Irma Grese: The Hyena of Auschwitz

Last updated on April 6th, 2023 at 10:19 pm

Following the Second World War, war crimes trials were held to bring the architects of WW2 and the Holocaust to justice. 

Inside a courtroom in Luneburg, the Belsen Trials took place 

that sought to deal with the SS men and women of the Belsen concentration camp. 

Many of these guards had committed horrendous crimes, but what shocked the world was that many young women like Irma Grese were convicted alongside commandant Josef Kramer. 

Irma Grese

The Hyena of Auschwitz

Irma Grese was only 22 when she was hanged, making her the youngest female Nazi executed following the Second World War. The world was shocked, and many couldn’t understand how such a young, beautiful woman could be the embodiment of evil.

Her trial earned her the nicknames ‘The Beautiful Beast’ and the ‘Hyena of Auschwitz’ for her heartless treatment of prisoners.  

The early life of Irma Grese

On October 7, 1923, Irma Grese was born to dairy workers Berta Grese and Alfred Grese. Irma was one of five siblings: three girls and two boys. 

Tragically, in 1936, Irma’s mother died by suicide after consuming hydrochloric acid, which resulted from her discovering Alfred’s extramarital relationship with the daughter of a local pub owner.

According to Irma’s sister Helene, she was bullied as a child and was incapable of standing up for herself, qualities that likely gave her quite a chip on her shoulder.  

As a teenager, Irma joined the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel), the girl’s equivalent of the Hitler Youth. However, this decision never sat well with her father, who held some anti-nazi beliefs and tried to ban her from joining.

Irma, being the rebellious teenager she was, ignored her father’s wishes. Before 17, she took a further step and moved to the SS Female Helpers’ training base near the all-female concentration camp near Ravensbrück to train as a concentration camp guard.  

A concentration camp guard

Following Irma’s training, she worked at Ravensbrück, making 54 marks a month. She was eventually promoted to supervisor and transferred to Auschwitz in 1943. 

This transfer was the final nail in the coffin, and she had a massive falling out with her father.  

Irma worked in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the portion of the camp responsible for taking the lives of 90% of Auchwit’z prisoners. 

She worked alongside people like Josef Mengele in the selection process to determine who could work and who was sent to the gas chambers.  

Grese was a dedicated Nazi who demonstrated loyalty, dedication, and obedience, resulting in her quick promotion to senior SS supervisor, the second highest rank available for women in the SS.

Building a reputation for violence

While working there, Grese developed a sadistic reputation. Survivors of Auschwitz and Beslsen, where she later worked, testified to her brutality. 

Grese was incredibly violent, often knocking prisoners to the ground and kicking them until blood was drawn. She would use her trusty whip with little provocation if it weren’t her boots. 

Other times, she would randomly shoot prisoners and laugh immediately after. 

She would patrol the grounds with a dog trained to maul prisoners. 

During selections, Irma made a point to select any women she thought were more attractive than her to go straight to the gas chambers.  

There were rumors that Grese used human skin to make lampshades in her quarters, but this was likely a myth. 

Trial and execution of Irma Grese

As the war was winding down in 1945, Grese transferred from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück to Belsen. She was captured on April 17, 1945, by the British Army. 

Grese was tried over nine weeks alongside 45 others a the Belsen trials in Luneburg, Germany. 

Irma Grese and Josef Kramer in prison

During the trial, she earned the nickname “The Beautiful Beast” from the press. Despite severe charges against 16 female guards, Grese was one of three (Johanna Bormann and Elisabeth Volkenrath were the others) sentenced to hang. 

Even when facing her end, Grese remained defiant and unrepentant of her crimes as the verdict was read. 

Grese on trial

According to Wendy Adele-Marie Sarti, the author of Nazi Wives, Grese spent the night before her executions singing Nazi songs with Johanna Bormann.  

On December 13, 1945, she was led to the Gallows and hanged by executioner Albert Pierrepoint. Her last words were “quickly” as she stood waiting for her end.  

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