Before I began writing this blog post about Herte Bothe, one of the guards at Bergen-Belsen, I first checked with Wikipedia to make sure that I got the facts straight.
The following quote is from Wikipedia:
Nevertheless, she [Herte Bothe] was released early from prison on December 22, 1951 as an act of leniency by the British government.
WHAT? Herte Bothe was a dangerous criminal who had committed crimes against humanity, or worse! Why would the British have taken pity on her, and released her from prison early?
This quote is also from Wikipedia:
During a rare interview that was broadcast in 2004, Bothe became defensive when asked about her decision to be a concentration camp guard. She replied,
“ What do you mean, made a mistake? No… I’m not quite sure I should answer that. Did I make a mistake? No. The mistake was that it was a concentration camp, but I had to go to it, otherwise I would have been put into it myself. That was my mistake.
Here is another quote from Wikipedia:
In September 1942, Bothe was conscripted as a camp guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp. The former nurse took a four-week training course and was sent as an Aufseherin to the Stutthof camp near Danzig (now Gdańsk). There she became known as the “Sadist of Stutthof” due to her brutal beatings of prisoners.
I wrote about Herte Bothe on my website many years ago. The following information is from my website scrapbookpages.com.
As of 2005, Herta Bothe was still alive and still defensive about her job as a female guard at Bergen-Belsen, maintaining that she had been conscripted in September 1942, at the age of 21, to work in the concentration camps; she claimed that she would have been put into a concentration camp herself if she had refused.
After four weeks of training at the Ravensbrück women’s camp, Bothe was first sent to the Stutthof camp near the city formerly known as Danzig, and then to the Bromberg Ost sub-camp in July 1944. She had previously worked as a nurse in a German hospital.
When Bergen-Belsen was voluntarily turned over to the British on April 15, 1945, Herta Bothe had been a guard there, in charge of 60 women prisoners, for no more than seven or eight weeks.
Herte Bothe had arrived in the Bergen-Belsen camp between February 20th and February 26th 1945 in charge of a death march of women prisoners who had been evacuated from Poland.
Bothe was one of the 80 guards who volunteered to stay behind to help the British take over the camp, not realizing that under the Allied concept of co-responsibility, she would be put on trial as a war criminal.
In the photo at the top of this page, taken by the British at an Allied prison in Celle, Bothe looks haggard and has dark circles under her eyes after working for weeks in the camp to bury around 17,000 corpses including the bodies of 13,000 prisoners who died after the British took over.
Today, Herta Bothe is infamous because of her defiant attitude and her show of anger when the women were ordered by the British to carry the rotten corpses to mass graves with their bare hands. In interviews years later, Bothe described how she was terrified of contracting typhus because the guards were not allowed to wear gloves or masks.
She described how the arms and legs of the decomposed bodies came off in her hands when she tried to pick them up, and how lifting the emaciated bodies caused her back pain.
Although the British brought in bulldozers and shoved some of the bodies into the mass graves, they forced the former guards to do most of the work manually as their just punishment for the horrible conditions found in the camp.
Bothe was sentenced to ten years in prison after being convicted by a British Military Tribunal in 1946. She was released on December 22, 1951. She lived to the age of 94.