, and was a warden of the women's section of Bergen-Belsen
Grese was convicted for crimes against humanity at the Belsen Trial
and sentenced to death. Executed at of age, Grese was the youngest woman to die judicially under English law in the 20th century.
BackgroundIrma Grese was born to Alfred Grese, a dairy worker and a member of the Nazi Party from 1937, and Berta Grese. Irma Grese had four siblings. In 1936, her mother committed suicide
Grese left school in 1938 at the age of fifteen, owing to a combination of a poor scholastic aptitude, bullying by classmates, and a fanatical
preoccupation with the League of German Girls
(Bund Deutscher Mädel), a Nazi female youth organization, of which her father disapproved. Among other casual jobs, she worked as an assistant nurse in the sanatorium
of the SS for two years and unsuccessfully tried to find an apprenticeship as a nurse, after which she worked as a dairy helper.
Quoted below is Irma Grese's testimony, under direct examination, about her background:
I was born on 7 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.
Having completed her training in March 1943, Grese was transferred as a female guard
to Auschwitz and by the end of that year was Senior Supervisor, the second highest ranking woman at the camp, in charge of around 30,000 Jewish female prisoners.
In January 1945, Grese briefly returned to Ravensbrück before ending her wartime career at Bergen-Belsen
as a Work Service Manager from March to April, being captured by the British on 17 April 1945, together with other SS personnel who did not flee.
War crimesGrese was among the 44 people accused of war crimes at the Belsen Trial
. She was tried over the first period of the trials (September 17 to November 17, 1945) and was represented by Major L. Cranfield.
The trials were conducted under British military law
, and the charges derived from the Geneva Convention of 1929 regarding the treatment of prisoners. The accusations against her centred on her ill-treatment and murder of those imprisoned at the camps, including setting dogs on inmates, shootings and sadistic beatings with a whip. Survivors provided detailed testimony of murders, tortures, and other cruelties, especially towards women, in which Grese engaged during her years at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. They testified to acts of sadism, beatings and arbitrary shootings of prisoners, savaging of prisoners by her trained and allegedly half-starved dogs, and to her selecting prisoners for the gas chambers. After a fifty-three day trial, Grese was sentenced to hang. Grese was reported to have habitually worn heavy boots and carried a whip and a pistol. Witnesses testified that she used both physical and emotional methods to torture the camp's inmates and enjoyed shooting prisoners in cold blood. They also claimed that she beat some women to death and whipped others using a plaited whip.
ExecutionGrese and ten others (eight men and two other women; Juana Bormann
and Elisabeth Volkenrath
) were convicted for crimes against humanity in both Auschwitz and Belsen and then sentenced to death
. As the verdicts were read, Grese was the only prisoner to remain defiant; her subsequent appeal
On Thursday, 13 December 1945, in Hamelin Jail, Grese was led to the gallows. The women were hanged singly first and then the men in pairs. Regimental Sergeant-Major O'Neil assisted the noted British executioner
, Albert Pierrepoint
... 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 wristwatch 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 head 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.
- Angel: A Nightmare in Two Acts is a drama by playwright Jo Davidsmeyer based on the life and execution of Irma Grese and holocaust survivor Olga LengyelOlga LengyelOlga Lengyel was a Romanian woman who became a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and later wrote about her experiences in her book Five Chimneys.-Life and career:...
. First staged in 1987, it has been produced at many regional colleges; in September 2006 it had its professional debut at the New City Stage Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The play was published in 1995 by Wildside PressWildside PressWildside Press is an independent publishing company located in Maryland, USA. It was founded in 1989 by John Gregory and Kim Betancourt. While the press was originally conceived as a publisher of speculative fiction in both trade and limited editions, it has broadened out somewhat since then, both...
in the anthology Reader's Theatre: What it is and how to stage it, edited by Marvin KayeMarvin KayeMarvin Nathan Kaye is an American mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and horror author and editor. He has also edited numerous horror anthologies, such as H. P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine...
Irma Grese has been portrayed as a minor character in Out of the Ashes
as well as The Last Hangman, which details her execution following the Belsen war crimes trial. Both films feature additional female guards in much smaller roles. Grese is also briefly portrayed in a non-speaking re-enactment in Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution'.
- The Belsen Trial, Law-Reports of Trials of War Criminals, The United Nations War Crimes Commission, Volume II, London, HMSO, 1947, retrieved on 22 December 2006.|63.8 KB}}
- SS-Frauen am Galgen (German), max.mmvi.de, retrieved on 22 December 2006.
- Irma Grese, Capital Punishment U.K., retrieved on December 6, 2009.
- Women guards in Bergen-Belsen, Scrapbookpages.com, retrieved on December 22, 2006.
- Irma Grese, Auschwitz.dk, retrieved on December 22, 2006.
- Auschwitz: Inside The Nazi State; Corruption: Episode 4, PBS.org, retrieved on December 22, 2006.
- Excerpts from The Belsen Trial - Part 5 of 5: Testimony of and concerning Irma Grese,The Nizkor Project, retrieved on December 22, 2006.
- Angel: A Nightmare in Two Acts, jodavidsmeyer.com, retrieved on 6 February 2009.