Irma Grese: The youngest Nazi war criminal to be executed

Irma Grese was a German SS auxiliary guard and supervisor at Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Nazi female guard Irma Grese. Image: Mugshot of Bergen-Belsen guard Irma Grese (1923-1945) at Celle awaiting trial, August 1945.

Born on October 7, 1923, in Germany, she became a prominent figure known for her participation in the atrocities committed within the camp system.

Grese began her career in 1942 as a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she gained a reputation for her cruelty and sadistic behavior towards prisoners. She later served at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.

Grese was responsible for overseeing the brutal treatment, abuse, and murder of countless prisoners, particularly women and children. She was known for her involvement in selections, punishing prisoners, and participating in acts of violence.

After the war, Grese was arrested and brought to trial as part of the British-run Belsen Trials in Lüneburg, Lower Saxony, Germany, in 1945. She was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death. Irma Grese was executed by hanging on December 13, 1945, at the age of 22.

Her actions and role in the Holocaust have made her one of the most notorious female war criminals associated with the Nazi regime.

What were some of the horrific atrocities committed by Irma Grese?

Irma Grese, a female SS auxiliary guard, was involved in numerous atrocities during her time at Nazi concentration camps. Here are some of the documented atrocities committed by Irma Grese:

Physical Abuse and Torture

Grese was known for her brutal treatment of prisoners. She would beat, kick, and whip inmates, often inflicting severe injuries. She took pleasure in causing pain and suffering, exhibiting sadistic tendencies.

Selections and Executions

Grese played a role in the selection process, deciding who would be sent to the gas chambers or subjected to other forms of execution. She showed no remorse in condemning innocent people to death.

Medical Experiments

This Nazi female guard was present during medical experiments conducted on prisoners, particularly at Auschwitz-Birkenau. These experiments often caused great suffering and led to the deaths of those subjected to them.

Starvation and Neglect

Grese was complicit in the deliberate starvation and neglect of prisoners. She would withhold food, water, and medical assistance, contributing to the deteriorating health and eventual deaths of inmates.

Involvement in Mass Shootings

She participated in mass shootings of prisoners. She would often select individuals to be shot or assist in the executions.

Inhumane Treatment

Irma Grese showed a complete lack of compassion or empathy towards prisoners. She would force them to perform strenuous physical labor, subject them to degrading treatment, and engage in sexual abuse.

Irma Grese was captured by British forces on 17 April 1945. She and her colleague SS guards refused to flee as British forces closed in on Ravensbruck. Image: Irma Grese and former SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer after they had been captured and imprisoned by British forces

Questions and Answers about Irma Grese

While the actions of Irma Grese during her time as an SS guard in Nazi concentration camps are well-documented, there are some common questions that arise regarding her life and involvement in the atrocities committed during World War II.

It’s important to note that these questions highlight some common inquiries about Irma Grese, but the nature and extent of her crimes remain deeply disturbing and continue to be subject to historical analysis and examination.

Here are a few frequently asked questions about Irma Grese:

How was Irma Grese’s childhood like?

Irma Grese was born on October 7, 1923, in the small town of Wrechen in Mecklenburg, Germany. Her childhood, like many others during that time, was shaped by the socio-political climate of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

She is said to have come from a modest background, with both parents – Alfred and Berta Grese – working as dairy workers. She had four siblings – two brothers and two sisters.

She attended elementary school but did not pursue higher education. Her academic achievements and intellectual capacity during her childhood are not extensively known.

How did she join the Nazis?

Like many German children of the time, Grese would have been exposed to Nazi propaganda and ideology from a young age. The Nazi Party, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, aimed to instill loyalty to the party and its ideologies among the youth.

She became a member of the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel), the female branch of the Hitler Youth organization. These organizations aimed to indoctrinate young people with Nazi ideology, promote physical fitness, and prepare them for future roles in service to the Third Reich.

Read More: How did Adolf Hitler become Chancellor of Germany?

How did she become a female guard at Nazi concentration camps?

As she grew up in a time when the Nazi Party was in its ascendency, she followed in her father’s footstep and became a big admirer of the Nazi Party. By her late teens, she had become a volunteer member of a female SS (the Schutzstaffel) unit near Ravensbruck concentration camp. The SS was the paramilitary body of the Nazi Party that carried out mass surveillance and many heinous crimes within and beyond Germany.

In 1940, Grese started as a prison guard (an Aufseherin) at Ravensbruck concentration camp. Three years later, she was transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp. Two years later, she was promoted to warden of the women’s unit at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Saxony in northern Germany.

What role did Irma Grese play in the concentration camps?

Irma Grese served as an SS auxiliary guard and supervisor at several concentration camps, including Ravensbrück, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Bergen-Belsen. She was responsible for overseeing prisoners, participating in selections, and engaging in acts of violence and brutality.

What were some of the atrocities committed by Irma Grese?

The young Nazi guard was involved in various atrocities, including physical abuse and torture of prisoners, participating in selections for extermination, engaging in medical experiments, contributing to starvation and neglect, involvement in mass shootings, and exhibiting sadistic behavior towards inmates.

How did Irma Grese’s actions come to light?

After World War II, Grese was arrested by British forces and brought to trial as part of the Belsen Trial. The testimonies of survivors, eyewitness accounts, and evidence collected during the trials shed light on her role in the atrocities.

What was the outcome of Irma Grese’s trial?

She was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Belsen Trials in Lüneburg, Lower Saxony.. She was sentenced to death and was executed by hanging on December 13, 1945. She was 22 years at the time of her execution.

Was Irma Grese the only female guard involved in the concentration camps?

Certainly no. As a matter of fact, there were several female SS guards and supervisors involved in the concentration camp system. While Grese is one of the most well-known female perpetrators, she was not the only one.

Female guards during the Nazi regime

SS-Gefolgen at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after the camp was liberated on April 19, 1945, including Hildegard Kanbach (1st from left), Magdalene Kessel (2nd from left), Irene Haschke (centre, 3rd from right), Elisabeth Volkenrath (2nd from right, partially obscured), Hertha Bothe (1st from right) on their way to bury the victims.

How has Irma Grese been remembered in history?

Irma Grese is remembered as one of the most notorious female war criminals associated with the Nazi regime. Her actions exemplify the cruelty and inhumanity exhibited by some individuals during the Holocaust.

Why was Irma Grese nicknamed the Hyena of Auschwitz?

Irma Grese was not specifically nicknamed the “Hyena of Auschwitz.” This nickname is often associated with other individuals, such as Ilse Koch or Hermine Braunsteiner, who were also female Nazi concentration camp guards known for their brutality.

Her actions, which included physical abuse, torture, and participation in selections and executions, earned her a reputation as a merciless and brutal figure within the camp system. She was known for her lack of empathy and sadistic pleasure in inflicting suffering on prisoners.

While the specific nickname “Hyena of Auschwitz” is not directly associated with Irma Grese, it reflects the perception of certain female guards who exhibited similar ruthless behavior in the concentration camp environment.

What was her character like?

A physically attractive woman with large blue eyes and blond hair, Irma Grese on the inside was a cold and sadistic individual. Due to her strong admiration for Nazi ideology, she ended up being sort of the posterchild for the Nazi regime. In some accounts, it was alleged that the female Nazi guard slept with prisoners before sending them to their deaths at the gas chambers.

Other facts about Irma Grese, “the Hyena of Auschwitz”

Her parents were Alfred Grese and Berta Grese. She had four siblings. When she around 15, he mother took her own life by gulping down spirits of salt (also known as hydrochloric acid). It is said that her mother could not bear the pain and shame caused by her father’s infidelity. After the death of her mother, he father would remarry and then later join the Nazi Party.

For the sheer atrocities she inflicted upon prisoners at the various Nazi concentration camps, she was nicknamed “the Beautiful Beast”.

She signed up to be an observer during medical experiments carried out by the Nazi on prisoners.

In one account, Grese was described as someone who had a bold grin on her face as she watched women prisoners gave birth while tied up.

It’s even said that she had a lampshade that was made from the skin of dead prisoners.

Irma Grese

Nazi female guard Irma Grese during her trial in 1945

In addition to whipping women, Grese used all sorts of abusive languages against her prisoners. In some cases, she would beat prisoners to death.

It was revealed in the trial that she took great delight in selecting young and attractive girls for the SS, who often times dispatched them to the gas chambers.

There were also accusations that she was nymphomaniac, and that she sometimes organized orgies with other Nazi guards and their wives.

During her trial (i.e. Belsen Trial), some of the survivors from the concentration camps that Grese worked stated that she took to the habit of whipping women on their breast using plaited whip.

Trial of Nazi guard Irma Grese

Irma Grese’s statements during her trial in 1945

Her trial lasted for nine weeks. And she was found guilty, per the Geneva Convention of 1929, of inflicting pain and misery, and murdering prisoners at the camps.

Although there were many female Nazi guards put on trial after the war, Grese was one of only three female guards slapped with a death sentence. The other two women were Elisabeth Volkenrath and Johanna Bormann.

Throughout the trial, the young Nazi war criminal remained composed and appeared unapologetic. She even wore a stern face when the judge read out the guilty verdict. She did however appeal the verdict; however it was rejected.

It was documented that in the hours leading up to her execution, she sang Nazi songs with fellow war criminal and female Nazi guard Johanna Bormann.

Irma Grese - a Nazi female guard

On 13 December 1945, as the hangman placed the white cap over her head, she asked him to be quick, stating Schnell, which is German for ‘Quickly’. It’s safe to say that she remained defiant all the way to her execution.

During her trial (i.e. the Belsen trials), it was revealed that her father was against she and her sister joining the SS-Gefolge, an all-female division of the SS. As a result of the disagreement, her father severed ties with her, expelling her from his house.

Female Nazi guards (left to right) Imra Grese, Elisabeth Volkenrath and Johanna Bormann.

Irma Grese: Quick Facts

Born: Irmgard Ilse Ida Grese

Date of birth: 7 October 1923

Place of birth: Wrechen, Germany

Died: 13 December 1945

Place of death: Hamelin Prison in Lower Saxony, Germany

Aged: 22

Cause of death: Execution by hanging

Nicknames: “The Hyena of Auschwitz” (“Die Hyäne von Auschwitz“), “The Beautiful Beast”

Concentration camps she worked in: Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück

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