Irma Grese

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Irma Grese
Irma Grese.jpg
Grese in August 1945, while awaiting trial
Irmgard Ilse Ida Grese

(1923-10-07)7 October 1923
Died13 December 1945(1945-12-13) (aged 22)
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Other names"The Beautiful Beast"
"Die Hyäne von Auschwitz"
("The Hyena of Auschwitz")
OrganizationSS-Gefolge (Women's SS Division)
Criminal statusExecuted
Conviction(s)War crimes
TrialBelsen trial
Criminal penaltyDeath
SS career
AllegianceNazi Germany
Years of service1940–1945

Irmgard Ilse Ida Grese (7 October 1923 – 13 December 1945) was a Nazi concentration camp guard at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz, and served as warden of the women's section of Bergen-Belsen.[1] She was a volunteer member of the SS.

Grese was convicted of crimes involving the ill-treatment and murder of prisoners committed at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, and sentenced to death at the Belsen trial. Executed at 22 years of age, Grese was the youngest woman to die judicially under British law in the 20th century. Auschwitz inmates nicknamed her the "Hyena of Auschwitz" ("die Hyäne von Auschwitz").[2][3][4][5]

Early life and family[edit]

Irmgard Ilse Ida Grese[6] was born to Berta Grese and Alfred Grese, both dairy workers, on 7 October 1923. Irma was the third of five children (three girls and two boys).[7] In 1936, her mother committed suicide by drinking hydrochloric acid following the discovery of Alfred’s affair with a local pub owner's daughter.[8] Historian Peter Vronsky speculated that Alfred Grese joined the Nazi Party in 1937[9][10] and remarried in 1939.[8]

Irma's sister Helene said at Irma's trial that in primary school, when "girls were quarreling and fighting, [Irma] never had the courage to fight, but ... ran away."[11] In 1938, at the age of 15, Grese left school. She worked on a farm for six months, then in a shop, then at a hospital run by the SS for two years.[12]

Concentration camp guard[edit]

By her teenage years, Grese, like her sisters, wanted to join the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel), the branch of the Hitler Youth for girls, but her father forbade it.[13] Before her 17th birthday, she moved to the SS Female Helpers' training base, which was located near Ravensbrück, the all-female concentration camp.[11]

In 1940, she became an Aufseherin (guard or overseer) at Ravensbrück, and transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1943. Due to her transfer, Grese had a falling out with her father the same year, as he had been vehemently opposed to her joining the SS-Gefolge. He expelled her from his house.[13]

Grese participated in prisoner selections for the gas chambers at Auschwitz.[14]: 219 

In early 1945, Grese accompanied a prisoner evacuation transport from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück. In March, she went to Bergen-Belsen, along with a large number of prisoners from Ravensbrück.[14]: 219  Grese was captured by the British Army on 17 April 1945, with other SS personnel who did not flee.[15]

War crimes trial[edit]

Irma Grese and former SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer in prison in Celle in August 1945

Grese was among the 45 people accused of war crimes at the Belsen Trial which was held in Lüneburg, Lower Saxony. She was tried over the first period of the trials (17 September – 17 November 1945) and was represented by Major L. Cranfield. The trials were conducted under British military law, based on 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.[7]

Survivors provided detailed testimony of cruelties; they also claimed that she beat some women using a plaited whip.[7] Under direct examination, Irma Grese testified about her background:

I was born on 7 October 1923. In 1938 I left the elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which I worked in a shop in Lychen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenlychen, where I stayed for two years. I tried to become a nurse but the Labor Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenberg. In July 1942, I tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent me to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, although I protested against it. I stayed there until March 1943, when I went to Birkenau Camp in Auschwitz. I remained in Auschwitz until January 1945.[7]

During the trial, the press labelled Grese as "the Beautiful Beast" alongside former SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer ("the Beast of Belsen"), the former commandant at Birkenau. After a nine-week trial, Grese was sentenced to death by hanging.[16] Although the charges against some of the other female warders (a total of 16 were charged) were as serious as those against Grese, she was one of only three female guards to be sentenced to death.[14]: 219 


Grese and two other concentration camp workers, Johanna Bormann and Elisabeth Volkenrath, were convicted, along with eight men, for crimes committed at Auschwitz and Belsen, and sentenced to death. As the verdicts were read, Grese was the only prisoner to remain defiant.[17] Her subsequent appeal was rejected.

According to Wendy Adele-Marie Sarti, the night before her execution, Grese sang Nazi songs until the early hours of the morning with Johanna Bormann.[18] On 13 December 1945, in Hamelin Prison, Grese was led to the gallows. The women were executed individually by long-drop hanging and then the men in pairs.[19] British Army Regimental Sergeant-Major Richard Anthony O'Neill assisted the 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 grilles 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 [sic] 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. [English translation: 'Quickly'].[20] 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.[21]


Grese has been portrayed as a minor character in two films: Pierrepoint (2005), which portrays her execution following the Belsen war crimes trial; and Out of the Ashes (2003). Both films feature additional female guards in much smaller roles. Grese was briefly portrayed in a nonspeaking reenactment in Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution' (2005).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Belsen trial". The Times. 18 September 1945. p. 6.
  2. ^ Magda Hollander-Lafon (2013). Vier Stückchen Brot: Ein Hymne an das Leben (in German). Verlag. pp. 95–. ISBN 978-3641127091. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  3. ^ Barbara Möller (30 August 2014). "Die Hyäne von Auschwitz". Die Welt (in German). Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  4. ^ Sonja Peteranderl (2014). "Der Mann, der Rudolf Höß jagte; KZ-Aufseherin Irma Grese. Die 'Hyäne von Auschwitz'". (in German). Hamburg. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  5. ^ Pierre Heumann (2013). "Hitlers Furien". Die Weltwoche Magazin (in German). Archived from the original on 29 October 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2015. Grese, die «Hyäne von Auschwitz»
  6. ^ Speit, Andreas (3 January 2019). "Andreas Speit der rechte rand: Wie eine junge Frau als KZ-Aufseherin Karriere machte". Die Tageszeitung (in German). pp. 42 ePaper 22 Nord. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d "Excerpts from The Belsen Trial (5/5)". Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  8. ^ a b "First Belsen Trial Oberaufseherin Irma Ilse Ida Grese". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  9. ^ Peter Vronsky (2007). Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters. Penguin. ISBN 9781101205693 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ "Biographie de Irma Grese Gardienne SS à Auschwitz" [Biography of Irma Grese, Guardian SS at Auschwitz]. 18 December 2009. Archived from the original on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  11. ^ a b Michael H. Kater (2006). Hitler Youth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 70.
  12. ^ "Irma Grese". Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  13. ^ a b J. M. Müller (2020). Angeklagte Nr. 9. Die "Hyäne von Auschwitz" im Kreuzverhör [Defendant No. 9 : The "Hyena of Auschwitz" under cross-examination] (in German) (1st ed.). Norderstedt: BoD. ISBN 978-3-7519-9549-8.
  14. ^ a b c Knoch, Habbo, ed. (2010). Bergen-Belsen: Wehrmacht POW Camp 1940–1945, Concentration Camp 1943–1945, Displaced Persons Camp 1945–1950. Catalogue of the permanent exhibition. Wallstein. ISBN 978-3-8353-0794-0.
  15. ^ Celinscak, Mark (2015). Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Concentration Camp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442615700.
  16. ^ "Belsen Beast, Irma Grese hanged with nine other horror camp aides". Hamburg: UPI. 14 December 1945. Retrieved 2 November 2022.
  17. ^ "Verdicts in the Belsen Trial", The Times, 17 November 1945, pg. 4.
  18. ^ Sarti, Wendy Adele-Marie (2012), Women and Nazis, Bethesda: Academica Press, ISBN 978-1936320127
  19. ^ "Belsen Gang Hanged", The Times, 15 December 1945.
  20. ^ "Nazi She-Devils". Mirror. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  21. ^ Pierrepoint, Albert (1974). Executioner. Harrap. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-245-52070-9.

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