The execution of women by the Nazis during World War II
This is a
tribute to the amazing courage of so many young women during World War II who
were put to death for plotting and fighting against the Nazis, as resistance
fighters, partisans and activists in towns and concentration camps.
It is estimated that more than 4,000 women of various ages were hanged by Nazi forces between 1939 and 1945. Many more were shot or guillotined and many were tortured before minimal or non-existent trials. They could be sentenced to death by People's Courts and executed within prisons, by the commandants of concentration camps or by military commanders in the field and summarily executed, usually in public. Some of these "field" executions were documented and photographed. A lot of the photographs were private snaps taken by individual soldiers and discovered after they had been captured or killed. Hanging was the preferred method for the execution for partisans as it produced more of a public spectacle than shooting and was used to terrorise the local populace as well as entertain the troops. Guillotining within prisons was used for German citizens convicted of treason and other offences after trial by the People's Courts.
Executions in the field.
A gallows was used when the Nazis wanted to make a particular example of the prisoner and these were usually crude and simple structures that did not have a trapdoor or drop. They typically consisted of just a post with a short beam projecting from the top cross braced to the upright. Trees or balconies were also used as was any other structure that was available, e.g. the roof beams of a barn.
Prisoners were never hooded and rarely blindfolded. Their hands were normally tied behind their backs with cord but their legs usually left free. They were given little or no drop, partially to prolong the pleasure of the soldiers and because their cruel and slow deaths would act as a stronger deterrent to the local people who were often made to witness the event. Typically a thin rope was used, fashioned into a simple slip knot. It was not unusual for prisoners to kick and struggle after suspension and to lose control of their bladders and bowels. The bodies could be left hanging for several days as a grim reminder to others. In cold weather, they were sometimes left hanging for a week while in summer they would be taken down sooner, perhaps two to three hours after the hanging.
Masha Bruskina was a Russian teenage female partisan. She was a 17 year old Jewish high school graduate and was the first teenage girl to be publicly hanged by the Nazis in
Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya & Vera Voloshina.
Zoya Kosmodemjanskaja was another Russian partisan. She was born on
On the night of
Eighteen year old Zoya was executed near
During Zoya's interrogation, she used the name of Tanya (a popular Russian first name) as an alias and her real name was only discovered much later. Even in the newspaper article, where her execution was described in full detail, the author calls her Tanya. Zoya adopted this name from a woman called Tanya (last name unknown) who was one of the heroes of Civil War in
Klava Nazarova was hanged in 1942 and is one of the three women who were later made Heroes of Soviet Union. The other two were Zoya (above) and Maria Kislyak (see below).
Klava was born in 1918 and was 24 when she died. She was said to be quite an attractive girl. Klava was a Komsomol member and when the Germans occupied her town of
The Nazis made a big show of the hangings to intimidate the town's people. On
Klava and Nura were first to suffer. The girls were led out and the soldiers hoisted Klava onto a stool beneath the beam. She was wearing a light grey coat without a hat or scarf and her hands were tied behind her back. The executioner put the noose around her neck and one of the officers took pictures of her. A moment before the stool was removed from under her feet, Klava, screamed to the crowd: - Farewell! We'll win! We... The next moment she was hanging. Nura was then hanged beside her.
From Ostrov a procession of soldiers went to the next village, Nogino. The executioners stopped at a barn in Nogino and put up two nooses on a crossbeam. Here they hanged Ivan and Nadezhda Kozlovskiy. Nadezhda was said to have been almost unconscious before she hanged.
The final pair of this series of executions took place in the
Maria Kislyak was born in March 1925, in the
Several months later, Maria and her friends murdered another officer in the same way. This time the Germans arrested nearly 100 inhabitants as hostages and declared that they would execute them all if the murderers didn't come forward. The following day Maria and her friends gave themselves up to the Gestapo and confessed to the murder. Maria claimed that she was the leader of the group.
Three nooses dangled from the branch each with a box under it. The prisoners were made to step up onto the boxes, the executioner noosed them and then boxes were kicked out from under their feet leaving them to slowly strangle to death.
Click here for photograph.
Seventeen year old Lepa Radic was also publicly hanged from the branch of a tree, in Bosanska Krupa in
The reasons for executing young girls in public were several fold. They were viewed as terrorists by the Germans (which in a sense they were), the hangings served as a grim example to the local population - if the Germans would hang a teenage girl then they would hang any adult, and finally that the executions provided a morbid entertainment for the soldiers.
Lots of men were hanged too and many men and women were shot. But hanging was always preferred for young girls for the reasons above. Many of these young people met their deaths with amazing courage. They were very brave anyway to do the things they did against the Nazis. Many of them also demonstrated a strong streak of defiance - they were not going to let the hated enemy soldiers see them cry or break down. I am sure they were very frightened - knowing that they would have a cruel and degrading death in public but they resolved to hide their fear. The last words of several of them indicate this defiance. I think there may well also have been a sense of martyrdom. They would have seen the appalling treatment of their people by the Nazis and decided to avenge it and didn't mind dying for what they believed in, having done so.
Executions in the concentration camps.
Every concentration camp had a gallows and these were used to make an example of prisoners who had tried to escape or committed certain offences against the camp rules or members of staff. It was normal for all the camp inmates to be paraded and made to watch the hangings. In addition to hangings, many prisoners were shot and
Roza Robota was a Polish Jew who was an underground activist in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. She was a member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando. In 1944, this group planned an uprising in the women’s camp at
Using dynamite that had been smuggled in stick by stick by girls who worked in the ammunition factory, they managed to blow up Krema IV (Crematorium 4) on
Ala Gertner, was a 32 year old married woman, who also became part of the resistance movement in the camp and recruited Estera Wajcblum and Regina Safirsztajn because they had access to explosives. They passed whatever they could steal to
Roza and her three comrades,
Twenty two year old Mala Zimetbaum was another Polish Jew who been interned at
Click here for photographs of these brave women.
There is eyewitness testimony of how a female guard named Braunsteiner ordered a 14 year old girl to be hanged in one concentration camp. An SS man was told to get a stool so the girl could step up into the noose dangling from a simple crossbeam gallows. She had the man ask the girl in her own language if she understood that she was going to be hanged. The girl said she understood it but didn't cry or scream. Moments later the stool was removed leaving her hanging.
Plötzensee prison in
years 1928 to 1932, the number of executions in the whole of
There were 64 executions in
When Hitler came to total power, he decided that criminals and those who opposed his regime should suffer death by either guillotining or from 1942, hanging, and he ordered the construction of 20 guillotines. Hitler also greatly increased the list of capital crimes. Between 1933 and 1944, a total of 13,405 death sentences were passed. Of these, 11,881 were carried out. In 1940 alone, some 900 German civilians were put to death. In 1941, the minimum age for execution was reduced to just 14 years.
The execution rate had risen to over 5,000 by 1943. Between 1943 and 1945, the People's Courts sentenced around 7,000 people to death. In the first few months of 1945, some 800 people were executed, over 400 of them being German citizens.
prisoners were kept in a large cell block building (House III) directly
adjacent to the execution building. They spent their final hours shackled in
special cells on the ground floor, which was known as the ”house of the dead,”
before being led across a small courtyard to the execution chamber which was
located in a separate two roomed brick building. Plötzensee's guillotine was
Between 1933 and 1945, some 2,891 people were decapitated or hanged in this building. Many of them were opponents of Hitler's National Socialist government. They had been sentenced to death by the People's Courts, having been found guilty of various offences against the regime. Some of them had belonged to Communist resistance groups, others to the Harnack/Schulze-Boysen Organization (the Red Orchestra), and still others to the
Roettger, the executioner, normally came twice a week and carried out his work
in the early evenings. Guillotinings could be carried out at three minute
intervals. Hangings were notably cruel,
the prisoner was led in with their hands tied behind them and made to get up
onto the two step step-up, the executioner following them and placing the thin
cord slip knot around their neck. They were not hooded or blindfolded. The
executioner got down and simply pulled the step-up from under them leaving them
suspended with little or no drop. Second and subsequent prisoners had to
witness the struggles of the first before it was their turn. On the night of
Some individual cases.
Liselotte “Lilo” Hermann was a 29 year old German student. She passed information she had received from Artur Göritz about Hitler’s secret rearmament program and the production of armaments in the Dornier plant in Friedrichshafen and about the construction of an underground munitions factory near Celle to the Central Committee of the German Communist Party in Switzerland. She was arrested in December 1935 and finally sentenced to death for high treason by the “People’s Court” in Berlin on the 12th of June 1937, becoming the first woman to be condemned for this offence by the Third Reich. She was guillotined together with her accomplices, Stefan Lovasz, Josef Steidle, and Artur Göritz, on the 20th of June 1938.
Mildred was born Mildred Fish in
Eva was a bookseller and also worked for the Schulze-Boysen-Harnack resistance group. She was arrested on
Bontjes Van Beek.
Cato was born in 1921 and grew up in
Elizabeth Charlotte Lilo Gloeden was a 31 year old
Gertrud was 28 years old at the time of her execution and was a nurse and social worker. She had been born in Berlin and served for a time in the Nazi Labour Corps. She was arrested in 1944 for helping Jews to escape Nazi persecution and for "defeatist statements designed to undermine the moral of the people". She was tried before the People's Court in Potsdam and executed on the 12th of January 1945.
Thirty one year old Ilse Stöbe worked for the German Foreign Secretary during World War II and was also involved with "Rote Kapelle”. In the spring of 1942, she warned the Soviets about the planned attack on
Scholl – guillotined in
Sophie Scholl was a 22 year old philosophy student at
Click here for a photo of Sophie.