Raised by farming parents, who hated Nazis and all that they stood for, didn’t stop Irma Grese from wanting to join the Bund Deutscher Mädel or League of German Girls. Nevertheless, her father forbade it. Irma Elisabeth Ilse Ida Grese was born to Berta Grese and Alfred Grese, both dairy workers, on October 7, 1923. She was the third of five children (three girls and two boys). While Irma was an “angelic” looking girl with blond hair and blue eyes, there was something else living behind those eyes, a determination to get what she wanted…no matter the cost. In 1938 at the age of 15, Irma left school and worked as an assistant nurse in the sanatorium of the SS.
As I looked at Irma’s life, I wondered how she could have possibly gone in such a horrific direction with the parents she had. Then, I realized that in Germany in the 1930s, parents were quickly losing the right to raise their own children. They had no control over the education process, and in fact, the Nazi regime was quickly making the children believe that their parents were uneducated and stupid. The Nazi regime backed the “right” of the children to choose their destiny…provided it was “in sync” with the Nazi agenda. In 1936, her mother died by suicide after drinking hydrochloric acid following the discovery of Alfred’s affair with the local pub owner’s daughter. This might have contributed to Irma’s coming disobedience.
Despite Alfred, her farmer father’s objections, Irma was determined to join the Nazi party, because of the opportunity to become a nurse that they were offering her. She began studying at Hohenlychen, a SS hospital as an assistant nurse, in 1939. During her time there, she worked with Dr Karl Gebhardt, who performed medical experiments on patients, but he was unsuccessful at nursing and moved on to be a machinist. Once she was 18, she joined the Aufseherinnen SS and, after passing the necessary examinations, entered training at Ravensbrück. At Ravensbrück, Irma trained for three weeks (the program was a month, but Irma was an eager learner, and so went through it in three weeks). It is believed that she also had numerous relationships with male officers, which may have helped to “cut down” on her education time.
In 1943, Irma was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau to guard female prisoners and was promoted the following year to the second-highest position within the Aufseherinnen at the camp. Due to her transfer, Irma had a falling out with her father, as he had been vehemently opposed to her joining the SS entourage, and he expelled her from the house. She oversaw 30,000 female prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and she was known to be brutal. The inmates at Auschwitz nicknamed her The Hyena of Auschwitz…probably because of the fact that she delighted in their pain. She wore heavy boots, carried a whip, and a pistol. While her appearance was that of a kindly person, she was known to have an affinity for kicking and beating prisoners, walking around camp with two hungry dogs trained to kill, and generally inflicting pain upon anyone who committed the slightest offense. She took pleasure in having the camp doctor operate on prisoners without anesthetic and, according to Dr Gisella Perl (the woman who performed an abortion for Irma on one occasion), she enjoyed the “sight of this human suffering. Her tense body swung back and forth in a revealing, rhythmical motion. Her cheeks were flushed and her wide-open eyes had the rigid, staring look of complete sexual paroxysm.”
Irma was transferred to Ravensbrück in January 1945, before being sent to Bergen-Belsen in March…where her brutal behavior continued. She enjoyed torturing the women under her control. She made women kneel for long periods of time, or hold large rocks over their heads, or stand in the snow or rain for hours. She felt no pity. Irma was captured by British soldiers in April 1945 and put on trial soon after. She claimed that she was just following orders and serving the state. She showed no remorse…even as she was sentenced to hang. Irma was hanged on December 13, 1945. At the age of 22, she was the youngest Nazi criminal to be executed.