Female Nazi war criminals.
Many of the staff from the Nazi concentration camps were arrested and tried for murder and acts of brutality against their prisoners after World War II. Some 3,600 women worked in the concentration camps and around 60 stood trial for before War Crimes Tribunals between 1945 and 1949. Of these 21 were executed and their cases are detailed below. (In total, 5,025 men and women were convicted of war crimes in the American, British and French zones and over 500 of these were sentenced to death, with the majority executed.)
It was decided that those sentenced to die should suffer death by hanging for both sexes, although no standard execution protocol was agreed. Each country carried out executions in accordance with its normal procedure. This led to the use of British style measured drop hanging in private, for those executed in the British sector, short drop hanging in public or private for those in the Polish and Russian sectors and standard drop hanging in semi-private for those executed by the Americans at Nuremberg, Dachau and Landsberg. Some of the American hangings were televised and shown on the news. No women were executed in the US Sector.
under British jurisdiction.
A total of 189 men and 10 women were hanged at Hameln Prison (near
As a result of these atrocities, 45 former members of staff from Bergen-Belsen, including some inmates who had taken part in acts of brutality against other prisoners, were charged with either being responsible for the murder of Allied nationals or the suffering of those in Bergen-Belsen in Germany (first count) or Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, (see below for details of this camp) (second count). Some defendants were charged with both counts.
The accused comprised of 16 men and 16 women, including Josef Kramer,
The Belsen Trial as it was known was conducted by the British Military Tribunal at No. 30 Lindentrasse, Lüneburg, in Germany from September 17th to November 17th, 1945 under court President Major-General H.M.P. Berney-Ficklin, sitting with five other officers. The prosecution was in the hands of a team of 4 military lawyers and each prisoner was represented by counsel. All the prisoners were tried together and sat in the large dock, each wearing a number on their chest.
On the afternoon of November 16th the verdicts were delivered. Thirty one prisoners were convicted on one or both counts and 14 acquitted of all charges. Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath were found guilty on both counts, Juana Bormann guilty only on the second charge. The following day the sentences were read out to the prisoners. Eleven of them were sentenced to death and 19 others to various terms of imprisonment.
The death sentences were pronounced as follows by Major-General Berney-Ficklin:
"No. 1) Kramer, 2) Klein, 3) Weingartner, 5) Hoessler, 16) Francioh, 22) Pichen, 25) Stofel, 27) Dorr. The sentence of this Court on each one of you whom I have just named is that you suffer death by being hanged".
He then passed sentence on the women as follows "No. 6) Borman, 7) Volkenrath, 9) Grese. The sentence of this court is that you suffer death by being hanged." Click here for photos.
The sentence was translated for them into German as "Tode durch den strang," literally death by the rope. All the prisoners were returned to Lüneburg prison. Nine of the eleven condemned appealed to the convening officer, Field-Marshal Montgomery, who rejected their appeals for clemency. Elizabeth Volkenrath and Juanna Borman decided not to appeal. On Friday the 7th of December the appeals of the others were rejected and their death warrants signed by Field Marshal Montgomery. The condemned were then transferred to
The executions were set for Thursday, December the 13th, 1945 and were to be carried out at half hour intervals starting at 9.34 a.m. with Elisabeth Volkenrath, followed by Irma Grese at 10.03 a.m. and Juana Bormann at 10.38 a.m. The men, including Joseph Kramer, were hanged in pairs afterwards, all 13 executions being completed by 4.17 p.m. In view of the proximity of the condemned cells to the gallows, each one of them must have heard the preceding hangings. I have returned death warrants that show Elizabeth Volkenrath was executed first, with Irma Grese second but this does not accord with Albert Pierrepoint’s autobiography wherein it is stated that Irma Grese was the first.
For a detailed account of Irma Grese's case click here and here for Juana Borman’s
Elisabeth Volkenrath was 26 years old. She was convicted of numerous murders and made selections for the gas chamber. She was described as the most hated woman in the camp. Juana Borman was known as “the woman with the dogs” and took sadistic pleasure in setting her wolfhounds on prisoners to tear them to pieces.
The afternoon before execution each prisoner was weighed so the correct drop could be calculated for them. Irma Grese smiled at Pierrepoint when he asked her age. Elisabeth Volkenrath was steady but looked nervous and Juana Borman limped down the corridor looking old and haggard.
Ravensbrück concentration camp near Furstenberg in
Sixteen members of the staff of were arrested and were tried between
41 year old Mory cut her wrists during the night of April 9th with a razor blade she had concealed in her shoe and thus escaped the noose. She was buried within the prison grounds. Swiss born Mory was unusual in that she had worked as a spy for the French, the Nazis and finally the British before and during the War and had been sentenced to death by each in turn but always managed to dodge her execution, by good fortune on the first two occasions. She was a prisoner in Ravensbrück, having been reprieved by the Nazis, and here she made the most of her situation by becoming a Kapo and spying on other prisoners and assisting the staff. Due to a shortage of personnel, the SS frequently used prisoners (Kapo’s) to supervise other non German inmates.
On the 2nd of May 1947, Albert Pierrepoint hanged the remaining three women, one at a time starting with 27 year old Dorothea Binz at 9.01 a.m. followed 9.31 a.m. by Elisabeth Marschall who was nearly 61 years old, and then by 39 year old Greta Bösel at 9.55 a.m.
Dorothea Binz had been born on the 16th of March 1920 at “Düsterlake”
near Templin in
Elisabeth Marschall had been born on the 24th of May 1886 and became a nurse in 1909. She rose to the rank of Oberschwester (Head Nurse) in the Revier (hospital) barracks at Ravensbrück. Here she maltreated sick prisoners and also took part in horrific experiments. She also made selections for the gas chambers.
Greta Bösel was born on
The third woman, 28 year old Vera Salvequart was born on the 26th of
November 1919 in Wonotsch in Czechoslovakia and had trained as a nurse. She had also served several periods in
prison. She had not been an SS guard, but rather a prisoner herself in
Ravensbrück. She was sent to KZ Ravensbrück in December 1944 and as a Kapo
worked as a nurse in the camp's hospital wing. Here she was said to have
administered poison in form of a white powder to some 50 of the patients, of
whom 12 died. She claimed to have stolen
plans for the V2 rocket and passed these to
Vera Salvequart petitioned the King for a reprieve in view of her passing secrets to the British. She was granted a stay while this was considered but the Royal prerogative of mercy was withheld and on Thursday
Ravensbrück trial, the so called "Uckermark trial", was held between
April 14th and April 26th 1948 to hear the cases of five women officials from
the Uckermark concentration camp and extermination complex. This was a satellite camp that housed girls
aged 16 – 21. Two of the women were
acquitted, two received prison terms but Ruth Closius was condemned to death.
Ruth Closius, (married name Neudeck) was born in July 1920. She had belonged to
the SS guard staff of Ravensbrück and had worked there in various capacities
series of Ravensbrück trials was held between July 2nd and
bodies of the first 93 executed up to 1947 were originally buried at
of the staff who had been captured took place at
Maria Mandel, a 36 year old blonde, was born at Munzkirchen in
Rosi Brandel been born in
A second group of five prisoners, all men, were hanged at with a further five men following them at The final group comprising of five men and the other condemned woman, Therese Brandl, went to the gallows at Again, they were hanged one by one and were certified dead 15 minutes later.
After execution, the 21 bodies were all taken to the
A further woman to be hanged at
Margot Drexler (also given as Dreschel) was another SS Aufseherin in
Stutthof concentration camp, 34 km. from Danzig , was the first concentration camp created by the Nazis outside Germany, in September 1939. From June 1944, Stutthof became a death camp as part of Hitler's programme of exterminating European Jews. It expanded rapidly over its five year life and had many satellite camps. This expansion required a commensurate increase in staff and local people with Nazi sympathies were recruited.
Altogether some 110,000 men, women and children were sent to Stutthof. It is estimated that as many as 65,000 of these were put to death in the gas chamber or by hanging or shooting, while many more died of disease and ill treatment.
was liberated by the Russians on May 10th, 1945 and the Commandant, Johann
Pauls, and some of his staff were put on trial by the Polish Special Law Court
at Danzig between April 25th and May 31st, 1946. All were represented by
counsel. Eleven of the defendants, five women and six men, were found guilty of
war crimes and sentenced to death. These were Johann Pauls, SS-Aufseherins
Jenny Wanda Barkmann, Elisabeth Becker, Wanda Klaff, Ewa Paradies, Gerda
Steinhoff and five other men who had been Kapo's in the camp. Click here for photo of them in the dock.
They had all pleaded "not guilty" to the general charge of war crimes and the women did not seem to take the trial too seriously until the end. After the sentence, they appealed for clemency but these appeals were rejected by the Polish president.
Thus all 11 were publicly hanged before a large crowd, estimated at several thousand, at on
four year old Jenny Wanda Barkmann was thought to be from
Becker was not quite 23 years old and had been born locally on
Klaff (nee Kalacinski) was of German origin but had been born in
Steinhoff was 24 and also from
Paradies was born at Lauenburg, (now Lebork) in
There are records of at least three other women who were executed.
Else Lieschen Frieda Ehrich had been the women's camp commandant at Majdanek concentration camp. She was arrested in
Click here for photo.
Elfriede Hildner was tried by the Extraordinary People's Court in
Bayer was born on the
12th of December 1903 at Kwiatkowicach.
It seems that she got a small amount of medical training, and was sent
to a camp for Polish children where she was responsible for medical treatment
and nursing. She was nicknamed "Frau Doctor" and was very cruel to the children. After
capture she was tried by a Polish Special Criminal Court, and sentenced to
death on the 6th of September 1945. She was hanged at
One can only wonder, looking back from 50 years later what turned these women into virtual monsters. Was it their total belief in the rightness of Hitler's policies or did they possess a latent sadism or perhaps a mixture of both? It is terrifying the acts that people can commit when they are out of control and have no fear of the consequences. I suspect that these women thought that Germany would win the war and that they would rise in the regime. Typically, they viewed their prisoners as "dreck," the German for rubbish and as sub-humans. Therefore, the prisoners' lives and feelings were completely irrelevant, and it was just a simple matter of controlling them through fear and brutal repression. One wonders too whether they just became inured to the continuous acts of cruelty. Many of the people tried for war crimes insisted that they were just carrying out orders from above but this doesn't really ring true, either now or to the judges at their tribunals, when one looks at the acts of sadism that they visited on their prisoners.
It is easy to have sympathy with the young women from Stutthof, whose unnecessarily cruel executions were so well documented, but one must remember what they did. As a young soldier said to Pierrepoint on the eve of the hangings of the Belsen women, "if you had been in Belsen under this lot, you wouldn't be able to feel sorry for them." (Pierrepoint had expressed some sympathy for the prisoners.)
Had it not been for the war, one suspects that these women would most probably have lived normal lives with jobs, husbands and children.
It is notable that in many cases it was quite junior people who were caught, tried and in some cases executed. A lot of the more senior ones were able to escape justice. However, the Commandants of many of the concentration camps were caught and in most cases given the death penalty.