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June 18, 2017

A Holocaust survivor who was saved 16 times by Irma Grese

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, Uncategorized — furtherglory @ 11:18 am

Irma Grese

The following quote is from a news article, which you can read in full at

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[Alice] Tenenbaum was a young teenager when she was forced into a ghetto before being taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed before the Soviet Union liberated the prisoners in January 1945.

Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death for his role in sending prisoners to gas chambers and performing inhumane experiments on people, frequented the camp and tried his hardest to execute 14-year-old Tenenbaum, but an unlikely savior appeared.

“Irma Grese, this horrible creature they called the beautiful beast, she somehow — to this day, I don’t know why — she saved me 16 times when Dr. (Josef) Mangele sent me to the gas chamber. She would come and take me out (of the chamber),” Tenenbaum said. “People I spoke to who knew her said she had a sister around my age and I looked a little bit like her. The reason she saved me so many times was because I looked like her sister. That’s how I survived Auschwitz.”

Grese was among the 45 people accused of war crimes at the Bergen Trial in 1945 and was executed for her actions later that year.

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You can read all about Irma Grese on my website. The following quote is from my website:

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The Belsen trial was eagerly followed by the press and the defendant who attracted the most attention was the notorious 21-year-old Irma Grese, who was accused of participating in selections for the gas chamber at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II death camp. Despite her young age, Irma had achieved the rank of Oberaufseherin or Senior SS Overseer by the fall of 1943. In this role, she was in charge of supervising around 30,000 women prisoners, mostly Polish and Hungarian Jews, at Birkenau. She was transferred to Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, only a month before the liberation, yet she was also charged with beating prisoners in that camp. Some of the inmates at Bergen-Belsen had been transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau, so they were able testify against the defendants with regard to both Counts One and Two. Grese was the highest ranking woman among the defendants at The Belsen Trial, but also the youngest, and she was, by far, the most hated by the former prisoners who testified against her.

Quoted below is Irma Grese’s testimony, under direct examination, about her background:

Begin quote from testimony by Irma Grese:

I was born on 7th 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 Luchen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenluchen, where I stayed for two years. I tried to become a nurse but the Labour Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenburg. 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.

Irma Grese at Bergen-Belsen 17 April 1945

The Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors testified that Grese habitually wore jack boots, carried a plaited cellophane whip and a pistol and that she was 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 she had beaten women prisoners to death and shot others in cold blood. The accusations of murder were made in affidavits, and none of them was corroborated. It was even claimed that there were lamp shades, made out of the skins of three women prisoners, found in her room at Birkenau. The most serious charge against her was that she had been present when inmates at Birkenau were selected for the gas chamber and that she had participated by forcing the women to line up for inspection by Dr. Mengele.

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. She also 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.

Quoted below is her testimony regarding the gas chamber selections, under direct examination, by her defense lawyer, Major Cranfield (page. 249 in the trial transcript):

Cranfield: Where did the order come from for what we call “selection parades”?
Grese: That came by telephone from a RapportFührerin or from Oberaufseherin Dreschel.
Cranfield: When the order came were you told what the parade was for?
Grese: No.
Cranfield: What were the prisoners supposed to do when the whistle went?
Grese: Fall in fives, and it was my duty to see that they did so. Dr. Mengele then came and made the selection. As I was responsible for the camp my duties were to know how many people were leaving and I had to count them, and I kept the figures in a strength book. After the selection took place they were sent into “B” Camp, and Dreschel telephoned and told me that they had gone to another camp in Germany for working purposes or for special treatment, which I thought was the gas chamber. I then put in my strength book either so many for transfer to Germany to another camp, or so many for S.B. (Sonder Behandlung). It was well known to the whole camp that S. B. meant the gas chamber.
Cranfield: Were you told anything about the gas chamber by your senior officers?
Grese: No, the prisoners told me about it.
Cranfield: You have been accused of choosing prisoners on these parades and sending them to the gas chamber. Have you done that?
Grese: No; I knew that prisoners were gassed.
Cranfield: Was it not quite simple to know whether or not the selection was for the gas chamber, because only Jews had to attend such selections?

Grese: I myself had only Jews in Camp “C.”
Cranfield: Then they would all have to attend the selection for the gas chamber, would they not?
Grese: Yes.
Cranfield: As you were told to wait for the doctors you would know perfectly well what it was for?
Grese: No.
Cranfield: When these people were parading they were very often paraded naked and inspected like cattle to see whether they were fit to work or fit to die, were they not?
Grese: Not like cattle.
Cranfield: You were there keeping order, were you not, and if one ran away you brought her back and gave her a beating?
Grese: Yes.

The following was excerpted and edited from the documentation of The Belsen Trial regarding the closing argument of Major Cranfield on behalf of Irma Grese and others:

Major Cranfield’s Closing Address on Behalf of Klippel, Grese, Lohbauer and Lothe

Directing the Court’s attention to the parts of the Charge Sheet which alleged the killing of Allied Nationals, Major Cranfield asked why there were included in this charge the names of specific Allied Nationals, and why it was not sufficient to charge the accused with causing the death of Allied Nationals whose names were unknown. He suggested that the answer was that, unless the killing of a specifically named person was included, the charge would be a bad one on grounds of vagueness and generality. Counsel proceeded to examine the names of the persons alleged in the Belsen charge to have died in that camp, reminding the Court that his accused were charged with being together concerned in causing their deaths.

He submitted that the evidence proved that Meyer was shot by a man not before the Court. The evidence proved that Anna Kis was killed deliberately by a man not before the Court. She was a Hungarian and, in his submission, if she was a Hungarian she could not be an Allied National. It was a matter of which the Court must take judicial notice that a state of war existed between the United Kingdom and Hungary, which had not been terminated by a peace treaty. Some reference had been made to an armistice. Counsel argued however that there was an armistice with Italy, but it could not be suggested that an Italian was an Allied National. It was, he thought, agreed that the names of Kohn, Glinovjechy and Konatkevicz had been wrongly included in the Belsen charge.

Referring to the death certificates relating to the remaining seven victims Counsel said that in each case the cause of death was stated to be death from natural causes. The dates of death were given, and the dates when these persons were alleged to have died were in a number of cases dates before his accused came to Belsen. One of the seven, Klee, was said by the Prosecution to be a British subject from Honduras, but Counsel for the Defense called for further proof of her nationality since the death certificate stated that she was born at Schwerin in Germany. The evidence that these seven persons were ever in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was extremely flimsy. It seemed that he had now struck out of the Belsen charge all the specific persons whose deaths his accused were alleged to have caused, and the charge now read: “Allied Nationals unknown,” which was, as he had already submitted, insufficient.

The affidavit of Anna Jakubowice said of Klippel: “I have seen him frequently beat women”. She arrived at Belsen on the 1st January, and the British arrived on the 15th April. Counsel’s submission was that the allegation of frequent beating must relate to the whole period from 1st January to the 15th April. Again, the alleged shootings were said to have taken place during March, 1945. A number of witnesses supported Klippel when he said that from the 1st January to the 5th April, so far from being at Bergen-Belsen, he was over one hundred miles away in Mittelbau. Counsel denied that Klippel was part of Hoessler’s unit, or of Kramer’s staff.

The evidence of Diament against Grese regarding the latter’s responsibility for selecting victims for the gas chamber was vague. Regarding Lobowitz’s allegation against Grese, Counsel asked whether, however conscientious the accused was, it was not absolute nonsense to suggest that roll-calls went on from six to eight hours each day? He also threw doubt on the credibility of Neiger’s words.

Apart from the question of the truth of Trieger’s evidence Counsel pointed out that the victim of the alleged shooting by Grese was a Hungarian and not an Allied National.

As against Triszinska’s allegation concerning Grese’s dog, the Court had heard the accused deny that she ever had a dog, and that has been corroborated by others of the accused and by other witnesses from Auschwitz.

Regarding Kopper’s story of the punishment Kommando, Counsel referred to Grese’s evidence that she was in charge of the punishment Kommando for two days only, and in charge of the Strassenbaukommando, which was a type of punishment Kommando, for two weeks. The allegation of Kopper in her affidavit was that she was in charge of the punishment Kommando in Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944, but in the box she said that the accused was in charge of the punishment company working outside the camp for seven months. In the box she failed to reconcile those two statements. Was it probable that Grese would be in charge, the only Overseer, of a Kommando 800 strong, with an S.S. man, Herschel, to assist her? If 30 prisoners were killed each day, should there not have been some corroboration of this story?

Counsel asked the Court to disbelieve Szafran’s story about the shooting of the two girls, in view of Hoessler’s statement that the windows of the block in question were fixed windows. The story was told neither in Szafran’s affidavit nor even during her examination; she produced it on re-examination.

Commenting on the allegation of Ilona Stein, Counsel asked whether the Court believed, in view of the evidence, that an Overseer had any power to give an order to an S.S. guard? He pointed out that the witness, in her affidavit, said: “I did not hear the order”. He doubted also whether Grese could have beaten anyone with a belt as flimsy as that worn by an Overseer at Auschwitz, one of which was produced as an exhibit.

Eleven witnesses had recognized Grese in Court. Of these eleven five made no allegation of any kind against her. This fact threw doubt on the evidence of those witnesses who said that she was notorious, a ferocious savage and the worst S.S. woman.

Even though Major Cranfield did a good job of defending Grese, she was nevertheless convicted under both Counts One and Two and was sentenced to death by hanging. After the trial, the 11 who had been sentenced to death, 8 men and 3 women, were taken to Hamelin jail in Wesfalia to await execution. (Hamelin is the town famous for the story of the Pied Piper.) An execution chamber was constructed right in the prison by the Royal Engineers of the British Army. It was located at the end of the corridor where the condemned prisoners were being held in a row of tiny cells. Since the prisoners could hear the sound of the trap falling as each of the condemned was hanged, it was decided that Irma Grese, as the youngest, should go first to spare her the trauma of hearing the others being executed. The three women were hanged separately, first Grese, then Volkenrath, then Bormann. The 8 men were hanged in pairs to save time. The hanging was all finished just in time for the mid-day meal.

In recent years, Irma Grese has become a cult figure among the neo-Nazis. She is considered by them to be a heroine because of her stoicism at her trial and the perception that she showed great courage in going bravely to her death. She is regarded by the neo-Nazis as a martyr, who died for her country, since they don’t believe that she was the sadistic, sexually-depraved killer that she was portrayed to be by her accusers.

Albert Pierrepoint, an experienced professional hangman, was flown over from Great Britain to hang the 11 condemned prisoners. On December 12, 1945, the condemned were weighed and measured so that the hangman could calculate how to adjust the gallows for each one. Pierrepoint wrote an autobiography in which he described the circumstances surrounding the execution of Irma Grese.

Two paragraphs from Pierrepoint’s autobiography are quoted below:

“At last we finished noting the details of the men, and RSM O’Neil ordered ‘bring out Irma Grese. She walked out of her cell and came towards us laughing. She seemed as bonny a girl as one could ever wish to meet. She answered O’Neil’s questions, but when he asked her age she paused and smiled. I found that we were both smiling with her, as if we realised the conventional embarrassment of a woman revealing her age. Eventually she said ‘twenty-one,’ which we knew to be correct. O’Neil asked her to step on to the scales. ‘Schnell!’ she said – the German for quick.”

“The following morning 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 wrist-watch 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 grills 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 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 hand she said in her languid voice ‘Schnell’. 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.”

26-year old Elizabeth Volkenrath was hanged

According to the trial transcripts, Elizabeth Volkenrath testified under direct examination that she arrived at Auschwitz No. 1 in March, 1942, and was transferred to Birkenau in December, 1942 where she worked in the parcel office and bread store till September 1944. From then until the 18th of January, she was in charge of a working party in Auschwitz No. 1.

Gertrude Diament, a Jewess from Czechoslovakia, testified that during 1942 she had seen Volkenrath make selections. She would give orders that prisoners be loaded onto lorries and transported to the gas chamber

In her testimony, Volkenrath denied having herself made gas chamber selections. She said she attended selections during August 1942 because she had to be present as she was in charge of the women’s camp, but she had merely to see that the prisoners kept quiet and orderly. Volkenrath said she had seen lorries on the road, but whether they went to the gas chamber she did not know. Her answer to the allegations of beatings made against her was that she only slapped faces.

On direct examination by her attorney, Volkenrath testified that she arrived at Belsen on the 5th February, 1945. She had only been there a few days when she had to go to the hospital, returning to work on the 23rd of March 1945. At Belsen she was an Oberaufseherin and had to detail the Overseers to their various duties. She testified that at Belsen, she never did more than slap prisoners’ faces. Her explanation of the events referred to by the witness, Hammermasch, was that a prisoner was brought back from an attempt to escape and was beaten by Kramer. She was present but did not beat the girl.

Volkenrath was found guilty of war crimes in both camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. She was the second person to be hanged on 13 December 1945, following the execution of Irma Grese.

42-year-old Juana Bormann was hanged

In her testimony at the trial, Juana Bormann denied that she was ever present at any gas chamber selections. She admitted that she had a dog at Auschwitz, but she said that she never made this dog attack anyone. She claimed that she might have been mistaken for another Overseer named Kuck who also had a dog. She said that she would have been severely punished if she had set her dog on the prisoners and that the beating of prisoners by an Overseer was strictly forbidden.

After working at Birkenau from 15 May 1943 to the end of December 1943, Bormann testified that she came to Belsen in the middle of February 1945, and was engaged in looking after a pigsty. At Belsen she did not come in contact with prisoners beyond her own party of prisoners. When prisoners disobeyed orders she boxed their ears or slapped their faces but never violently, she claimed.

On December 12, 1945 when the hangman made his calculations, Bormann was measured at 5 feet tall and she weighed in at 101 pounds. She was acquitted on the charges of beating prisoners at Bergen-Belsen but was convicted of war crimes at Auschwitz-Birkenau and was the last of the women to be hanged, right after the execution of Elisabeth Volkenrath.

Field-Marshall Montgomery denied clemency to the guilty prisoners.