony of cruelties. They also claimed that she beat some women using a plaited whip.[6]

Under direct examination, Irma Grese testified about her background,

I was born on 7 October 1923. In 1938 I left the elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which I worked in a shop in Lychen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenlychen, where I stayed for two years. I tried to become a nurse but the Labor Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenberg. In July 1942, I tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent me to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, although I protested against it. I stayed there until March 1943, when I went to Birkenau Camp in Auschwitz. I remained in Auschwitz until January 1945.[6]

During the trial the press labelled Grese as "the Beautiful Beast" alongside Kommandant Josef Kramer ("the Beast of Belsen"). After a nine-week trial, Grese was sentenced to death by hanging.[14] Although the charges against some of the other female warders (a total of 16 were charged) were as serious as those against Grese, she was one of only three female guards to be sentenced to death.[12]:219

ExecutionEdit

Grese and two other concentration camp workers, Johanna Bormann and Elisabeth Volkenrath, were convicted along with eight men for crimes committed at Auschwitz and Belsen and sentenced to death. As the verdicts were read, Grese was the only prisoner to remain defiant.[15] Her subsequent appeal was rejected.

According to Wendy Adele-Marie Sarti, the night before her execution, Grese sang Nazi songs until the early hours of the morning with Johanna Bormann.[16] On Thursday, 13 December 1945, in Hamelin prison [de], Grese was led to the gallows. The women were executed singly by long-drop hanging and then the men in pairs.[17] Regimental Sergeant Major Richard Anthony O'Neill assisted the British executioner, Albert Pierrepoint:

We climbed the stairs to the cells where the condemned were waiting. A German officer at the door leading to the corridor flung open the door and we filed past the row of faces and into the execution chamber. The officers stood at attention. Brigadier Paton-Walsh stood with his wristwatch raised. He gave me the signal, and a sigh of released breath was audible in the chamber, I walked into the corridor. 'Irma Grese', I called. The German guards quickly closed all grilles on twelve of the inspection holes and opened one door. Irma Grese stepped out. The cell was far too small for me to go inside, and I had to pinion her in the corridor. 'Follow me,' I said in English, and O'Neil [sic] repeated the order in German. At 9.34 a.m. she walked into the execution chamber, gazed for a moment at the officials standing round it, then walked on to the centre of the trap, where I had made a chalk mark. She stood on this mark very firmly, and as I placed the white cap over her head she said in her languid voice, 'Schnell'. [English translation: 'Quickly'].[18] The drop crashed down, and the doctor followed me into the pit and pronounced her dead. After twenty minutes the body was taken down and placed in a coffin ready for burial.[19]

DramatizationsEdit

Grese has been portrayed as a minor character in two films: Pierrepoint (2005), which portrays her execution following the Belsen war crimes trial; and Out of the Ashes (2003). Both films feature additional female guards in much smaller roles. Grese was briefly portrayed in a nonspeaking reenactment in Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution' (2005).

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ The Times; The Belsen trial; 18 September 1945; pg. 6
  2. ^ Magda Hollander-Lafon (2013). Vier Stückchen Brot: Ein Hymne an das Leben. Verlag. pp. 95–. ISBN 978-3641127091. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  3. ^ Barbara Möller (30 August 2014). "Die Hyäne von Auschwitz". Sie waren Mörderinnen aus Gelegenheit. DIE WELT. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  4. ^ Sonja Peteranderl (2014). "Der Mann, der Rudolf Höß jagte". KZ-Aufseherin Irma Grese. Die "Hyäne von Auschwitz". Spiegel Online, Hamburg, Germany. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  5. ^ Pierre Heumann (2013). "Hitlers Furien". Grese, die «Hyäne von Auschwitz». Die Weltwoche Magazin. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d "Excerpts from The Belsen Trial (5/5)". Nizkor.org. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  7. ^ a b First Belsen Trial Oberaufseherin Irma Ilse Ida Grese, bergenbelsen.co.uk; accessed 8 April 2018.
  8. ^ Vronsky, Peter (2007). Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters. Penguin. ISBN 9781101205693.
  9. ^ "Biographie de Irma Grese Gardienne SS à Auschwitz" [Biography of Irma Grese, Guardian SS at Auschwitz]. BlogBoyerHistory.Bloguez.com. 18 December 2009. Archived from the original on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  10. ^ a b Kater, Michael H. Hitler Youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006, pg. 70.
  11. ^ Sarti, Wendy Adele-Marie. Women and Nazis. Bethesda: Academica Press, 2012.
  12. ^ a b c Knoch, Habbo, ed. (2010). Bergen-Belsen: Wehrmacht POW Camp 1940–1945, Concentration Camp 1943–1945, Displaced Persons Camp 1945–1950. Catalogue of the permanent exhibition. Wallstein. ISBN 978-3-8353-0794-0.
  13. ^ Celinscak, Mark (2015). Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Concentration Camp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442615700.
  14. ^ Belsen Beast, Irma Grese hanged with nine other horror camp aides, UPI, 14 December 1945
  15. ^ "Verdicts in the Belsen Trial", The Times, 17 November 1945, pg. 4.
  16. ^ Sarti, Wendy Adele-Marie (2012), Women and Nazis, Bethesda: Academica Press, ISBN 978-1936320127
  17. ^ "Belsen Gang Hanged", The Times, 15 December 1945.
  18. ^ "Nazi She-Devils". Mirror. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  19. ^ Pierrepoint, Albert (1974). Executioner. Harrap. ISBN 978-0-245-52070-9.

External linksEdit