These women were transferred from one concentration camp to another so that many of the guards had worked at most of the concentration camps.
When the English and American troops liberated the concentration camps, the deaths didn’t stop because so many of the prisoners were too advanced in their malnourishment and disease that all the allies could do was to make them as comfortable as possible during their final hours.
Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen
One camp, Bergen-Belsen, had over 13,000 prisoners die after being liberated due to the inhumane and horrific conditions of the camp. Even hardcore soldiers found it impossible to witness what went on in these death camps.
It was discovered during the many criminal trials that followed the days of liberation that the women guards were responsible for the majority of the atrocities that went on in the women’s camp on a daily basis.
When Bergen–Belsen was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945, the Commandant Josef Kramer was arrested and indicted along with 44 other Nazis who worked in the camp.
Of the 44 Nazis, three female guards in Nazi concentration camps were sentenced to death:
–> Irma Grese
–> Elizabeth Volkenrath
–> Joanna Bormann
All three women had worked together at Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.
21-year-old Irma Grese had been a dairy worker, 26-year-old Volkenrath had been a hairdresser and the chief of SS women, Juana Bormann, 53, had been a “religious fanatic who gave up mission work to join the SS”. (1)
Irma Grese, Beast of Belsen, Convicted and Sentenced to Death by Hanging
Irma Grese, aka Beast of Belsen, was convicted of crimes she committed while at Auschwitz and Bergen–Belsen. Irma’s story was typical, she wanted to be a nurse, but was rejected. Instead, she was trained to be a guard and sent to Auschwitz.
Within a year she was the second highest ranking female guard in the Nazi concentration camps and oversaw 30,000 female Jewish prisoners. In 1945, she was sent to Bergen-Belsen.
Grese was known for her cruelty and brutality. A former lover of the sadistic SS doctor Josef Mengele (Angel of Death) who conducted horrible experiments on children, she began an affair with the Bergen–Belsen commandant, Josef Kramer soon after her transfer.
Grese was known for her sexual prowess. She had sex with female prisoners and, when tired of them, sent them to the gas chambers. She also had sexual relations with other SS personnel and male prisoners.
She was convicted of murdering prisoners by shooting them in cold blood, sadistic cruelty in beating prisoners and turning her half-starved dog on prisoners. She was also responsible for selecting prisoners for the gas chambers.
Ilona Stein testified that in 1944 she witnessed Irma Grese riding a bicycle past one of the prisoners standing at the wire that divided the camp. The woman had gone there to see her daughter.
Upon seeing the woman, Grese jumped off her bike and, “took off her leather belt and beat the woman with it”. Grese beat the woman until the prisoner fell to the ground and then Grese “trampled on her”. The woman was so severely beaten that she was hospitalized for three weeks. (1)
Stein further testified that:
“Whilst at Birkenau I have seen Grese making selections with Dr Mengele of people to be sent to the gas chamber. On these parades Grese herself chose the people to be killed in this way.
In one selection about August 1944, there were between 2,000 and 3,000 selected. At this selection Grese and Mengele were responsible for selecting those for the gas chamber.
People chosen would sometimes sneak away from the line and hide themselves under their beds. Grese would go and find them, beat them until they collapsed and then drag them back into line again.”
Grese carried a whip she’d made by braiding cellophane strips together and used it on prisoners at Auschwitz. Grese testified that, “after eight days Kommandant Kramer prohibited whips, but we nevertheless went on using them…” (1)
Juana Bormann Sentenced to Death by Hanging
Juana Bormann was assigned to the first women’s concentration camp in Lichtenburg in 1938, then transferred in 1939 to the new concentration camp in Ravensbrück. She was promoted from kitchen help to overseer.
In 1942, she was transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp and later that same year to Birkenau. Like other guards, she was transferred to various camps and in 1945 ended up in Bergen-Belsen. Bormann was 53 years old when she was hanged for war crimes, although often reported as being 42. (1)
–> Anni Jonas testified that Bormann would point out weak prisoners to Dr. Mengele to be taken to the gas chambers.
–> Dora Szafran testified that at Auschwitz Juana made selections for the gas chambers along with Dr. Klein.
–> Szafran witnessed Bormann set her dog on a female prisoner lagging behind because her leg was injured. The dog attack was so severe, the woman was carried away on a stretcher.
–> Hanka Rozenwayg testified the Bormann beat her and other women prisoners for having a fire in their hut.
–> Prisoner Peter Makar testified that Bormann beat several women for stealing vegetables from the pigsties.
Inmate after inmate testified of beatings, cruelties, dog attacks and other sadistic acts. (1)
Elizabeth Volkenrath Sentenced to Death by Hanging
In 1941, Vokenrath arrived at Ravensbruck concentration camp. She quickly learned the cruelties of her profession and rose in position. She was later transferred to Auschwitz as a supervisor.
Like her fellow female guards, she was transferred about various concentration camps. In 1944, she was promoted to Senior Supervisor. In this position, she oversaw three hangings.
Mandel later promoted her to Birkenau commandant of the women’s camp at Auschwitz. Inmates testified against her and she was convicted of numerous murders and gas chamber selections. (2)
The former hairdresser turned sadistic Nazi guard was 26 years old when she was hanged for war crimes. (3)
Maria Mandel, “The Beast” Sentenced to Death by Hanging
Maria Mandel was arrested by the US armed forces in 1945 after she tried to escape home to Austria. She was held prisoner and interrogated for nearly a year and half.
In 1946, she was turned over to the Polish government and stood trial in Krakow. At the age of 36, Mandel was sentenced to death by hanging.
She was one of the last of the worst female guards to be hanged. She had taken Irma Grese under her wing at Auschwitz and promoted her to “head of the Hungarian women’s camp at Birkenau”.
Of all the Nazi female guards, Mandel was the most notorious and accused of being personally responsible for more than 500,000 women and children being murdered.
Mandel was known for her cruelty and abuse of prisoners and quickly rose to power. In 1942, she was made the SS female commandant and reported directly to Hoess (SS Commandant of the camp).
She was head of all the female camps and subcamps. She was so corrupt that if any inmate looked at her the wrong way, she had the prisoner taken away, it is assumed to the gas chamber or worse.
Dubbed, “the Beast”, Mandel’s cruelty was unsurpassed. She delighted in choosing which Jewish children would be sent to the gas chambers.
She also had pet Jews, but quickly tired of them and condemned them to the gas chambers. She loved playing god and her sadism drove her to create the Auschwitz orchestra.
It was a cruel irony that pleased her as she forced the Jewish orchestra to play for selection parades, executions and other camp activities that tortured and tormented the Jewish prisoners. (1)
Guards Forced to Remove the Dead
As part of the punishment for those guards not executed, the women were forced to carry the dead from the camp huts.
There were over 17,000 dead in the camp at the time the British liberated it. In the ensuing weeks, another 13,000 corpses had to be removed. (1)
In various accounts, the women guards complained that the bodies were so badly decomposed that arms and legs would pull off as they labored to carry them to the mass burial pits. One guard interviewed nearly 60 years later complained that the British had refused to let them wear gloves while performing the removals.
The sheer number of people murdered by the Nazi regime is beyond staggering. The brutality of the crimes committed against the Jews, Gypsies and political prisoners in Nazi concentration camps is recorded in the war crime trials documents.
One thing that may be recorded but not tallied is the number of female Nazi guards who were recruited from the League of German Girls. It is stated in the transcripts concerning career progression that many of the female guards were League of German Girls party members.
The League was the girl’s division of the Nazi youth movement, also known as the Hitler Youth. At Irma Grese’s trial, her sister testified that all the girls wanted to join the League, but their father forbade them.
Irma was determined to join and ran away from home at the age of 14. Later, when she visited her family and revealed that she’d joined the SS, her father beat her.
Still, her father’s disapproval and subsequent beating didn’t dissuade Irma. She eagerly returned to fulfill her duty with the SS.
While these girls were at a very impressionable age, it’s absolutely no excuse for the horrific cruelty they committed their time as female guards in nazi concentration camps. It does, however, give a glimpse into the world they lived in.
It was a world of absolute power over other people’s lives. The influence of superiors and peers further corrupted that world where not only was cruelty approved but constantly encouraged. Acts of violence were a way of life and it molded these young women into some of history’s most barbarous and sadistic murderers.