Friday, March 2, 2012

Irma Grese

Irma Ida Ilse Grese (born 22 October 1923, Wrechen, Free State of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany – died 13 December 1945, Hamelin, Germany) was employed at the Nazi concentration camps of Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, 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 22 years, 67 days of age, Grese was the youngest woman to die judicially under English law in the 20th century. Grese 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 in Lüneburg, 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.

Grese 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 was rejected.

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.

Famed British naval aviator Eric Brown, who is fluent in German and who interviewed certain Nazis for the Nuremburg trials, has described Irma Grese as "The worst human being I have ever met.

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