A regular reader of my blog provided a link to a news article which you can read in full here. The photo shown above was included in the article. It shows a British soldier guarding Irma Grese, one of the female guards at the Bergen-Belsen camp; standing next to her is Josef Kramer, the last Commandant of Bergen-Belsen.
The article, in the British newspaper Mail Online, is about a new book entitled Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields, written by Professor Wendy Lower, who currently lives and teaches in Munich, Germany
This quote is from the news article cited above:
Even more caught up in the criminal madness were administrators such as Liselotte Meier, who worked so closely with her strutting boss, an SS officer, that they were almost indistinguishable. She joined him on shooting parties in the snow, hunting and killing Jews for sport. [...]
In support of the men, women even manned refreshment tables during executions so the killers could take a break. [...]
Another SS wife, Lisel Willhaus, wife of a camp commandant, used to sit on the balcony of their house and take pot shots at Jewish prisoners with her rifle.
Also in Poland was Vera Wohlauf, whose husband Julius commanded a police battalion ordered in 1942 to round up 11,000 Jewish inhabitants of a small town for transportation to Treblinka for liquidation.
She sat by her husband in the front seat of the lorry that led a convoy of killers to the town, and stood in the market square brandishing a whip as nearly a thousand who resisted the round-up or collapsed in the summer heat were beaten to death or shot.
She was pregnant at the time, a further incongruity.
In the Ukraine, 22-year-old secretary Johanna Altvater played an even more prominent role in a massacre while working for regional commissar Wilhelm Westerheide.
During the liquidation of a Jewish ghetto, Fräulein Hanna, as she was known, was seen in her riding breeches prodding men, women and children into a truck ‘like a cattle herder’.
The news article includes two versions of the same photo of Irma Grese, which is shown at the top of my blog post. However, the book does not include the story of Irma Grese. It is about 11 young women who served as secretaries, nurses, or in other functions on the Eastern Front.
The brief mention of Irma Grese, in the news article, is quoted here:
The few women ever called to account were notorious concentration camp guards — the likes of Irma Grese and Ilse Koch — whose evil was so extreme they could be explained away as freaks and beasts, not really ‘women’ at all.
The caption on the photo, shown at the top of my blog post, is this:
Guilty: Irma Grese, nicknamed ‘The Beautiful Beast’ pictured with Joseph Kramer who was commandant of Auschwitz and later Belsen concentration camps. She was hanged aged 22 in 1945 and him in 1946
What heinous crimes had Irma Grese and Josef Kramer committed?
The news article doesn’t tell us, so I will have to tell you: The two of them were guilty of gross stupidity.
When the Bergen-Belsen camp was VOLUNTARILY turned over to the British, these two were standing at the gate into the camp, offering their help in taking care of the prisoners; there was a typhus epidemic in the camp that was out of control.
To add to the misery of the prisoners, the Belsen camp had been bombed by the British and the water pump had been hit, so there was no fresh water available.
Yet, instead of escaping from the camp, these two vicious war criminals, Josef Kramer and Irma Grese, were standing at the gate, ready to greet the British and offer their help.
STUPID, STUPID, STUPID! They should have escaped to South America, as did Dr. Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. What were they thinking?
According to Michael Berenbaum, in his book The World Must Know, Commandant Josef Kramer greeted British officer Derrick Sington at the entrance to the Belsen camp, wearing a fresh uniform.
Berenbaum wrote that Kramer expressed his desire for an orderly transition and his hopes of collaborating with the British. According to Berenbaum, Kramer dealt with them as equals, one officer to another, even offering advice as to how to deal with the “unpleasant situation.”
That same day, Commandant Kramer was arrested by the British; five months later he and Irma Grese were brought before a British Military Tribunal and both were convicted as war criminals.
At the British Military Tribunal after World War II, the Germans, who had been associated with the Belsen camp, were put on trial. Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp testified that Grese had habitually worn jack boots, and that she carried a plaited cellophane whip and a pistol.
Grese was also accused of being always accompanied by a vicious dog. The prisoners claimed that Irma was sadistic and that she derived sexual pleasure from beating the women prisoners with her cellophane riding crop. Witnesses claimed that Irma Grese had beaten women prisoners to death at Auschwitz and had shot others in cold blood.
The accusations of murder, against Irma Grese, were made in affidavits, and none of the accusations were corroborated. Survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau even claimed that there were lamp shades, made out of the skins of three women prisoners, found in Grese’s room at Birkenau. Of course, no evidence of this was introduced at her trial. The most serious charge against Irma Grese, by the British Military Tribunal, was that she had been present when inmates at Birkenau were selected for the gas chamber and that she had participated, in the selections, by forcing the women to line up for inspection by Dr. Mengele.
At her trial, Grese denied having a dog, beating prisoners to death or shooting anyone, although she did admit to hitting prisoners with her cellophane whip even though it was forbidden for the Overseers to beat the prisoners. She stated that she continued to use her whip even after being ordered not to by Commandant Kramer.
At her trial before the British Military Tribunal at Lüneburg, Germany in 1945, the following testimony was given by Ilona Stein in a Deposition:
“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 2000 and 3000 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. I have seen everything I describe. It was general knowledge in this camp that persons selected in this way went to the gas chamber.”
The testimony against Irma Grese, which is quoted above was given in a Deposition. (A deposition is a legal document, which is given by a witness who does not take the witness stand in court.) At her trial, Irma Grese admitted to being aware that prisoners were gassed at Birkenau; she stated that this was common knowledge in the camp and that she had been told by the prisoners about the gassing. She admitted that she was present when selections were made and that she had helped to line up the prisoners, but she denied making the selections herself. Irma Grese was hanged for her crime of helping with the selection of prisoners for the gas chamber and for her crime of using a cellophane whip, although she had been ordered not to use a whip by Josef Kramer.