Grese, Irma (1923–1945)

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Grese, Irma (1923–1945)

German Nazi who was supervisor of females at Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen and a convicted war criminal. Name variations: Griese. Born in 1923; executed in Hamelin, Germany, on December 13, 1945.

Epitomizing Adolf Hitler's blonde, blue-eyed Aryan ideal, Irma Grese developed into one of Germany's most notorious war criminals, performing some of the most brutal and sadistic murders committed by any woman in this century. Born to a hardworking family, she was employed on a farm and later as a nurse before becoming involved with the Nazi youth groups, against her father's wishes. Like so many other well-intentioned but naive German youths, Grese believed that Adolf Hitler would bring a sound moral leadership to her country. She soon became obsessed with the military supremacy of Germany and the Nazi ideology.

During World War II, Grese was a supervisor at the concentration camps at Ravensbrück and later at Auschwitz. Fanatical in her dedication to the Nazi commitment to eradicate the Jews, she was particularly cruel to the female prisoners in her charge. Dressed in an SS uniform, wearing heavy hobnailed boots, and carrying a pistol and whip, she was frequently accompanied by two half-starved Alsatian hounds. When prisoners displeased her, the dogs were ordered to attack and kill. Grese not only murdered at will, but she seemed to enjoy inflicting mental and physical torture. She would mock those scheduled for the gas chambers with such taunts as: "Your turn comes Friday."

In 1945, Grese was transferred briefly to the Bergen Belsen camp where she was captured by Allied troops at the end of the war; by then, she was known as the "beast of Belsen." At her war crimes trial, the 22-year-old Grese sat stone-faced as survivors came forward with shocking testimony against her, details that nauseated members of the British court. Irma Grese, who claimed until the end, like Hermann Göring, that she had no conscience, that her conscience was that of Adolf Hitler, was eventually condemned to death. She was hanged on December 13, 1945, in Hamelin, Germany.